Jeri Howland day everyone!
Jeri and I met in 2017 after Giles and I travelled out to The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile in San Francisco. Jeri and her husband – another Jerry – were so generous in hosting us in gorgeous Marin County and I got to learn a little about their lives. I was out there again this year and had the opportunity to catch up with Jeri fresh from her finish at the American River trail race, and I thought her life experiences would be fascinating to share.
Originally from the state of Vermont on the east coast, Jeri is an incredible athlete, mother, grandmother, wife, former development director for a rainforest conservation NGO, consultant, coach and food business owner. Yes she does a lot of things, with an infectious drive and passion.
Jeri has competed in triathlon, ironman, trail ultras and ski races for over 40 years. 40 YEARS. A time when very few women were in these sports, wetsuits didn’t exist, sports nutrition wasn’t a thing and there was barely any training or racing advice to turn to. She took 7 x Ironman wins as well as 25 ultra marathon wins, and a long list of further podiums in triathlon and running, and she’s still winning her age group in most races.
I sat down with Jeri in her back garden, with road cyclists pushing up into the rolling Marin hills a hundred metres or so behind her house, shouting hellos at her. It would be a challenge to live any closer to the beautiful trails and bike routes she gets so much joy from.
The day before we recorded, Jeri ran 25 miles of tough trail at American River, placing first female vet. She still runs distances of 50-100k regularly, and rises the morning after to get her 2-4 hours of swim-bike-run in. It was clear to me that she doesn’t do this out of obligation to train hard, or a feeling of ‘should’ but purely for the love and enjoyment she gets from being out in the sunshine on her bike, on one of the lush trails nearby or in the outdoor pool.
Jeri is 63. If I can lead a lifestyle similar to Jeri’s into my 60s I’ll be doing well in life.
We got into what life was like when Jeri dipped her toe in the triathlon water – at the inaugural Alcatraz triathlon back in the 80s – and what happened from there. She tells me all about her time in Ironman, which became her life for a good twenty years. Consistently qualifying for the Kona World Ironman Championships and racing it nine times - some of her toughest experiences - and what training and racing whilst aging into her 60s has been like. We also get into a fascinating conversation about where Jeri feels her drive and motivation come from, and how she has balanced her commitment to the sport with a demanding career in San Francisco and starting an organic food business.
One of the biggest takeaways for me was Jeri’s mindset around training; that she ‘trains’ because she is love with this as a lifestyle. It is not training for her as much as going to the places she loves to be in. Reflecting on this has helped me build deeper perspective on why I do what I do, and what is important about it; that love of this lifestyle and the landscapes that inspire us should form the drive, not the desire to stand on a podium or even get to a specific race. If you don’t love what you are doing a lot of the time, then experiment and find something you do love.
In (semi) retirement, aside from her joy in being outdoors Jeri uses her time to contribute to her community and share her knowledge of philanthropy fundraising, rather than indulge purely in her own pursuits. She's giving back the most she possibly can from her decades of experience - and feels truly satisfied from these contributions.