Interview with Jill (Gaitenby) Boaz
By Chris Saunders

Jill Boaz competes at the 2002 Boston Marathon.
(Both photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)
Boaz competes in the marathon at the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton.

After placing 39th in the 2000 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, Jill Boaz has been on a steady climb through the ranks of U.S. women's marathoning. Shortly after the 2000 Trials, Boaz packed her bags, quit her job as a kitchen designer in Boston, and moved across the country to California to join the Fila Discovery USA program. Although the program has since folded, the move west has proved beneficial for the Hadley, Massachusetts native.

Boaz's first big breakthrough came at the 2001 Boston Marathon, where she ran 2:36:45 — a stunning 12-minute improvement on her previous best — and in the process, qualified for the World Championships in Edmonton. A 32nd place finish at the World Championships and No. 4 U.S. ranking in 2001 solidified her as one of the country's best. Boaz set another personal best in winning the 2002 USA Marathon Championships at Twin Cities (2:36:10) and followed that up at the 2003 World Championships in Paris, where she was the first American finisher (33rd) and lowered her personal best to 2:34:54.

The 37-year-old married Steve Boaz in December and currently resides in Los Osos, California. After having to pull out of November's ING New York City Marathon with plantar fasciitis, Boaz is once again healthy and is currently preparing for April's U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in St. Louis. The Olympic Marathon Trials is now only a few months away. How is your preparation going?
Jill Boaz:
I am finally back into my normal training routine again, after being injured last fall. My plan was to run New York City in November, but plantar fasciitis prevented me from training with the intensity and volume needed. Currently, my volume is back up over 100 miles a week and I have just started incorporating workouts into my schedule. We have 10 weeks until the Trials, which is just enough time for me to get ready.

FW: You made a huge decision three years ago to the make the move from the East Coast to the West Coast to take part in the Fila Discovery USA program. What was your motivation behind the move?
It was a major decision to make the move, mainly because of my age. My family and friends thought I was crazy to quit my job and pursue a running career at age 34. I was leaving a secure life to train and live in the woods with strangers, many of whom were in their 20s. I was scared, but I made the decision to do it. It was scary, because now I had no excuses. I couldn't blame work, or time constraints, or lack of rest. If I failed, it was my fault. But I knew that if I didn't take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I would never know if I could be any better. To be honest with you, I never planned to stay in California for more than a few months. I guess I didn't know what other opportunities would lie ahead. I knew I could always go back to work. I had never made any drastic life changing decisions before, but I am glad I did.

The last three years have been almost surreal for me. In 2000, when I ran the Olympic Marathon Trials in Columbia, that was the greatest thing that I had ever experienced. It was a major accomplishment that I had even qualified for such an event. Then after I ran so well in Boston in 2001, I was thrilled that I was asked to represent the U.S. at the World Championships in Edmonton. So today, as I think about the possibility of me making the Olympic team, it still doesn't seem like a reality. I know I have worked hard for years now, but the idea is still so new in my mind. I don't think I even thought once about the Olympic team until after Twin Cities.

FW: You grew up in Massachusetts and attended Boston College, a school with a proud collegiate distance program. Did you run for Boston College?
My background in running is unique, although not unheard of. I didn't run in high school or college, and didn't run my first race until I was 25. I started jogging when I was about 22, and a few years later, a friend entered me into the 1993 Falmouth Road Race. It was then that I realized I loved the challenge. I ran the Boston Marathon the following spring, in 3:55, an effort that was very easy for me. I ran another marathon that year, in 3:19, then took a few years off from the marathon, and ran cross country and some road races. In 1998 I decided that I wanted to try to qualify for the 2000 Trials, and became more serious about my training.

I evolved into a runner. I don't remember it being intentional. And each step along the way sort of just crept up on me. It has been such a wonderful experience, all aspects of training, racing, and rising up to a level that was unthinkable. It wasn't something I planned to do, it just happened.

FW: You were a kitchen designer in Boston before moving to California to join the Fila Discovery team. How did you get involved in that type of work?
I was a math major in college, and somehow ended up as a kitchen designer. I love the interior design field. I worked for a high-end company, and had the opportunity to design kitchens in multi-million dollar homes. My clientele included Celtics basketball players, a movie producer, a famous architect and other wealthy individuals. It was an incredible experience working in those homes with the very best products in the world. When I left in 2001 to train with the Fila Discovery USA program, I knew I could always come back to my career.

FW: Have you been working since you moved to California?
Right now I am not working. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to train full-time. At first I didn't know what to do with all my free time, but now I cherish the fact that I am never tired from lack of sleep. I know some people can work and run at this level, but I am a better procrastinator than a time manager. I just don't know if I could do it and be sane. I have the personality that I have to do my best at whatever I do, and when I was working I felt like I was running okay and doing my job okay. It was very frustrating. I guess I am a wimp.

FW: Three years in California is a long time away from friends and family. Do you see yourself ever returning to the East Coast?
I like and miss the East Coast, but there are many things here in California that will keep me here. First and most importantly, is my husband. We were married in December and will live here. He and I met while I was training for the Twin Cities marathon in 2002. I came to San Luis Obispo to train with Kelly (Cordell) Conover and Linda Somers Smith when altitude training with the Fila Group didn't go well for me. He and I were engaged a few months after we met. He is the cross country and track coach at San Luis Obispo High, where he also teaches math. It is enjoyable for me to see him succeed, and last fall his boys won the state cross country championship. Oh, and he runs, too. His marathon PR is still better than mine, but I am getting closer. The other things that keep me here are the weather and training. The weather is perfect for running, and there are so many incredibly beautiful and challenging places to run.

FW: It sounds like the training environment is ideal for marathon preparation. Have you been able to find a coach since the Fila program folded?
Joe Rubio, who lives in the area, now coaches me. He is the head coach for the Aggie Running Club, to which I now belong. He coaches a number of local runners, including Linda Somers Smith and Jen DeRego, who also qualified for the Trials. We have been training with Kelly Conover, and with some men, as well. San Luis Obispo has a great network of runners and resources. Every Sunday there is a group of at least 10-15 runners for a long run, and we can usually talk a few of the guys into running hard with us for part of it.

FW: Since moving to California your results over the marathon distance have improved dramatically. To what do you attribute your improvement?
I was blessed by having the opportunity to join the Fila Discovery USA program. Without that option, I would probably still be working full-time and squeezing the running in. The high mileage/high intensity program proved to be successful for me. I improved my marathon time by a huge margin with the training. It was the first time I had ever trained at a high level. I gradually increased my mileage to 120 per week, and finally could focus entirely on training.

FW: You placed second in the 2002 Twin Cities Marathon while setting a PR and winning your first USA Championship. The race must give you some added confidence going into the Trials.
Not really. Twin Cities was not nearly as competitive as it will be in April. Of course I was happy, and a bit surprised, because I would have been pleased [just] being [in the] top three. I was looking forward to going to Paris to compete in the World Championships. There was also quite a bit prize money. Again, it was one of those experiences that didn't seem real, and it took some time before it sunk in. Maybe it still hasn't. Maybe it will when I see a list of all U.S. Marathon Champs and my name next to Deena's.

FW: You have been taking huge chunks off of your marathon time. Do you feel like you have room for improvement?
I hope to. 2:34 isn't a spectacular time. Even though I am now 37, I can't help but think about the accomplishments of Priscilla Welch. She started running later in life, and PRed in the 2:20s as a master.

FW: What did you think when you heard that the IAAF softened the Olympic "A" standard?
Now there is less pressure. It made a huge difference for athletes like me, who would have had to run a solid PR to run under 2:32. Because many say the course is not that fast, it will be interesting to see how the race develops.

FW: Have you set any specific goals for the Trials?
I am going to approach this race as I do every race. I want to run my best on that day. I can't control what anyone else runs for a time or strategy. I can only run my best and hope that puts me in a good position to compete. I am hoping to PR again, as I think I can run faster than I did in Paris. The one thing I do have is consistency. I have run six marathons in the last three years, all under 2:40. When I had my bad races, I still hung on and finished.

As I said before, it still is odd for me to be thinking about making an Olympic team, but I have to believe it could happen. It is becoming more and more real as April 3 draws near.

FW: What are your plans after the Olympic Trials? Do you see yourself continuing to train at this level through 2008?
Everything will depend on what happens in April. For me, its not the winning that keeps me training hard and competing... Making an Olympic team isn't the pinnacle goal. It is the immediate goal, of course. But I want to see how fast I can go. Maybe this is it. I don't think so, but it is the challenge of it all that I love. I will continue to train as long as I can. There are also other challenges in life that I would like to take on, such as having a family. We will see what happens.

(Interview conducted January 20, 2004 and posted January 29, 2004)

Nothing contained herein may be reproduced online in any form without the express written permission of the New York Road Runners Club, Inc.