Jessica Douglas is no stranger to the “long haul”. The three-time world 24-hour solo elite mountain bike champion takes on a new challenge this weekend when she tackles her first Ironman triathlon in Busselton. Witsup’s Chief, Stef Hanson caught up with the debutant to get her thoughts about her latest transition.

Text By Stef Hanson | Images By Witsup


Witsup: What was the allure of iron-distance triathlon that made you swap out the knobby tyres for the super slick tyres?

Jess Douglas: I have won a few world and national championships in the sport of 24hr SOLO mountain biking, and its pretty tough going ‘racing’ at this level let alone just finishing.

There is always conversation about what is tougher, 24hr racing or an Ironman Tri. I was always keen to do an IM anyway, but swimming was my greatest hurdle, as I just never invested time in being an efficient swimmer let alone do swimming lessons as a kid!

In a nutshell firstly I am here to see what really is harder, and secondly to finish one and say TICK, that’s one thing off the bucket list.

W: What was your first point of call when you decided that you wanted to do an iron-distance triathlon?

JD: I had just won a road race at Geelong Cycling Club, it was actually a race with a lot of gravel sectors in it – go figure!??!

Stephane Vander Bruggen of GPC was racing too. He won the B grade race, I won the C grade race and he asked me a day later if I would be interested in doing triathlon. Secretly I was keen, so we met up and chatted and that’s how I got started. Initially Steph thought I might be keen to qualify for ITU World Champs next year in Gold Coast but I already knew that IM was my thing and that even Ultraman or Epic 5 got me excited. In fact I have no idea what motivation will lie after this weekend at Busso, but I reckon an Ultraman event would be pretty fun. The more broken I can get, the more fun I have.

W: Aside from the obvious, what have you noticed that’s very different from the MTB world to the triathlon world?

JD: OMG, the washing, the constant shuffling of gear in and out of the car, the dirty bike with a black greasy chain and drink splatters all over it, the nutrition, the fatigue.

Oh that’s just the beginning. Obviously conversation is a lot different. Its about swim, bike & run splits and getting savvy with what these numbers mean.

As a mountain biker you often talk about how cool that piece of single track was and did you take the A or the B line over that gnarley rock garden? You talk about that hubbard triathlete (or roadie) that smashed you on the fire road but then rode like a nana and held you up through the coolest section of berms!

In all honesty though, people are people, we all have our insecurities about our abilities, we all get excited at a fun racecourse and we all want a fast bike leg!

W: What was the most daunting/difficult about learning to become a triathlete?

JD: For me it is the swim. I grew up avoiding swimming lessons and school swim carnivals.  I loved water and the surf and was happy to dive under waves but as far as “swimming” goes I had survival side-stroke as my preferred go to stroke.

In my mid 20’s I did some lessons and have dabbled in ‘attempting’ to get good at it. Purely because I was always keen on doing a triathlon. However turning up to the pool and following a black line really didn’t have enough fun-factor in it, so I never pursued it.

I used to row surf boats and we had to do our bronze requalification each year, us boaties were looked after and if the surf was huge we were given alternative days to do it. I was still good at survival side-stroke too.

Anyway, after spending August and September doing laps and getting some efficiencies sorted in the pool October came around and so did open water swimming season.

Again, I sucked but was enticed by the challenge and took to it instantly.  The constant challenge of sighting, working out the flow of the swell and chop whilst out in the ocean gelled with me pretty quickly.

It felt like mountain biking in single track to me, a meditation of sorts. Where the focus was on my environment and getting from A to B with many minor adjustments and a pure focus on the moment right here right now.  It’s my favourite part of training and I will always do it now – in fact I will enter some open water swims on my return from Busso.

W: What has been the most exciting part of the process?

How fit I have become. How my body shape has changed. How much I love open water swimming. How good I have become at time trialing and how it has helped my road racing fitness and strength too. And as I mentioned about, my newfound love of Open Water swimming.

W: Going from 24hrs to sub-17hrs, this should be a breeze right? (tongue in cheek)

JD: Yes Stef, I don’t care how much pain I feel on Sunday, its over and done with quicker than a 24hr MTB race and I get to swap disciplines to mix it up.

The marathon will hurt, but it hurts everyone, just that the pros get it done quicker.

W: What is your goal for the race?

JD: I like to follow processes. I have a plan with my swim/ride/run as far as tick boxes are concerned. They come first and are aligned with a time accountability.

I have been told many MANY times that things go wrong all the time in IM, I am not entirely sure why this seems to be such a phenomenon but I guess I will find out.

In my pursuit for all my titles I have always spent more time controlling the controllables and then letting the race unfold with my tick boxes focusing on those goals only and towards the end the result reveals itself based on my application of all these elements.

You have to be able to do this to be in the mix, you cannot rely on luck or good fortune. But to give the answer you are really after, I would be stoked to do a 10hr IM.  I think it is possible, I know theoretically I can tick them off, so I look forward to seeing what the day brings!  Oh and even when I am sucking in the big ones on the run, I must keep being stoked, I chose to be here, so I am going to have fun.

W: What will you take from your experience in 24hr MTB racing into the iron-distance? I assume endurance won’t be an issue for you, also surely you’ve learnt a lot about fuelling strategies over endurance events? What about pacing as well?

JD: Long distance racing has taught me that its all in my mind, my mind controls my body and what thoughts I foster throughout a race will be the ones that surface and create my reality.  I also know that I will have good times and bad times and feel sick, and then feel awesome so I know this will happen a million times over the course of an IM.

In 24hr racing the first six hours were always the toughest and after that I was able to settle in. I suspect this will be the same for me on Sunday, tick the swim off, tick the bike off and as I leave T2 it will be a wave of relief…’just get the run done now…20 x 2km efforts and a final sprint”

The processes and how to apply mindset and understanding how my mind and body works is what I am relying on heavily.

I really don’t care how well I swim ride or run as such it’s how I can manage my headspace and stay cool and calm and methodical. Which is how I will pace myself, I have never got sucked into other peoples races, I can only control me and do the best that I can do. It’s going to be one MEGA training session on the day!

W: What other triathlons have you done? What were those experiences like? What did you learn?

JD: Way back eight years ago I did a Trex off road tri at Anglesea. I was last out of the water doing survival side-stroke. Hopped on the MTB and rode past 40 people and then on the run passed another 10.  I never did another one as I realised I sucked at the swim and this was a huge hurdle for me.

I have done a duathlon a couple of months ago, 5km run 20km ride 3km run. I have a habit of not going hard enough in the ride! Its too short.

And last weekend I did the 2XU Rd 1 Sprint tri at Elwood, 500m swim, 20km ride & 5km run.  Wow…the swim was great, I got out midfield in my wave, never got passed on the bike and was 2nd fastest female bike time overall by 30-seconds to Karen Barrow (who deserves fastest ride time!) and then sucked at the run, it was a slower than normal 5km for me.  In the marathon this weekend, I will start out slower and peg it back. I work better like that.

I have learnt from these events that there are all types of people who rock up and race. That I can go harder than I think and that transitions are a skill in themselves!

W: It’s often said that MTBers have the best bike handling skills, so what’s a tip you can give any triathlete or road cyclist about bike handling skills?

JD: Look ahead, always making judgment and looking for opportunity to keep the bike moving.

I see it too often that riders are cycling with a mindset of seeing barriers to forward momentum instead of searching for the opportunities to keep the bike moving without stopping or slowing down.  It’s that simple.  It’s a metaphor for life really – search for the openings to keep you moving forward!

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