Saturday, June 30, 2012

Labor of Love, Part 2

Catching up with Ken Glah

This is part two of the interview with Ken Glah, Endurance Sports Travel founder and 6-time IRONMAN champion with race experience spanning the globe for more than three decades. Ten years ago, Ken envisioned a business that combined his passion for racing and his fascination for, and knowledge of other cultures, to encourage and enable athletes to race outside their home countries. Endurance Sports Travel offers the chance for athletes to race hassle-free in amazing locations while handling all of the intimidating details. Ken remains a fixture at Endurance Sports Travel by hosting athletes at race and helping athletes prepare.

If you missed part one of this fascinating interview with Ken, please read here.

Were you athletic as a child? Do you remember when you realized this was something that you were exceptional at?

I was a runner as a child but not exceptional. I was willing to put in the work and did well enough to get a Division 1 scholarship.

What was it about triathlons that attracted you to the sport?

As a runner, I could only train so many hours a week without risking injury. With triathlon training I could train 30 to 40 hours a week without any problem and I loved training. I still do!

Does your family have a history of athletics?

Most of my older brother were runners and my sister Rose as an excellent all-round athlete. It certainly helped having them around when I was younger. I would run with some of them but also spent a lot of time at their meets and my sister’s basketball and volleyball games.

Tell us about your first IRONMAN, and the build up to that.

It was 1984 and my first year racing professionally. I was still in college but was no longer runner as I had changed my focus to triathlons after my first year. I had some good success that summer and in September placed 4th at the world championships in Nice, France, so I went into Kona with some high expectations. I got severely burnt during the race and that contributed to my becoming dehydrated. I was training at Penn State and had been wearing long shirts and tights on the bike, so my skin was not ready for the sun of Hawaii. I did ok in the swim and got out in about 58 minutes I think and then worked my way up to 7th on the bike. John Howard was the only one that passed me on the bike. On the run I was doing well through 10 miles and then the heat and sunburn started getting to me. I went from 9th at miles 12 to about 30th at mile 17, and then really fell apart to and finished 275th. I was 30 minutes slower on the run than I was on the bike!

Who are your heroes?

I wouldn’t really say that I have heroes. I have people that I admire within the sport for what they have accomplished athletically and also how they handle themselves as people but the idea of having heroes is not something I buy into as being healthy. We should all strive to do our best at what we do, no matter what that is, but what is really important is how we behave as humans.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a triathlete?

Living on the east coast didn’t lend itself to getting good sponsorship as much of the industry in the sport developed on the west coast and in Europe. I had sponsors but not to the level that others competing at the same level had. The weather was definitely harder as it is cold for a number of months here and then nasty hot and humid in the summer but I think that only made me a better athlete. It wasn’t easy but trained me to be tougher under adverse conditions.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?

As an athlete, I don’t know that I can point to any one race, so I would say my longevity in the sport and my ability to compete at a high level for 20 some years and still love the sport. I love to be out all day training. With the business now that doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, I’m in heaven.

What did you do for a living before you made a career of your passion for triathlon?

I went from being a kid straight into triathlons, so I have always made my living from the sport. First as an athlete and now helping others travel to races all over the world.

Your wife is also a world class triathlete. Do you train together? What have you learned from her, and vice versa?

Jan and I used to train a lot together, but now we both have our own businesses and have trouble just getting in consistent training, so we rarely get to train together anymore. She really helped me with my swimming, and I helped her with her cycling, but the main thing was helping to get each other through on the days when motivation was lacking.

Is your daughter an athlete too?

Yes, Reanin grew up doing gymnastics and despite being about 6 to 8 inches taller than the other girls. She did well and more importantly, she loved it. She eventually got into volleyball and had to leave her gymnastics behind as it is not something you can do very safely at 6 feet tall. Now she plays volleyball in college at Stevens Institute of Technology.

Do you have any advice for others looking to do their first IRONMAN?

Do it because you want to challenge yourself but also make sure it fits within your life so you can make it a healthy long term lifestyle. The people are great within the sport, and the amazing places you can go with your family and friends to race are almost endless.

What’s the achievement you’ve been most proud of within the business?

Providing a professional yet personal service that makes athletes feel comfortable about traveling to races away from home. This allows them to enjoy their race while they and their families to have fun and unique experiences meeting people from many different countries, and often form long lasting friendships. I love the sport of triathlon and have made it a central part of my life for almost 30 years, so I want to share my experiences and enthusiasm with other athletes and their families. I think I have been able to achieve that through what we do at Endurance Sports Travel.

Thanks to Ken for the fascinating look at Endurance Sports Travel and his highly successful racing career.

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