Jenny Alcorn – One of the Greats

Have a chat with anybody about triathlon and the history of the sport in Australia, and you can rest assured that they will have heard the name, Jenny Alcorn – the passionate, resilient and inspiring athlete, coach and mentor is well-known in the sport. Throughout her longstanding history in the sport, she has not only achieved some incredible results – and continues to do so – but she was also instrumental in turning a triathlon club around and has coached, and mentored, a number of Aussie triathlon greats. Australian Triathlete’s Margaret Mielczarek chats with Jenny about her start in the sport, her career as an athlete, coach and mentor, and more.

Australian Triathlete (AT): Describe yourself in three words.
Jenny Alcorn (JA): Passionate, resilient, mentor.

AT: Tell us a bit about your story. What was life like prior to triathlon? Were you always active and into sport?
JA: As a kid, I was very active in sport but not trained or coached. My Dad played hockey all his life – I had a hockey stick in my hands before I could walk. I spent 15 years at State and National level hockey for NSW.

AT: Where did it all start in triathlon? How and when did you discover the sport?
JA: I was 25-years-old when I met friends at a gym in Sydney, who talked me into training for a triathlon. Up until that time, the longest I had ever run was the warmup before hockey training and before matches – I had no swimming and no biking background. I was only ever going to do one triathlon – it was 1985 at the famous Nepean River tri. I nearly drowned and swam backstroke and breaststroke for most of the swim, and hurt so bad during the bike and run. Back in those days, you didn’t start with a little enticer – I went straight into a 1km swim, 40km bike and 12k hilly run!

AT: Ha, that’s great! Talk about jumping straight into the deep end. So, why triathlon?
JA: I really enjoyed the challenge of my first triathlon. I immediately had this deep desire and determination to want to improve in all the three disciplines. I was literally roped in hook, line and sinker by my will to progress in the sport.

AT: You combine training with work/family/social life. How do you fit everything in and maintain balance?
JA: I have always been a morning person. Early starts with my squad get me started on a good, positive note to keep it going all day! I love my job and I’m very passionate about mentoring and teaching the skills and fitness of triathlon and taking my athletes on a journey. My lifestyle is triathlon and literally crosses over into my social life, I love it. It’s a great fit for me and my family. I am very blessed to have amazing awesome people in my life! It’s easy to fit everything in when you love it so much.

AT: Absolutely! OK, so describe your typical training day – what does a day in the life of Jenny look like?
JA: It starts with a 4:20am wake-up. Then it’s:

  • 5am SPTC 50km bike session, which finishes at 7am – I’ll do an extra 30km with my Ironman squad
  • 8:30am dog walk
  • 9:00am PT session
  • 11:00am my 3.5km swim
  • 12:30pm lunch, programming/emails/research
  • 3:45pm kids triathlon training,
  • 5:30pm SPTC swim squad session
  • Home 7:15pm

AT: Wow! Full on but it does sound very familiar. Let’s chat about the races you’ve done – describe your most memorable race.
JA: There are so many! The 1992 World Duathlon Championships in Frankfurt was probably my most memorable. The distance was 10km run/60km bike/10km run. This was my first race for Australia as an elite. I was called in last minute by TA [Triathlon Australia] while I was racing in France for a French club. I had only ever done a couple of little duathlons and the distance was much longer than my standard Olympic distance triathlons. I went out hard in my first 10km, shocked myself by running sub-36minute 10km, coming in second off the first run. I jumped on the bike and caught the first girl in the first 5kms to realise, in fear, that I was leading the race. I just couldn’t believe it – I pushed like hell for 60km on the bike expecting a bunch of girls to catch me. With 5km to go the lead men started to pass me, as they started behind us – they egged me on to go harder, I came off the bike with a one-minute lead and cramping quads. The last 10km I was running in fear and willing myself to push through the pain. I crossed the line 19 seconds ahead of second place and relieved rather than happy about my result. From that day on I told myself that in the future I would trust myself and believe that I was good enough and worthy enough to win. Now I race with a positive attitude – conviction and the belief that I can achieve my challenges.

AT: That’s incredible! You’re also a passionate coach – the head coach at the Surfers Paradise Triathlon Club (SPTC). Tell us more about that passion.
JA: Coaching for me is where I have come into my own. Teaching and mentoring my athletes after coming off my life experience has been more satisfying and rewarding than my personal racing. My passion is directed into passing on my knowledge, teaching skill, technique, the mental skills, belief, discipline and balance. I like to keep it simple – consistency, staying injury free and health are top on my list. As a coach, I’m passionate about my squad and how the squad itself is a driving force to motivate and discipline one another to stay connected and engaged to achieve their goals. Individual goals can be achieved in a supportive group environment and this is what I love creating while harnessing the athlete in their individual way. There is no greater feeling than seeing the joy and success of an athlete as they achieve something they never thought they could do!

AT: You were instrumental in turning SPTC around – you revitalised the club in 1995. Talk us through that and what did that involve.
JA: The SPTC was first started by coach Brett Sutton – Brett took me and a number of triathletes to France in 1992 through to 1995 to compete within French clubs; he left Warren King and Jackie (Gallagher) Fairweather to look after the home squad. During the next couple of years, Brett stayed in Europe and Warren moved away from the Gold Coast. Jackie called me while I was in Europe to advise me the club had fallen apart and would I like to come back and take on the coaching role. It was my last year in France and I was ready to retire as an athlete and came back to the Gold Coast to take on the job of coaching and rebuilding the club. And the rest is history!

AT: What sparked your interest in coaching?
JA: Interestingly – during my time as a hockey player, I threw myself into the role of fitness and conditioning coach. I thrived on working with my team to get them fit, tough and aggressive. It all came so easy to me. In my four years that I competed in France with my French team, I gave a lot of my time coaching and teaching the juniors and age groupers in my squad. I became very passionate about coaching and it really helped me with my confidence as an athlete as well giving me the experience. I’m definitely harder on myself than my athletes. I don’t expect my athletes to be as staunch as myself but I do lead by example and it’s amazing how my athletes respond to that!

AT: You’ve coached some big names in the sport (including Luke McKenzie). Tell us more about that.
JA: Yes, I have been very fortunate to have coached and mentored some very talented local juniors in my time. Luke McKenzie was definitely a highly driven athlete with talent and gutsy training ethic. I also coached Emma Snowsill, a quiet achiever who is still a member of the SPTC to this day! Liz Blatchford came across from WA and was a fierce junior – she still is to this day and an SPTC member. I’ve had involvement with Annabel Luxford, who is still holding the test of time. Our Ashleigh Gentle came to me as a 13-year-old stand out talent who won Nationals in Athletics and Cross Country, and went on to win two consecutive silver medals at worlds as a 15-year-old and again as a 16-year-old. Ashleigh is a humble quiet achiever with an amazing work ethic and so young destined to be a champion!

AT: What has it been like watching these athletes grow and achieve big successes in the sport?
JA: For me watching the careers of these and all of my juniors has been the most rewarding and satisfying of my coaching career. The thing I love most of all is the long-life friendships that have formed
with Emma, Liz, Annabel and Luke who came through in the same era and who are all still giving to the sport. I’m a very proud coach!

AT: How do you combine coaching and also racing yourself?
JA: I have my set SPTC training program of which I coach at all the sessions.
I usually do my run training one-hour before the track session. I join in with my squad during strength session and long runs – this keeps me connected with the group and in a position to make corrections or give advice as they go. I ride in all my squad cycle sessions and supervise from group-to-group and cycle after the squad sessions. I do my swim and gym strength sessions during the day by myself, and coach the swim squad sessions in the afternoon. I’m so experienced at racing and find I’m relaxed and more focused on my athletes prerace and race morning. Racing with my athletes is really cool – I have a better opportunity to make contact during the race and keep them focused. My athletes love me taking them on a journey to get to the race and be with them on race day – it feels good for all
of us.

AT: You’ve had a long-standing history in the sport. What do you think is the key to longevity in this sport?
JA: I’ve had over 30 years in the sport. Definitely, for me, the thing that keeps me going is the true love and passion I have for the sport as a whole. I honestly just love getting up in the morning to go to work – I love my job, I love teaching and I love seeing the improvements the joy and happiness that is expressed when goals and challenges are achieved by my athletes. Triathlon is a lifestyle in which I have found a balance to keep me consistent, healthy, injury free and a sport where I have made lifelong friendships.

AT: You’ve had some great successes in the sport – multi Kona podium, world champs, world duathlon champs, world aquathlon champs – what are your secrets to success?
JA: A lot of people ask me this – how do you do it? How do you get up every morning and just keep going and going? How do you keep winning? I’ve never been a natural athlete – I’ve always had to work really hard. I know how to give it my all;
I know how to hurt. Mentally I’m very tough; I’m very aggressive and consistent.
I want it and I want it bad and can still smile along the way!

AT: What’s your biggest piece of advice to other people wanting to get into the sport and to athletes wanting to qualify for Kona?
JA: Find a good coach. Make a commitment and be prepared to sacrifice to achieve your goals. Don’t think about the end result but instead look at one session at a time and see your improvement on a weekly basis. Always work on specific skill, technique and strength to keep injury free.
Build a good base and resilience in your body and mind. Take a full rest day a week and listen to your body. Train with a group
you feel happy and comfortable with.
And keep smiling!

Fun Facts

One thing you can’t live without … A coffee first thing in the morning
If not triathlon … Cycling
When not training/coaching … Walking my Blue Staffy, Corona
A guilty pleasure … Ice Cream
Bucket list race … Pyrenees cycle tour
Athlete you admire … Emma Snowsill
A person that inspires you … Daniela Ryf
The most embarrassing moment in training and racing … Back in the days of the F1 Racing Series – I put my helmet on back-to-front.
When I say Kona, you say … The Ultimate

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Margaret Mielczarek

Margaret Mielczarek is the deputy editor at Australian Triathlete Magazine and writes the web series 'Shenanigans of a Deputy 2.0'. She is a passionate age-group triathlete and four-time Ironman finisher - currently in training for Ironman number five!

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