Jaymee has been in the periphery of my running vision for quite awhile. My coach had mentioned her to me when we first started working together. Then Jaymee started chronicling her quest for an OTQ last year on her humorous, informative and eloquent blog, RunAwayFastJaymee.
We’ve not yet met, but Jaymee was the first person I thought of when the idea for Houston Hopefuls came to me on a run. And so I decided she should also be my first interview.
Unlike a lot of people who pursue an Olympic marathon trials qualifier, you haven’t been running all your life. When did you start running and why?
I started running in the summer of 2004 mostly to see Devo in concert. Nike sponsored a series of 5K races called the Run Hit Wonder 5K where they featured 80s one-hit-wonder bands throughout the course. It just so happened that the race was going on in Portland the weekend before I was going to be in the area for work. My brother lives in Portland and told me about the race. The experience was fantastic: I saw A Flock of Seagulls at mile 2 and Devo performed after the race.
The experience was a life changer for me. I was super impressed with myself for placing 18th in my age group with a time of 25:54 for the 5K. My brother later that day revealed his ambition to run a half marathon in the fall. I was intrigued by this goal and dared myself to try to do the same. Up until that point in my life, I really hated running. Having a goal as lofty as running 13 miles in a row without stopping seemed like a serious challenge.
I picked a local half marathon that October and used a Hal Higdon training program that I downloaded from the web to slowly build up to a long run of 10 miles the weekend before the race. I ran the half marathon at a faster pace than my 5K of two months before, finishing in 1:44. I realized during that training cycle that the reason I had hated running was because I had never run long enough. I now loved running long (>6 miles) though I still found the feeling I had for the first few miles of running to be excruciating. I decided to just continue on with my training program and to tackle a full marathon that December. I averaged 19 miles of running per week with a peak volume of 26 miles and no other supplemental training for the two months leading up to the California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento. I finished in 3:41 and qualified for Boston.
Then how long was it before you started training and racing seriously?
After CIM 2004, I told some people about my accomplishment, and they seemed surprised at what I had done. This made me wonder whether this was a fluke or if I could get even faster at the marathon distance. While I was training for the 2005 Boston Marathon, I ran across some information about a racing team sponsored by a local Fleet Feet running store. I stopped in at the store and joined up. I would say that joining that team marked the beginning of my serious training and racing.
Was there a particular event that got the wheels turning in terms of thinking you could qualify for 2012?
I actually decided I was going to shoot for an Olympic Trials Qualifier (OTQ) soon after my first marathon. In Dec 2005, I ran CIM again and got my time down to 3:20. I did the math and decided that all I needed to do was knock another 33 minutes off of my time, and I was in there like swim wear. I had chopped 20 minutes off in one year, so this seemed like a reasonable prospect to me. For a number of reasons, I did not get my marathon time down enough to qualify for the 2008 Trials (I ran 2:55 in April 2008), but I did try and I never stopped believing.
You’ve made huge leaps in your racing times relative to your experience and age. Do you attribute any of this to having an innate gift or predisposition to being a good distance runner, or is it all due to hard work?
It’s definitely a combination of good genes and hard work. I don’t think I work much harder than many of the other fast runners I know, but I have poured a lot of energy into this pursuit. I have dedicated a big chunk of my life these last 5 years to training and doing the maintenance work necessary to be able to continue to train and race hard. But hard work only goes so far. Going from couch potato with zero running experience to a 2:46 marathon in 5 years is unusual progress that indicates some small amount of added talent.
“To remain successful over the long term in any sport I think you first have to have a love for the sport itself.”
Have you progressed at the rate you’d hoped to?
As I mentioned above, I was shooting for an OTQ for 2008, so I guess I’d have to say that I didn’t progress as fast as I had calculated initially. However, I’d like to think that was just an arithmetic error. I always believed I could run under the standard of 2:47 and had many people telling me the same. When I finally ran a 2:46 marathon at the Twin Cities Marathon, I felt like I had reached a major milestone even though I didn’t quite qualify for the trials under the new standard. That 6:22 pace had been locked into my psyche for so many years that it was a huge accomplishment for me to finally run a marathon at that pace.
What kinds of setbacks have you experienced and how have you dealt with them?
In April 2007, I ran my first sub-3 hour marathon working with my first on-line coach. Soon thereafter, I stopped working with him and was pretty lost without a direction for my training. I ran myself into the ground in short order trying to self coach, but was lucky to find my current coach before I hit rock bottom. She had me get my iron stores checked and my ferritin levels were at 12 ng/ml, which is super low. It took me 6-12 months before I got my iron stores up to a level where I felt peppy again in my running. I continue to take iron supplements daily and get my levels checked every 6 months, but my levels remain dangerously low.
I had my first real injury, achilles pain (still undiagnosed), back in February of this year. I was planning to run the Eugene Marathon in April and was in the thick of my training program. It was a very interesting experience for me, learning to differentiate good pain from bad pain. When you’re training hard, you get used to pain, and you work through it. I had experienced pain before, but I always joked that I had ‘under-use’ injuries because the remedy seemed to be to run harder to make them go away.
This time, I felt a bad kind of pain that got worse the more I ran. I knew I was in foreign territory but was lucky to have a coach that had been through a similar injury. In the end, I took 6 weeks off from hard running, but proved to myself that I could cross train through an injury. That was something I wasn’t sure I could do, mentally.
I’m now back to hard training and ramping up my mileage with a new appreciation for the importance of stretching, massage and the basic maintenance needs of my body.
As you mentioned earlier, you managed a 2:46:26 at Twin Cities last fall, just 26 seconds shy of making the B Standard. What do you think needs to happen to comfortably widen that narrow margin?
I just need a relatively fast course with good weather and a good group of folks to run with. Is that too much to ask? I feel like my level of fitness was there for Twin Cities, but I just wasn’t able to deliver that day. If I can get back to that level of fitness or better this summer, I think I will run a 2:45 marathon or faster in Chicago 2010.
What time do you think you could eventually run the marathon in, under ideal conditions?
Wow. I have no idea. I have read that you continue to improve in fitness for 8-10 years after you start training seriously, so, given that, I’m about half way there. Of course, age will counteract that somewhat, but I do know Masters runners who have run for a lot more than 8-10 years that are still setting PRs. I’ve joked about going for a sub-2:40 before, but why limit myself?:)
Without going into detail about your training, is there any particular aspect of it that you feel has contributed to your progress as a marathoner?
Volume. Increasing my training volume while remaining injury free has no doubt been one of the keys to my success. I have been training for marathons (averaging 3 per year) since I started running 5 years ago, so I have been in a perpetual state of marathon training with little to no focus on speed training. I do want to see what the addition of speed work can do for me, but I still think my bread and butter is in high-volume training including long runs with fast finishes.
“Training is just one big life lesson.”
How are you going about planning for your qualifying attempts? Meaning how many marathons will you plan to race? If race day arrives and circumstances (bad weather, bomb scares, etc.) make running a good race impossible, do you have a backup plan?
My first attempt was at the Twin Cities Marathon in 2009. My next attempt will be at the Chicago Marathon in October 2010. If weather conditions look gloomy or a bomb threat pops up, I may attempt another marathon close to that date to take advantage right away of my fitness level. There’s always the local fast favorite, CIM, if I am left without a back up race to run close to Chicago. The only problem with this plan is that I’m running the 2500th Anniversary of the Athens Marathon for the US Military Marathon Team on Halloween 2010. I’ve thought about using that hilly beast of a course as my final long training run if I end up needing to use CIM as a qualifier. I always plan for contingencies.
Which courses have you chosen for your qualifying attempts? What were some of the factors for choosing them?
Twin Cities was certainly not the fastest course, but it was the only chance in 2009 to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials. It was also the [USA] Masters National Championship marathon race so it was guaranteed to have fast women shooting for the same goal as I was. This was definitely the case. I had a pack of fast women, many of them masters, to run with for the first 20 miles. It was amazing. The last 10k of the course had some fun uphill grades that I knew were going to slow me down, and they did.
I chose Chicago because I’ve run it before, it is flat and fast and there will be a lot of women there trying to qualify. I also love the energy of that city.
Do you have incremental racing goals that you’re trying to reach on the way to a qualifier, sort of as checkpoints or milestones? Or any other running goals that are completely apart from that one?
Not really. I will be racing some shorter distances this spring and summer, but I really don’t think of those as checkpoints. As a matter of fact, I think I will actually use my marathon PR as a predictor of my shorter race distances and see if I can get those times down.
As far as other running goals, I would like to keep pushing up my total training volume. My coach, Nicole, gives me just a little more volume every training cycle and that makes me happy. I never seem to exceed 100 miles per week by much, but I get up there multiple times during a cycle. One goal I have set recently is to try to run all of my quality training runs without stopping to take “water breaks” during the quality portion of the workout. That seems silly, but I tend to push my paces a little hard in my workouts which makes me feel like I need to stop and catch my breath, if only for a few seconds. I have gotten used to letting myself do this and want to change my ways. I don’t think I will gain much physiologically from this change, but mentally it will make me a lot tougher.
Your coach is Nicole Hunt, herself a former marathon trials qualifier, among other distinctions. Besides the obvious reasons, such as getting a customized training plan and ongoing guidance, how else has working with a coach been helpful to you?
Questions for Jaymee’s coach, Nicole Hunt
Training for the marathon involves walking a fine line between improvement and injury/overtraining. How are you balancing Jaymee’s workload vs. recovery to facilitate better performances while avoiding problems?
Every marathon training schedule over the last three years that I’ve written for Jaymee has been incrementally more challenging. I have written Jaymee’s schedule based on her feedback over the three years we have worked together and my own experiences training for a high level marathon. We have developed a relationship based on trust.
She trusts me to write workouts to help her run her best and I trust Jaymee to follow the plan and email me when she needs feedback. I also trust that she runs her easy days easy and takes care of the little things that are necessary to train at a high level.
How have you structured Jaymee’s training to prepare her for hitting a qualifying time?
Physically, I answered that above. Mentally, I think I have helped Jaymee believe that anything is possible. There were times during the past three years that Jaymee doubted her abilities. She ran a 2:55 in Eugene in ’08 and I told her, “Be patient — you will run faster.”
She then ran a 2:50 at California International in ’08 and she had doubts she could run sub 2:46 when they released the standard, but I told her, “You can run faster.” I was confident she could run faster because I knew her training had not reached the intensity I did when I ran my fastest and that Jaymee had not reached her physical peak yet.
In fact, as of today I believe Jaymee has much faster times in her yet given the right opportunities.
What would you say is Jaymee’s greatest strength as a competitive runner?
Her intense drive to do everything possible to become the fastest runner she can be.
I realized the value of having a coach very soon after I started running. I am a very self-motivated person which is great for getting me out the door every day to train. The problem is that my drive causes me to push myself a little harder than I should, so I can’t be trusted to make the best decisions for my training. Nicole, like any good coach, is my training conscience and helps me keep everything in perspective.
She says that she is very much like me in many ways, so I know that she understands what drives me. We have a very good working relationship. While I totally respect her experience and advice, sometimes I respectfully decline to go with it in an effort to push myself and learn whatever lesson can be learned on my own. I’m always up front about this with her.
These lessons can be painful, but they add to the whole experience of running. I know that it must be hard for a coach to watch an athlete learn the same painful lessons that they learned many years before, but there’s really no way to transfer the experience and essence of those lessons to another person simply by telling them the story or directing them to do something a certain way. Training is just one big life lesson.
Do you believe there is a specific kind of running “talent” as relates to longevity as a competitive runner? Something that could explain the competitive staying power of lifetime athletes like Colleen De Reuck or Linda Somers-Smith, not to mention successful late bloomers like yourself?
To remain successful over the long term in any sport I think you first have to have a love for the sport itself. For me, it’s a blast right now because I’m continuing to improve and have no reason to suspect that I won’t continue on this trajectory for a bit longer. For athletes who’ve been at the sport a lot longer and have peaked in terms of performance, there has to be something else that motivates them.
That’s another great thing about running, you can figure out so many different ways to challenge yourself even after you’ve peaked in one area. You can train for different distances, you can do ultras, track meets, mountain running. You can strive for age group records or age group awards. Turning 45 is something I look forward to because I’ll be in a new age group and won’t have to compete with all those young upstart masters runners any longer.
“I think you’ll see a spike in qualifiers over 40 this time around.”
What do you think of the women’s B standard qualifying time of 2:46? Too hard? Too easy? Just right?
I think men (major generalization there) have always complained that the women’s qualifying standard is relatively easy. I think it is what it is. Women who barely qualified when the standard was 2:47 are now setting PRs and qualifying at 2:46. I don’t see any problem with changing the standard. I am glad that they kept two standards rather than going to a single standard like they did for the men. It gives people like me an achievable goal to work toward.
In 2008 just a handful of masters runners qualified, including a few former Olympians. Why do you think so few 40+ runners manage to qualify every year? Does it reflect physiology, sociology or something else entirely?
I think you’ll see a spike in qualifiers over 40 this time around. It wasn’t so long ago that Kathrine Switzer jumped in the Boston Marathon and was the first woman to complete a marathon in the US. I don’t know the statistics, but it seems like the marathon didn’t really catch on for female athletes for many years after. I think a lot of those women who were inspired by runners like Joan Benoit in the 1980s are hitting their 40s and are looking to get their racing legs back in shape.
This is a huge undertaking, requiring a commitment of many hours per week over a period of years. How has having a social support system – things like a supportive spouse or partner, employer and colleagues who can be flexible – enabled you to go after a qualifying time? Have people around you needed to make adjustments in order to help you go after this?
Yes, this undertaking is pretty monumental. The thing I’ve had a hard time with is juggling all the stuff in my life. I don’t like to let things go, so I just try to do everything (work long hours including travel for two jobs, running and strength training, musical hijinx, blogging, socializing). My solution for a while was to just cut back on sleep. It seemed so simple. That caught up with me in a major way and, I think, was one of the major factors leading to my injury a couple of months ago.
It really does help to have a spouse/partner that ‘gets’ your running. My boyfriend is also a runner and understands my desire to achieve this goal. That’s really important. The number of hours I spend working my main job can be pretty high, but I do get flexibility in my work hours. I rarely run during work hours, but I do sometimes come in later in the morning after a long workout. Part of my ‘job’ in the military Reserves is to run for the Air Force Marathon Team, so there’s a perfect fit there.
What was your most memorable racing experience and why?
That is a really tough question for me for some reason. I’ve had so many memorable marathon races for both positive and negative reasons. I’m going to say that my first marathon, CIM 2004, was my most memorable. I had so much fun doing that race and felt great throughout. To date, I have never felt better in a marathon race than I did in that first one. I stopped and walked at every water station. I talked with other runners along the way. I distinctly remember running past the 20 mile marker and being so thrilled that I was going into uncharted territory because I had never run longer than 20 miles in my life. At the end of that race, I crossed the finish line and told my friend, “that wasn’t that hard.” I guess that was the day I became a marathoner.
Besides what we’ve talked about here, do you have any advice for other masters women who are interested in qualifying for 2012?
I would tell them to believe. What we’re trying to achieve is big, and it takes a big commitment. If you don’t picture yourself crossing the finish line with 2:45 on the clock, you won’t get there. That’s the bottom line. You have to believe that you can achieve it and then work your ass off to get there.
Marathon PR: 2:46:26 (Twin Cities, 2009)
Age on Trials date: 44
Previous OTQs: None
Next attempt: Chicago 2010
Miles per week: 70-110 during training
Other athletics: Cycling, softball, golf, hiking
Hometown: Sacramento, CA
Job(s): Ecologist / Air Force Reservist
Hours per week: 45-70 + travel
Other interests: Music (writing and performing), knitting, sewing, painting
Personal: In a relationship; pets
TV: Dexter, Nurse Jackie, Project Runway