Why is professional triathlete Jeff Symonds competing in Ironman Canada this weekend?
When the cannon sounds this Sunday morning in the South Okanagan, it will herald the return of Ironman Canada to Penticton after a 10-year absence.
Unlike Ironman, local professional triathlete Jeff Symonds has never left town. Although he had traveled for many races during this period, when the sun rose on the last Sunday in August he was in Penticton, being Jeff Symonds – the professional triathlete who took third place in the World Championship Ironman 70.3 in 2011 and won the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship in Melbourne in 2015. For some years Ironman wasn’t happening in Penticton, Symonds was there as a triathlon warrior, pulling off the sidewalk after a crash at high speed and still winning the race, in other years it was as part of a relay team in some obscure full-distance event, while other years it was as a cheerleader , handing out drinks and high fives along a desolate patch of gravel and sage on the race course in a triathlon that featured less than a dozen runners.
This year, when the cannon explodes, Symonds will jump into the lake as a race favorite and a student. Kevin Heinze of Triathlon Magazine Canada spoke with Jeff Symonds, a man in transition.
Triathlon Magazine Canada: After your third place at the 70.3 World Championships, a triathlon publication wrote an article about you. One of the comments they had was “he’s a guy who never stops smiling”. That’s it, a decade later and you’re still, still smiling, what’s going on?
Jeff Symonds: I think in general I’m just a pretty happy guy and it’s Ironman race week in Penticton. It’s an exciting time and I think everyone is smiling.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room or Symonds on the starting line. This race in Penticton is not a professional race, what are you doing here?
It’s a complicated question. To sum up, I had to make a choice between Mont-Tremblant, which was last week, and Penticton, this week. My heart just wasn’t in Mont-Tremblant. There are reasons and pros and cons on both sides. My decision to race here stems from the reasons I got into the sport, wanting to be part of the Penticton triathlon community and carry on this tradition. I also wanted to run here as inspiration for the kids I swim in coaching and to see a lot of my friends run here for the first time in 10 years. All of this made it more meaningful.
Related: Ironman is back! Jeff Symonds’ point of view
It’s race week, what are some of the sessions you do before an Ironman?
Today I swam with a local triathlon team. The main set consisted of 6 x 300 m intervals in Okanagan Lake. For the fast stuff, I was just trying to hang in there because most people were wearing wetsuits and I wasn’t. I also did a short bike ride on which I had a downside. I hope this will lead to good karma and I don’t have any in the running. I also used the flat as an opportunity to think about how I was going to overcome this, or any other mechanical adversity in the race. After that, it’s just a few easy sessions to stay sharp. I do a short bike on Saturday before checking it out, just to make sure it’s working properly.
What do you eat during race week?
I keep it as usual, except for Saturday. I usually switch to more bland foods. Two nights before, I’ll be having a spaghetti dinner, but that’s usually to get more into the hype and race week tradition. And because I like to eat spaghetti.
Growing up in Penticton in the 1980s and 1990s, it was one of the few places to have an Ironman. Have you had any triathlon heroes?
Yes, Mr Reimer. Frank Remer. He was my teacher. I remember coming into 4th grade and he had just done Ironman. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I also remember meeting Shingo Tani the year he did well. It was this little Japanese and my friend and I were blown away.
Chris Lieto was a huge inspiration. I remember seeing him beat Simon Lessing in 2005. I was a kid then and my job was to ride with the third man. I could see the race unfold. I saw Simon Lessing throw up in the bushes as Chris Lieto passed him and other lead changes in the final miles, so that’s when I decided to become a pro triathlete.
What have been your most satisfying runs?
One thing I’ve learned in this sport is that the most satisfying isn’t always the ones you do best, or there’s the most glory or prize money. Ultimately, these are the ones you can overcome the most adversity. In this way, overcoming the accident and winning the race at the Challenge Penticton in 2013 was very satisfying. Other satisfying races are those where you have a lot of challenges, like a lack of proper preparation. or an injury before the race, and you’re still doing well.
Related: Jeff Symonds Wins Ironman Melbourne
Training for an Ironman is tough, not only physically, but also mentally. I’ve been having bad dreams of getting lost doing an Ironman for 25 years now. Do you have bad racing dreams?
Certainly, me too. You get your crazy dreams, and some of the ones you may forget, but I remember before one of my last races was a half Ironman, in Victoria. I lay in bed obsessing over whether to wear a short-sleeved or long-sleeved trisuit. It saved me from worrying about a little detail when what I should have been doing was just sleeping. I think it’s just pre-race anxiety that manifests in a particular way. Having butterflies in your stomach before a race is part of the sport and I think that’s one of the reasons we do it.
Earlier this year you announced that you were going back to school and your goal is to become a teacher, but do you have things to do in triathlon?
Plenty! I would love to win the pro race here when it comes back. I would like to win a plaque in the Winner’s Circle at Rotary Beach. I would definitely like another crack in Kona too. The only time I did it I had this mechanical issue that required me to ride with only one leg for the last part of the trail. I had a chance to look at my school schedule and it looks good to me to be able to train well and have a very good chance at Ironman Canada 2023.
Thanks for your time Jeff, have a good race on Sunday.