The person who coined the expression “life begins at 40” probably didn’t have triathlons in mind.
After all, if someone is going to get involved for the first time with something as physically and mentally challenging as the three-sport test, it probably would have happened a little earlier in life, don’t you think?
So that’s why Jennifer Steen’s performance in the New Jersey State Triathlon on July 16 was a bit eye-catching.
The Yardley native, competing in her first triathlon, completed the 500-meter swim, 11.5-mile bike and 5K run at the Garden State’s Mercer County Park course in 1:17.24 good for fourth place (out of 42) in the 40-44 age bracket.
Steen was an outstanding swimmer in high school and college, so she already had a leg up on the competition there.
“My friend wanted to do one so we signed up,’’ Steen explained in a telephone call. “I swam in high school and college but I said I was never going to do triathlons because getting a bike is really expensive.
“But I bought a bike and I don’t have that excuse anymore. There were a lot of people (doing their first). Race officials asked people if this was their first ‘tri’ and a whole lot of people raised their hands.”
The current Richboro resident had all the equipment. What was the deciding factor?
“Peer pressure,” she said. “A friend wanted to do this triathlon and started asking, ‘Does anybody want to do this triathlon?’
“It was at Mercer County Park (not far from Bucks). I didn’t have to travel far, it was in the summer. I could practice swimming in Richboro, I was biking anyway, so I signed up.”
It’s somewhat unusual for someone to jump into the triathlon pool for the first time at her particular age. Was there any hesitation on her part?
“I had done a marathon before,” she explained. “I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. It’s a big-time commitment. It’s a lot of time and I was thinking, ‘do I really want to get into these triathlons?’
“You have to buy another bike. It’s like, ‘do I want to go down this rabbit hole?’ But Mercer County wasn’t that far away so I didn’t have to do (extensive) travel. I was just trying it out.”
The experience was almost all positive. She averaged better than 19 miles per hour on the bike and the overall experience gave off enough of a positive vibe that she has now signed up for the 2023 Steelman Triathlon in and around Lake Nockamixon on Aug. 6.
When not training for a race, Steen devotes time to her career as a civil engineer for HDR, a local consulting firm.
She has a bachelors and a masters degree in civil engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where she spent almost as much time in the pool as the classroom.
She attended Villa Victoria Academy in Ewing Township, N.J. from sixth to 10th grade. Later, it was on to the acclaimed Pennington School in Pennington, N.J. to complete her high school studies.
Although her main sports interest at Pennington centered around swimming, she was skilled enough at running to compete in cross-country.
At the New Jersey Triathlon, there weren’t a whole lot of surprises, even though this was her first one.
“The sprint was really a sprint,” she said. “I really prefer a longer distance.”
That’s evident by her participation in the Bucks County Roadrunners Club’s weekly rides out of Yardley on Saturday mornings. Riders think nothing of going as far as 50 miles or beyond.
“I like going out and riding 50 miles,” she said. It should be mentioned the courses traverse some serious hills throughout central and upper Bucks County. “So looking at some of those longer triathlons, those intrigue me.
“Again, that’s a lot of training. I could get away with swimming two or three times a week, plus running a couple times a week.”
All this hunt to find more time to train becomes even more apparent because she is a single mom. Her 9-year-old son, Max, is her top priority.
When time allows, she will be getting ready for Steelman, which is a big next step.
She knows a lot of local athletes who are competing so there should be a degree of familiarity to the whole experience.
“I know the Bucks County Triathlon Club is doing that one,” Steen said. “There are sub-groups in there and it’s like, ‘come swim with us.’ Training in the Delaware is fine but finding the time is the challenge. That’s the hardest part.
“With personal life and work, how do you fit it all in without getting overwhelmed?”
Bucks County roads, trails and even swim opportunities make it a a great training ground. And New Jersey has plenty to offer as well.
“You definitely get some of these bigger hills,” Steen said. “There are so many connections ride-wise. People who are out, the older adult crowd riding, it’s pretty cool to see.”
Getting up at 5:30 in the morning on a Saturday day off from work is the real trick for those 50-milers.
“It’s like getting up that early when I don’t want to get up,” she said with a laugh. “But they’re there. And if they’re there, I should be there!
“So it’s definitely the camaraderie to help push and be there. You have to find a group where it fits you’re athletic scale.”
No doubt training groups like this will push her to greater heights. And it’s never too late to follow that new passion.
Saturday, Aug. 5
5K Any Way & Color Fun Run for Accessibility, 8 a.m., Yardley. Contact https://www.raceentry.com/races/5k-any-way-and-color-fun-run/2023/register
Sunday, Aug. 6
19th annual Steelman Triathlon, 7:30 a.m., Lake Nockamixon State Park/Quakertown. Contact www.steelmanracing.com