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Training For IronMan, Part 1

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Photo: Via @jmoloney1.
This is Jess. Jess works full-time as a director of a talent management company and wakes up at 4.30am to fit in three hours of training before work in anticipation of IronMan 2017. An IronMan, for those still in bed, consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile cycle and a 26.2 mile run (a marathon), in that order. It takes participants between nine and 16 hours to complete. That old Royal Marines advert with the slogan “99.9% need not apply” springs to mind.

Over the next six months, Jess will be sharing her IronMan (we’ll get onto the ‘Man’ bit later) diary with Refinery29. From building her confidence in swimming, to adhering to a strict food plan, we’ll be following her into the emotional and physical depths of achieving this superhuman feat alongside – might we just mention again – a full-time job.

While Jess’ objective is extreme, what you’ll get from this 100% incredible woman over the next six months is the motivation to do something you didn’t think you could do. I know this because the morning after I interviewed Jess (interview below), I went for a run and stopped listening to music 10 minutes in to listen to Jess’ interview audio instead – and I ran a whole minute quicker per mile than usual.
Photo: Via @jmoloney1.
So Jess, where and when is IronMan?
The Lake District, on Father’s Day, the 18th June 2017.

Will it be really hilly?
I'm doing the Lakesman IronMan, which is actually flatter than the other IronMan course, which is in Bolton. I’m doing it with a friend who’s in the army, and he did the Bolton one last year but found it really boring because the scenery isn’t very nice and you can’t listen to music, so setting is important.

Why can’t you listen to music?
Because they don’t close roads off so you need to be fully aware of everything that’s going on. They see music as a distraction so you’re on your own with your thoughts for anything between 9 hours and 16 hours.

Are you aiming for a specific time?
My army friend who is super fit did one last year in 11 hours and he wants to do this one in 10. I just want to finish. I’m normally really competitive – with the triathlons and marathons I’ve done in the past I’ve timed myself but this – I just want to finish. If I did it in 15 hours, I would be happy.

When did you start training?
I did the San Francisco marathon in July and I decided I was going to do an IronMan about a month before that. I’m never not training – I’m always training for a marathon or a triathlon so my body is always in training mode. Generally after a big event, like a marathon, there might be a week where I let my body chill, but I get back into it pretty quickly.
How often do you train and what does your training programme look like?
I train five days a week for a minimum of three hours. Normally on one of my rest days I do a Reformer Pilates class, so technically I only have one rest day. At the weekend I train for longer, so for example on Saturday, I’ll cycle for two hours, then do a spin class, then cycle for another hour, then I’ll do a run for an hour and a half, then I’ll go swimming for an hour, then I’ll do a swimming aerobic class.

Bloody hell. Do you always train in the morning?
Yes. With my job, I often have to go to events in the evening so I like to get it out of the way. In the summer during the working week, I get up at 4.30am. Now it’s winter, I set my alarm for 5 and aim to be out the door for 5.20am.

What gets you out of bed?
How good I’ll feel after. Even if I think to myself: I really want that extra hour or two sleep, I know if I have that sleep I’ll wake up and feel like shit. Even on my rest day, I never feel as relaxed as on my training days. Training is a form of relaxation for me: no one’s calling me, especially not at that time, no one wants me, it’s my time. And if I’m going for really long runs on a weekend I’ll put my phone on aeroplane mode because I’m in my zone.

What does your zone look like?
I think about everything. I think about life, about what I might cook that day, I think of solutions to things that are maybe going wrong in my life. It’s the time when I assess.

How would you describe your emotional connection to sport?
It’s my first love.

Who are your athlete role models?
Mo Farah. Obviously – everyone loves him. He just goes out and does what he loves. In all the interviews, he’s so genuine about it and you can see his passion for it. There are some athletes who appear to have been pushed into it by parents or coaches, but he genuinely just loves running, and I think that’s really nice.
Then also Venus and Serena Williams, but for a different reason. Body shaming is such a thing in the fitness world. I am not super thin – I’m muscly and strong. And there have been so many times where people find out I run marathons and do triathlons and suddenly that person will stare at my body as if they don’t believe it because my body is not that of a marathon runner. There’s a lot of body shaming in athletics. Look at Serena – she’s a top athlete yet people are dissing her body, but who gives a fuck what her body is, she’s the best at what she does.

Has body shape or image ever been part of your motivation?
No. I’ve had to grow to love my body. For example I have really muscly legs – I find it hard buying boots that come over my calves and skinny jeans that fit. Lee do good jeans for me, otherwise I generally wear dresses and skirts because I can’t find things that fit my legs. I really had to learn to love my legs because I was so ashamed of how muscly they are. When I was younger I used to sprint for the district that I’m from (Bedfordshire) so, having trained as a sprinter, I had to teach myself how to long-distance run but it means that at the end of marathons, I can literally sprint to the end, when most people are fucked, and that’s because of how strong my legs are. So I’ve learned to love them.

Who comes to watch you?
Most of the time, no one. I do competitions like marathons and triathlons on my own, no one comes to watch me. I never really ask anyone because I’m doing it for myself, because I just love it. I feel great after it, put the bike back in my car and go home!

Have you thought about doing it professionally?
I would love that. If I could train all day and get paid for it – that would be the dream. But to do that now, you’d have to qualify within your age group for certain things. It’s something I’ve thought about but I really love my job. If I had a second life, I would totally become an athlete.

How many marathons have you run?
Three. San Francisco, New York and LA. And I’ve done I don’t know how many triathlons – a lot.

What’s your best marathon time?
3.30 for a marathon.

What exactly is a triathlon?
1.2 mile swim, 50 mile cycle and half a marathon. I wanted to do a triathlon every weekend for five weeks last summer but I had an accident on my bike and had to have six stitches in my lip and my chin sewn up. I went to the hospital bleeding, and I was quite calm but I couldn’t really talk because my lip was hanging [laughs]. The nurse was really concerned and offered me painkillers, but I said I was fine, just give me some magazines [laughs]. I wasn’t crying or anything. Then the doctor came and I said, ‘Please stitch it up well because I’ve got to do a triathlon at the weekend’ and he was like, ‘Er, you can’t do a triathlon, I’m sewing your mouth back together’ and that was the point I cried. I sobbed. So I only did three in that five week stint.

What do you do when you hit a wall?
I’ve never hit a wall.

Come again…?
I swear to God. I know I sound like such a c*nt but it’s true. I’ve never hit a wall because I’ve never told myself: I can’t do it. When I did the San Francisco marathon – where there’s only two miles of flat road in 26.2 miles – I was having a hard time at mile 21. In my job [director at Donna Management] I look after the rapper Machine Gun Kelly, whose real name is Colson Baker and at mile 21 I just thought, ‘This is so fucking hard’ and I looked up and saw I was on a road called Baker Colson or something – basically his name – and at that exact moment, his new song “Dopeman” came on my iPod. It was really spooky but at that moment I thought, ‘I can do this’.

Where does this dogged determination come from?
I think it’s from my dad. He’s the best man. He’s always told me and my brother that we can achieve whatever we want to achieve. My grandad was the same. When I was at school and applying for university, I really wanted to get into London College of Fashion and I kept thinking, ‘I’m never going to get in, I’m not good enough’ and my grandad just said, ‘Of course you will’. My dad is the hardest working person I know, he came from nothing and he’s self-made, so I’ve grown up looking at him.

What’s his name?
Jim. Jim’s a G.

He sounds cool. Who’s the friend you’re doing it with?
My friend Rich, who’s in the army. I actually met him while doing the LA marathon. I saw these guys in the airport lounge in London wearing charity tops and wondered if they were going to do the marathon in LA. Obviously with all the people in the airport, it was a long shot. But then he literally ran past while I was running the marathon and I thought, ‘That’s the guy from the airport!’ and when I crossed the finish line, he was there, so I went up to him and said hi and we became friends. We do Tough Mudders together and he’s the one who got me into triathlons.

Do you have a trainer?
Yes, he’s called CJ. He’s basically God. I started seeing him about three years ago. He’s also a sports therapist, and also used to be in the army.

How do you feel competing against men?
I did a duathlon last September – which is where you take the swim out, so just run, cycle, run. It was torrential rain and there were hailstones at one point. It is predominantly men who do these things – not marathons – but there are more men in triathlons and obviously IronMan is called Iron MAN. So at this duathlon, going up these massive hills on my bike in those conditions, I noticed I was overtaking so many men, I think because of the strength in my legs. Then it got to the run at the end and so many men were stopping and walking, but I still had the endurance to go and I did the run really quickly, and three men came up to me at the end saying, ‘I don’t know how you did that’ and that made me feel amazing. I’m quite obvious because of my tattoos – and when I finished the San Francisco marathon, a man came up to me saying, ‘I was really close behind you the whole way and you helped me keep going’.

You’re very feminine in your style and makeup. Are people surprised when you tell them you’re doing an IronMan?
Yes. I like shocking people – obviously – I’m covered in tattoos! People look at me, see all my tattoos, and assume I’ll be a party animal, which I was for many years, but then I grew up and got really, really into sport. I’m at my most happy with my gym kit on and no makeup.

Do you miss partying and that life?
Not really. I don’t miss waking up and feeling like shit and not being able to do anything. I don’t miss not being able to remember what I did the night before. There’s no element that I actually miss. So at the point where everyone I’m out with is starting to get fucked, I’m off home. I don’t miss it because I love my sport so I’m cool going home and sleeping and feeling great the next day.

What have you learnt about yourself from doing marathons and endurance sports?
That there’s nothing the human body cannot do. Our bodies are there to be pushed, not sit on a sofa and watch TV for a whole weekend, that’s not what we’re made for, we’re made to push barriers. I’ve learnt that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.


Follow Jess’ journey to IronMan on Refinery29, publishing once a month from now on. Next up: food diary. @jmoloney1
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