On this podcast of The Kona Edge we chat to Ironman age group winner Jane Hansom who shares with us how her love for Ironman started and her change in lifestyle to get her to Kona. This is her story.
BRAD BROWN: Welcome here onto The Kona Edge. It’s awesome to have you with us. I’m Brad Brown and today we head out to London where we’re joined by someone who is an absolute machine, came out to race Ironman South Africa and won her age group, Jane Hansom. Jane, thank you for joining us for the podcast today.
JANE HANSOM: Thank you Brad, thanks for having me on the show.
BRAD BROWN: Jane, let’s take a step back and let’s look at your triathlon journey, where did it all start for you?
Where it all started
JANE HANSOM: Wow, I guess it started, at the very beginning it started about 7 years ago actually via my client, Sony PlayStation who had five golden places for the London Marathon and basically persuaded me as their agency to take one and to run with them. And at that point I was incredibly unfit, I was overweight, I smoked, I was fairly unhealthy and I found I couldn’t run for a bus! They cajoled me into doing this and eventually I said yes, so I then set about training and did the marathon and did it in just under 4 hour time and by that point I was hooked.
I couldn’t believe how good I felt, I was much fitter, I had fallen in love with running and within the course of the next year I then did another two marathons and managed to knock an hour off my time, finishing the third Master in New York in a time of 2:58 and that was kind of really my goal to try to get a sub 3 marathon time and once I’d done that, somebody actually suggested that I ought to try a triathlon because I used to swim when I was a kid. So I could swim and I could run, but I’d never ridden a bike. So, I thought that might be a good idea. I went off and I got myself a bike and did my first triathlon in 2011, I think it was, yes, 5 years ago.
BRAD BROWN: Did you realise at the time that that was it, that was the sport you loved?
JANE HANSOM: Yes, I did, because I love running and I think running is my favourite discipline of the three, but you know, I’m not brilliant at any of the three disciplines. I’m just average at all of them and I think that’s the key about being good at triathlon is you just have to be good at the three and so it doesn’t particularly matter if you’re not excellent at anything.
I quite like the fact that if I enter a swim race, a run race or a bike race, I wouldn’t win, I’d be absolutely trumped by specialists in the individual sports. But when you put all three together, then you can be fairly competitive and I like that.
BRAD BROWN: Jane, I love the fact that you said you were overweight and an ex-smoker, obviously what you do for a living, you’re in marketing and you mentioned one of your clients, but you work really hard, work is really busy.
You were telling me before we started recording, your Ironman South Africa trip was literally a hit and run, you were in on Thursday, out by Tuesday because work’s so busy. That industry itself is quite a difficult one because there is lots of entertaining, there’s lots of schmoozing of clients, do you find it’s difficult to get that balance right?
Juggling the balance between work and training
JANE HANSOM: Yes, definitely and certainly not all of our clients are sports clients. Since I’ve started doing triathlon, we do now have a lot more sports clients, which is lovely, so often nowadays I can have meetings on the bike or sometimes I’ll go out with the MD of a running company and run around Regent’s Park and we can chat as we run, which is just such a privilege, it’s great to be able to do that.
But some of my other clients are original clients that I’ve had for a while, like Sony PlayStation is a big client of ours and yes, so we do entertain quite a bit. Usually what I try to do now, if there’s a late night or if there’s a party in the evening, I’ll get the girls in the office to go and I’ll take the client out for lunch.
I usually try to keep the meetings to day time meetings where there’s no big drinking involved, that’s how I get around it because then that means I can get to my bed early and I can get up at 5:00, which is how I fit my training in because I’ll train in the morning. I’ll have a 2.5 hour slot between 5:30 and 8:30, well three hours actually, before I then have to do a quick change and be at my desk at 9:00.
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned that first triathlon that you took part in after running those three marathons. When did you realise you were pretty good at it and you wanted to push harder? Obviously you’re ambitious when it comes to athletics events, if I look at the way you progressed with the marathon. When did you realise that triathlon was something that you could possibly compete against the best in the world?
JANE HANSOM: Do you know, I think it was the first one, the very first one I did. I had no idea where I would finish and I think I would have been quite chuffed just to win my age, but I was the first girl overall, so I won it outright and I kind of thought, oh, that’s queer. I was looking over my shoulder all the time on the run, but I had a fairly decent lead.
And after I finished, I realised that if I kind of knuckled down and got a bike that fitted me, the bike that I road that triathlon, I had bought from eBay and I had no idea what bike size to buy. It turns out that I had bought a mans bike with a frame far too big and it was just ludicrous, but it was a sprint distance, so at least it was quite forgiving in terms of the distance. After the first one I thought, I loved it, I had a great time, I liked the different disciplines and yeah, I think it was then.
BRAD BROWN: You obviously like endurance sport, you mentioned running that London Marathon and then going on and running the two others. When did the seed get planted that Ironman was a possibility?
JANE HANSOM: I always knew about the Ironman distance, but I’d never attempted it. To be honest, it terrified me. I started doing little sprint distances and then I did Olympic and I quite liked the Olympic distance races.
I did all of the GB age group team thing and went to the World Champs and managed podiums and what-not but the guys, I ride with a bunch of guys called Black Line London and it was always them, whenever I rode with them on a Sunday, all they would say was, ‘Jane, when are you going to do the Ironman because I know that you can run a decent marathon’. And in their head they had already decided that they thought that I had the perfect kind of head and that makeup to do the long distance of Ironman, but I wasn’t so sure, I was terrified. I just couldn’t fathom, at the time, riding 190km on a bike and then running a marathon and then eventually they persuaded me one year.
They just said right, this is it, you’ve got to do it this year and so I signed up and I did it. It was the best thing I ever did, I should have done it sooner.
Don’t think about it – just do it
BRAD BROWN: You say it was the best thing you did, obviously when you enter that race the first time and you’re doing it online, that feeling is quite difficult to describe. Do you remember that and the thoughts that went through your mind when you had entered your credit card details and pushed ‘submit’?
JANE HANSOM: Oh yeah, absolutely! I was absolutely terrified, but then I thought, you know what, it was far enough in advance to be immediately worried about it, put it that way. Although I knew it was looming and I knew that it would be a good carrot to get me out there and to get the miles in.
BRAD BROWN: Where to from there, once you’ve entered and you’ve committed, that’s when the hard work really starts, how did you set about taking on that Ironman?
JANE HANSOM: Okay, well, I had a new coach at that point, which was wonderful and I was working with Brett Sutton, so as far as I was aware, I had the best coach in the world and I thought, well, if anybody can get me through this, he can.
I went on one of his camps to St. Moritz and I did a couple of 70.3 races in the run up to prepare, but it was funny, even though I wanted to do the race, I didn’t feel ready at all. I do remember having the conversation with him a month out of the race. I said, ‘I think I should pull out of this, I’m really not ready for this at all’ and he said ‘no, no, just do it, it’ll be good training for the 70.3 World Champs’. So that was how I approached it.
I approached it with no pressure whatsoever and as far as I was concerned, I was just doing a good training day.
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned getting a coach and the importance of having someone to help you along on that journey, do you think you could have done it on your own?
JANE HANSOM: Yeah, I think I could have done it on my own, but I don’t think it would have been nearly as nice an experience and I don’t think I would have done it nearly as well. Some of the advice I got was completely indispensable.
I had everything wrong, I had the nutrition wrong, I had the strategy wrong, yeah. I probably would have crawled through and it would have been grim. I’m sure I would have finished it, but it wouldn’t have been the amazing experience I had and I did want my first Ironman to be a good one, I didn’t want it to be a negative experience. I wanted it to be positive and it was great.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about that first one. Which race was it that you entered?
JANE HANSOM: It was Ironman Switzerland.
BRAD BROWN: The one in Zurich?
JANE HANSOM: Yeah, the one in Zurich. We had decided that a July time would be a good time to do it, I think we decided to do this maybe in March, so we thought a July date would be enough time to train and there were two choices of an Ironman in and around that time.
One was in Bolton in England and the other one was in Zurich and to be honest, I did not fancy the Bolton course because I had visions of it pouring down with rain from start to finish. And yeah, I remember looking at the times because my friends, they did say that it would be, I should try to qualify and at the back of my mind, I do remember looking at the times on each course and the Zurich time was about an hour faster, but at that point I’d already made up my mind that I wanted to have a nice experience and if it was tougher competition, then fine, so be it. I was just going to do the best that I could.
BRAD BROWN: It’s funny you mention Zurich, I did it back in, I’m trying to remember what year it was, was it 2014, an amazing race, a wonderful experience and by the sounds of it, you had a great experience cause you’ve gone back for more.
JANE HANSOM: It was great, it was absolutely wonderful. I think it’s been my favourite Ironman race so far. I think it probably always will be because it was my first one. I think probably most people think that.
BRAD BROWN: Jane, did you go into that first one with no expectations? Did you go in, I want to enjoy this thing, I want to finish it, see what it’s about, or did you go in there harboring ambitions that you wanted to perform really well with the eye on Kona long term?
JANE HANSOM: I knew about Kona and I did think it would be wonderful if I did manage to qualify, but I’d no expectations whatsoever because it was a crazy distance, I was terrified of the distance.
I really didn’t have any expectations, I honestly didn’t think I’d win by the margin that I did. I was completely gob smacked at the whole experience. Yeah, absolutely, I had no expectations, I was really surprised at the results.
BRAD BROWN: Jane, I love the fact that you say you were gob smacked, you also said a short while ago that you swam growing up and you ran a little bit, were you competitive as a kid? Growing up, was sport a big part of your life?
JANE HANSOM: Yeah, definitely, I did two sports when I was at school, I swam and I ran and I did swim at a national level, I did compete for the Scotland nationally and we had trips overseas and I did the same with cross country. So I was definitely competitive, but as soon as I went to uni, my late teens, from a late teen to my late 30’s, really I did absolutely no sport whatsoever. I’m not sure why it all fell away, but it did and I’m grateful I was able to get back into it and race. I kind of have the attitude, if I’m going to do it, I’m just going to give it my all.
BRAD BROWN: Are you really enjoying that competitiveness again? You mentioned that big break after uni until your 30’s, is it nice to be back into that and in a race looking over your shoulder and seeing who is chasing you?
JANE HANSOM: Oh yeah, it’s fabulous, I love it, it’s definitely the best thing I ever did.
Where you get your Kona inspiration
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about that first Kona experience, after you’d race in Zurich and won your age group, did you realise then, you said you’d heard of Kona, when did you actually think, you know what, I want to go and race on the Big Island.
JANE HANSOM: Well, I’d known about Kona for a while, it’s something that the guys that I ride with talk about all the time and they’d spoken about Kona, they speak about Kona all the time because it’s just such a great place and so I was curious. When they started talking about it, it made me want to go, but as I said, I had no idea that I would actually manage to be able to go so soon, in my second Ironman.
I’m thrilled it all happened very quickly, but they were right, Kona is amazing, it makes most other triathlons look like a church fete!
BRAD BROWN: That island is frightening, just with the athletes once you’re there as well, did you change anything in the buildup to Ironman World Championships to what you did going into Zurich?
JANE HANSOM: Not really, I did try to stay away from all the madness in the run up to the event because there’s just so much happening and it’s really intimidating, the whole Kona experience.
It’s as if an alien race of kind of super good looking, super fit people have just landed on this island, so unless you’re rocking the best six-pack ever, and are super lean and a complete race weight, which actually I wasn’t. You can look around you and think, oh my goodness me, this is going to be interesting because everybody just looks so amazing.
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned the intimidating factor, I hate to break the news to you, but that’s how athletes like me feel when we look at athletes like you!
JANE HANSOM: Oh no, not at all.
BRAD BROWN: Jane, let’s talk about that build up to Kona and we’ll talk about what goes on, on the island and just the side show along with it, but did you go into, I asked if you went into Zurich with any sort of ambitions in what you wanted to do. Obviously after Zurich you realised, hang on a sec, I’m actually pretty good at this and I can hold my own. Did you feel that way going into Kona in the build-up before you got to the Big Island?
JANE HANSOM: I had prepared the best that I could, I thought, and I did feel good, but you know, in my head I was well aware of the fact that I think there are 87 Ironman’s globally, nowadays and so in my head I was going into a race with 86 other girls, all who had won an Ironman. So, you know, I just expected to go and enjoy the experience and have a nice day and to do my best.
That result really surprised me. I had no idea at all that I would finish so highly, I would have been absolutely and utterly thrilled with a top ten, I just had no idea that I might get that result, so that was great.
No, I had no ambitions to do any better because I hadn’t even considered that it might be possible.
BRAD BROWN: That first time out you finished second in your age group, so yeah, fantastic performance, particularly in your first year as an Ironman triathlete. Did the bug really bite then? Obviously one step away from the top spot, so I’m guessing you have to go back to try and win it?
JANE HANSOM: Yeah, well definitely, that’s the plan this year.
BRAD BROWN: That’s fantastic. Jane, as far as the race itself and how you approach Ironman World Championships in Kona, you’ve obviously got some experience at Ironman now, do you approach race day any differently to what you would Zurich or Ironman South Africa for example?
Don’t make changes on race day
JANE HANSOM: No, completely the same, I don’t change anything. I didn’t change anything and you know, I think that’s key. I think that’s the best way to do it, it’s just another race and the calmer you stay and the less you deviate from what you’re used to, can only be a good thing.
BRAD BROWN: The race itself, weather conditions were very different to what you would have experienced in Zurich, how do you prepare yourself for that side of racing in Kona?
JANE HANSOM: I think I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, it’s certainly more humid but it was quite hot, it was as hot as Zurich, I think, I mean the race in Zurich, it was a scorcher, the run was really super-tough. But in terms of the humidity, I wanted to try to do the best that I could, so I went off to do a camp about a month before Kona. It was only for a week, I could only afford to take a week off but I went to the island of Jeju in Korea which has conditions which were quite similar to Kona and I did a solid week training there to try to get used to the heat. I think that really helped.
BRAD BROWN: Talk me through what it’s like to stand on that start line and head towards the water, knowing that around you are the best athletes in the world and like you say, 86 other women who have potentially won an Ironman somewhere around the world. Is that intimidating or does that fire you up and really get you excited to race?
JANE HANSOM: No, that fires me up actually. Everybody else had won a race, but I’d won one too, so I didn’t find that a bit intimidating and you know what, on race day, when you’re in the water and the gun’s about to go, I do get nervous, for sure, but as soon as you’re there and the gun goes, then you’ve just got to go.
The nerves do usually just disappear and the one thing I did notice though, in the World Championship events, like Kona, whereas normally I might be towards the front end of the swim pack, you’re not necessarily there because there’s lots of other good swimmers around you. There’s more traffic and you just don’t necessarily have the lead that you might have in a normal race.
BRAD BROWN: Jane, looking at that Kona performance and racing in Hawaii, is there one thing, if you look back now, that really surprised you about the day or your performance or something about the Ironman World Championships, that you went in prepared, or thought you were prepared, but something that really sprung up on you and surprised you on race day?
JANE HANSOM: Oh, no, not really. I think it was as I expected. I didn’t really have that many expectations actually, I knew the swim course, I knew the bike course, the run, actually maybe the run, the run was funny. There’s a section called Hot Corner and the voice of Ironman, Paul Kaye, the South African was at that corner and he recognized me as a member of Black Line London and he did give me a bit of a shout out and stupidly I legged it up that hill as fast as I could go and then got to the top and thought better of it, that’s probably the thing that surprised me the most.
The support in the early part of the race, it does make you go out a little bit too quickly, I think and in hindsight, I think i probably won’t do that next year.
BRAD BROWN: I was going to ask, is there anything you would change going in, but you’re answered that before I got to ask it.
Position can get you that Kona win
JANE HANSOM: Yeah, just that, I would probably go out a little bit slower on the run and it would be nice to, I guess it would be nice to know position. I had no idea, it was very difficult to know where your position is in a race and I had no idea what my position was until I passed a friend of mine who pointed out, just coming out of the Energy Lab, that I was in 2nd and the girl in front of me was maybe 4 minutes in front of me.
I couldn’t believe it when I heard that, but by that point, it’s quite late on in the race, I just wish I’d known something like that earlier.
BRAD BROWN: Running onto a finishing carpet in an Ironman is special, but there must be something particularly special about doing it at a World Championships, you mentioned your first race in Zurich was a special one, what was your first finish in Kona like?
JANE HANSOM: It was wonderful, it was great. The crowds are just immense, the whole of the blue carpet, the last K is just lined with people three deep and the cheering is just phenomenal. Of course it’s especially good because it’s a tough race and I was pretty glad to see the end, to be honest.
Yeah, it was wonderful, I don’t think anything can beat that red carpet at Kona, for sure, sorry, the blue carpet.
BRAD BROWN: How soon after finishing at Kona did you say, I want to do that again, I want to come back?
JANE HANSOM: Oh, probably immediately! It was great.
BRAD BROWN: You’re a sucker for punishment Jane.
JANE HANSOM: I know!
BRAD BROWN: The more I do these interviews, the more I realise you need to be a bit of a masochist if you want to qualify and race on the Big Island, particularly if you want to do well.
JANE HANSOM: Yeah, probably. I did love it though, it was such an amazing experience, the whole thing from start to finish was just wonderful. Definitely, I can see why people would want to go back year after year after year.
The greatest lesson learned in Ironman
BRAD BROWN: What’s the biggest lesson Ironman has taught you?
JANE HANSOM: Oh, wow, that it’s not over until the blue carpet because things can change massively in a race and even though things can go particularly well on the bike, sometimes either you’ll go through bad patches or you don’t necessarily feel so strong, but usually after 5km or 10km that goes away.
So yeah, it’s just, you’ve just got to keep going and aim for that blue carpet because things do change in a race and even if you have had some kind of setback, the number of people, the number of people that were walking actually in Kona, actually blew my mind. I could not believe the number of people that started walking half way into the marathon because in my head it was a World Championships and everybody should be running as fast as they could.
I guess that’s the beauty of Ironman, it’s a long day out and it’s quite punishing and you must pace yourself, things do change. Even if you’re having a bad race in the beginning or in the middle or even towards the end, you just keep going because you can catch people in front of you because the same thing could be happening to them too.
BRAD BROWN: Jane, you mentioned those dark patches and coming out of them and you’ve just got to keep going, do you have specific strategies or specific things that you do because let’s be honest, we all go through them at some stage in an Ironman and some of us multiple times in an Ironman. How do you bounce back from those dark patches?
JANE HANSOM: Well, I’ll just have another piece of chocolate! That’s my nutrition on the bike, I’ll have a chocolate ball and it’ll go away!
BRAD BROWN: I love that, that’s fantastic! Any preference in chocolate, the darker the better? How does it work?
JANE HANSOM: I like the red Lindt chocolate balls.
BRAD BROWN: That’s fantastic. Let’s talk about ambitions and what you’ve still got left to achieve in the sport? You finished 2nd at the World Championships, you’re going back after qualifying in Ironman South Africa. Obviously you want to win in Kona, what else is left to achieve in this sport of triathlon for you?
Add variety to your bucket list
JANE HANSOM: Oh wow. I’m not quite sure. I like interesting races, I’d like to do the one in, the Alpe d’Huez triathlon, that would be a good one. I’ve also done Escape from Alcatraz, which is really fun race. It’s got a really kind of like long, tough swim and a tough sand run, up a sand ladder at the end and I quite like the interesting races like that, but I’d like to do other, even other run races.
The Comrades for example is one on my list that I would eventually love to do. I know people who have done it and as a runner, I would love to go back and try something different and longer than a marathon.
It always makes me laugh, South Africans especially, whenever you tell them that you’re running a marathon, South Africans always say, how far is that because you guys think that the Comrades is a marathon!
It’s so super hardcore, so I just feel like I have to go back and do the Comrades one day. Yes, maybe a few other interesting triathlons, but definitely the Comrades or the Mont Blanc Trail or something like that, I would definitely like to do also.
BRAD BROWN: It is interesting, you mention the psyche of South Africans and that sort of thing, for people who are listening to this who haven’t heard of the Comrades Marathon, it’s a 56 mile, 89km ultra-marathon that’s pretty brutal and you’re so right Jane, we always joke here. Comrades is two marathons back to back, followed by a Park Run, it’s just another normal day of running!
JANE HANSOM: It’s great and I mean it’s such an iconic race, it’s definitely on my Bucket List.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about South Africa, you’ve recently returned back to the UK from a trip here, you came out to Port Elizabeth to claim another Kona spot, which you did. Talk me through your race in Port Elizabeth this year?
I was racing too and it was pretty hot, weather conditions were warm, there wasn’t too much wind, but it was pretty close to being almost perfect, other than the heat, it was a good day out.
JANE HANSOM: It was fabulous, it was wonderful. The support was off the scale, I have to say, it’s just such an amazing location to hold the Ironman.
The locals totally get behind it, in a way I’ve never seen before actually. Obviously they love Ironman weekend, everybody is out having barbecues, the run course was just amazing and the whole 10km almost was lined with people with gazebos and barbecues firing up and yeah, it was amazing.
I will definitely remember the run of the Ironman and actually even through some of the villages, on the bike leg, at the return of the bike leg, which is fairly, 90km away, I was surprised at the numbers of people out supporting there too. That’s quite unusual.
BRAD BROWN: I absolutely love that marathon, it’s got to be my favourite marathon of the year. I run quite a few stand-alone marathons, but that one in Port Elizabeth, like you say, the crowd support is amazing, so much so that I decided to spend a few more hours out there than I was hoping to this year, but it was done nonetheless!
JANE HANSOM: At least you picked one which was well supported!
And then it’s time to celebrate
BRAD BROWN: Jane, a little birdie whispered in my ear as well that apparently the after party at Ironman South Africa was particularly good this year too?
JANE HANSOM: The after party, I’m trying to remember the after party, I think that might be a good sign!
BRAD BROWN: Jane, it’s been amazing catching up, I really enjoyed it. I unfortunately didn’t get to meet you in Port Elizabeth, but I did get to see you race which was fantastic.
You were long gone and showered, you’d probably had a nap and dinner by the time I came in, but it was a privilege to share that course with you and well done on your win and another qualification for Kona.
JANE HANSOM: Wonderful, thank you.