Remember your first triathlon? The nerves. The questions. The fear of not knowing what’s to come. Most people are just hoping they can finish. Jenny Shaunhnessy’s first ever triathlon was this past June at the Buffalo Sprint Triahtlon… and she won. It takes a special talent to win your first triathlon outright, on a road bike no less. She then shows up at one of the most competitive races in Minnesota and Best of the US qualifier, the Waconia Triathlon, and proceeds to win that as well, essentially leading wire-to-wire. Along with Dan Hedgecock, Jenny is one of those triathlete’s who we can unflinchingly say, will go as far as she wants to in triathlon.
Jenny is only 1 year removed from an outstanding collegiate swimming career at the U of M. Since she won’t brag about her times (as you will see in the interview) I will. She holds 6 school records at the U. 1:44.73 in the 200 free (yes triathlete’s, that’s 52.3 per 100 yds). 1:55.41 in the 200 back, 1:57.18 in the 200IM and 4:06.37 in the 400IM. Four NCAA appearances, First Team All America honor and Academic All-Big Ten honoree among many other honors.
Along with the athletic accolades, Jenny also happens to be a genuinely nice and humble person. That’s just the type of person we want racing for us! I wanted to ask her a few questions so we could all get to know her a little better.
CW: Other than us asking, what made you decide to race for Gear West Bike and Tri?
JS: Being a complete newcomer to the sport, I’ve been so impressed by the
genuine kindness shown to me by each member of the GW team that I’ve met
over the past few months. I can’t imagine a more helpful and welcoming
group of individuals. Equally as appealing to me are the values emphasized
by GW. The focus on sportsmanship and healthy development of athletes and
the surrounding tri community is something that I entirely support.
CW: Obviously, we know you come from a swimming background. What are you most proud of from your swimming career?
JS: Tough question! I guess I’d have to say I’m happy with the fact that I
was able to keep it all in perspective over the years and finish without
any big regrets. I’m grateful that I was surrounded by so much support
from family, coaches, teammates, and friends. Balancing school, swimming,
and life’s other demands (eating and sleeping, to be precise) would not
have been possible without help from an incredible support system. As my
swim coach, Kelly Kremer, often told us, “Family first, school second,
swimming somewhere after that.” I think adopting that attitude made me a
happier and healthier athlete.
CW: Looking at your Gopher Sports Bio I see you have a number of family members that were high performing athletes. Did that put any pressure on you athletically growing up?
JS: Absolutely not! My parents, both former collegiate swimmers, are definitely
not the “crazy swimmer parent” types. I received nothing but positive
encouragement growing up. If anything, I loved the fact that they
understand the sport and could relate to what I was going through, provide
advice, and even follow my overly-detailed accounts of the latest
fun-filled sets from practices! I think they made it to just about all of
my meets, which I am really grateful for. I’m also lucky to have an
incredibly supportive extended family, including several successful
athletes who continue to inspire me.
CW: Did you ever run competitively before triathlon? Did you know you had talent there?
JS: I think I did two random, very short races when I was in grade school, does
that count? Haha. And I’ve seen a few photos of my 3-or-4 year old self
running on a track. That just about sums up my running career. I did a
little bit of running to supplement my swim training in college, and even
enjoyed it so much that I dipped into a short period of overtraining before
backing off. Turns out that too much of a good thing can actually be a bad
thing! Wonderful learning experience, nonetheless. While I really enjoy
running, and probably would have taken up running if the sport of swimming
did not exist, I’m still at the point where swimming 6 miles feels more
comfortable to me than running 6!
CW: What was your first tri, and what inspired you to do it?
JS: The Buffalo Sprint Triathlon this past June was my first race. During SCUBA
diving class this past semester (yes, a college class! I would highly
recommend it), my cousin – who had already signed up for Buffalo –
convinced me to sign up as well. I had been considering triathlon for quite
some time, but needed that extra nudge. The Buffalo crew put on such a
great event that I was completely hooked.
CW: I’ll ask the same question I asked former D1 runner turned triathlete Dan Hedgecock. It seems that so few D1 athletes come out of college and start in with triathlon. Why do you think that is?
JS: While I’m sure it all depends on individual circumstances, I think 2 main
factors are to blame. First, it seems that a lot of D1 athletes are simply
‘ready to be done’ after 4 years of rigorous training and competing.
Some admit to feeling burned out, and I think others just want to sleep
past 5:30 am! Second, a lot of former athletes find themselves too busy
with grad school, traveling, or searching for jobs right after graduation.
If only there were a few more hours in each day.
CW: Do you have a coach? If you don’t mind telling, give me an idea of a typical week of training.
JS: I’m currently writing my own workouts and training mostly on my own.
I’m actually having a lot of fun with it. The variety of swimming,
biking, and running is exciting and new, and I’m able to modify things
based on how workouts are going. I’ve always loved training, probably
more so than competing, and I’ve had quite a bit of time for it lately.
When school starts in a few weeks, I may need to rearrange the schedule a
bit! Over the past 4 months or so (ever since I’ve had a real bike), a
typical non-race week has included 6 swim workouts – 3 with intensity and
3 on the lighter side, 5 or 6 rides – mostly inside on the trainer, 2-ish
sessions of running supplemented with elliptical if need be (lots of
trouble with medial shin splints, a bit of trial and error at this point),
3 sessions of weight training, along with a good core workout most days,
and lots of stretching!
CW: How does that training compare to what you were doing for swimming at the U?
JS: Training is different than it used to be, but fortunately there is quite a
bit of carry-over from swimming to tri training. Training while I was
swimming at the U called for a bit more pool time. So much pool time, in
fact, that my sense of smell is almost nonexistent! I trained in the
mid-distance group and we were in the pool for 3.5 hours 3 days a week, and
2 hours 3 days a week. We lifted weights 3 days per week and incorporated
cardio 3 or 4 days per week. We trained year-round with about a week off
after each season. A good portion of our swim volume focused on kicking and
IM work, whereas now I do much less kicking and focus less on non-free
work. While I do miss all the kicking, freestyle is definitely my favorite
stroke to train.
CW: For me, I’m a better pool swimmer than open water swimmer as I have relatively good flip turns and streamline. How does open water swimming compare to pool swimming for you?
JS: I can completely relate. My short course swim times were always better
relative to my long course times. I’m a big fan of turns and
streamlining. I also find comfort in the unwavering presence of that black
line on the bottom! Open water swimming has been fun, but much different.
The run-in still terrifies me a bit (I’m a fan of those dives and lane
lines as well). As a swimmer, I’ve always been one to count my strokes
and pay attention to details – probably too much for my own good. I’m
excited to work on just relaxing and swimming toward the next buoy.
CW: What are your racing plans for the rest of the summer/fall. Any thoughts on next year?
JS: I just re-located to Durham, NC to start in Duke’s Physical Therapy
program. As for the rest of this summer, I’m doing a race down here next
weekend – it’ll be my first international distance! If I survive the
heat (it is REALLY hot here), I may do a sprint up in Virginia with my
brother. My plan, if school allows, is to race in the Best of the US in
October as well. Next year, I’ll be here for most of the summer (school
is year-round for the next 2 and a half years), so I’ll most likely do
some racing here, and it’d be fun to possibly get home for a race or two!