Triathlon in the genes?

When you are casually browsing Instagram on the train ride home and come across an account featuring someone you see around the office every day and realise that they actually compete for team Great Britain as an age-group triathlete with the kit and everything…

This month we get chatting to Jenni Anderson, Development Director with the Invictus Games Foundation, based here at House of Sport who, along with her brother, has gone all out in the sport of triathlon.

And they are in good company. You’ve only got to look at the success of Olympic medallists Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee to see that there is something to be said for the relationship between siblings and triathlon.

Jenni, how did you end up journeying into the world of triathlon, where did it all begin?

I believe that there is a sport for everyone. I have tried most of them to find out pretty late in life that triathlon is the one for me.

My Grandad was incredibly sporty and introduced me to Hockey at the age of five, I still have my dinky hockey stick from those days. I turned to athletics when I hit eleven and like most girls absolutely hated track and the stress of competing so gave it up after school. I gave rugby a ‘try’ at university, but it didn’t agree with me when I left my first match in an ambulance, so I went back to road running.

I’d always discounted triathlons because you had to swim. Quite a critical component! I never learnt properly as a child, although Grandad Tom had done his best in teaching me breast-stroke so I didn’t drown. In 2011 my husband returned from serving with the British Army in Afghanistan and he bought us both mountain bikes so we could spend more time together. I was (am) not a natural mountain biker and have spent years getting over the fear of going over my handle bars. I am lucky to have a live-in coach and mentor who has improved my riding and confidence no end.

My first triathlon in 2014 followed and consisted of a pool swim doing breast-stroke, a cycle on the mountain bike finishing with a 5km run round a field. From there I was hooked.

There’s a triathlon joke about why be good at one sport when you can be average at three. I’ve enjoyed the diversity of the training and found triathlon to be one of the most friendly sports around. There is always someone who is better than you at a particular discipline, but they are happy to share their knowledge, tips and techniques so you can improve.

And this has led you to be competing for Great Britain as an age-group triathlete?!

Qualifying for the GBR age-group team hasn’t been easy and there is quite a big commitment to the training just to make the team. It takes quite a bit of diary management to fit it all in and stay injury free.

My swimming is still my weakest element and this year I’ve committed to a weekly class with my triathlon club (Greenwich Tritons) to keep it ticking along so I’m not the last out of the lake (yep, that is me at the back with the safety boats). My love and focus is the cycling and there is no better adrenaline rush than racing on the bike – whoosh! By the time you get to the run, it’s just about survival!

Jenni Anderson racing triathlon on her road bike
Jenni racing on her road bike

Does working for a sports charity have any influence on you as a triathlete?

Working for Invictus Games Foundation is a dream job as I get to see how ‘sport’ can really transform people’s lives. Not everyone wants to be competitive. ‘Participation’ gives you huge endorphins and I’ve found some truly awesome, supportive friends by spending the weekend up to my eyes in mud. Very similar to what we are doing at the Invictus Games. There’s still so much to be done in opening up sport to people with hidden and visible disabilities and I hope our competitors are inspiring more people to find a sport for them.

We love your Instagram account @notthebrownlees, about you and your brother competing as triathletes; did you get into triathlon at the same time or did one of you have to persuade the other?

When I went back to adult swimming lessons to learn front crawl, I took my younger brother Tom with me, bought a road bike off ebay and entered the Serpentine Triathlon in Hyde Park. I convinced Tom that he might enjoy it too and @notthebownlees was born.

Jenni and Tom Anderson wearing their medals after the 2019 Tonbridge Triathlon.
Tom and Jenni after the 2019 Tonbridge Triathlon

Do you do any of your training together?

We try and train together as much as we can. He’s a good windbreak on the bike and it’s a huge buzz to be racing together (he’s normally overtaking me).

What does the rest of your family make of it all?

They question whether we’re related to them! We also have a sister in between us and we’ve only ever managed to convince her to do one 10 km run.

And is there any competitive sibling rivalry between you and your brother?

Not really possible, he has eight years on me. I will always be older!

What is the best thing about triathlon?

The camaraderie, the quirkiness. You can bring yourself completely to tri, no one judges.

What is your dream training session or location?

I’d love to give Winter Triathlon a go at some point, so a snow run, mountain bike and cross-country Ski.

What has been your favourite race so far?

My first race wearing the GB kit was in Penticton in Canada in 2017 – a huge thrill and managed a personal best on my 10 km which was amazing after being out with an adductor injury for six months.

Brother and sister Tom and Jenni Anderson on the run section of a triathlon wearing their team Great Britain kit.
Catching up!

What is your go-to recovery regime after a race or heavy training session?

I wish I did this properly! Sports massages are great after a heavy training period. My nutrition and hydration is not great. I love pizza. I like wine. I have been known to use a hockey ball to ease tight glutes.

What challenges are next on the horizon?

I’m at the European Championships next month in Seville for Duathlon and then in September it’s the World Championships in Amsterdam. There I’m doing Duathlon and Cross Triathlon. I go for the experience and not to bring home any bling.

I’m going into the 4-0 age group this year, so anything is possible. My advice to anyone considering trying a tri, don’t use age or previous experience as an excuse to not give it a go – it really is for everyone.

What really motivates you to train even when it is cold, wet, dark and windy outside?

Everyone has days when you don’t want to go out. While I find exercise hugely meditative and good for my mental health, some days it’s a better option to sit on the sofa with a packet of chocolate digestives and watch Netflix. I have a weekly plan and a coach so try to manoeuvre sessions around to fit it all in and not stress too much about missing a session.

It has to be fun, so when the fun stops, stop. And sometimes losing your shoes at a muddy, windy cross-country race on Parliament Hill is strangely quite a lot of fun!

Jenni, You Rock!

You can follow Jenni and her brother over on Instagram @notthebrownlees

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