A native Australian, Jess has no shortage of accomplishments. An athlete her whole life, she only ran her first marathon in March 2012, when she ran the fastest debut marathon by an Australian woman ever, clocking in at 2:31:02. Jess’s second marathon was at the London Olympic Games where she ran a 2:31:17. Since her debut, Jess has had a number of other impressive performances at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, the Rio Olympics, and just recently, a PB of 2:27:01 at the 2017 London Marathon.
However, to say Jess is just a long distance runner would be a belittle everything that she does. When she isn’t running, Jess is a physiotherapist, the co-founder of Rundies, and spends time as an ambassador for many charities including Little Heroes & Jodi Lee Foundations. We sat down with Jess to ask her who and why she does what she does.
Can you give a little bit of background about your running career? When did it start? What inspired you to be a runner?
My first race was in Reception (Prep) at Naracoorte Primary School. I remember feeling sick with nerves and really wasn’t too keen to run but ended up winning a medal, which I was very proud of. I continued to experience severe race nerves during my school years and put a lot of pressure on myself, but loved the satisfaction of finishing, particularly when I knew that I had pushed myself to the limit. Watching the Olympics and the success of the Australian swimmers provided a lot of inspiration and sparked my Olympic dream. The opportunity to attend the Sydney 2000 Olympics as a family fueled my desire, and as a keen distance runner, I was very excited to meet Benita Willis in the stands after her 5000m race. While I participated in a range of sports growing up, including netball, basketball, tennis and triple jump, I decided to focus solely on running in 2008 at the age of 21. My coach Adam Didyk had instilled in me the belief that I could reach a high level in the sport and I was keen to have a crack.
When did you feel at your lowest point with running? What got you through those hard times?
My greatest challenges with running have been during times of injury in the lead up to major races, namely the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the 2016 Rio Olympics. My injuries meant that I wasn’t able to run for 4–6 weeks in the couple of months leading into the race. The 1–4 hours of cross training that I undertook instead each day were extremely testing; mentally more than anything. I run because I love the outdoors, the company of my training squad, and the physical act of running, therefore I don’t find indoor cardio work as enjoyable. I knew that in order to give myself the best chance of achieving my running goals, it was crucial to work hard in the gym to build the necessary fitness and strength.
Focusing on the process and setting myself mini goals for each session and each day helped me to avoid becoming overwhelmed by my goal of racing a marathon. The challenges that I see people face every day in my work as a physio, my ambassador roles with the Little Heroes Foundation and the Jodi Lee Foundation, and in my day-to-day life, certainly give me perspective and provide strength to work through situations.
Over your years of training, what are some important lessons you have learned?
I have learned that success is a journey rather than a destination. There will also be challenging moments but it is so important to enjoy the process of working towards goals. I am a big believer in maintaining life balance and nurturing important relationships. I highly value having the team around me. Much of my enjoyment and running achievement can be attributed to the support, inspiration and opportunities provided by those around me.
If you had any advice to give to a high schooler who wants to take his/her commitment to running the next level, what would it be?
Find a coach who has experience, patience, belief and a willingness to learn from others. If you like to train with others, I would recommend seeking a coach with athletes who have similar goals and distance preferences. It is also important to trust your coach and to feel comfortable communicating with him/her in an open manner — keep in mind this will also evolve over time. Use a training diary to write down your goals and the plan to work towards them, as well as recording your training and race learnings.
What are some of the ways you deal with stress right before a race? What is going through your head an hour/10mins/30secs before the race starts?
I remind myself of my strongest and most satisfying training sessions, the hard work that I and my team have completed, and the people who have supported me to get to the start line. I reassure myself that I have prepared well and now is the opportunity to reap the rewards. “Embrace the challenge” is my motto.
What is your next goal to beat? What are you working towards, both long and short-term (both running and normal civilian life)?
My next goal is to achieve a result that will make myself and my team proud at the upcoming World Championships Marathon. I then hope to race in the Marathon at the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast next April. In my civilian life, I hope to continue helping people lead active and healthy lives through my work as a physiotherapist, ambassador, speaker, and business owner.
What does your typical day look like? What about your week?
My typical day involves training from home in the morning. Late morning is spent either at the gym, a health care appointment, or doing Rundies business work. From lunchtime until the evening I see clients at Physio Smart (on a couple of days of the week) and on alternate days I allocate the time for ambassador work, speaking engagements, or emails. I then have my key training session or a light jog at 5:30/6pm
Why do you do what you do? What makes it all worth it?
Inspiring others to lead active and healthy lifestyles makes it all worth it. I also love the opportunities that running brings to represent my country, make the people around me proud/excited, travel, meet positive and like-minded, and explore my potential.
Who is another athlete you know that you’d like to see us feature on the Modern Athlete?
I would be interested to read about Kyle Chalmers, Rory Sloane, and Morgan Mitchell.
You can follow Jess on Instagram: jess_tren