Russell Pennock is one of the five Canadians lining up at WTS Abu Dhabi on March 5th. For Throwback Thursday, we take a look back at his rise in triathlon.
— By Kerry Hale
Compared to his big sister, Calgary’s Russell Pennock is a late bloomer. Ellen Pennock was TMC’s 2013 Triathlete of the Year and her little brother is having a stellar year. Earlier this summer, the 19-year-old completed a golden sweep of the National Junior Triathlon Series Races, including the Canadian junior championship title in Magog, Que. Preceding that, he finished sixth at the Pan American Championships in May and fourth at the North American Championships in March.
In mid-August he claimed the title at the Apple Triathlon, perhaps his “favourite triathlon,” in Kelowna, B.C. Then came the itu World Junior Championships held in Edmonton, where he led the Canadian team with a fifth-place finish in 57 minutes and 5 seconds, tying Canadian triathlete Paul Tichelaar’s junior world championship performance from 2001, which, incidentally, was also hosted on Edmonton soil. After the race Pennock said, “I knew I had the potential to be up with the top guys, but I came in with no expectations and an open mind, looking to gain experience at my first world championships.”
His performance even prompted triathlon legend Simon Whitfield to comment, “I went into this (2014 world championship event) thinking that the shelves weren’t stocked with young talent, but then seeing the young guys like Pennock…was impressive.”
As a child, Pennock played basketball and skied. He waited until high school to start running and swimming competitively. “I began swimming at around 10 or 11 years old with the Cascade Swim Club,
but only swam when I could since basketball was the priority back then. But, in Grade 9, I stopped playing club basketball and began swimming more competitively and, at the same time, I also joined the University of Calgary Athletics Club.”
His first foray into triathlon was the Kronos Kids of Steel event at the University of Calgary when he was 11. “The Cascade Swim Club had most of their swimmers enter the Kronos Triathlon Club Calgary Kids of Steel, so that’s what encouraged me to do my first one,” he said, “but, my sister, Ellen, also did one before I competed in my first race, so she kind of helped me get my start as well.”
Reflecting on recent success, he says “My parents have been huge supporters and basically fund all of my activities.” In the same breath he credits his coaches at the University of Calgary Athletics Club, Mike Van Tighem and Terry Crook, who “helped him through track and cross-country training, which inevitably transferred to triathlon.”
A turning point in his performance came when he began training with the Kronos Triathlon Club under head coach, Bart Ujack, in May 2014. “Everything just started falling into place,” says Pennock. “As soon as I started working with Bart there was a great connection; we immediately clicked as athlete and coach.”
During intense blocks of training, he swims four times a week with quite a bit of speed work, usually incorporating a lake swim in the summer months. He rides two or three times a week “where one of the rides focuses on speed and the others are aerobic.” He adds five runs a week with one high intensity effort and the rest slower runs, ranging from 20 minutes to an hour. His favourite session falls on the weekend. “Every Saturday we go out and do a brick workout with our whole team. It is a ton of fun since it’s kind of a race simulation. Everyone wears their race suit and goes really hard which is awesome.”
In and around his training and racing he studies biomechanics at the University of Calgary. “I really want to finish my biomechanics degree in the next couple years, and maybe do some research in that field,” he says.
That doesn’t mean he wants to back off on his triathlon training. “I see myself pursuing triathlon and I’m excited about doing some U23 racing.”
The shelves of young Canadian triathlon talent are indeed stocked, and the future looks full of promise.