On this edition of The Kona Edge we get to share Jacqui Giuliano’s fabulous Ironman journey. As newly weds, Jacqui and her husband decided to that the best way to celebrate their one year anniversary would be to race in Kona. This is her story.
BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto this edition of The Kona Edge. I’m Brad Brown, it’s absolutely awesome to have you back on and we head to the States now to catch up with Jacqui Giuliano. Jacqui welcome, thanks for joining us today.
JACQUI GIULIANO: Thanks for having me.
BRAD BROWN: Jacqui, I’m super excited to chat a little bit about your journey. We’ve had a couple of teachers on before and funnily enough, a couple of math teachers. So I’m starting to see a pattern here and I’m thinking that if you have to be good at Ironman, it helps if you’re a math teacher.
JACQUI GIULIANO: Yeah, I do tell my students, I do problems as I’m actually competing in the race.
BRAD BROWN: And those problems, the sums you used to get as a kid where it’s like if you travel in one direction for so far and then you change… You could almost do that with an Ironman and get your kids to work out distances that way.
JACQUI GIULIANO: Right.
BRAD BROWN: Fantastic. Jacqui, how did you get into the sport of triathlon, where did your journey begin?
Celebrating a 1st anniversary by training for Ironman
JACQUI GIULIANO: My husband and I got married on October 13th of 2012 and Facebook and everything was super popular, so we went onto Facebook and put a picture that we were married. And he’s like, ‘Oh, today is the Ironman World Championships’ and I was like oh yeah. I’ve known about that and I thought it was always really cool and he’s like, we should go there next year. And I was like awesome ‘Let’s make our one year anniversary a trip to Kona, that would be great’ and he’s like, ‘No, I mean competing.’
I told him this is my first year at my new job and teaching is hard work, it’s not like I’m there 9:00 to 5:00 I have to bring stuff home. And I actually ended up looking at Eagle Man back when it was still a qualifier. And we did that one and I mean we both had to win our age group and it was just like fate that it was supposed to happen. And we qualified for Kona.
BRAD BROWN: What a cool story, I absolutely love that. How long had you been in the sport prior to that? Were you a triathlete or was that your first foray into the sport?
JACQUI GIULIANO: When I graduated college, I started off a runner and I was hurt a lot in college, so my husband was training me. Just having me do a lot of spin bike stuff and swimming in the pool. So he actually, when we graduated college, it’s like, why don’t we do a half Ironman, since you’ve been working out so much anyway. I did Buffalo Springs, I guess that was 2008 maybe and I had no expectations or anything. I just thought it was really cool to go and go to Texas and do a race and I missed qualifying for Kona there by 9 seconds. And you would think that that would have been like kind of the kick in the butt to say: Hey, maybe you should try this triathlon thing. But I was like, no, I’m good just doing marathons.
BRAD BROWN: You talk about doing marathons and you come from a running background, you’re a very good runner.
JACQUI GIULIANO: Thank you.
BRAD BROWN: Your splits are incredible. Has running been a part of your life for as long as you can remember?
Inspired by parents example
JACQUI GIULIANO: Yeah, my parents, they ran the Boston Marathon together one year. And I remember my grandparents had to watch us and I was like, man, you can travel to all these places and do running races. That’s what I want to do when I grow up, I want to do this Boston Marathon thing and of course I was like 10 years old. I had no idea what it actually was, but ever since then, my parents, they never pushed my siblings and I to be runners, but it was just something that seemed cool to me, so I just kept doing it.
BRAD BROWN: I love that. Last week here on the podcast I ended up chatting to someone who also, funnily enough, grew up in a household where her dad was doing Ironman. I grew up in a household where my dad was doing ultra marathons and it’s so funny that when you do grow up in an environment like that, and I think it’s cool.
If you’re doing the sport now and you’ve got kids growing up around it, it’s a good and a bad thing because you’re almost condemning them to do what you’re doing now. But there could be worse things, you could be sitting in front of the television every single night, every single weekend. At least you’re instilling good habits in them.
JACQUI GIULIANO: Right, yeah.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about some of the challenges you’ve had this year. We’ll go back and talk about some of your Kona experiences in a moment. But one of the big things that I’ve realised about you, particularly this year, is you’re really struggling with some crazy injuries. It’s been a frustrating year for you Jacqui?
JACQUI GIULIANO: Yeah. Actually to the year today, I did a half Ironman in Central Illinois. I knew I had good bike fitness and I didn’t have the greatest season earlier on, so I kind of wanted to use that bike fitness and try to get a PR going into Kona. You know, keep my confidence high and I went to do a 10km the next day. The school district I teach in, they have a 5km and a 10km race on Labor Day and one of my students had wanted me to do the 10km race with him and I was sure, why not.
Things you don’t want to hear as a runner
All of a sudden my foot just started really hurting. It was my heel and I did the race with him still, but it was just really painful and I just attributed it to the fact that I didn’t do proper recovery the day before. I didn’t roll out, I didn’t use my little foot roller, so I didn’t think too much of it. And I was also racing flat out for a 10km and I’m used to wearing bigger shoes for marathons and half marathons.
I didn’t think too much of it and then my husband worked for Power Bar at the time and so he had to work a race, a half marathon the next day and I wanted to get my long run in anyway. So I decided to do it there and same thing, my heel was just throbbing the whole time and I got really lucky.
At that race there was a physical therapist, just like a little tent there and I kind of chatted with him about it and asked him what his thoughts were and he said ‘Oh, I think you have the beginning stages of plantar fasciitis’. And I was like oh no, that’s a runners death sentence, you don’t want to hear that.
I saw my personal physical therapist that following week and he’s like, ‘Honestly, your run fitness is fine, I would just stay off your feet from now until Kona and wear supportive shoes when you’re teaching.’
So my kids got a kick out of that, that I was wearing running shoes with every outfit that I wore to class. A little embarrassing but yeah, I ended up, I don’t know if it happened before Kona or after Kona, but I ended up tearing my plantar fascia. And had to have AmnioFix injection, instead of doing surgery and stuff, cause that’s not always the greatest recovery. They did this AmnioFix injection and I had it done after Kona, they tried a few different things and I didn’t have it actually done until December. My recovery didn’t fully end until April of this past year.
BRAD BROWN: It’s frustrating to say the least and plantar fasciitis is one of those injuries it’s so difficult to treat. Everyone has got an idea of what causes it, everyone has got an idea of how to fix it and it’s pretty tough, it’s a frustrating running injury isn’t it?
JACQUI GIULIANO: Oh my gosh, it sure is. It was awesome because I had so many people reach out to me and give me all these strategies. And so now I have plenty of strategies that I can try to help others with. But it was just, I guess if I had known it was a tear at the time, it would have made sense that none of these therapies would work. But I obviously of course didn’t know at the time.
BRAD BROWN: What’s the biggest lesson having this injury has taught you?
Injury leads to smarter Ironman training plan
JACQUI GIULIANO: Honestly, I think I wish I would have done more and been more, I guess, smarter about it. I just thought, it’s the beginning of the school year, I can’t go to the doctor and have a podiatrist look at it, I’m too busy with the beginning of the school year. And in reality, I probably should have taken just a sick day to go and see the doctor because what if it could have been, the tear could have been prevented. I keep saying that to myself and to my teacher friends, your students will survive. Your health is 100% the most important thing that you need to worry about.
BRAD BROWN: It’s a global running problem isn’t it Jacqui. That we almost, if we feel a niggle coming on, we almost think, I’m going to take it out for a bit of a run, to see how it feels. And invariably it never feels better, it generally feels worse. You know your body, you’ve lived in it your whole life. When something doesn’t feel right, there’s a reason for it.
JACQUI GIULIANO: Right.
BRAD BROWN: Runners definitely make me laugh. Let’s go back to your first Kona experience and that qualification. You’d obviously known about the sport, you talk about missing qualification by 9 seconds in an earlier race and that really didn’t fire you up to go. In the end, was it just a decision that you decided, you know what, next year sounds good as a first wedding anniversary. It sounds good, let’s make it happen or was there something deeper that drove you to get to Kona?
JACQUI GIULIANO: No, it really was as simple as that. I figured, who knows if both Ryan and I will qualify, if we do, great, if not, it was kind of cool to do all this training. I didn’t really think too much of it and then once we actually did finish, it was funny, as soon as I crossed the finish line I’m like ‘So when can we do this again, I want to keep doing this.’ He was surprised that I caught the bug pretty quickly.
BRAD BROWN: It is addictive. Your first Ironman is incredible, but I can only imagine that your first Kona is probably that multiplied by 20.
JACQUI GIULIANO: Yeah and I think it was really cool for me because I didn’t have any other experience, I hadn’t done an Ironman up to that point. So I truly had no expectations for myself. I just wanted to go out there and see what I could do. It was like super no pressure really.
BRAD BROWN: You say no pressure, you did pretty well first time out as well. You must have been pretty chuffed with your performance.
JACQUI GIULIANO: Yeah, of course that year everyone is like, oh, it wasn’t very windy and it wasn’t really hot, so everyone was giving us a hard time. Like you guys went during the easiest year that Kona has ever been and I mean truly, the next year was so much harder that I was like oh, maybe those people were right!
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about splits on the first one, do you remember off-hand how you went from a splits perspective?
JACQUI GIULIANO: Oh my gosh, my swim I think was like a 1:17 and then my bike was 5:35 or 5:39 and then my run was 3:22.
BRAD BROWN: That’s phenomenal, you’ve put in a couple of incredible run performances in Ironman’s before. Obviously coming from a running background does help, but you must love running to be able to run those times off 180km bike.
JACQUI GIULIANO: Yeah, I guess that’s one thing that I kind of am lucky that I have. I don’t know how you really train your body to do that, because mine, I guess just naturally did. I think it’s because I’ve grown up a runner and I’ve been running so much of my life that getting off the bike, it’s just like I’m going out for a road race. Of course I’m fatigued but for some reason my body is able to perform well.
It’s something that I’ve tried to explain to others, the more that you do it, the more I think your body adapts to it. Because when I was training for Kona, even for Eagle Man, after every single bike I would always hop off and go run. Just because I like to run, not because I thought of it as a [inaudible 0.11.57] or anything, just because I wanted to go out and get some miles in. I think that probably helped me a lot more than I actually thought.
BRAD BROWN: And if you can do that, it definitely does help. That’s one thing I’ve picked up chatting to lots of really age groupers. First of all, to love the run helps, but to do it lots and like you say, off the bike, because there’s that weird sensation when you first get off the bike where it almost feels like your legs aren’t connected to your upper body.
You’re running with someone else’s legs and the more you can get used to that feeling, the better it is. Is there anything that you do to counteract that or is it a case of just do it lots and it will get better?
JACQUI GIULIANO: I really think for me, even my husband used to be, he’s a really good runner as well, he runs 2:30 in his open marathon. But for some reason I was beating him a lot of the times like in marathons and for the Ironman.
So I told him, honestly, I think that you should be, after every single bike session, you should be getting off the bike and doing some sort of run. Even if it’s just three miles at your goal race pace, I think that would really help you. And sure enough, he listened to me and did it over this past 2015 and in Texas this year he went 2:55. So I really think that’s a big secret that people don’t realise.
BRAD BROWN: That’s a phenomenal run split in itself as well. But a year later, 2014, after that first experience you said ‘Can we do this again’. You did do it again and you went back and obviously you put in some hard hours. I look at your run split there, you had the best amateur female run split on the day, I think you did just over 3 hours if I’m correct?
JACQUI GIULIANO: Yeah, that was really funny because as soon as I finished, of course I wanted to do another one again. But as soon as I finished my husband was at the finish line and he’s like ‘I think I’ve finally got you beat in this marathon part’. And I’m like really, ‘What was your time’? And he goes ‘3:07’ and I was like, um, ‘Well, I didn’t stop my watch, but I’m pretty sure, by my math, that I ran a 3:04’ and he’s like ‘I can’t believe it!’ That was a really cool one. I think part of it too, that bike was really tough for me.
I had a really ridiculous school year. By the time I left for Kona, they were trying to figure out how to split up one of my classes because I had 37 students in the class, which is unheard of these days. I was just really stressed with school and I kind of took that out on myself on the bike. And so after I got off the bike I was pretty angry at myself, so I guess I used that anger and pushed myself on the run.
BRAD BROWN: That’s a cool story. Let’s talk about the balance and having a stressful work life. It must come with an interesting dynamic too having your husband also involved in the sport. But how do you get that balance right because to train and to be good at the sport does take a lot of time and that’s one of the things a lot of people struggle with is getting that time management right.
JACQUI GIULIANO: I think I’ve always been a very schedule-based person. Some of my friends give me a hard time about how structured I am and stuff, but I really think that’s when I thrive. When I have, whatever time, wake up and go bike and then shower at this time, leave the house at this time, teach from this time. Having everything set in place really works for me.
I think of it as like checking things off of a list. Even though everyone is so digital-based now, I still write everything out on a list because I get that satisfaction from crossing off. Oh, I got my bike workout in this morning, oh, I’m done teaching. I can cross that off the list. I think just having everything structured and scheduled, that makes sure I get everything done that I need to in.
BRAD BROWN: Jacqui, does it help having a spouse who is also involved in the sport?
JACQUI GIULIANO: Oh my gosh, yes. I never realised it until I kind of started looking at my friends and their dynamic with their significant others. If they aren’t in the sport, yes, they’re supportive, but they don’t understand quite as much and just the sacrifice that it takes. It’s really nice to be able to have someone next to you on the Compu Trainer for 4-5 hours on a weekend and have that person be able to understand that it’s important that you get it done before the rest of your Saturday or Sunday continues.
BRAD BROWN: Does having a spouse who is involved in the sport come with its own set of challenges too?
JACQUI GIULIANO: It does. I mean this past year when Ryan, he won Texas as the overall amateur and that was hard for me because even though I didn’t have super high expectations, I had just come back from plantar fasciitis and everything. And actually the day before Texas I was really not smart. Total fluke accident, I flipped over my handlebars when we were out doing just like an easy ride and later it was diagnosed I had a stress fracture in my sacrum. But I didn’t think anything of it. I had cuts all over me, but I didn’t really care. I was going to do this Ironman, it was my comeback race.
It was really hard for me, even though I ended up pulling out of the race at mile 17 of the run, even though I knew that I made the right decision. It was so hard because Ryan had this phenomenal performance and I didn’t want to take anything away from that.
BRAD BROWN: Absolutely, Texas was a tough one this year as well, it wasn’t best weather conditions. I’ve seen some pictures from that race. That was something else.
JACQUI GIULIANO: Yeah, it was.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about what you’re struggling with right now. We’ve touched on the injury, but is there anything else other than injuries and injury prevention that you’re really struggling with and working hard on?
JACQUI GIULIANO: The swim. The swim has always been really tough for me and actually every year, for the past three years, after every Ironman I’ve done, the guy who now coaches me with the swim, he sends me a message, ‘Hey girl, you need to fix the swim, let me help you.’
My husband and I, we work with the same coach, so I never really wanted to take away from that. But after everything that I’ve battled in 2015, I kind of realised, if this guy is willing to work with me one on one and see me once a week and really fix my form, because that’s the biggest part of my problem, I think, is that my form is just not great. So if somebody is willing to do that, I should really take advantage of that and granted, I’ve only done one Ironman since working with him, but that swim has improved a ton. I’m hopeful going into Kona this year that it’s not going to be in the 1:20 again.
BRAD BROWN: Absolutely. How are you feeling heading into Kona this year, with the frustrations and things maybe not having gone as well as you would have liked, particularly early on in the year.
JACQUI GIULIANO: I think the most frustrating thing, even though my swim still isn’t the best that I want it to be, I know that my bike is solid. The plantar fasciitis and then with the stress fracture of my sacrum, biking was really the only thing I could do. I guess that was kind of a blessing in disguise that I got stronger on the bike. But just recently, truly this past week, is when my run has finally started to come around. Because my strength and not feeling confident in it going into Kona, that kind of made me pretty nervous. I’m glad that I’m finally starting to get good run workouts again. I’m starting to, I guess, feel normal.
BRAD BROWN: That confidence is amazing and what sort of percentage – I know it’s a tough question – but how much of a role would you say that plays in your performance in a race, whether it be Kona or another Ironman? Having that confidence going in, knowing that things have worked, that it’s not an absolute slog and you’re still struggling. Having that peace of mind, how big an impact does that have on your race day performance?
JACQUI GIULIANO: Oh my gosh, I think that confidence can really make or break your race. Last year, I had so much confidence in the bike and even though it wasn’t my fastest bike in Kona, it was one of the top amateur splits and I’ve never had that before. Having confidence in all three disciplines, if I could have that going into Kona, it would be the best day of my life.
BRAD BROWN: Jacqui, how much do you change year on year with regards to preparation and doing things? Obviously you qualify, you go to Kona, you race your heart out, you put everything out there that you can. You go back, do you go then and sit down after race day and go, okay what worked, what didn’t work, what do I need to change?
Ticking it off your Ironman list of improvements
Talk to me about the process of then building towards the next one. How do you decide what you want to change, what you want to do differently, what you want to keep, that sort of thing.
JACQUI GIULIANO: I’m very much a list person. I always try to write down things that I was happy with and then things that I know I can improve and try to get feedback from other people too. Or suggestions and try to figure out what I can do to get better in those areas. And last year the first thing that I wrote down was the swim because even if I had had my run that I normally do, last year, I would have barely made the podium. And that’s like, to be strong on the run and bike and still just barely make the podium, clearly I need to work on that swim. That had been a really big focus over this past year.
BRAD BROWN: The sport has really changed hasn’t it? You talk about that, in years gone by, you could have fudged the swim a bit. And if you were a strong biker and strong runner, you could have really worked your way through the field. But those days are almost long gone. There are probably one or two age groups where you can get away with it, but nowadays you have to be really strong in all three if you want to pick up a solid podium in Kona.
JACQUI GIULIANO: Yeah, which is just so crazy because you would think the two that take the most time to complete, like if you’re strong in those you could be on the podium, but that swim just plays such a big role now.
BRAD BROWN: For those who don’t come from swim backgrounds, it’s probably one of the most frustrating things. Did you come from a swimming background or did you have to actually, tell me a little bit about your swimming background growing up and as an adult.
JACQUI GIULIANO: Really, I took swimming lessons to learn how to survive, if I was thrown in a pool or something. My mom made all three of us do that, but I never really cared for it. I just kind of looked at going to the pool as laying out in the sun and playing Marco Polo with friends. I never really cared too much for swimming and it wasn’t until I kept getting hurt running in college that I was aqua jogging or swimming, that I just kind of looked at other people and just put my arms in and started swimming. That was probably a mistake, not actually learning how to really swim until I was an adult.
BRAD BROWN: I’m going to give some advice here too. If you’ve got kids and you’re in the sport and you’re pretty active, your kids are going to take the sport up. Get them swimming lessons soon, the earlier the better. If you can sort out that technique early on, it just makes their life easier going forward. Whether they want to do Ironman later or not. I’m sure you’d agree.
JACQUI GIULIANO: Oh yeah, I told Ryan when we have our first kid, they’re going to learn how to swim and how to speak Spanish right away, cause those are two things that I regret not being able to do when I was little!
BRAD BROWN: I love that. Jacqui, let’s talk about what you’d still like to achieve in the sport and where you’d like to race and some of the goals. Other than Kona, longer term than that, what do you want to achieve in Ironman?
JACQUI GIULIANO: I honestly, it would be a dream come true if I could win my age group in Kona. Ryan and I are both in the 30-34 age group now and he was on the podium last year and I was taking pictures. They had the flags of the male and female age group winners in the background on the computers. The TV’s and I was like, how cool would that be to have two USA flags with Giuliano on there.
That’s like a huge dream, if everything went totally perfect, which is probably like a 0.1% chance that that’ll happen, but it would still be really cool. Just seeing how Ryan has been doing this year, I think one of the coolest things that he’s done is win an Ironman, it’s such a cool feeling. Even for me as a spectator watching him do it. I think that would be like a big dream to accomplish.
Couples that train together remain together to reach the Ironman dream
BRAD BROWN: That sounds incredible. Talk to me about, I wanted to ask it and I forgot to at the time, talk to me about being in a relationship with someone who is that good. Are you guys competitive? Do you train together, do you find you push each other? How does that dynamic work within your relationship?
JACQUI GIULIANO: He actually, he really likes when we bike together because I’m really good at the longer and the threshold type stuff. And he’s really good at the little spikes when we’re biking, so he really likes to have us do bike workouts together because he’s like, then I don’t give up because I see you pushing hard and I can’t give up because I don’t want you to beat me.
We have that dynamic on the bike. We don’t really run together too much, just because ever since continuing to get hurt, he’s been actually coaching me for the run and has had me only do four runs a week, one of those off the bike after my long ride, my long run and then two run workouts.
My pace is slower than his, he doesn’t really do very many runs with me and when we’re in the pool, honestly, I tell him all the time, it’s just more frustrating having you swimming next to me, cause you’re just like lapping me all the time, it’s definitely not motivating, but for him, he likes having the accountability of me in the lane next to him. It works.
BRAD BROWN: Absolutely, I love the fact that you can train together and do that sort of stuff and as they say, couples that train together, stay together. I think it’s amazing. As far as dream races, is there anything on the Bucket List you’d like to race some day?
JACQUI GIULIANO: He did Austria for World last year and then I had one of my friends do the Ironman in Austria and after seeing pictures from both of their experiences and hearing both of their experiences, Austria sounds really awesome. Then Mont Tremblant has always been the Bucket List too. It’s hard because it’s right at the start of the school year, so it’s like hmmm, would my administrators ever let me take the first few days of school off? I’ve been too afraid to ask.
BRAD BROWN: Maybe once you’ve been there for 20 years you can get that in and they’ll let you do it. Let’s talk about how you choose races. Obviously you’ve got to work it into a work schedule but are you a horses for courses type of person or is it a case of, whatever is convenient and fits into the calendar, that’s what we’re going to do? Do you go and pick courses that suit your strengths, whether it’s racing on flat courses or racing on hilly courses, that sort of thing.
JACQUI GIULIANO: Really, we haven’t really, I guess, looked at the courses so much. We did Pebble because, I guess that was in 2014, because I ended up with my Spring Break and that’s where we went for our honeymoon so we’re like, oh, we know the area, let’s do it and then that same year we did Cozumel just because it was lined up with Thanksgiving break. So again, I only had to miss one day of school and then Texas this past year we decided on because it was the day after my 30th birthday, so I thought it would be a cool way to celebrate turning the big 3-0.
Then Lake Placid, one of my husband’s best friends, he did it two years ago and last summer he was just giving us all a hard time. Like you know, we have to get a big group there and it’s going to be so much fun, it’s so beautiful and you guys are gonna love it… He forgot to tell us that it was hilly, so that was quite a shock when we actually got there.
All of those races were, I never looked at the courses, I didn’t know if it was going to be hilly or flat until we really got there. I think I race better that way, kind of having the unknown factors. I guess I could probably prepare a little better, but I kind of like being surprised and just truly giving it my all the whole time, like you have to if you don’t know what it’s going to be like.
BRAD BROWN: Absolutely. What do you love about Ironman, what is it that keeps you coming back?
A sense of accomplishment after Ironman
JACQUI GIULIANO: I think a part is that just anyone can do it. The group that we had that went to Lake Placid this past summer, three of them were first time Ironman finishers. It’s just kind of cool that truly, if you want to do it, anyone can and I think it’s just so rewarding.
You’re exhausted crossing that finish line, it’s a different feeling compared to crossing the finish line totally dead after a run and maybe because the run you have to go at such a higher intensity. I don’t know, I feel so much more accomplished every time I finish an Ironman.
BRAD BROWN: What do you hate about the sport?
JACQUI GIULIANO: Oh, sometimes waking up early to bike on the weekends, that’s kind of challenging sometimes because after a long week of teaching, all I want to do is sleep in on a Saturday morning. But here I am getting up at 7:00 or 6-something, just to get it in before it gets too hot or before I feel like there’s too many cars on the road.
I think that’s sometimes the hardest part, but if you have a good community, a good base of friends or a good group that you’re a part of on Facebook or social media or whatever, it’s kind of nice to have all of those positive people in your life, knowing that they’re encouraging you and rooting for you and stuff.
BRAD BROWN: Absolutely. Jacqui finally, you mentioned the group of newcomers, if you could go back and give yourself some advice, if you were starting out again, knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself?
JACQUI GIULIANO: Oh my gosh, work on that swim, you need a lot of help on that swim!
BRAD BROWN: I love that, well, talking of the swim, we’re going to chat about your swim and delve a bit deeper the next time we chat here on The Kona Edge, but we’ll save that for another day. Jacqui Giuliano, thank you so much for your time today, much appreciated.
JACQUI GIULIANO: Thank you so much for having me.