The balancing act: Winning Worlds while juggling a 9-5 and family

Jane and Martin Gannon are off to Kona to contend in their seventh IRONMAN World Championship, with Martin hoping to defend his 65-69 AG title.

The Gannons are stalwarts on the Ironman scene, inspiring many as they go and amplifying the benefits of endurance sport to a wider community.  

Starting out

Alongside IRONMAN training, Jane works full time as a dentist. Following a lengthy career as a doctor, Martin took the decision to retire in December 2020.

They have six children with the youngest now 29, and whilst none of them live at home anymore, you can just imagine Christmas and Easter when the brood descend on the New Forest with their partners!  

It was back in 2005 that Jane and Martin first got into triathlon, having been talked into signing up for IRONMAN Switzerland by a friend over a drink or two at their local pub.

Before triathlon Jane had run many competitive marathons whilst Martin had been keeping fit playing rugby as well as running. Since their first race, the pair have taken part in various IRONMANs every year, making a name for themselves with their fierce dedication to the sport and age-defying stamina.

Working to the same agenda

Triathlon is a sport that they enjoy doing together; not necessarily completing the same workouts (whilst this was more common back in the early days, their training has become more tailored to their individual needs so they now follow different programmes) but through enjoying the camaraderie of training and the experience of competitions, with fantastic travel opportunities to places they would otherwise never have considered to boot.

Jane and Martin Gannon 2 photo credit Chris Sansom
[Photo credit: Chris Sansom]

Jane described having a common goal and not being irritated by the other disappearing out of the door to train is a critical ingredient to their success. Martin summarises their common goal in a simple sentence: “We’re both signed up to this lifestyle, we’ve got the same agenda!”

You can’t win it, if not in it

The Gannons have a refreshing perspective on what it takes to qualify for Kona, and how to approach it. “You don’t know who is going to turn up and you need to consider many factors and be prepared to chase qualification if you really want to get to Kona.” says Martin.

Impressively, they have qualified five times out of seven together. The other two times one of them has narrowly missed a slot, which has led to more tactical thinking about how to qualify and set up their seasons.

It is a regular annual goal for both: “We knew we wanted to come back after our first trip, we loved the island, felt the magic and inspiration from likeminded people,” Martin recounts. Adding that they have learned the importance of staying through prize giving and slot allocation as more often than you’d think slots do roll down.

There was one occasion when the second placed competitor in Jane’s Age Group asked the winner if she would be taking her qualifying slot; the winner simply shrugged and walked away meaning the age group then got allocated another slot which became Jane’s! That confirmed there was quite a lot of luck involved with qualifying and from that moment, they viewed it as having tickets in a raffle.

Balancing act

Martin shares his opinion on race selection: “We choose races that look interesting, we go back to places we’ve enjoyed but the main thing is trying to spread them through the year to be able to train and recover effectively.”

One of the years where they qualified separately was back in 2016, when Jane was racing at IRONMAN Weymouth. Martin watched her swim and get onto the bike, before jumping into the car for a doctor-on-call session, just making it back in time to watch Jane’s marathon and claim her Kona slot. “We joked I’d just been and paid for that Kona slot!”. A week later that same year Martin was on the hunt for a slot at IRONMAN Wales, which he got!

With their depth of experience, would it be remiss to ask if all roads solely lead to Kona? Jane replies: “No, it’s not all about Kona, we love the lifestyle.” Martin interjects; “But it is all about Kona, we are trying to be as good as we can be, and you measure yourselves at the World Championships. The other races are stepping stones.”

Family affair

Their love of triathlon and sport in general is clearly something they’ve passed onto their friends and family. “We have done marathons & triathlons with the children; it shows us we can relax our obsession with triathlon and enjoy these days with loved ones. The kids arrive in different levels of preparedness from buying them trainers at the Expo to shouting them in at the finish. We are often met by rather grumpy finishers but shortly we are to be found recounting the day in a coffee shop or bar.”

Jane and Martin Gannon 1 photo credit Chris Sansom
[Photo credit: Chris Sansom]

Martin also shares his thoughts on supporting others in the sport. “I love talking about triathlon, anyone who wants to talk about it ask questions, advice etc I love helping.

“I think it’s nice to put up a race report to keep in contact with people. Frankly it is an individual sport which is quite hard to do in a group setting at times. Influence-wise, we love guiding people through their triathlon journey in any way people let us. People naturally look to us as we’ve done so many events.

“We haven’t gone into coaching or being club secretaries because there isn’t space and we’re still fully immersed in our training, but are always keen to explore any way we can champion the sport, for example by setting up trips to marathons and bringing people along with us.”

IRONMAN training is a big commitment to undertake and even the Gannons admit that there are periods where they check in with each other to ensure that it isn’t affecting their relationship and spoiling other things in life.

“We have had times where we swear we will never do another IRONMAN again and put the bikes on eBay, but we quickly get over that! We almost need that motivation to be able to push ourselves hard each time in a few key races rather than needlessly dilute our efforts across too many. Frustrating races result in longer periods of working out what else we would do if we weren’t doing triathlon. We brainstorm the possibility of doing ultra runs and treating ourselves to trips to the Alps but we end up back at triathlon and remember just how much we love it”.

Three things to follow

Here are three top tips, from the Gannons, whether you’re heading out for your first Kona or have aims to get to the Big Island another year:

  • Manage your time with intention, early mornings may be a good time to have ticked off a session before the working day commences.
  • Stick with your training, showing up is nine tenths of it, we are all capable of so much more than we realise.
  • Finally enjoy it, celebrate your achievements and soak in everything Kona offers, it’s magical!

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