29| Jennifer Harrison, elite triathlete, triathlon coach, and mom of twins on longevity, motivation, and community: “If I keep shifting lanes in my passion, it keeps my fire lit.”

If there’s a podium placement, prize, or accolade to be had in the sport of triathlon, chances are, Jennifer Harrison has earned it. 

Jennifer has been coaching triathletes for more than 20 years and is the owner of JHC Triathlon Coaching. She holds multiple coaching certifications, including USAT, Training Peaks Level 2, and RRCA. She’s worked with all kinds of triathletes including first-timers, the University of Illinois Triathlon team, National Champions, and World Championship athletes. Her clients have competed in Ironman Hawaii, gone on to Division 1 university athletic programs, and earned the Olympic para-triathlete bronze medal in Rio in 2016.  She’s worked with thousands of athletes to help them navigate their training and prepare them to meet their full potential on race day. 

Over her own two-decade career as a multi sport athlete and more than 200 multisport races, she’s competed in the ITU Triathlon world championships, the Duathlon world championships, the Hawaii Ironman world championships, and the USAT Age Group Nationals Duathlon and Triathlon.

Today, in addition to continuing to race and work directly with her coaching clients, she serves as a mentor for coaches who are starting their own businesses. Jennifer is also a huge supporter of local races and gives back to the community through initiatives like her coaching business’s pay it forward program through which she helps deserving athletes in need.

Jennifer is a married mom of twins (who are now away at college). She continues to race triathlons in her free time.

Connect with Jennifer
Website: www.msmjhccoaching.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jenny.parkerharrison/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jhctriathlon/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxdDhzBdFToQG-uHoLYCvyA
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennifer-harrison-361b709/

In this episode, we talked about…

  • How Jennifer made the choice to turn down an athletic scholarship in college 
  • Her very first multi-sport event, a duathlon where she was part of a relay team
  • Shifting from being a runner and a basketball player to a triathlete 
  • Winning her first triathlon
  • Meeting her husband and creating lifelong friendships through the tri community
  • How her experiences as an athlete impacted the way she raised her twins, who are now grown
  • How she ended up making the running mistake she always advises her athletes against
  • Separating her identity from her performance 
  • Why strategic goal setting has been vital to her longevity as an athlete
  • Continuing to find meaning and joy in sport as you age—even when that means getting outrun by a 12-year-old
  • How your sports nutrition strategy changes throughout your lifespan, particularly for women approaching menopause
  • Why strength training and recovery become even more important as we age 
  • Getting back to racing after a high risk pregnancy while caring for twins
  • How to figure out whether you’re better off attending Masters or swimming on your own
  • Her first ever DNF at Ironman Wisconsin in 2021
  • Dialing in her why as a means of preventing burnout
  • How her goals have changed as she ages up
  • The surprises that come with becoming an empty nester


Why can’t I walk away from this? I realized deep, deep down inside that it’s just a competition to me. I’m super, super, super competitive and intense. And I had to figure out how to channel that. And the triathlon is how I channel that. That’s why I don’t walk away from it.

And my passion is triathlon because I get bored with running.

So in my bucket of racing, there [are] these lifelong goals that I’ve always wanted to do—win a national championship, break through five in a marathon, et cetera. Those are scary ass, big pie-in-the-sky goals.

Did I hit my marathon goal? No. It doesn’t define me because I did the best I could. And I think that that’s what people have to understand. There is nothing I could have done better in my preparation, in my mental preparation, in my race.

I walked away from the marathon saying, “Okay, been there, done that.” I ran really fast in Houston, close to three-oh-five, but not quite under. I’m happy with that. It is what it is. And then I had to face the fact that I was aging and I couldn’t PR anymore.

If I keep shifting lanes in my passion, it keeps my fire lit.

Am I upset that I’m slower? Sometimes, yes. But it doesn’t ruin my thing.

Every year at the end of the year, I really have to sit down and think, “What do I want to do next year? … What do I want to do if this is my last year in the sport? What drives me?”

As you get older, you realize—and I coach a lot of older people, too, seventies, everything—you realize that the time is really short and people take their health and injury-free for granted when they’re younger, and it just gets more, and more, and more, and more complicated as you get older.

And everybody that you talk to that’s over 50 has had an injury and it’s not necessarily, they’re doing something wrong. But it’s just the way that the cookie crumbles as you get older and you look back and you say, well, why didn’t I enjoy that success more?

And then in your fifties, you wake up and you’re like, “Oh, oh, okay. This is real. Now we are really going slow.” And it’s just a gradual process every year. The results just get a little bit slower.

You don’t have to be perfect to execute a good race. 

If you can afford it, hire a trainer. If you cannot afford it, then get onto a good program and make sure that you’re doing it preferably at least twice a week. And you don’t have to do it for long. You just need to do it for like 30 minutes, but you need to hit all the muscles and you need to be working hard.

There’s nothing wrong with CrossFit, if you’re a CrossFitter. But the problem lies with the people that are running 20 miles, doing CrossFit the next day, swimming 3,000 meters on Monday—it tends to be too much load.

The more time you have, the less efficient you are. 

When I was younger, I did everything by myself because I needed a break from my life. I needed a break from work. … I needed a break from my kids. Now that I’m older, it’s evolving. I want to do more socially. I actually left the best pool in town to come to another pool. And that’s important to me because I am a swimmer? Um, that’s important to me because I wanted to hang out with friends. I wouldn’t have done that ten years ago. I would’ve said, “No, I’m swimming in the better pool, the colder pool, the faster pool.” Now I’m like, “Who cares? I just want to sit in the hot tub with you guys when we’re done.”

I’m a super, super optimistic person. And my mentor and my old coach would say to me, “Once your feet hit that ground every morning, you have the decision of what kind of day you want.” And he was right. And it was always making sure that you were positive.

You know, shit happens. Life happens. Yes. But trying to be as positive as you can about everything is the  best advice I got and I kind of live like that. 

My job is results and relationships.

Pat Summit
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I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
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2 thoughts on “29| Jennifer Harrison, elite triathlete, triathlon coach, and mom of twins on longevity, motivation, and community: “If I keep shifting lanes in my passion, it keeps my fire lit.”

  1. Michelle Brost says:

    super great podcast. Jen is my coach and I love her! I learned much more about her through this. Just wonderful!

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