Jen Brown: triathlete, trail runner and inspiration to women around the world

WE TALK to Jen Brown about how the stress and daily toll as life as a lawyer led her to trail running and later triathlon.

Jen Brown

In 2004 Jen Brown knew something had to change in her life but would never have imagined the magnitude of the sporting journey she was about to begin.

LIFE AS A LAWYER was taking its toll on Jen Brown. She’d started putting on weight and had lost the passion she’d had at university to stay fit and active. One day she decided to go for a run and found herself on a trail. That was it! She instantly caught the trail running bug and hasn’t looked back from what she calls her ‘original love’ when it comes to sport.

That was in 2004 and it wasn’t until three years later that she got her first taste of triathlon. She’d been tempted to give the sport a go on the recommendation of others but finally too the leap when she met her now husband who was a passionate triathlete. Ten years later she is still heavily involved in the sport and still an enthusiastic runner whenever she gets the chance to get out on a trail. 


Jen has competed in four ultramarathons and a range of other triathlon and running events over the years. As well as her triathlon and running achievements Jen has also climbed or hiked mountains on five continents.


Today she works as a triathlon coach and is also the founder of www.spartachicks.com, a website which encourages and aids women who want to set themselves sporting goals.


In this exclusive interview we talk to Jen about her sporting achievements over the years as well as her passion for coaching and encouraging others to achieve their ambitions in sport, whatever they may be. Read on to find out about the big challenge she’s set herself for 2018 as well as the other projects she has in the pipeline.



trail running

Jen started trail running by chance in 2004 and it remains her biggest sporting love.

When did you pick up the triathlon and trail running bugs?


Trail running came first (it’s my first and original love!). Somewhere around 2004, I was working as a Lawyer. I had been really fit and active at University but stopped training and put on weight when I started working as a lawyer. So I got back into the gym and, for the first time in my life, started running as a way to lose the weight. At the time I was living very close to Sydney harbour and one day, quite randomly, I decided to turn down a trail that I had seen on most of my road runs that disappeared off into the bush towards the water. And within five minutes, I was hooked! I fell in love with it instantly. I can still remember how I felt during that initial run. I can’t quite explain it; I think it was a combination of exhilaration and being reminded of stomping through puddles as a kid.


As for triathlon, that came into my life around 2007. After I started running, I used to get injured (a lot!) and, like many runners, started cycling and swimming as a way to keep fit when I couldn’t run. My uncle had done Ironman triathlons at that stage for about 10 or 15 years and was always telling me that I should do a triathlon. And I always said no. Then I met someone who was also a triathlete (he’s now my husband!) and they basically ganged up on me and eventually, I agreed to do a triathlon to shut them up! And ten years later, I’m still heavily involved in the sport. 


Tell us about some of your biggest personal achievements in the sports?


I am very much a back-of-the-pack athlete, and happily so. I’ve realised over the years that I’m motivated more by experiences, rather than chasing faster times. The idea of going back and doing the same race a few years in a row bores me (although most of my clients love that idea!). So for me, it’s about variety. 

I haven’t done too much over the last few years as I’ve focused on building Sparta Chicks. However, I have completed four Ultramarathons (including a 100km event). Earlier this year, I completed my first ocean swim race and later this year, I’m entering my first mountain bike race which should be fun! 



As well as her triathlon and running achievements Jen has also climbed or hiked mountains on five continents.

Where in the world has sport taken you and what have been some of the highlights?


I haven’t raced overseas (yet!) but I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time overseas exploring the outdoors. We have visited Kona to watch the Hawaii Ironman twice (and I’ve been there a third time) which has given me the opportunity to ride out of Hawi (the famous turnaround point on the bike course), do part of the swim course and run down Ali’i Drive. 


I have also hiked or climb mountains on five continents; everything from half day hikes through to 5 week climbing expeditions. I’ve been up to 6,500m in elevation in the Andes (which trip included sleeping at 6,000m – or trying to!). I’ve also completed the climbed Mt Meru and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, completed the Inca Trek to Machu Picchu in Peru, climbed in the Himalayas and walked the 96km Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea (carrying my own pack, the only woman in our group to do so). 


There are too many highlights to mention – every trip has been special in its own unique way – but getting to know the locals and seeing different cultures and different parts of the world is a gift I will always treasure.


Jen, pictured here on a running trail, is also the founder of www.spartachicks.com.

When did you turn to coaching and who are some of those you work with? What message do you try to instil in those who come to work and learn under you?


I started triathlon coaching initially around 2011. At the time, I was working as a Personal Trainer specialising in working with runners and triathletes and their injuries. One of my personal training clients asked me to coach her to her goal of completing a Half Ironman (as they were called at the time). I said yes and that decision led me to where I am today. It was never on my radar and even then, if you had told me I would build a career around it, I would never have believed you!


These days, I specialise in working with busy, everyday age group runners and triathletes, many of whom have a corporate background (which I can relate to) or who are shift workers. There are two key messages I try and instil in the athletes I work with and come into contact with. 


The first is to find a program that works for you and your unique circumstances. Most every day, age group athletes needs to balance their training in addition to work, children and family, perhaps caring for ageing parents and other life commitments. But I see too many people try to ‘jam’ a generic training program (or worse, their friend’s training program) on top of their life. Which, of course, doesn’t work on a long term basis so the athlete ultimately misses training sessions, feels guilty, trains inconsistently, get injured and don’t see the results they want. Instead, I encourage athletes to start with their existing life commitments and then fit their training around it. It might seem pretty obvious but you would be surprised how many athletes try and do it! 


The second message is that training is only part of the equation. Mindset is equally important. So we need to explore the mindset and mental roadblocks that are standing in our way. We all have “stories” (as I call them) we tell ourselves about what we can and can’t do, what we should and shouldn’t do and who we are. All the training in the world won’t help you if your ‘stories’ are undermining your confidence in your physical fitness and ability. This mindset and the mental component is as important to me as a coach as their physical ability. 


Tell us about your work and involvement with www.spartachicks.com and what our readers can expect from the podcasts there?


I launched Sparta Chicks in 2014 after realising I was having very different conversations with my male clients as opposed to my female clients. I quickly realised that what held most women back wasn’t physical. It was not the physical demands of their sport; how or fast they could swim, ride, run or climb. It was their self-doubt, their fear of failure and/or their fear of judgement. They were comparing themselves to others (and always finding themselves coming up short). It was their fear of feeling like a fraud, that they didn’t belong on the start line or that they weren’t ready or good enough that was holding them back from producing the results they were capable of. 


These were topics not being discussed in a sports setting at the time but I felt they needed to be because we all struggle with our fear and self-doubt at times. So I launched Sparta Chicks as a vehicle not only to talk openly about these topics but, more importantly, share practical tools and strategies women can use to keep working towards their goals, in spite of their fears (rather than continuing to sabotage themselves further). 

I then launched the podcast, Sparta Chicks Radio, in February 2017 as another way to share deep, meaningful and candid conversations about fear and self-doubt. And, most importantly, in a very practical way, to explore the strategies my guests have used to chase, and achieve, their goals. While the podcast is targeted towards women in endurance sports or outdoor adventures, as these topics are universal, I speak with women (and a few good men!) from a wide range of backgrounds. I’ve been lucky enough to have Olympic Champions (from both Summer and Winter Games), World Champions in everything from triathlon to cliff diving, business leaders as well as everyday age group athletes, like you and I, on the show and the response has been incredible. 


Interestingly, while it’s been one of the most rewarding projects of my career, it’s also one that’s caused me the most fear and self-doubt (oh, the irony!). I procrastinated about launching it for well over a year; in fact, closer to 18 months. So I’m ‘walking the talk’ and openly sharing my journey and struggles too. 


Jen is planning to do an Everest Marathon in Nepal in 2018.

What exciting projects do you have lined up for the rest of the year and beyond?


Well, if you had asked me that a month ago my answer would be very different. Until then, I was planning to do the Everest Marathon in Nepal in 2018. But that now conflicts with a family wedding so I’ve pushed that back to 2020 (which seems like a really long time away right now but I suspect it will come around quickly!). 

On the work front, Sparta Chicks is launching a membership site called The Arena later this year. It’s for women in endurance sports or outdoor adventure who want more support around their mindset (as I was talking about earlier).


And on the personal front, I have my first mountain bike race this year which should be fun, provided I manage to stay upright! And course, there are always more trails to run.

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