(VIDEO) Jenna Hay, who graduates in August, is the national champion in long-course duathlon.
When Jenna Hay's legs feel like rubber because she's been running for so long, she's found the sweet spot.
And she keeps running.
Hay, a senior agricultural communications student from North Richland Hills and member of the Honors College, knows at some point in her next race her legs are going to feel like jelly and she'll have two choices: stop or keep running. Considering how hard she's worked to get there, how far from home she'll be and whose colors she's wearing, finishing is her only option.
“I want to represent the U.S. well, so I want to finish with my head held high and with a smile on my face,” she said. “I might crawl, I might even log roll, but I'm going to make it.”
Hay, a triathlete with the Texas Tech Triathlon Team and national champion in long-course duathlon, is going to Switzerland in August to compete in the Powerman Zofingen Duathlon – a 6-mile run, 93-mile bike ride and what she called a “nice, gentle 18-mile run” to complete the event. She'll push her way up the Swiss Alps on a bike and run through the Swiss hill country in the mid-day, early September heat. Athletes who have completed full Ironman triathlons say the Powerman makes Ironmans look easy.
She'll do all of this wearing red, white and blue, with “Team USA” emblazoned on her uniform.
Becoming a triathlete
During summer 2014 as a river guide in West Virginia, Hay saw a flier for a triathlon while she was out shopping. River guides, she said, operate with an air of devil-may-care invincibility, so she was pretty sure she could handle this race, despite having never done a triathlon before. Instead of swim-bike-run, this race was kayak-bike-run.
She was so green she showed up with an old, inexpensive bike and in a swimsuit and Spandex shorts.
“I looked like an ‘80s nightmare,” Hay admitted.
The Spandex and invincibility worked out for her, though.
I showed up with a great attitude, and I paddled and I biked and I ran, and I ended up getting third in my age group,” she said. “It was a weird triathlon, but as soon as I placed I got the bug. When you race they call it the bug, and once you get the bug you're addicted to racing and you have to keep doing it.”
She came back to Texas Tech that fall and joined the triathlon team, competing in her first race in spring 2015. She continued to compete throughout 2015 and 2016, adding it to her already physically demanding schedule of practicing and performing with the Goin' Band from Raiderland, in which she played clarinet, and the Mixed Martial Arts Club and playing ultimate Frisbee recreationally.
Hay improved noticeably as the races went by, said Jessica Wolfe, president of the Texas Tech Triathlon Team. Much of that she attributed to Hay's commitment to training.
“I once ran into her at the aquatic center and she said she had a 30-minute break between classes and she wanted to get a workout in,” Wolfe said. “Situations like that show Jenna's dedication to triathlon and have helped her become a lot faster in all three aspects of triathlon.”
Becoming a national champion
On Nov. 13, 2015, Hay made a decision: She was entering the Long-Course Duathlon National Championship. She knew a good finish could qualify her for the world championship in Switzerland, and she wanted to try it.
She had just one issue – she was in Lubbock, it was 10 p.m. and the race was the next morning in Dallas. She and her bike took a red-eye Greyhound bus, arrived at 6 a.m. and headed to the Texas Motor Speedway, arriving moments before the starting gun.
Hay heard about this race at a triathlon in San Antonio, so she knew the stakes and had her eye on Powerman. Finishing in the top nine in her age group was all she needed, and she kept that in mind through the 6-mile run, 26-mile bike ride and 3-mile run.
She did a little better than that, crossing the finish line in first place in her age group, officially making Jenna Hay the long course duathlon national champion. The email inviting her to Switzerland followed. She thought about it for a while; Hay is graduating in August, so this would put off finding a job, and she has to pay to her own way. Plus, it's really hard work.
However, she couldn't pass up the opportunity to represent Team USA in a worldwide competition. As for the rest of it, she figured, why not go now?
“I'm young, I'm not tied down to anything,” she said. “I've already been able to push myself so far in triathlons and duathlons, I feel like this is the next step. I feel like I can do it.”
Swiss Alps, flat lands
Training is challenging, both because of the amount of work Hay needs to do and the difference in environment between where she's training and where she'll be competing. She finished the Ironman 70.3 Triathlon at Buffalo Springs Lake in June and since then has dropped the swimming.
“I'm riding my bike a lot, running a lot,” Hay said. “I'm trying to find all of the hills in Lubbock and just ride them over and over and over again.”
There are three, if anyone is counting.
Other days she rides out to Buffalo Springs and Ransom Canyon and then rides the various loops multiple times, spending hours on her bike. Often she'll double up, first riding for hours then immediately going for a long run, or running several miles before hopping on the bike. She wants to train her body and mind to keep going when she's exhausted.
Hay's training will get even more difficult in July when she goes to Washington, D.C., as part of the congressional internship program through the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources. Lubbock may be flat, but Washington is basically at sea level – a far cry from Zonfingen's 4,700 feet in elevation and Lubbock's 3,256 feet.
Switzerland and beyond
Hay leaves for Switzerland the last week of August. She wants a few days to get over her jet lag, do some workouts in the higher elevation and do a little sightseeing before the race on Sept. 4.
Although the United States isn't paying for the competitors to participate, they are members of Team USA.
“I'll be wearing the Team USA uniform and traveling with the other team members,” she said. “It's really cool because all the media, all the teams that are going to be there are going to know I'm competing on behalf of the United States, which is just a huge honor. I can't describe how excited I am about that.”
The race will include all levels of athletes, from elites who are in Olympic training to amateurs who enjoy the competitions and are fast enough to qualify. She is in the second category. Although Hay thinks about going to the Olympics, she's far from an elite level, she said. Her focus now is graduating next month and training for this race.
She has had time to make a few plans for her first trip abroad. She will tour the country, and Hay's made several friends on the team either through her race or on social media, so they'll hang out. She's also looking forward to the local delights.
“I'm really looking forward to the Swiss chocolate that I can eat after the race,” Hay said.
Beyond the finish line, her plans are a little hazy. She's hopeful an opportunity will arise during her time in Washington. She wants to apply for a public relations internship with Southwest Airlines or with the U.S. Olympic Committee. She's looking around at job opportunities in Lubbock. It's all the “right” next steps.
“Actually my dream job is to lead biking tours through Napa Valley,” Hay confessed after a short pause. “That's what I really want to do, but everything else sounds better when you're about to graduate.”