Ken Glah – Family Man, Ironman

I recently had the opportunity to tie down triathlon legend Kenny Glah long enough to interview him for We all know the name. We’ve all seen his impressive results now spanning three decades of racing. Ken’s a local Philly area native who is leaving a permanent mark on the sport of triathlon. He has raced with the legends of yesterday, helping to set the standard and build the foundation for our sport and he is still teaching the legends of tomorrow a few things. He remains a constant threat – at any race or distance. All while making sure he spends quality time with the people who matter most – his family. Ken finds the time to race, train, support the racing and training of his wife Jan Wanklyn, help to build her business and further develop his own. And maintain a normal household including managing the activities of their daughter Reanin. Now let’s take a closer look at the man behind the medals. The devoted family man, industrious businessman, and dedicated triathlete.

SB – Ken thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Ken you have been racing now for probably 20 plus years. If my research is right, you are 13th on the all-time Ironman victory list with six career wins. Ironman New Zealand (1992, 1993), Ironman Canada (1993) and of course your baby, Ironman Brazil (1998, 1999, and 2000), you have been to Kona …20 times with a PR there of 8:24 and many top finishes. And I’m probably not even doing your resume the justice it deserves. But guess what? I don’t want to talk about all of that today. I want to talk a little bit about Ken Glah – the man, father, and husband, and how you balance it all around a career that includes 40 plus Ironman races.

SB – Ken, you are married to fellow world class triathlete Jan Wanklyn. When and where did you guys first meet?

KG – We met in November 1987 at a 2/3 ironman distance race on the French Island of La Reunion. It is near the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar.

SB – I know you guys now reside in West Chester, Pennsylvania. But are you a Philadelphia area native?

KG – I am originally from West Chester and Jan is from Australia.

SB – What drew you to this sport?

KG – I came from a running background and did some cycle touring and riding for fun and to supplement my running some in high school. I was talked into doing a long tri in Rhode Island called Sri Chimnoy (1.5m, 60m, 15m) soon after returning from a 7 day 700 mile cycle camping trip in 1982. I think the thing I liked the most was being able to train for hours each day. With running there was a limited amount of training you could do before risking injury but the amount of training time you can spend training for triathlons is huge and I love to train. I am very competitive and love racing but training is what you do 99% of the time so if you don’t enjoy the training then it makes little sense to be in the sport.

SB – Do you and Jan ever train together?
KG – We do train together but not as much as we did in the late 80’s and early 90’s before our daughter Reanin was born in 1993. Jan also started doing bodywork in 1992 (many different forms of Massage and now Active Release Technique) and I have been doing some coaching since 2000, became part owner of Ironman Brazil that same year and then started Endurance Sports Travel at the end of 2001. We both have a lot on our plates now so our schedules for training don’t mesh as well.

SB – So, in this one house, we have two veteran and much decorated triathletes who are still actively racing and training. We have Jan also managing a successful Active Release Technique and massage therapy business and you managing your growing sports travel business ( while raising a daughter. Your wall calendars must look like inner city graffiti. Let’s just talk racing for example. How do you guys sit down and try to arrange a race calendar each season?

KG – My racing has been limited this year simply due to the growth of Endurance Sports Travel. And also until very recently my swimming was still way off because of my accident in Lake Placid in 2002. So short races were not really possible since I would have been so far behind starting the bike. Jan has been recovering from a hamstring injury and did not race in 2002. She hopes to start back racing in September. Once we are both back on track with our racing we will most likely not race the same Ironman races because it is a little too stressful with everything else. We sometimes will race the same weekend – the first weekend of September I worked the expo for Endurance Sports Travel, Ironman Brazil and Half Ironman Pucon at Wisconsin and then flew home Saturday night to race the Diamondman Half Ironman on Sunday in Delaware. Jan was in New York to do The Survival of the Shawankgunks. Reanin was busy with a Girl Scout camp so it all works out well. For big races we either go by ourselves or go as a family with normally just one of us racing.

SB – How about training? Do you each have designated blocks of times and days that are set aside for your training?

KG – Everyday and every week are different so we schedule as we go. But normally I do a long brick on Monday and Friday with a long run on Wednesday morning and a decent run on Sunday. I train at the Upper Main Line Y on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday while Reanin is doing gymnastics. Jan swims early on Monday Wednesday and Friday and is now leaving Friday open for a long brick day. She will run long once during the week and also get in a good run on Sunday.

SB – Do you do a lot of indoor training (Endless Pool, trainer rides, etc) in an effort to log the miles and remain close to home?

KG – We do spend a lot of time training at home. The convenience of the Endless Pool and the CompuTrainer make it so much easier on days when time is limited or the weather is bad. It is a lot easier and faster to walk down to the basement and jump in the pool for 30 or 40 minutes than to drive to the pool, find parking, and get changed. Even with a pool close by you add an extra 20 minutes to both sides of the swim and that is as long as the workout itself. Also, if one of us is traveling or out training the other can be at home training while Reanin is in the house. The CompuTrainer is a great workout. Jan often studies massage, ART and anatomy videos while riding and I will make a bunch of phone calls while riding and be there to answer important calls that I am waiting for. We use the CompuTrainer even during the summer if the weather is bad, we need to be home for Reanin, or we only have time for a short ride be it hard or just an easy spin.

SB – Describe (in 500,000 words or less if you can), what a typical weekday might look like in say the month of May. When school is still in session for your daughter and you are peaking for an early summer race.

KG – Well, the school year is easier. On a Monday I usually get up at 5:00 or 5:30 to get some work done or swim early and then get Reanin up around 8:15 and eat while we get her ready for school. Jan will get up at 5:00 to swim early then lift or run after swimming. Then get home in time to see Reanin and drive her to school (we drive her because she can get up about the time the bus would normally pick her up so it gives her 40 minutes more sleep and us some extra time). Then I will head out for a long ride of 100 to 160 miles. I will then run 10 miles or more right after riding or do a track workout with mile repeats. If I ride real long then I will just get done the ride in time to drive Reanin to gymnastics. But will then run while she is at gymnastics. If I am riding 100 to 120 miles then I can run straight away and swim later at night while Reanin is training.

After Jan takes Reanin to school she will normally come home and ride or do a Pilates class followed by a ride. Since she will soon be getting back into racing, her ride time will be increasing and she may not start working till 1:00 or 2:00. Jan will then work till about 8:30 when Reanin and I get home. Jan works from home so she is there when Reanin gets home from school and can have something ready for her to eat and make sure she gets her homework done before leaving for gymnastics. We are usually ready to eat around 9:00. Around 10:00 one of us gets Reanin in bed and the other cleans things up around the house (we generally do little things all day long between workouts, massage appointments, and phone calls). Monday night I usually finish sending workout schedules to the athletes I coach. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I spend a lot less time training and maybe 10 to 12 hours doing things for Endurance Sports Travel. Jan works late on Tuesday and Thursday since Reanin and I don’t get home till after 9:00 from her gymnastics. Friday is very similar to Monday for me but without gymnastics at night. Jan will train long on Friday and only have a couple of clients in the late afternoon. On Saturday’s Jan and I get some work done and train early during the 4 hours Reanin is in gymnastics. Sunday we are usually done training by 11:00 or 12:00 which works out great since Reanin will sleep till 11:00 on Saturday and Sunday.

SB – And how about those little things that we are always squeezing into our schedules like the parent teacher conference, or the vet visit or car tune up. I envision you blowing into your daughter’s classroom on your bike, late for a parent meeting. True?

KG – Almost. But because we both work for ourselves we are able to move things around and fit these things in. We don’t waste a lot of time and tend to organize our schedules so we can go straight from one thing to the next. Jan is very time efficient and I am always trying to be but don’t seem to ever schedule enough time for things so I am likely to be a few minutes late for things.

SB – Please tell me you have someone to help out around the house. I can’t conceive all of the laundry you guys must go through between two people racing and training year around and Jan’s business plus all of the “normal” household stuff.

KG – Until a few months ago we didn’t but now we have someone come for 4 hours every 2 or 3 weeks to help give the house a thorough cleaning. We do all the day to day cleaning, shopping, house maintenance and laundry (about 2 or 3 loads a day with workout clothes for the 3 of us, general wash and Jan’s towels from her massage business)

SB – You and I have been in touch several times over the last couple of years. And each time we are, I feel like I am catching you during a momentary pause of a roller coaster ride. When do you slow down and catch your breath?

KG – I take late October and November off from training and also go real easy in December. This used to be when I got a lot of things done around the house but now with the travel business there really is no down time anymore.

SB – My kids want me to do the Great Floridian Triathlon every year because it is minutes from Disney! Do your family “vacations” revolve around race destinations?

KG – We did Ironman New Zealand for years so that we could see Jan’s family in New Zealand and spend time with family and friends in Australia. Hawaii is always a family trip as is Lake Placid and sometimes St. Croix. I have taken Reanin to Brazil twice and Colorado. We have stopped in Disneyland twice after Hawaii and once after Ironman Canada and we stopped once coming home from Colorado to travel around San Francisco and Monterey. I think that it is a great idea to combine racing trips and vacations. The Pucon race in Chile is a great race but even more it is a great adventure for the whole family. Ironman Brazil has some great things to do right in Florianopolis and then the after race trips are incredible for family, friends or couples (Iguassu Falls, the Amazon, Rio, Salvador).

SB – As involved and plugged into this sport as you both are, I imagine it would be difficult to take a break from it. What is a favorite family activity that does not involve swimming, biking, or running? (Or watching any of the above)

KG – We enjoy having friends over for dinner, going to the movies, camping, playing in the ocean or pool, going to the park.

SB – Why does your schedule work? What is the X-factor or critical ingredient in making it all come together?

KG – Being flexible, putting family first and knowing that sometimes it can’t all be done and that’s okay. Enjoying work is also important. If you don’t enjoy something most of the time then you shouldn’t be doing it. Sure there are times when I may not want to train but 90% of the time I do. My work is time consuming but I do enjoy it most of the time. The most important thing for me is spending time with Reanin. I have always felt there are way too many people on this planet so the only reason to bring another human into this world is because you are going to spend time with them and they are going to be the main focus of your life.

SB – What one attribute of yours do you hope your daughter carries on?

KG – Setting goals and working toward them but making it all work within your relationship with others.

SB – What will Ken Glah be doing in 5 years?

KG – I will still be training and racing as well as expanding my travel business and spending time with my family.

SB – Parting thoughts?

KG – I think that triathletes need to be careful that triathlons are not too all consuming. They need to work training around family and friends. It’s important to find ways to include them in your passion for training and racing and supporting them in the things that they have a passion for so that it is a two way street.

SB – I think that last comment pretty much sums it up. I don’t think we can close any better than that. There is no doubt that this grounded perspective has been a key ingredient to Ken’s success. Ken kudos to you on your accomplishments both in and out of the sport. Continued success to you and your family and we’ll be sure to keep an eye on

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