For the love of triathlon…meet the inspiring Jo Smith

Meet Jo Smith… mum of four, full time Asset Manager, coach, mentor and 9-time-Ironman.  Sounds like she has a lot going on right? 

Well as if that isn’t enough, Jo has been accepted to race Ultraman Canada in 2020, which is a three day triathlon event covering 10km of swimming, 421km of cycling and 84km of running.  It seems that Jo’s simple motto has been the key to her success in this sport, which is:

“Unless you want to be a top placed age grouper or you are a professional athlete, we do this for fun! It is meant to be fun, and yes, the deep dark weeks of peak Ironman training do get a little hard to juggle but if life gets in the way, it gets in the way.

A training session here and there is that you drop won’t hurt, the time you miss with the kids will hurt more in the long run!  This is for FUN!”

With this attitude in mind, we asked Jo to explain how she developed such a love for triathlon; her approach to training; and the number one question she asks all potential Ironman triathletes.  Here is Jo Smith, in her own words as a “true back of the pack athlete, mum and wife”…

I am in my mid-forties with 4 children, and my husband and I both participate in Ironman Triathlon.

I work full time as an Asset Manager for the disability organization and try my hardest to fit training and everyday life around that. It’s a little easier now the children have all moved out of home (except 1 on his gap year) and are spread around the country as I can train before and after work and not have to fit in school and kids’ activities.

I have been participating in triathlon for around 15 years now with 9 of those years doing long course (Ironman distance) events. Ironman Australia was my 9th Ironman finish. My start to triathlon is probably similar to a lot of people, I was encouraged to come along to a local club event and give it a go. I remember this day like it was yesterday – total newbie, left my helmet at home and then left my tyres pumped up and they exploded in the car half way out to the event! But I had a great time and loved it. The same girlfriend who encouraged me to give this enticer a go is still competing and encouraging me now and I love that we are all still involved in this awesome sport.

I don’t have any podium finishes to my name, I really am the back of the pack athlete and I am happy to be this, I participate because I love this sport. I am not chasing anything except enjoyment and crossing that finish line each year! But I would have to say one of the greatest achievements I have from this sport is being involved in our local club Women’s Tri for the last 5-6 years. I love to encourage women into the sport and being involved in this event is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. When you have over 280 ladies smiling, laughing, scared and anxious all at the same time on the start line, it is one of the most electric feelings around and then they cross that finish line and there are tears of joy, pain but good pain, and their hearts are bursting with pride that they have achieved something they thought was almost impossible. 

From being involved in this event, I went on to coaching women for a few years to all sorts of events from Enticer triathlons to Ironman events.  Each and every one of the ladies I have either coached or who would come along to the free swim clinics I would host each week on behalf of our tri club, have achieved great things. Some ladies could not even swim 25m when they came along and before they could think about it, were pumping out 1.5 kms in a night! This is what makes my heart sing. Some young, some middle age and some in their sixties all wanting to achieve. Some nights we pushed times and hit PB’s and some nights we had a cry and put life into perspective. It is all about the balance with the ladies. And this year, I was made a life member of my local tri club. 

When I was 17 I underwent my second knee reconstruction, the thing I remember the most is the surgeon telling me that I could never play sport again. He went on to tell me that my life would be all about sitting on the couch from here on in. I was devastated, I had played netball and hockey and took up club swimming (after my first ACL reco), we water skied during the summer and I went between hockey and netball during the winter. Life for me as a teenager was as active as you could be. I listened to the doctor’s advice for 10 years, put on weight, became unhappy and then one day something clicked and I decided that I needed to move again. I started playing hockey (knee was heavily taped), I would drag the kids in the middle of the cold winters to hockey and make they sit and watch and would parent from the field! 

I then set about seeing if I could run a marathon. Yep I had big dreams, but thought I could only do one, my knees still weren’t that great (they are pretty bad now!) so I thought one marathon and then I would stop. I have no idea why I wanted to do a marathon apart from seeing how far I could push my body. Of course, it then turned into one half Ironman and then maybe one Ironman. All with the thought I would stop at one!

Then I read about this Ultraman business and wondered, could my body hold up to do this? Is this possible? Could I make the cut-offs? Well I guess the first thing to do is pick one of the Ultraman events. Of course, the one in Australia would be easy, we could drive up to Noosa and family and friends can come along and support/crew for me. Except one problem, I have a massive fear of swimming in the ocean. Yep, I’ve competed at Busso twice and done all sorts of half ironman events in the ocean and Port Mac quite a few times, but I feel ok in these events with 1500 people around me, not 50 and spread out over a 5-10km course in the ocean! Then in 2016 we hosted a French Canadian exchange student (who I coached to his first Ironman at Busso at the tender age of 18) and I knew about Ultra520K Canada and thought why not, what a great opportunity to go over and visit Cedric, meets his parents and for him to show us a bit of his home country like we showed him ours and so, off I went and applied for Ultra520K Canada hoping they would accept my application but happy to know I had the courage to apply and the outcome would be what it would be. I have chosen to stay with the original race directors and will now compete in the Ultra520K Canada event.

Surprise, I was accepted into the 2019 event. We set out planning out my next 2 years’ worth of training/racing all building up to August 2019. However, life throws some curve balls, some expected and some not. Late last year I resigned from job of 13 years and took on another role. Once in this role, I realised that life was extra busy in this new role and my working hours increased quite a lot, that would impact on my training going forward. I made the hard decision to delay for 24 months (this was a little bit of settling into my new role and allowing from some leave to build up and enjoy a little holiday at the end of the event), it will be a little sad when I watch the start of the 2019 event knowing I should have been on that start line but happy with my decision as I now can be both and settle into my new role and continue to train and build the base. Plus, I do get to crew for our friend at Ultraman Australia in May again, which I love because it teaches us so much about what the crew need to do for the athlete.

For those that don’t know what Ultraman or Ultra520k Canada is, it is a three-day triathlon event – Day 1 is a 10km Swim and 149.8km Bike, Day 2 – 275.8 km Bike and Day 3 – 84.4km Run all with a 12 hour cut off each day. 

We haven’t really developed a solid crew plan for Canada just yet as it is still quite a long way away, but our exchange student and his Dad have mentioned they would love to help us, and my amazing husband will of course come along and I am hoping at least one of the kids would like to come over (all depends where they are up to at university and work). 

We even got married at Ironman WA… in 2010 My husband and I did our first Ironman, we met training for a marathon 2 years earlier and both were triathletes, and when we started to plan our wedding it kinda worked itself out that Busselton would again hold a special memory for us. I was coaching multiple athletes into the 2016 event, my sister had decided to do the event and my parents were heading over to watch both their daughters compete. So, we set about planning a surprise wedding. We were even going to keep the secret from family and the children and my best friend, we did however end up having to tell them to get them all to come over, the typical “I am not going all the way over to WA to watch another bloody Ironman was mentioned by a few family members”).

We planned the wedding for the Friday afternoon as I had found the most awesome wedding shoes, but they were quite high, I needed a couple of days prior to the Ironman to get over wearing them, it’s all about the balance right? We had about 30 people heading over from our home town to compete and spectate at Busso, I arranged for a squad dinner for everyone (which was to be our reception) and arranged for a squad photo to happen just on the lawn near the Jetty. Except it was our wedding not a squad photo that was happening. I had no idea how we pulled it off as a surprise, we carted two wedding cakes (which I decorated when in Busselton) over from home and ran around all day in town having hair and makeup done. Although we were almost were caught delivering the wedding cake to the restaurant, not sure how I would have excused that one! Belinda and the Busselton Triathlon Club were having dinner that night in the same restaurant and saw us, she mentioned to her husband that the bride must be a triathlete because of the swimmer tan lines!

When I was coaching and ladies would ask me if they could do an Ironman, my first question to them was always – are your family on board with this idea? Because it may be you out there swimming, riding and running during the event but the day to day comes back to the army you have at home helping you. 

In the early days when the kids were younger it was a little harder… and I look back now and wonder how I managed to study for my degree, work full time and train for an Ironman, and my husband was training and working full time too. I don’t have any answers for this, sorry!! I am not sure how I did it, I think if you want something badly you just do it.

I know I would do all my sessions in the morning when they were still asleep and, in the afternoon,, sometimes they would come along. I used their sport training as an opportunity to train myself, I would drop them off and then go do a session. Some little tips to help if you have younger kids that I have used over the years – put kids on a bike and have them call your fartlek run session (they love an opportunity to boss mum), set the wind trainer up on the sidelines of the kids sports so you can watch and train at the same time. Before I retired from Hockey a few years back, I used my hockey games as my fartlek session for early tri season training. Use friends for motivation, they don’t have to be triathletes, pull friends from all sorts of areas of your life. Sometimes, I would ride my mtb while my husband does a long run and be the water girl for him. Other times if he had an easy bike and I have a hard one, he would tow me along and makes me work a little harder. 

One of my little rewards that I have is to base our training around the coffee shop! All morning, lunch, early afternoon training ends at the coffee shop!

But the key to making it all work is planning. I still meal plan each and every week, I set aside time to clean my house each week (I am a much better person when the house is clean and in order) and I would try and cook a few extra meals on a Sunday for a few nights meals to help with training in the afternoon during the week. All this helps me. When my life is in order, I feel focused and can head out on a training session and focus on that and not the millions of jobs I have waiting for me at home.

Triathlon is by no means an individual sport – I have a great team around me that help me stay healthy and as injury free as I can possibly be, I have an Osteo that I have worked with for the last 8 years that puts me back together when needed, they also have a Physio that I have used previously for core training over the years not to mention great friends and so enthusiastic to assist any athletes that walk through their doors, and the same with my massage therapist that I use every month when in training. As I get older the importance of weight training is becoming so crucial and yes, I wished I had incorporated this into my program from when I first started. I now weight train twice a week and have learnt a very valuable lesson of late to not drop it in the peak Ironman training load! I am so fortunate to have this amazing team around me and supporting me in every possible way. 

Sometimes I do relax…! In the off season I do yoga when I can and find this so relaxing (well not all positions as said by the very inflexible triathlete!) and try to incorporate time for me into my week, this could be just sitting on the couch watching Netflix so my brain can just switch off (very hard for me) or a trail run being out in the hills walking/running with my dog and listening to the birds and wildlife. 

Jo – your longevity and success in triathlon is an inspiration to so many, and is a testament to your positive and determined attitude.  We absolutely love following your journey and we will be cheering and fuelling you as you head for Ultraman Canada! 

Happy training!

Belinda x