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Five Questions with Jennifer Harrison

By Earl Walton, USA Triathlon Director of of Education | Oct. 11, 2022, 5:43 p.m. (ET)

Jennifer Harrison yells through a megaphone.Jennifer Harrison has been coaching triathletes for more than 22 years and is the owner of JHC Triathlon Coaching and and co-founder of MSM + JHC Coaching.

Jennifer has worked with a wide variety of triathletes over the years including beginners, national champions, World Championship athletes, Paralympic bronze medalists and the University of Illinois Triathlon Team. Over these years, she has worked with thousands of athletes to help them navigate their training and thoroughly prepare them to race up to their potential.

She continues to be an advocate for small business owners and mentoring coaches as they start up and develop their own coaching businesses. Jennifer is a huge supporter of local races, giving back to her community and paying it forward.

Jennifer has completed in over 200 triathlons in her career. She has competed in all distances of triathlons including the World Championships for Sprint, Olympic, Half-IRONMAN and IRONMAN distances over the years. She continues to race as often as she can.

Recently, USA Triathlon Director of Education Earl Walton sat down with Jennifer for Five Questions...

What brought you out to Kona this year?

I had many athletes and friends racing in Kona this year. We had 16 athletes racing from our combined team, so I thought it was a good opportunity to go to Kona and support my athletes and friends racing. Why not? It was a celebration of years of hard work and being so patient through COVID.

How does your experience as an athlete help you to coach your athletes?

I’ve been to Kona to race several times over the years and the knowledge of the course and conditions is invaluable. More importantly, taking athletes through full heat acclimation in order to perform in Kona's conditions are key. Setting realistic expectations with the athletes is also vital. Most athletes that race in Kona have qualified by winning an IRONMAN or being on the podium in their Age Group. They are fast athletes. Setting the expectations that Kona can be slower, and as a World Championship event, the competition is off the charts. I find it so important that athletes are prepared mentally for the rigors of Kona's terrain and heat. There are many tips that I was able to share with athletes about the swim, the bike conditions and where it is windier, faster, slower - same with the run. And, sharing with them some of the mistakes I have made as an athlete in Kona so that they can avoid them is invaluable too.

Can you give me a key to success that made the day great for one of your athletes?

The best thing one of my athletes did was race her race. She had come from racing and winning her Age Group at an IRONMAN. She went into Kona with perspective and the right plan for HER. She did not get caught up in the fast start, the fit athletes or the hoopla that surrounds Kona. She went to Kona and treated it like any other IRONMAN. She was able to focus on what has historically worked for her and WHAT allowed her to get to Kona successfully.

Can you give me an example of a tough break or “can’t control the uncontrollable” that your athletes ran into?

One of my athletes had a double flat. This was not only stressful, but standing on the side of the Queen K with temps sizzling and the pavement over 100F degrees, this athlete initially was frustrated and stressed. What was key for him was to take a deep breathe, fix the flats but most importantly focus on hydration and fueling. In Kona, if you get behind on your fuel plan, and lose track of time, it can be detrimental to the rest of the day. Control what you can control and move on, quickly.

Was there a “wow” moment on the island that will stick with you for a long time after this race?

Over the years, things have changed in Kona and one of the biggest things I noticed this year is that skinny is out and strong & durable is in! It was such a relief to see. The athletes this year looked stronger and definitely more durable. And, these strong athletes performed well in Kona's extreme heat and conditions!