Interview with Jenny Crain
By Bob Ramsak

Jenny Crain on her way to a 16th-place finish (second American) at the 2003 ING New York City Marathon.
(All Photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)
Crain on her way to a fifth-place finish in the 10,000m at the 2003 USA Outdoor T&F Championships.
Crain competes in the 8k race at the 2002 USA Cross Country Championships.

With her 16th-place finish, Jenny Crain produced one of the more noteworthy performances by an American at this year’s unseasonably warm ING New York City Marathon. The Wisconsin native finished in 2:38:49 as the second American finisher, knocking nearly two minutes from her previous best, set in 1998. Twice an Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon — she was 14th in 2000 — Crain still considered running an avocation until the spring of 2002. Then, at age 34, she uprooted herself from a demanding job and her long-time base near Milwaukee and relocated to Eugene, Oregon to focus her complete attention on earning a spot on the 2004 Olympic Team.

The move has had an immediate measurable impact. In June, Crain was fifth in the 10,000 meters at the USA Track & Field Championships, clocking 32:49.00, and competed in the same race at the Pan American Games in August, where she finished sixth in 34:40.19. Three weeks before her ING New York City Marathon debut, Crain was third at the Tufts 10k, which served as the USA Women's 10k Championship, in 33:16. She is currently coached by Marla Runyan’s husband and coach Matt Lonergan, and is sponsored by PowerBar and the Wisconsin Runner Racing Team. It’s almost three weeks after your PR at the New York City Marathon. How have you recovered?
Jenny Crain:
Probably two days afterwards I came down with a respiratory infection, and then soon after got the flu. So recovery has been pure. I haven’t run a step since the marathon. I’ve been training well over a year without much of a significant break and the body just really appreciates not running and taking a break, and being able to just relax. And with the way I’m feeling it’s helping me to really do that. (Laughs) Sometimes it’s kind of hard, your body is saying, ‘I really want to run,’ My body doesn’t really want to run right now, so it’s a good time for a break.

FW: You decided not to follow any of the pace groups. Why?
(laughs) None of the pace groups fit with the time I was going for. It just didn’t work out. I was shooting for a 2:35. Because of that choice, I ended up all by myself during that race, so that was one of the big challenges I dealt with in New York. I didn’t have anyone to run with. And in terms of my time, I didn’t really have anybody pushing me or challenging me. Here I am in the New York City Marathon and I think I passed five people over 26.2 miles. Here are all these people cheering me on, and it was cool! It ended up being a really enjoyable run. Having this great day, the fabulous spectators, and just an awesome experience in terms of how I felt physically. But unfortunately, from a competitive perspective I didn’t feel like I was able to put myself in [competitive] situation because there was nobody there to really compete with, at least where I was. Maybe I should have sped up a little bit!

FW: Training-wise, did you prepare more or less the same for New York as you have for other marathons, or did you alter your training specifically for New York?
I think the thing that went 'differently…' You know, this is the tenth marathon that I’ve run, I think there’s a certain cumulative affect of just mileage, maturity, and understanding when to rest. All those things that make you better, whether you’re on the track or marathoning. I took all that into the New York City Marathon — feeling like I had had my strongest long runs, my strongest steady-type runs, and probably did the best job I’ve ever done on the recovery piece: with the massage, the ice baths, and nice therapeutic, warm baths too. So just a combination of all of those different things. The move that I had made really helped facilitate a lot of that. I’ve really been able to focus much more on my recovery and on all the little things that make a really big difference in training.

FW: On your move, your relocation. Last year you moved to Eugene from the your longtime base in the Midwest. What prompted the move?
My age. I started looking at my age and how much more time I wanted to devote specifically to my running. Up to that point I was really focused on my career as the primary driver in my life, and I wanted to put running more on the front burner. I know I can work for the rest of my life. That was what prompted it, allowing me to really focus on 2004, and giving myself the proper amount of time to make that transition, both mentally and physically. I didn’t feel it would be appropriate to be doing it now for next year: that would be too close to the major events. So I’m feeling very comfortable with where I am in terms of my environment, and the people that I’m working with.

FW: Was it difficult to make the move? You mentioned in New York that you had your 'dream condo,' a wonderful job…
(laughs) It was extremely difficult on the one hand. Because, again, I had been focused on the other things in my life, my career, some of the material possessions. And also friends and family. That’s a really big deal when you’re moving to a brand new place, wondering where your support network is going to be coming from. I knew I would be anticipating a lot of changes when I moved, you can never fully anticipate how you’re going to handle those, from a mental perspective. The difficulty for me was making the choice. Once the choice was made I was very sure that that was what I wanted to do.

FW: Now you’re coached by Matt Lonergan.
Matt and Marla have been a wonderful support and influence and I’ve really enjoyed the training we do in Eugene. We always joke that we’re at 64,000 feet, that we’re not at altitude (laughs).

FW: Why 64,000 feet?
Because of what everyone’s always talking about, between the Nike Project up in Portland and other things, and these guys are sleeping at like 13 or 14,000 feet, and others are training at 9,000 feet, so we’re always saying that we’re training at 64,000 feet. It’s just something we joke about, have fun with.

FW: Do you train with Marla, or do you do different programs?
Actually, we have some similar workouts. Matt’s philosophy is similar as he’s structuring workouts for both Marla and I. Philosophically, we’re feeling the same about the importance of strength and a base and steady runs and long runs. So, much of our workouts, the actual bread and butter of our workouts, are similar. We may not always do them on the same day. But there were a couple of workouts we would do on the same day. Matt’s very sensitive to making sure that I get my time alone with him and Marla’s getting her time as well.

FW: After the New York race, you seemed as though your mind was already made up for next year, that you’ll focus on the 10,000 next year instead of a spot on the marathon team. You still feel that way?
Matt and I are actually having our real formal conversation next Monday (Dec. 1) to discuss the 2004 season. I’ve got everything mapped out as far as my thoughts and feelings on things and I want to get his feedback as to what he feels will be most realistic, where I have the best chance to make the team. It’s interesting because, you know, the marathon is always a surprise event. Depending upon the day, depending upon how the stars align, you never know what can happen there. And so, my only concern with the marathon is that it’s in April. That it’s so late. If it were in February, like it was in 2000, or March, that gives me much more time to play with, and feeling really good about taking a longer break, and getting ready for track the way I’d like to. I have to consider where and when am I going to consider running the 10,000 ‘A’ standard, which I don’t have yet. Is it important to do before the trials, or do I believe the trials are a place where I can run that ‘A’ standard? That’s the question. Actually, a very important question. If I believe that I can get that accomplished in Sacramento, that may mean that I may be able to run the marathon trials, to give myself another opportunity to make the team. So, that’s all going to be determined in the next couple weeks.

FW: You attended Ohio University. How’d did you wind up there and what was your college experience like for you?
That was an interesting experience for me. One of the reasons I decided to go to OU was because I felt that, the woman who recruited me, she had great vision, and a great program that she was building. And I wanted to be a part of that. Then in August, about two weeks before I was going to cross country camp, I received a call from [head coach] Mo Banton telling me that the woman who recruited me had been fired, and that he would be coaching both the men’s and women’s teams. I had only met him once briefly, so I was very unsure of what I would find at Ohio University, only because I didn’t know anybody else there. So right of the bat, I wasn’t so sure what was going to happen.

I felt in college that I probably had a very difficult time making the transition from running two miles for cross country in Wisconsin to the 5k in college. That took me a few years to get used to. I know that may sound funny, now that I’m doing marathons, I definitely was not a person that was interested in doing any of the longer distances in college. I wanted to, and did do, the 1,500 and 3,000. I wasn’t even All-Conference, so I didn’t really do much in college. I was more focused on leading a more balanced college life. I was very focused on academics, and I was also involved in lots of professional organizations on campus. I never even tapped into my potential of running in college in my opinion. But that’s probably why I do it now because I realize that, and I’m ready to focus more now.

FW: After college you didn’t run competitively for about five years.
I was ready to focus on my career, and that’s what I did. I stayed in shape, I actually did triathloning for a couple summers, just very recreationally. I enjoyed all three sports, the swimming, running and biking. Then my career starting kicking in, I was traveling a lot, working weekends, and you end up really sacrificing other parts of your life. Much like what I’m doing now, focusing on my running. So then in 1995, my 'New Year’s resolution' was that I wanted to qualify for the Olympic trials in the marathon. So I ran the Tucson Marathon and got my qualifier.

FW: What do you remember most about the Olympic Trials race?
(Laughs) What I remember most is actually getting into the race. I ran 2:50:01 in the Tucson Marathon, so I was one second over the minimum qualifying standard. So I had to do an appeal, which took a significant amount of time, and had to train as if I was running the trials even though I didn’t really know indeed if I would. And they did allow me in, so I was the slowest qualifier (laughs). I was 184. I still remember my number. And out of anyone, I made the biggest improvement, from my number and my place. I think I was 84th, so it’s kind of fun to think back to that. But it was a big deal to me, I was really excited about that.

FW: You competed in the Pan American Games this summer. How was that experience?
I was honored to represent the US there. It’s always a great competition between the United States and South America. And of course I always love going to some of these tropical climates because I love running in that hot, humid weather (laughs). That obviously was the biggest challenge facing all the athletes there: how to manage the heat, and how to stay cool as long as possible. They did not have any water or aid on the track, which sometimes during really hot events they will do that. I finished in sixth place, I felt I ran a very solid, conservative race, which you need to do in hot temperatures like that to survive. Obviously, time was not an important factor there, it was more about strategy and tactics and being smart about your running. The difficult part of that was, I think there were only eight or nine girls in the race, and everyone went out pretty much all together, maybe a little faster than I would have liked for the first mile.

But overall, a great experience. It’s that type of event that most closely simulates the Olympics because you have so many different sports that are going on. And its also a great opportunity to meet some really fabulous people from not only the US but other countries too.

FW: The Olympic ‘A’ standard is 31:45, about 45 seconds faster that you’ve ever run on the track. [Crain’s PB is 32:30.01.] What are you most specifically working on? Endurance? Speed?
I’m just focused on continuing quality work every single day. I am in such a great spot right now, I’m getting stronger and stronger. I had had some injury problems, and every runner knows that the biggest thing that leads to your success is to be consistently healthy and trained. And that has always been a hallmark of what I had done, year after year, I was always healthy and able to just keep running and training. And then I had a couple of these injuries, and that really throws you into a tailspin.

I feel right now that I’m definitely in PR or better shape right now in the 10,000 meters on the track. With the training I had done prepping for the marathon, the workouts that I had that went fairly easily, I know that I’m in that kind of shape. And I feel confident, and know that my potential is actually 31:45 or better, I know that. I really do believe that it’s just going to be keeping with the hard work ethic, and staying focused on the recovery and the challenge each day.

I think probably the biggest thing I need to work on is the mental side, quite frankly. We always talk about the physical — what are the workouts I need to do. I know that that’s going to fall into place. I think it’s the mental belief that I belong on that team. And that’s the biggest thing that I’m working on right now, quite frankly. And of course, one of the biggest important things of mentally getting there is knowing that physically you’re in that place, too. They both have to be there. I’m willing to do all the physical work required to do that. You know, we all probably get on the line in the best shape of our lives at the Trials. The question is who really believes they’re going to be on that team and who can execute and do it on that day. And that person will be me.

FW: Are you anticipating a fast race?
I am. I think we have a couple interesting things coming into play in 2004. We only have two girls right now that have the standard, so there will be many girls working to get that standard, both not only before, but actually at the trials. The 10,000, as you know, is not one of those races you can run every day, there’s only going to be a few select races that people will be able to contest a time. And then of course the trials will be an ideal for that. I think my main concern in Sacramento will be the weather, because we don’t really know. That’s one of the variables we have in any race.

(Interview conducted November 21, 2003, posted November 23, 2003.)

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