PROFILE: Jenny Hitchings is getting faster, setting records at 59

(Aug 2022) Most age-group runners record their best times and maybe win a few races at the x0 end of their 5-year age-group: at 40, 50, 60 etc. Not Jenny Hitchings. She'll turn 60 next July, and watch out for her then. But she has also been on a record tear recently at 59. Last October, for example, the Sacramento CA resident ran 2:45:36 to win her age-group in the Boston Marathon. In fact, Hitchings is still getting faster. She credits that fact that she's motivated, very consistent, has a flexible schedule, trains 55 to 75 miles a week, and "probably the most important factor is good genes."

Career profession? I am a Running Coach.  I coach remotely up to 14 adults (intermediate to advanced runners) for the 5k-30k as well as a youth running club at our local elementary school and middle school XC.

When did you start running and why? I started running for fitness as a college student at UC Santa Barbara, but I didn’t realize I was a decent runner until my late 30’s to early 40’s.  In time, with proper training, running peers, a team and a coach, I was able to excel after I was 40.  I was a late bloomer with an untapped talent!

How much did you run in your peak years? I think I’m still in my peak years. I run 55-75+ miles per week (depending if I’m in marathon training). I have never gone beyond 80 miles per week even when training for a marathon.

Top performances?  Breaking 3 hours (2:58) on my 4th marathon, coming within 10 sec of making the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2011 (2:46:10 - you can imagine that this was very bittersweet), Winning Rocket City (Dec.2011) and Mountains to Beach Marathons (May, 2018), and placing 2 and 1st (2x) in the Boston Marathon in my age group. I’ve run my fastest times in

a variety of races in the last 4 years, including 5 x American Records and a World Record at NY (2:50:36, 2019). But, I never would have thought I could run 2:45:36 at Boston in 2021, and I did…and then ran 2:46 at CIM 7 weeks later. 

These are my American records for 55-59: 5k - 18:05; 10k - 37:21; 10 Mile - 1:00:38 - April, 2022  (I’ve broken the record 3 x ); 1/2 Marathon - 1:21:17 (and unofficial due to poor cone placement - 1:20:24, Nov., 2021); Marathon - 2:50:36 (* WR) / 2:45:32 (World Best Time, Oct., 2021)

Any idea of your total lifetime miles? About 65,000+.

How much are you running and cross-training now? See above, 55 to 75 miles/week. I am not one to preach strength training.  Though I know it can be important; I do not do it much.  I do push ups and light weights, I ride my Peloton (but more if I’m feeling an injury coming on, or I am injured) and I have taken up road cycling in the last year, which I really enjoy as a way to cross train and not put any pressure on myself.  I do stretch a little before and after running, but I’ll be honest, I should do more, and my body is telling me that.  It only gets harder to add stretching/rolling to the routine if you haven’t done it all along.

Do you worry about slowing down? So far, no, as I’m not slower now. And I attribute this to starting racing at 40, being VERY consistent, motivated, having a flexible schedule, having Jenny Spangler as my coach, not making excuses and most probably the important factor is - good genes. I do not have the same energy or motivation to run or do workouts in the early morning, so because I’m able to, I run when it works for me. Aging is inevitable, and I know my body and how I run, physically and mentally, will continue to change over the years.  I only hope that my running changes organically, and not due to injury or sickness.

Any diet or weight changes?  I have maintained my weight through the years, and if anything, I have thinned out more.  I don’t have much body fat and this is something I watch during training cycles.  If I don’t keep calories up, I lose weight quickly. During this time I will make daily protein (Skratch) shakes with oat/almond milk, frozen fruit or a coffee/chocolate one.   If I can remember (and no, not because of age), I take Vitamin D, K and A, Krill oil, Collagen and occasional Calcium.  The Calcium is a supplement I need to get serious about, as I know I am on the verge of some osteoarthritis.  But I eat very clean/healthy. I try not to get obsessive about food, as I love good food and wine.

Any injuries or health issues through the years? I haven’t had that many injuries, but some have taken me out for 8-12 weeks. I have had a metatarsal stress fracture, calf strains, horrible achilles/heel issues due to a Haglund deformity on my heel that lasted a couple of years ( I had surgery on this in 2011).  I did PRP (platelet rich plasma) for a tear in my hamstring and micro tears in other surrounding areas in 2017.  And many other niggles along the way.  In all cases, healing began when I finally realized I had to take at least 2 weeks totally off of everything, and then introduce low impact cross training slowly.  Building blocks to recovery, and trying to keep a good mental state, is just a different kind of training.

Any short tips for other lifetime runners? 

1--Set goals … and boundaries.

2--Be consistent.

3--Don’t make excuses.

4--Maintain balance in your life.

How does running improve your daily life? Running for me is a

passion, a joy, an escape, a challenge, my own personal rival, and I’m good at it.  This instills a daily confidence, and a feeling of accomplishment that allows me to feel unique and empowered.  I guess I’m a better person (and definitely easier to be around) because of running.

Biggest life lessons you have learned from running? 

Running in nationwide races, and while traveling or vacationing around the world, has enabled me to get my bearings (my husband would disagree) and see the sights in a different way.  And because runners share a universal language, I have made connections and befriended many wonderful people.  Out of most sports, people understand running.  It’s not complicated, and we all know how to do it.  I feel that runners from all abilities, races, genders, countries, etc…can unite.  So, aging may slow my paces down, but I will still run, and if not, I can talk about it!