Interview with Jen Rhines
by Alison Wade

Jen Rhines finishes third at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Women's Marathon.
(Both photos: New York Road Runners)
Rhines wins the 10,000m title at the 2002 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Jen Rhines qualified for her second Olympic team in April when she passed Blake Russell just before the 26 mile mark of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and grabbed the third and final spot on the team in 2:29:57, a PR by more than 11 minutes. Rhines also represented the U.S. in the 10,000 meters at the 2000 Olympic Games, where she finished 16th in her first-round heat after falling ill.

With her Olympic qualifying out of the way, Rhines has chosen to compete in a series of shorter races before running the Olympic Marathon on August 22. Next on her schedule is the Circle of Friends New York Mini 10K on June 12 in New York City's Central Park. Rhines finished seventh in the Mini in 2002 and eighth (first American) in 2003. This year's Mini features an American-only professional field as an Olympic-year salute to top U.S. runners.

Rhines has been competing at a top level ever since high school. As a senior at Liverpool (New York) High School, she finished fifth in the 1991 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships. She continued her success at Villanova, where she won five NCAA titles. She now resides in Ardmore, Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia), with her husband, Terrence Mahon, who is also a professional distance runner. Now that you've guaranteed your spot on the Olympic team, what approach have you taken in planning the remainder of races you'll run this spring and summer?
Jen Rhines:
[Before the Trials], I didn't run any races, but this time I want to get my legs moving a little bit. I ran the 5,000 at Bentley College [in Waltham, Massachusetts] last weekend. [Note: She finished eighth in 15:27.33.]. Next I'll run the Mini, and then the 5,000 at the [Track & Field] Trials.

FW: What made you decide to return to the Mini again this year?
I've had such a good time there the past couple years and it's one of my favorite races. Basically, after I made the team, my coach [Matt Centrowitz] said, 'You can do one race for fun,' and that's the one I chose.

FW: Are women's-only races something you enjoy?
I haven't run that many women's-only road races, but I feel that my focus for the competition will be like any other race. However, it is definitely nice to have the women's race as the showcase event.

FW: Does it change anything for you, having a U.S.-only elite field?
It looks like the NYRR has put together an incredible field for this year regardless of it being U.S.- only. I think it's going to be a really competitive, fast race. I look at it pretty much the same as the past couple of years.

FW: Let's go back a bit, to the Marathon Trials. What do you think worked in that marathon that didn't work in your first two?
I think I, first of all, had to learn the event. It took me a couple of tries. I think I went into the Trials a little more prepared. I did a little more volume and my long runs were a little longer. I think I just mentally realized how I needed to look at it. I think I had been looking at it like it was a totally different type of race than shorter road races and track. I had to realize that it's still running, it's still a race, and look at it [with the goal] of being competitive.

FW: How, specifically, did you change your workouts?
Before New York, I was doing most of my long runs pretty fast, and I was usually finishing at marathon pace. [For the Trials], I mixed it up a little bit. I ran longer, I got up to two hours and 45 minutes, and some of the shorter long runs — around two hours — were faster, but I also did some longer, slower runs. I think that helped me quite a bit.

FW: And your mileage was higher overall?
A little bit. I was basically just more consistent. I was between 100 and 110 every week.

FW: Deena Kastor mentioned after the race that you had changed your diet, and that was one of the factors in your success. What kind of changes did you make?
I changed what I ate before and during the race. I realized that I burn calories pretty fast and I needed to take in more carbohydrates before the race started, and also during the race. I think that made a big difference for me.

FW: What kind of fueling schedule do you follow during a marathon now?
This time I did both Gatorade and [gels]. Before I just did Gatorade.

FW: Did you figure out how many calories you needed to take in?
Terrence, my husband, is in charge of that [laughs]. I don't know exactly. I just tell him, 'Tell me what I need to eat and I'll do it!'

FW: In your past marathons, what went wrong? Were you hitting 'the wall'?
I think that's what happened in New York [in 2003, where she finished 17th in 2:43:01]. In Chicago [in 2002, where she ran 2:41:16] I was coming down with something, I was getting sick, so I guess it doesn't really count. But in New York, I was kind of in shock because I felt like I ran out of energy basically coming off the [Queensboro] Bridge, when I got onto First Avenue, and that's obviously pretty early in the race. I was kind of stunned because I had heard stories about that happening to people in the last 10K, but it was already happening to me and I was only on First Avenue [laughs].

FW: At the Trials, when you were in fourth or fifth place in the last 10K, were you still pretty confident that you could make the team? Were you nervous?
At that point, I guess I wasn't sure. I wasn't nervous because I was just sticking to my game plan. I went into the race saying, 'I'm going to run this way, and whatever happens happens.' At 20 miles, I started to pick it up and I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I knew I was gaining ground on Sylvia [Mosqueda] and Blake [Russell], but I wasn't sure if I was going to have enough time to catch them or not.

FW: And then you passed Blake just before the 26 mile mark. Did you have your eye on her for a while? Were you feeling pretty confident about grabbing that third spot?
I'd had my eye on her for a long time, but I still wasn't sure what was going to happen. I knew I was picking it up, but I knew that in order to catch her, I needed her to slow down, and that, obviously, was out of my control. I was just running as hard as I could and hoping I could catch her.

FW: How much recovery did you take after the Trials?
I took a week off, and then the second week, I ran 20 minutes every other day. I started running a little bit more after that. That's the same thing I did after New York, and my legs were a lot worse after New York. I figured if I could recover after that, it should work this time.

FW: The 5,000 in Waltham last weekend was your first race since the Trials. How did it feel running a 5,000 after running a marathon?
Well, I knew it was going to feel fast. I was pleased with it. I ran about the time I thought I could run, and I just ran pretty steady, so I was pleased.

FW: Now that you've figured out how to run a fast marathon, you have all of these other factors coming into play for your next one — the heat, humidity, and pollution in Athens. What are you doing to prepare for that?
Dr. Dave Martin and the U.S. Olympic marathon coaches, Julia Emmons and Bob Larsen, put together a great conference for us that gave all of the marathoners a lot of information to best prepare for the marathon in Athens. That was really helpful, to hear from nutritionists and physiologists, and to get a lot of information about the course and the weather. That was a good start for my marathon preparation. I'm going to train here in Philadelphia, so it will probably be pretty warm and humid for most of my training. I think that's going to help me adapt to the conditions in Athens.

FW: What, specifically, did you learn at the conference?
We talked a lot about proper hydration, approximately how much you need to drink every three miles, and different solutions. Basically, for the heat, we just went over what they think the temperature and humidity will be. You never know for sure, it could be warmer or colder. But basically just knowing what to expect when we get over there.

FW: So you're not training in a sweatsuit or anything.
I'm not, because I live on the East Coast. A couple weeks ago it had already gotten up to 90 degrees... Training here, I'm going to have to get used to the humidity anyway.

FW: Will you go over to Athens ahead of time?
I'll probably go over to Crete in the beginning of August.

FW: But you won't make a special trip, like Deena Kastor, who had planned to check out the course in May?
No. I think Deena canceled her visit, because the course was under construction and she wasn't going to be able to see anything but the last 10K.

FW: There was recently an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about Terrence's new company, Spiridon Health Matrix. It mentioned that you were one of his clients. What kinds of things has he been doing for you? Is this a new arrangement?
He's taken a more active role, since last summer, in some of the little extra things. For example, he writes my weightlifting and core work schedules. Like I mentioned earlier, he helps me with nutrition and basically just tells me what I need to eat before and after workouts. For some reason, I'm not good with those details [laughs].

FW: Have you noticed a big difference as a result of the extra effort?
Well, I definitely think it helped me finally run a good marathon at the Trials. I was able to stay strong all winter and I was able to get through the race without running out of energy.

FW: Do you have any training partners at the moment?
I go down to D.C. every other week to train with my coach, Matt Centrowitz, and I train with Heather Hanscom [who finished sixth in the Marathon Trials] down there. When I'm home, I tag along with some of the guys who Terrence works out with. I do a lot of my easy runs alone. I go to the track at the same time as the guys, and I do my tempo runs at the same time. Sometimes I have people to run with and sometimes I don't, it just depends on the week.

FW: The Mini's title sponsor, Circle of Friends, is an anti-smoking organization. Has smoking ever been an issue in your life — were you ever tempted to smoke, or did anyone around you smoke?
My mom used to smoke when I was little. She actually took up jogging, and then after that she decided to quit. She hasn't smoked in probably 20 years or so.

FW: Were you ever tempted to smoke?
I tried smoking a few times in high school, but I obviously don't smoke anymore.

FW: You chose the running route instead.

(Interview conducted June 1, 2004, and posted June 4, 2004.)

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