Having just returned to Canada after 10 years living in Perth, Australia, Calgary’s Janine Willis is getting set to defend her Ironman 70.3 World Championship age-group title in September in Chattanooga, Tenn. Then, in October, she’ll return to the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-kona for the fourth time.
“My whole triathlon world changed in the beginning of the year with this move back to Canada from Australia,” explains Willis. “My race calendar has had substantial changes, but I just cannot wait to start racing again in June.”
To date, Willis has logged over 20 halfdistance races and more than 10 full-distance races, with arguably her best result coming by way of that age-group victory at the 70.3 worlds in Mooloolaba, Australia, in September, 2016. She also represented Canada in 2009 at the ITU Long Course World Championships, placing second in her age group.
“That was only my second ever long course race and really cemented my fascination with triathlon and long distance racing,” she says.
In her three previous visits to Kona – in 2010, 2012, 2014 – Willis placed ninth, sixth and third in her age group. She has already qualified for Kona later this year, which gives her lots of time to prepare for the rigours of the Big Island this time around.
“Something crazy happens when you land on the Big Island with your triathlon kit,” explains Willis. “The hardship of the race becomes inconsequential and every fibre of you just wants to do the best you can and put the best foot forward. Standing there with all those other amazing athletes, wondering, ‘How do I compare, what do I need to do, how am I going to get to the finish line’ – somehow all the pieces just come together.”
If racing in Kona has taught her one thing, it is the need to reign in negative emotions during a race and not allow that negativity to take hold. Additionally, years of preparing for and racing long course events have taught her the art of patience, focus and mental toughness. These qualities, believes Willis, are paramount to both triathlon and life success and can truly be harnessed through long distance racing.
Willis first began her triathlon journey in 2007 at the whim of a friend who did not want to sign up for a race alone. Willis agreed to participate, signing up with some trepidation, but willing to support her friend in search of a new physical challenge. By her own self admission, she had absolutely no idea what she was doing.
“I was nothing if not persistent at the time. I rode a mountain bike that day which weighed a ton. But everyone has to start somewhere.”