Interview with Jenelle Deatherage
By Alison Wade

Jenelle Deatherage competes at the 2002 New Balance Maine Distance Festival.
(Photo Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)

After finishing up a collegiate career which included All-American honors and three Big Ten titles for Wisconsin, Jenelle Deatherage chose to remain in Madison, Wisconsin where she now trains with two of the top-ranked 1,500-meter runners in the country under legendary coach Peter Tegen. Deatherage, who represents Wisconsin Runner, finished fourth in the 1,500m at the 2002 USA Outdoor Championships and third at the 2003 USA Indoor Championships. She has run an outdoor best of 4:13 for each of the past three years, but lowered her best time to 4:12.75 during the 2003 indoor season.

A native of Peoria, Illinois, Deatherage graduated from East Peoria High School in 1995, along with another top U.S. runner, Tim Broe. She is currently studying Physical Therapy at Wisconsin and will graduate in December. We caught up with her as she was preparing to run in her first meet of the 2003 outdoor season. At last year's USA T&F Championships, it was like Regina Jacobs, Suzy Favor Hamilton and Sarah Schwald were in one race and you won the second race which involved everyone else in the field. Do you feel like the next step is to break into that top three and what do you think it's going to take to do that?
Jenelle Deatherage: I train with Suzy and Sarah so I know where I stand, I guess. Circumstantially, you never know what can happen on any given day, but at the same time, I train with them and I know I'm a step behind a lot of times. Last year was probably the first year that I really felt like I could keep up in workouts, for the most part, and it wasn't killing me to train with them. So I feel like I'm slowly making the steps toward being able to run with them, but at the same time, they're getting fitter and faster as well. I'd like to think I'm closing the gap, but I don't know.

FW: Is it hard training with your competitors?
JD: Not at all. I feel really lucky, in fact, to be able to train with those guys. We all get along really well, we have a great time. I don't really know what I'd do without them, to be honest. It's pretty tough to train on my own.

FW: Are the three of you doing most of your workouts together?
JD: Well, I've been in grad. school for the past couple years so... In the summertime we train together a lot more -- May, June we train together, more so than the fall -- Suzy will go to California in the fall and winter. My schedule doesn't allow me to work out with them a lot of times during the school year. As much as we can, we work out together. And then even if we can't do workouts together, Sarah and Kathy Butler and I will get together and do our long runs or non-workout runs.

FW: Have you been able to start training together for this season at all?
JD: [We've done] a couple workouts. Those guys have gotten together more than I've been able to meet with them, just because of classes. I have about three more weeks left of class and then we should be able to get together a lot more in May and June, which will be nice... for me at least, I don't know how much I'm really helping Suzy out (laughs).

FW: Are there workout days where you can keep up, or where you find yourself finishing the intervals first?
JD: There are definitely days where I can keep up and those guys are great about switching the lead -- if they feel like I'm hanging on, Suzy will say, 'Why don't you lead this one,' and we'll trade off, which is great because it gives me confidence. It's nice to just kind of mix it up and be able to lead the interval every once in a while. It's a little scary sometimes (laughs) but they're great about that. If I'm struggling to hang on and they know that, they're awesome about just letting me [follow]... It's obviously nicer if somebody helps lead the interval but if I'm kind of struggling to hang on, then they're great about saying, 'Just hang back and let us lead it.'

FW: Is the idea that you might have to knock off one of your training partners in order to make a World Championship or Olympic team tough at all?
JD: Time-wise, my PR is still pretty far off the standard, so it would be a pretty serious stretch to be able to make any sort of team this year. Obviously I'm not going to count anything out but I realize I have a long way to go before I break 4:05. So it's not really something I'm thinking about... It's only been in the past couple years that I've even been close to them so it's not something I've really had a chance to think about. I guess once my times get a little closer to the standard then I'll maybe think about it a little.

FW: You've been improving pretty steadily each year, finishing 10th at Outdoor Nationals in 2000, seventh in 2001 and fourth in 2002. What do you attribute that improvement to?
JD: I guess just being able to work hard and not being hurt has really helped me, not having to take any time off for injuries. I haven't been injured since the summer after my freshman year, I'm pretty lucky, I think that's a lot of it. And being able to train with the best in the country has definitely helped -- my coach and my training partners have been awesome.

FW: And you used up your collegiate eligibility in four years, you didn't redshirt at all?
JD: No, I didn't redshirt at all. It was kind of nice to have that fifth year, it was like a transition between undergrad. and training with the team... I was still in school but I wasn't training with the team, and then the next year, I was not in school and not training with the team.

FW: It seems like almost every collegiate runner who continues on with the sport either graduates and goes elsewhere to train or stays with their college coach for a while but then moves somewhere else and tries something different. Even Suzy tried something different for a while. You've stuck with Peter Tegen since college...
JD: I don't really have any reason to leave. I've had great success with Peter. I feel like he's one of the best, if not the best, coach in the country for my event. I have a great group of people to train with, I got into grad. School here on early admission so I just didn't bother applying anywhere else. I feel comfortable in Madison and the University is great about letting us use the facilities. I just felt like I was making enough changes in my life that changing coaches or changing the environment I was living in -- in addition to adding grad. School and being a post-collegiate athlete -- I changed enough things at once that I felt like staying here was a good move and I'm glad I made that decision.

FW: When will you be finished with graduate school?
JD: We finish our course work in about three weeks, I have clinical internships until December and I graduate officially in December.

FW: And then you'll look for a job?
JD: My tentative plan is to work part-time, or as much as I have to to survive, and keep training at least though 2004 and see how everything goes after that year and make a decision whether I'm going to keep doing it or not. The financial reality of it all is kind of coming to a head (laughs).

FW: Did you ever think about training full-time or was that not even something you considered?
JD: It's really not an option as far as money is concerned, I have to work. And just based on my lifestyle and how busy I've been in the past seven or eight years, I think it would be almost too much of a change to not do anything besides run. I feel like running is not a job for me now, it's more like my stress release. I think maybe if that was all I did, it would feel more like a job. I'd rather have it feel like play than work to me. Also, I think it would be not that great of a career move to graduate and not work in the field right away. I'd like to just get my feet wet, even if it is just part-time, I think it's in my best interest to get some job experience.

FW: A lot of people say that you can't work a full-time job and be an elite runner. Do you feel like you could be a better runner if you didn't have these other commitments or do you already feel like you're training as well as you can?
JD: Sometimes I feel like I'm one of those athletes who tends to do too much, so being in school limits how much I'm able to do, because I'm so busy. I think in that sense it's good for me. And it puts running in perspective, really, so that's another thing that's good about it. I mean yeah, there are times where I'm up late studying for an exam and I think to myself Gosh, I'd probably feel a lot better if I could get nine or 10 hours of sleep rather than be up studying for this exam. I guess I just don't know any different, I've always done it this way.

FW: What does your schedule usually look like? How much time are you spending in class each day and when do you find time to work out?
JD: Every semester is a little different. This semester Monday and Wednesday mornings happen to be the time that work out for me, and nobody else can meet me at that time so I've actually be training on my own. In the fall I was training on my own as well, so I haven't had a chance to meet with a lot of people... The afternoons on Tuesday and Thursday I can meet with them, but pretty much I'm in class kind of intermittently throughout the day... So it's kind of tough to fit it in... Our instructors are clinicians as well so they sort of fit our class schedule around their work schedule and it doesn't always end up being that conducive to training, unfortunately. I manage to work around it, I've learned a lot in the past three or four years about training on my own. I can depend on myself a little more than I was able to right out of college, I guess.

FW: How much time do you actually spend with Coach Tegen?
JD: A lot less than I'd like to and it's mostly because of school. He was there for every workout in college and then I was gradually less and less able to meet with him. Now I don't really see him all that often and both of us agree that it would be better for me as an athlete to be able to see him more than I do. Right now it's probably once a week.

FW: Is he still giving you all of your workouts?
JD: Yeah, I still get workouts from him. He usually e-mails me and I'll give him a call once or twice a week. And then, once classes are over with in the next three weeks, I'll see him probably three times a week. That's usually the most important part of the season to see him. If I had to choose, I'd choose May and June to be able to work out with him.

FW: I guess that as a 1,500 runner and a student it's good having the summers free because the summer really is the most important season for your event.
JD: Yeah, it works out really well. This summer I'm going to be working 40 hours a week. Once Nationals are over with then I start my clinicals, which is like having a full-time job, so that will be interesting. I couldn't handle 40 hours a week and train. I know some people do it, but I think, right now, if I get a full-time job, I'm not going to keep [running]. It's either going to be part-time and running or maybe full-time running, but probably having a part-time job and running is my ideal situation. I just can't imagine working 40 hours a week and training on top of it...

FW: What is the Wisconsin training program like and has your training changed a lot since you graduated?
JD: It's changed in the sense that I think we focused a lot more on speedwork undergrad. and now I feel like the speed comes back a lot quicker every year -- I was just talking about this with one of my training partners -- that I don't feel like I have to work on it as much, it's just kind of there. But my limiting factor is my aerobic fitness and my strength. We've been doing a lot more strength work this season and a lot less speed. I was little bit nervous going into the indoor season because I hadn't done a lot of speed, but it ended up being a pretty good season, so I'm a little bit more convinced that's what I need to do. After Indoor Nationals, we kind of went back to the most basic strength kind of stuff, aerobic fitness kind of stuff. We'll see, I race this weekend. I don't feel too speedy but my tempo runs have been getting faster, something's improving, hopefully it's the right thing. (Editor's Note: She finished third in the Drake Relays 1,500m with a time of 4:18.22.)

FW: What kind of mileage do you do?
JD: It depends on the time of year. In the fall, or whenever we're working on base stuff, probably 70-80. After that indoor season I kind of went back to that, 70-80. During the season, it's more like 50-60, I guess mostly in the 60s during the season. I don't know, I probably have some 40s in there too, during like the week of Nationals.

FW: When you talk about doing strength work, what does that involve?
JD: Continuous stuff. We'll do our regular warm-up and then maybe a 30- or 40-minute piece where [we're running] a pretty quick pace with some intervals, like two- or three-minute intervals, but everything's continuous. And then on Friday we'll do like a 20-minute hard tempo run.

FW: When you say you haven't done a lot of speed work, what do you mean by that? What would qualify as a 'speed workout'?
JD: ...When I think of speed work, I think of 200-meter intervals. That's sort of a staple workout, eight 200s with a minute rest. When I say I haven't done much speed work, I've probably been on the track three times since Indoor Nationals (laughs). But the weather isn't conducive to it here, either. It's just ridiculous to even be on the track when it's 40 degrees, you can't go fast enough to make a difference... We just go out on the trails...

FW: How did you train for Indoor Nationals, was there snow on the ground all winter?
JD: Oh yeah. We don't train outside, there's no way... We have a great indoor facility. I think people think we're a little crazy for wanting to train here but I'd much rather be inside, in the facility we have, than outside if it's 40 degrees and raining. It works out really well, we train on the indoor football turf. We make a 250-meter loop with cones. The turns are nice and soft and the surface is great. We pretty much do all our longer runs outside unless it's well below zero or if there's way too much snow. I don't think I was inside but maybe twice two distance runs -- we'll do tempo runs on the treadmill, but for a longer run I only ran inside maybe twice.

FW: Can you tell us how you got involved with running? It seems like Peoria has a pretty strong running community with the Steamboat Classic, did that have anything to do with it?
JD: I think so. Peoria has a great running community. Originally I got started because of my dad. He ran marathons when I was growing up and I wasn't really good at anything else. So I started running with him and started running road races and realized I had a little bit of talent. I ran in high school and was lucky enough to go to high school with Tim Broe, so that was pretty cool. My high school coach was a great guy. I think between my family, Tim, my high school coach and the community, it just worked out.

FW: When you graduated from Wisconsin, was it just a given that you were going to keep running?
JD: I never really thought about it until my last year, honestly. I made some significant improvements in my last year. I think my PR before my fourth year was like 4:26 in the 1,500 and then I ran 4:15 that year.

FW: Wow.
JD: Yeah, I kind of have this weird progression where there will be a two- or three-year span where I put in all of this work and I don't really see anything and then I just kind of have this major breakthrough year. That sort of happened to me in high school and then it happened to me in college where my freshman, sophomore, junior year I kind of made some little improvements but then my senior year I improved a lot. It's frustrating, it was frustrating my first two or three years out of college when I wasn't really improving much at all and I was working my butt off. I feel like hopefully, I'm going to have one of those breakthrough years, and maybe this will be the year, we'll see.

FW: How long have you been involved with Wisconsin Runner?
JD: Ever since the winter after my last year of competition. I went through the fall of 2000 not really having any sort of affiliation, and then Andy and Matt Downin were running for Wisconsin Runner and Andy helped me get in touch with Pete Henkes and I started running for them. Actually it was right after Winter Cross Country Nationals, so February of 2000.

FW: What does it mean to be involved with them? They obviously don't coach you...
JD: Basically I just get some help with travel, and shoes and a uniform... We just all sort of have some tie with Wisconsin. Either people grew up here and then moved away, or went to school here... Everyone just has a tie to the state. The club is based out of Racine, which is near Milwaukee, but people live all over the state. It's a really informal kind of thing, we're not like the Farm Team, obviously. It's a pretty low-key situation, which I love. Pete is amazing, he's done a lot for me, I really have a lot of good things to say about him, he's a great guy, he's great for the sport.

FW: When you hear about programs like the Farm Team or Team USA, do you ever feel like you're missing out in any way? You obviously already have a great situation.
JD: Yeah, not so much. Maybe I'd get a little bit more money but I feel like I'd be sacrificing so much in the process. For a 1,500-meter runner, I don't think there's a better place to be in the country. I've probably got the best coach in the country and the three best training partners -- I've got to include Kathy in there, even though she's not a 1,500 runner -- I could ever ask for. And Madison's a great place to live for a runner. It sounds kind of nutty to want to be in the Midwest in the wintertime, but there are great trails to run on and the community's really supportive. Our faculty has been extremely supportive of my running. I haven't really considered going anywhere else.

FW: What does your racing schedule look like for this spring and summer?
JD: I'm still waiting to hear back from some of the bigger meets, so I'm not really sure. Obviously Drake, and then we have a home meet two weeks after that. I'd like to race the 3,000... Two weeks after that is [the Prefontaine Classic]. I'm not sure if I'm doing that or not, I'm still waiting to hear back from the meet director, and it's the same with Palo Alto. Other than those two, I would just run Nationals. So if I don't get into those two, I'm going to have to figure out what to do.

FW: Is that frustrating, just sort of being on the edge of getting into the meets?
JD: Kind of, yeah, it is a little bit frustrating. It would be nice to have somebody to help me out... But I'm used to it by now, I don't mind e-mailing or calling on my own, I'm fine with it.

FW: And it seems like that's the difference between your PR and someone else's PR - if they can get into races in Europe and have the competition, their times will drop.
JD: Right. I suppose it's frustrating, but at the same time, I know where I stand. I don't expect to be able to get in and I understand that I'm kind of on the bubble. So I'm not shocked when I hear, 'We'll let you know, we're not sure, we have to wait on some other people first.' That's fine. If somebody's got a faster PR than me, then they deserve to get into the race ahead of me.

FW: Do you have a time goal for the season?
JD: I'd like to run under 4:10. I've wanted to run under 4:10 for a long time (laughs), maybe this will be the year.

(Interview conducted April 22, 2003, Posted May 6, 2003)

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