TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with Brannen Henn who is the TCSD Secretary and finished Ironman Hawaii last October in 11:18.  Brannen does a lot for the TCSD and she is definitely someone you should know. 


 "Brannen Henn on the run at the 2015 Ironman Hawaii"

Craig: What sports did you participate in prior to triathlon?  

Brannen: I grew up in Encino, CA, yep, I am “like” a Valley Girl. I ran track in high school, the 400M and 4x400M relay. I actually thought cross country runners were crazy for running how far they ran. And when I do track workouts today I am in awe at my high school self for being able to run a 400 in under a minute. I went to the University of Arizona, GO CATS!, but didn’t run or play sports in college, unless you count intramural flag football.

Craig: What were your first multi-sport race experiences like? 

Brannen: The first multisport race I did was Superseal in 2008, but I didn’t do all three disciplines. I was so nervous and uncomfortable for the swim portion, I got a friend to do the swim and I did the bike and run. I had signed up for San Diego International Triathlon for later that year and felt more comfortable starting with just two out of the three sports. I had so much fun at the race, and my relay partner was so supportive. I do not remember my times or any of those details, but I remember having fun and being really proud of myself for putting myself out there, even if I did just do the bike and run. After that I did SDIT in June and tackled all three disciplines. The swim was nerve racking for me, still can be in certain races to this day, and my anxiety was pretty high for the start of that race with the unknown of how the swim start would go. Having multiple people around me where I wouldn’t be in 100% control was nothing I was excited for. Fortunately, I was given advice to count to 10 after the gun went off, let everyone go and then start when it was less chaotic. It was great advice and I didn’t have to worry about people swimming in to me and invading my space. I was so happy to get out of that water and get on with the race, you would have thought I came out first. Again, I don’t remember times off the top of my head, it wasn’t important to me. I remember again being so proud of myself and having a bunch of my friends and family there to support me. After that I knew I wanted to do more and whenever I was able, I signed up for Oceanside 70.3. And now, 3 Ironmans, 15 half Ironman and a couple handfuls of other distances, I still get some nerves about the swim, but I no longer count to 10, I line up in front and allow my space to be completely invaded.

Craig: I think you have developed into a very strong swimmer.  After all, your swim split at Kona in October was 1:11.  Yet, you have expressed a lot anxiety about the swim.  What troubles you about the swim and how have you overcome these challenges?

Brannen: Swimming…I grew up in the pool, but I was playing Marco Polo and diving for toys in the shallow end. No laps or swim team for me. I had an incident in the ocean when I was little where I got held down by a wave, tried to come up for air and got knocked down again. That feeling of needing a breath and not being able to take one has stayed with me all these years. I work on it and have made progress, but I don’t like having to hold my breath for a long time in the water, and really am not good at it at all. In fact, I can’t swim the length of a 25 yard pool under water unless I start by diving in (I have probably done it without diving 4-5 times in all these years). I know, you are thinking, it’s so easy, but really for me it is not. Really. All that spills in to the race environment because the bumping and pushing and chaos in the water makes me feel not in control, and to be out of control in the water is extremely uncomfortable for me. I am obviously not over my swim issues, but I have come a long way. I know it is a mental block and I work on it, and that is how I am able to do Ironman starts. I put myself out there because of what the entire experience of the race brings me. And I can’t do the rest of it, if I don’t get through the swim. The more I race, the more comfortable I get, but you will never hear me say, “I love the start of the swim, I look forward to it.”

Craig: What athletic accomplishment are you most proud of and why?  

Brannen: To be honest I find something in all my races to be proud of. Before all of my bigger races I have a moment of patting myself on the back for just getting there. Dedicating the time and effort, going through the ups and downs of training, holding a full time job, balancing the rest of life. Up there in accomplishments is my race at Ironman Cozumel. I had a great swim (it was a wave start which is great for someone like me) and completed it in under an hour at 58:57, about 4 minutes faster than I expected. That was very exciting! My bike was average, it was so windy that year, 30mph winds that were never at your back…how does that work???, and a 3 loop course so I knew what I was headed in to every time. My bike split was 6:01, about 16 minutes slower than I planned BUT…I love to run, really love to run! Running is my strength and when I get off the bike I am so excited to be on my feet. I actually had stomach cramps about 7 miles in to the run so I dealt with that the entire run. But these races are mental games, especially the run, and I just didn’t let it get me down or make me stop. I wanted to break 3:30 in my run and my split was 3:29. I had to pick up the pace the last half mile to get there. So what makes me proud is that I didn’t let my bike set me back and I didn’t give up, even with my stomach issues. I put my head down for the run and ran myself in to second place from being 5th off the bike. This is where I qualified for Kona and I had some great friends that were there in Cozumel with me and was able to share the experience of getting my slot and going to the awards ceremony with all of them.

Craig: What advice would you pass along to someone planning to race their first triathlon in 2016?

Brannen: Have fun! Enjoy the experience from the training all the way through race day. If there is something you aren’t comfortable with or sure about, ask people their advice and experience.  You will find you aren’t alone and most likely will hear something that will help you with your race. Don’t not sign up because you aren’t a good…fill in the blank.  You will miss out on so much if you let fears and hesitations prevent you from participating. You will meet some of the most amazing people through the sport, and the race environment is so positive with an energy that buzzes in the air like no other events you go to. It is a great experience!

Craig: What advice would you offer someone trying to qualify for Kona? 

Brannen: My advice for trying to qualify for Kona. I feel I was lucky because I qualified at my second Ironman in Cozumel, Mexico. I went in to the race hoping I would qualify, but I kept it in perspective because I know so much can happen in that distance. I would say it is important to get your training in, but just as important to rest and get in an appropriate taper. The last thing you want to do is show up to a race you are trying to qualify for Kona at and be tired. Another thing is never give up. I didn’t have the bike split I wanted at Cozumel because it was SO windy, but I didn’t let that get me down and didn’t mentally give up on my race. The mental game is so important when racing. I think mentally what helped me at Cozumel was I was more focused on what I wanted to accomplish in each segment, and knew if I hit those times I had a chance to qualify, and I also knew if I hit those goals and didn’t qualify I still would be really happy with my race and what I put in to it.

Craig: In what ways have you volunteered for the TCSD? 

Brannen: I started volunteering at the TCSD aquathlons. I helped register and check people in. I enjoyed meeting all the participants. So many ranges of ages, abilities, speeds, but in general all very friendly and enjoying themselves. I also have volunteered at some of the expos that TCSD has a booth at. At the expos I enjoy meeting some of the new members that are also new to the sport and come by to ask questions. I like being able to help them with the experiences I have had and hopefully reduce some of their anxiety. It’s great to see those that are racing their first triathlon. I can feel their excitement and nerves and remember when I did my first triathlon. I still get excited and nervous for my races, but I can never replicate that first race feeling. Through volunteering I have met some of the greatest friends; friends I will have for life. They are training partners and friends that are like family…all just from volunteering, who would have thought.

Craig: What is something that you sense people don’t know about the TCSD Board of Directors that you would like them to know?

Brannen: I am not sure what people think of the TCSD Board of Directors.  I am sure there are some mixed opinions out there. I think what people should know is that it is run like a true Board of Directors with rules and policies that we follow. We might be off on the timing/due dates of things, but they are volunteer positions and we all have other jobs and lives outside of making the club run. It is a lot of work to keep the club running and the Board of Directors dedicate a lot of their time to make it run, along with other volunteers. Everyone on the Board is there for the good of the club, to make decisions that are best for the members at large. We will never make everyone happy, but we do our best to do what is best for the longevity and continued growth of TCSD.

Craig: What are your favorite benefits of being a TCSD member?

Brannen: Still, after the years that I have been a member, I am amazed at how much we get. I am not sure I have a favorite, but TCSD membership offers everything I could want if I need it: free coaching, free workouts, free food, informative meetings, discounts with great sponsors, giveaways, and free races. Hard to pick a favorite there.

Craig: What is the funniest thing you have seen in triathlon? 

Brannen: Volunteering at Oceanside 70.3 in the transition area provides all sorts of humor you can see and hear. You have people who are so focused and making every second count (I can relate to this), trying to dodge the people that are out there taking all the time they need and want. You have people who put their helmet on backwards, people who keep their shoes on their bike and completely botch getting in to their shoes. You have the minimalists (again, me) who have just the basics tiny towel, shoes, some nutrition, glasses, visor, and those who brought their living room and kitchen to the race (will never believe this is necessary). One year there was a man who came out of the water and walked to his transition area, or better yet, transition room. He had it all, a big bucket, a couple towels, lots of nutrition, a big bag. And when he gets there he goes in to his bag, pulls out his phone and calls his wife/girlfriend. He sat there on the phone with her chatting it up. Then hung up the phone proceeded to put on cologne, yep, I said it, cologne and ran his fingers through his hair to straighten it out before he put his helmet on. As he walked out with his bike he gave a big “oh yea!” and on he went. At least he was enjoying himself.

Craig: What can you say about people who pee on the bike?

Brannen: Peeing on the bike, it’s a good skill to have, don’t knock it. I really have no problem with it, it is a race, and every second counts. Just be courteous, make sure you look behind you before you go, maybe wait if someone is coming up. If someone is drafting off you (that is illegal), don’t wait, they deserve it :) I actually feel the worst for the mechanics who have to work on your bike after the races, especially if you didn’t clean as you should.

Craig: Who have been the most influential people in your life? 

Brannen: My parents: mom and stepdad. My stepdad has a huge heart and kind soul. He is a hard worker and has shown me what hard work and dedication can get you in life. My mom has shown me you have to go after what you want. It might not always be comfortable and can even be a bit scary, but it will work out and I will learn from all the experiences that get me there. She is a strong, independent, loving, loyal, and my number one cheerleader in my races and life, and I know all my accomplishments have been reached because of her influence.

Craig: Do you have any sponsors? 

Brannen: I am part of the Betty Designs Team. We are sponsored by Betty Designs (duh): “Where runway fashion meets sport”. Kristen Mayer has done a great job designing fashionable, yet very functional kits, as well as lifestyle items. So if all else goes wrong training or on the course, at least I look good. Timex, watches! Watches for sport and watches for lifestyle, lots of options! Rudy Project: sunglasses and helmets, Bonk Breakers: bars, great for when I am on my bike or if I need an in-between meal snack, Nuun: electrolyte tablets for hydration, I love that there is no sugar added and so many flavor options, Roka: swim and cycle gear, COOLA Suncare: use mostly natural ingredients, have organic products too. Mavic: wheels, tires, apparel, Designer Protein: a variety of proteins to fit your needs

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals? 

Brannen: My goal is to make sure I am still having fun. Yes, I want to do well, place well, have good splits and overall time, but no matter how all that turns out, my goal is to have fun and finish with a smile on my face, even if my legs are on fire and can barely hold me up. Other goals would be some time goals in specific distances. This year I would like to run another sub 1:30 off the bike in a Half Ironman. And maybe one year really focus on running and see if I can break 3 hours in a marathon…I have 11 minutes I need to shave off. This year I decided to go to USAT Nationals. I think it would be cool to finish in the top 18 in my age group and be able to represent the USA at Worlds.

Craig: Brannen, thank you so much for sharing your story.  The TCSD is very lucky to have you among our leaders.  I look forward to racing Nationals with you in 2016 and hopefully both of us qualifying to race the 2017 ITU Tri Worlds in Rotterdam.

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or