Olympic Trials Qualifier: Jennifer Donnelly

Where did you qualify for the trials? What was your time?
California International Marathon 2019 – 2:44:31

What is your best, clearest memory of your qualifying race?
With 800m to go, I knew that I had it and just remember feeling this overwhelming sense of gratitude. I had this huge smile plastered across my face. Turning into the final stretch, I could see a group of women under the finish line (who had themselves just qualified) cheering us in. Immediately upon crossing, I ran straight into the arms of fellow qualifying women. There were shared tears, hugs, and screams on what we had all just accomplished. I’ve had so many years of struggling with the mentality of this sport- imposter syndrome, comparison traps – that I for many years I was consumed by anxiety around racing. In this moment though, all I felt was shared excitement and support – the true embodiment of how much farther we can go when we race the clock together.

How long has the trials been a goal? Did you set out last year to get there?
The trials were never a goal in my mind until this past fall. I was actually at the trials spectating in 2016 as I was running the LA marathon the following day (where I ran a time 33 minutes slower than what is needed to qualify). I remember watching that race in complete awe. It was something that I would never have even dreamed to be a goal in my life. In the fall of 2018, I joined the Central Park Track Club and ended up breaking 3 hours in the marathon, a time I had chased after for 5 years since debuting in 2013. As I trained more with the team, I fell in love with the sport in a way I hadn’t seen high school. In the fall of 2019, my mileage climbed to 65-70 miles a week, up from my 47 mile average the fall before. I went from pure fear looking at times proposed for the Morning Crew workouts to actually looking forward to them. The guys I train with are incredibly supportive and saw something in me I didn’t. They put this idea in my head to go after 2:44:59 back in September and guided me in a training schedule / workout pacing and started to make the goal seem a little less scary. In addition to that, I have an incredible group of girls I run with on non-workout days, and we all push each other to keep the sport fun and dream big.

NYRR Gridiron 4M. February 20, 2020.
Photo Credit: Johnny Zhang

How has CPTC helped you as an athlete?
When I joined Central Park Track Club in the fall of 2018, a few things happened. I started running with the Morning Crew (MC), a group of ~20 co-ed highly dedicated runners. We are out there every morning at 5am putting in the work – this group has an incredible mentality of determination and ambition, all working full time jobs and many with families at home. And on top of that, they are the biggest cheerleaders for each other. The MC pushed back on me when I placed time restrictions on myself, and told me to think less, just run and follow them. From there, I started seeing splits that self-perception and anxiety would never have allowed me to pace at. I slowly gained confidence in myself, excitement for the runners around me, and a new sense of exhilaration versus dread of racing. When you’re putting in all this work before the rest of the city wakes up, running and racing starts to feel like our own special little world, rather than the determining factor of my daily life.

Beyond that, the internal strength I have found in running has largely stripped me of the self-consciousness and fear that plagued me growing up as a tiny female. When I’m working out with the Morning Crew, running side by side with 6-foot guys – I just feel like part of the pack. I forget the stereotypes and first impressions that I face daily with my size, the questions of what high school I go to or if I’m on school break. Running has taught me to embrace my size – I’m not that tiny little girl people often see, I’m a strength runner with big dreams.

What is your favorite marathon workout and why?
20+ mile runs in the park with 10-12 miles at marathon pace, 2 miles at HMP. No breaks are allowed in these runs – we set up water bottles on railings to grab during the run. It’s a great way to mimic race day and gain confidence in the pace.

What is your favorite NYC area race and why?
Hands down the NYC marathon. This is the race that convinced me to return to the sport. The fellow runners on the course, the excitement and cheers across the city – nothing can match it.

What is an unusual aspect of your training or racing?
An unusual part of my 2019 build was that I completed my first ultramarathon. In March, I ran RacingThePlanet NZ, a 5-day 150 mile race across New Zealand. It’s entirely self-supported, meaning we carried everything except a tent and water. The race is 4 25 miles days followed by a 50 mile day. On top of that, it has a total elevation gain of 35k feet- more than Everest! As someone whose weekly mileage in the fall of 2018 was lower than the 50 mile day alone, this was a huge risk for me, and a scary one. However, I found the physical base building of this race, and even more so the mentality of focusing only on the steps ahead of you and people around you for 5 days, was the best base training I could have done.

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