Unbelievable: Triathlon-legend Ken Glah is doing his 36th Ironman Hawaii – WTJ 1329

DONDERDAG – Behalve de toppers, de 23 Nederlanders en de 55 Belgen volgen we zaterdag beslist ook Ken Glah. De Amerikaan is een ware legende in de sport. Niemand komt in de buurt van het aantal deelnames aan de Ironman Hawaii als Ken. Zaterdag gaat hij op voor z’n 36e keer. Het is een bizar toeval dat eerder dit jaar ik met mijn moeder nog eens naar de bollenstreek trok en wie troffen we daar aan? Ken Glah en zijn vrouw Jan Wanklyn. We spraken af voor een later interview via de online-kanalen. Het duurde even voor we alles op een rijtje hadden staan, maar in de aanloop naar zijn 36e Hawaii Ironman was de aanleiding groot om het juist nu te plaatsen. En Ken? Ja, die gaat serieus voor veertig keer Kona. Maar kijk ook niet gek op als ie volgend jaar het WK in Almere doet.

We proudly present: Mr. Ken Glah!

Hi Ken, welcome in our county and thanks for having this interview. The most logical question everyone wants you to ask is: how do you do this? Being a triathlete for more than three decades? Tell us your secret?

There are a few things that keep me going.  The number one thing is that I love training!  If I had the time I would train 30 hours or more per week.  When I get a chance to train consistently my body has no problem doing 25 hours or more of training but the problem with all the traveling I do for Endurance Sports Travel it is difficult to be consistent.  The other things that keep me going are

  1. my ability to pay attention to my body and know when to keep training through things and when to pull back and let my body have a rest
  2. I love to race
  3. I do a lot of body maintenance – massage, stretching and strength work as well as Active Release Technique, physical therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic

Let’s go back in history. How did you get involved in the sport. What were your backgrounds, who or what inspired you to become a triathlete.

My background as a child/teenager was running cross country and track.  I did a bit of cycling to supplement my running between seasons but just on my one not racing or training with cyclists.  I was familiar with the Ironman and had watched it as well as reading some articles about it and always thought it would be something I would like to do.  After high school I went for a 7 day cycling camping trip around Nova Scotia and when I returned home I did a 100 mile charity ride.  During the ride I met a triathlete and when he found out I was a runner and was impressed with my riding fitness he suggested I do the Sri Chinmoy Triathlon which was a 1.5 mile ocean swim (17C with no wetsuits of course), 60 mile bike and 15 mile run.  I spent 3 weeks swimming 2 or 3 times a day as I had never done any real swimming other than playing in the water.  I had a great experience and after my first year of university I decided to switch from running to triathlons.

In your fourth time as a competitor on Hawaii, you’ve made it to a third place. Those were the years of the Big Four. Why wasn’t there a Big Five? And do you consider Ironman 1988 as your best World Champs ever?

I think that in addition to the Big Four there were a few other men that were right in there by 1986 at any distance including myself, Mike Pigg and Rob Barel. I think that my best race in Kona was in 1995 when I finished 5th but had a very strong race and a time that would have placed in the top 6 or 7 in just about any year until last year’s crazy fast race.

Looking at your results, there are three races, which must be your favourites. I reckon New Zealand, Brazil and Canada among them. Do you have indeed special feelings about these Ironmans?

Yes, New Zealand, Brazil and Canada (the old IRONMAN Canada in Penticton) along with IRONMAN Hawaii, IRONMAN 70.3 Pucon and St. Croix were/are my favorites.  I feel right at home at these races/towns.

What do you consider as the highlight(s) in your carreer?  And where there any ‘black moments’?

I think I had a few Olympic distance events that stand out including a sprint finish with Mike Pigg in Vancouver in 1999, the Chicago Triathlon in 1999 which was the US Championship, 3 National Long Course Championships at Texas Hill Country, 1988, 1989 and 1995 Hawaii, my wins at IRONMAN New Zealand, Brazil and Canada. I can not say there were any bad moments or races I’ve should have done better. My longlasting carreer is the greatest gift of all.

Your wife – Jan Wanklyn – also had a long time carreer. How important is it to have a family/an environment that gives you room to perform for such a long time?

Jan and I spent a lot of time training and racing together and understood and supported each other which definitely made it easier to stay motivated to train and race well.  Jan and I divorced a few years ago but are still good friends and she continues to race as well.  I remarried Christine Heidemann in 2015 who won Kona in her age group as well as 2 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships and we train and travel together so once again it is nice to be with someone that understands the training and racing.

Is your daughter also into sports? 

My daughter Reanin is now 26 and has been living in Australia since 2012.  She grew up as a gymnast and volleyball player.  She still plays some volleyball but has a very busy career as a make-up artist so just plays when she can.

In my country we have Rob Barel as an outstanding triathlete on top for many, many years. Perhaps there’s anything you’d like to say to him of ask him?

I was lucky to catch up with Rob when he did IRONMAN Hawaii in 2017 and crushed his age group.  It was nice to see him and get to speak with him for a while.  He has had an amazing career and kept himself in great shape.

What or who inspires you in doing what you do?  

I think I am pretty much self-motivated.  I think anyone that loves what they do and puts in their best effort at it is inspirational. 

A lot of former top triathletes finds it difficult to degrade from competing on a high level to being ‘just a face in the crowd’. For you it’s no problem to be just one of them?

As I mentioned before, I love to train and race.  If appreciate the fact that I am healthy and able to train.  I would love to have the time to train more but when I race I just set my goals based on the training I have been able to do.  So, if on race day I get more out of my self than the fitness level I am at then I am pleased with the day.  To be 55 and think about the times I used to do would be self-defeating.  I don’t have an ego that gets in the way of me just enjoying the training and doing what I can on race day. 

You own Endurance Sports Travel, arranging travel, stay and more for athletes competing f.e. in Ironman Brazil. Tell us a little bit about it and do you also arrange trips to Europe?

Endurance Sports Travel was originally set up to make it easy for athletes and their family to travel to and enjoy IRONMAN Brazil in 2002.  We take care of everything onsite with accommodation, airport transfers, all local transportation, professional mechanics, day trips, course tours, some meals, translators/staff, etc.  I expanded to include races all over the world and eventually we serviced as many as 30 races in 2015.  Since then we have gradually cut back to about 10 races.  As the number of IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3 races, Challenge races and ITU and independent races exploded it is much easier for athletes to just drive to numerous high level races so now we are just focusing on some of my favorite races and places.  We still have some races we service in Europe.  This season the races we were in Europe are IRONMAN Austria, IRONMAN Cork, Ireland and the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in Nice.

So far you’ve never competed in the Netherlands. Do we have to wait another 36 years for it?

Actually, this was the first time Jan and I even visited the Netherlands!  I went with family and friends to do a bike and barge trip around Holland while the tulips were in bloom.  It was a real vacation with nothing to do with triathlons! 


You’ve propabely never announced that you’ll quit sports. But for how long will we see you in races like Hawaii?

I don’t plan to stop training and competing, hopefully I will be able to do so for many more years.  As for Hawaii, I still have not qualified for 2019.  I was leading my age group at IRONMAN New Zealand but about 14k into the run things fell apart, just not enough training.  Hopefully I will qualify at IRONMAN Brazil but at some point the consecutive finishing streak in Kona will come to an end!

And so Ken Glah qualified again for the race he did already 35 times. (This interview was taken i shortely before Brazil)

Wim van den Broek

Wilde in 1983 iets anders dan alleen hard fietsen, stapte snel over op microfoons uittesten, één van de drijvende krachten achter één van de oudste triatlons: Oud-Gastel, figureert in misdaadseries en mag zich ridder zonder paard noemen.

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