Catching up with Ken Glah
Ken Glah is not your average triathlon tour operator, nor is his company, Endurance Sports Travel, your average triathlon tour operation. Ken has been racing across the globe for more than three decades, has competed in over 70 Ironman races and has a record 28 consecutive finishes at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii under his belt. He's won 6 Ironman races during his career — three in Brazil, one in Canada, and two in New Zealand, as well as the 1993 Ironman World Series Title. Ten years ago, Ken started a business which combines his passion for racing and his fascination for, and knowledge of other cultures, to encourage and enable athletes to race outside their home countries. We sat down with him to talk training, racing, and the ins and outs of creating unique, stress-free travel experiences for his clients competing across the world.
Tell us about your motivation for setting up Endurance Sports Travel.
I originally set up Endurance Sports Travel after becoming involved with the management of Ironman Brazil. I wanted to make it easy for people to travel to a race and for both the athlete and their family to enjoy the trip as well as the race.
Talk us through the process of booking a race trip for an athlete.
While booking basic items for a trip such as airfare, hotel and car rental are easy to do through the Internet or a travel agent, EST can do all that for you and so much more. You won't need a car, which in an unfamiliar city or country can relieve a lot of stress. Plus in some countries getting a car big enough for your bike and luggage is not easy or cheap, and if you do have a large vehicle and it’s a city race, then parking can be extremely expensive and/or hard to find. Just the money saved on the rental fee, gas, and parking could be enough to pay for all our services. We pick you up at the airport and take care of all transportation—all race functions, course tours, shopping, and at some races we take spectators to viewing points along the course with a hospitality area, and transport the athlete, family, equipment and bikes to and from the race site. We have staff on-site and available 24 hours a day along with translators. We have a network of the most amazing professional mechanics all over the world who have worked for EST for years. EST has massage therapists with us, and trusted local therapists. At some events we have ART therapists and sports psychologists. We organize day-trips, and in some cases after race tours. Between the knowledge of our full-time staff and assistants in countries all over the world, we know how to provide for the needs of athletes and spectators, from young children to adults into their 80's. I am confident no other service is as complete as ours for athletes or spectators.
Do you have any stories, pre-EST about your own experiences arranging to attend exotic races as an individual?
I traveled all over the world to race for close to 20 years before I started EST. Many times I had my parents along as well and then my daughter after she was born in 1993. So traveling with my elderly parents and an infant/young child definitely kept me on my toes. We had the normal issues that come with being on the road for 100 days or more in a year such as flight delays, lost luggage, illness or accidents and how to deal with these things and still stay focused on trying to win major races while making sure they were all okay and having fun. Having a bike mechanic at events now certainly helps so much as many times it was pre-race bike issues that would cause stress.
What is EST’s philosophy when it comes to customer service?
Our goal is to make all our clients (athletes and spectators) feel completely comfortable traveling to a destination race, and for the trip to be regarded as a great vacation, not just a race. We want everyone to feel they have received far more than they had paid for or expected. Word of mouth and repeat clients are what keep us growing, so it is imperative that at the end of a trip the clients leave thinking about where they want to travel next with EST and wanting to share their positive experience with others.
Share one or two of your favorite stories from EST clients about their experiences.
Once during a course tour I was leading by bus in Brazil I heard a woman say to another athlete "I’ve been so relaxed and having so much fun I forgot we have to do an Ironman in a few days." I had a guy write and say that he had so much fun and met so many people that he felt like he was at summer camp. The night after a race one year the father of an athlete turned to me and said, "This is the most fun I’ve had since college." Those types of comments make all the planning and work worthwhile.
Tell us about the growth of the company in terms of services and products.
After a successful first year in 2002 at Ironman Brazil, I added the half in Pucon, Chile. Then Ironman Switzerland approached me, and we started trips to Europe and then to another of my favorite places—New Zealand. We are now at over 25 races for 2012, and have had tours to races in 14 different countries. We went from working with 100 clients in 2002 up to just under 1000 this past year.
Tell us about your training philosophy and about the training programs EST offers.
I do work personally with a few athletes offering very individualized coaching myself, and refer clients to my friend Bill Hauser who has a full time coaching business called Mid-Atlantic Multisport. I believe very strongly in a lot of base work and a bit of tempo training but very little high-end speed training. I think this decreases injury, increases enjoyment and longevity in the sport and allows an athlete to reach a higher level of fitness.
How about the new Living the Dream camps?
The Living the Dream Camps are small personal camps that we are really starting to build on. The plan is to have approximately 12 people at the camps. We are flexible on the number of days people can attend the camp with this year's May camp being offered after I return from St. Croix, and before I leave for Ironman Brazil—May 10th through 17th. An athlete can come for 3 to 7 days of training in the beautiful Chester and Lancaster County areas that I have trained on for 40 years now. It's a chance to relax and train with others full time, while learning through informal Q and A sessions during the meals and training.
Thanks to Ken for the fascinating look at Endurance Sports Travel and his highly successful racing career.