It is one month to the day before the 2023 Boston Marathon and Jill Deering is clearly in her element, which is to say chaos. “I do love living in chaos,” she laughs from across the country, (she laughs a lot, and she talks fast.) She has settled in for this conversation at her Santa Barbara, California home, her three young children, as if on cue, creating a mild hubbub from somewhere in the house. “If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t love the quiet moments. I love juggling a hundred different things.”
Case in point, Deering is fitting this interview into a day jam-packed with family activities, as well as business meetings at rabbit, the running apparel company she co-founded in 2013 with fellow runner Monica DeVreese, and of course, a set of fast 800s, because when it comes to running, Jill Deering is not messing around.
The Boston Marathon is four weeks hence, Monday, April 17th, so most of the hay, as they say, is in the barn. Deering has averaged 100 miles per week for the past month, with some killer long runs, repeats, and tempo sessions, all during the most relentlessly rainy and windy winter most Californians can remember. This big month was preceded by a new PR in the half marathon, and on her baby Dash’s first birthday, to boot! This training cycle has brought – knock on wood – no major illness or injury. I point out, needlessly, that all systems seem to be go.
“Why Boston?” I ask, “Why now? Is it because Boston is, well, Boston, possibly the most legendary footrace on the planet? Is it because rabbit will have a pop-up presence at the event?”
“I’ve qualified for Boston ten times, even registered a few times, but chose not to race because of pregnancies, or the timing was just off” she says. “I was always apprehensive of it because of the hills and weather unknowns. But it’s a challenge I’ve always wanted to do, so I decided this was going to be the year to finally tackle it, chase my longtime goal of breaking 2:45.”
Noting that business partner DeVreese is also running the race as a training run for her latestt hundred-mile race in July, and that rabbit employees and racing team members would also be in town for the race, she says, “So that makes it special too.”
Deering qualified for Boston at the 2022 Cascade Express Marathon in Snoqualmie, Washington, which she won comfortably in 3:06. Actually, ‘comfortably’ might not be quite the right word.
“It was my first race after having the baby, and definitely the worst I’ve ever felt in a marathon,” she says laughing. “But it was also my absolute favorite racing experience of my life.” The race was a family trip, the first for Deering, her husband, Gene, and all three kids. And if that was not enough, Deering was able to run the last fifty meters of the race holding her daughter Teal’s hand while carrying the baby, Dash, in her arms. Oldest child, Jett, a bit shy, waited at the finish line with Dad. “That day will be pretty tough to beat,” she says. I can feel her beaming, even over the telephone.
The video of that scene, available on Deering’s Instagram feed, gives a fairly tidy summation of what it must be like to be her. Completely blown out, she trots the last meters of a marathon, carrying a baby who immediately nuzzles in, and holding the hand of a thrilled toddler, while alternating smiling, grimacing, and talking to both children. And oh yes, she’s also wear-testing the latest technical running apparel from the very company she co-founded. Chaos? Maybe, but also a demonstration of another word that came up often in our conversation: balance.
Chaos and balance, a strange pair of words to use as synonyms, but in Deering’s case, perfectly apt. You see, it’s all a matter of perspective. Remember that scene from Disney’s Fantasia, where Mickey, as the wizard, keeps all manner of flying objects aloft and under control, even as he creates a barrage of trippy pyrotechnics? From an outsider’s perspective that is the definition of chaos, but to the wizard, it is all about balance, knowing from hard-won experience how to keep everything in the air and dazzling. What Deering lovingly calls chaos is actually a frenetic and full life, kept magically in control – sometimes just barely – by maintaining balance, balance between husband and children, running and work, not to mention between sleep and diet and everything else that goes into staying healthy and running well.
“It is a challenge to keep everything in sync,” Deering admits, “But it begins by prioritizing family. Monica (who has two children) knows this too. The kids know we are going to be there, regardless. Everything else can be flexible around that. And there is a lot of compromise, by everyone.” She continues, “The kids know how important running is to me. It’s part of our routine and they want to be a part of that.”
Like when four year-old Jett asked to set up an aid station in front of the house, and proudly handed out drinks and energy bars when Mom’s training group ran by. Or how about the day when Mom was getting in some race hydration practice, circling back again and again to grab a cup in full flight, try and drink without choking. “It didn’t take long until the hose came out and the whole thing devolved into a huge water fight,” Deering laughs.
Chaos, indeed! And balance. And though Deering certainly makes it look easy, anyone trying to juggle young children, work, and hard training knows there is nothing easy about it. “Oh sure,” she says, when I ask her if hard ever turns into impossible, if she has days when she thinks it’s all too much, “Sometimes it’s soooo hard. There are very painful times, times when I’m close to tears, times when I’ve been living and breathing rabbit, when my legs are heavy and I’m exhausted and the kids are sick. I call Monica and say, God, this is too hard, it just doesn’t stop.” She pauses. I can feel the shrug. “And then you just keep going.”
I ask her about the other side of the coin. What about that perfect, shimmering day, when everything falls magically into place? She thinks for a moment, says “I think if we expect perfection, maybe we don’t appreciate all the very good days, days when we’re all together, laughing, when I’ve gotten my training in and there’s no disaster at rabbit…days like that are a regular occurrence, right? If I was expecting perfection, I might not appreciate all of that.”
Like balance, this gratitude for all she has is a thread that runs through our conversation. “I am so privileged to live this life. I almost never have to miss a run. I have a husband who knows how important running is to me and helps so much.”
The penumbra of gratefulness expands to include friends, training partners, the local running team that has been there from the beginning. It takes a village to make a Boston dream come true, and clearly, Jill Deering has found her village. Then she waxes poetic about one villager in particular.
She talks about the day, frustrated at not being able to find running clothes that fit right or make her feel fast, she wondered, what if I made my own running clothes? Then she texted local running store owner, Monica DeVreese, said, Monica, I’ve got this crazy idea….
“Monica responded in about two minutes,” Deering laughs, “I didn’t know her that well, yet, didn’t know she had such an extensive background in the industry. I mean, she knew where to find a factory, how to source fabric…Monica had knowledge!”
As an attorney, Deering had her own set of skills to bring to the table. The two women threw caution to the wind, set up a Kickstarter account, had their running group in for brainstorming sessions – what do you all like and dislike about running clothing? – raised capital, and within a year were handing out running apparel to those who had invested, and not long after that, were nationwide. Now rabbit is one of the largest independent makers of running specialty apparel in the world, loved by a picky trail running community and an ever-growing legion of roadies. I ask Deering if she’s surprised at how quickly the company took off.
She laughs again. “Oh sure. I still get so excited whenever I see a random runner wearing our clothes. I get butterflies! It really moves me. My crazy pipe dream has become a reality. I’m just so pleased and surprised!”
I ask her if she has any advice, any words of wisdom she’d share with young women on the cusp of going out into the adult world. She thinks for a moment, then launches into what I’m already starting to think of as a typical Jill Deering gusher. “I would tell them that we all have the power to help create our own world. I’d say take the risk, you can do and be something powerful and worthwhile!” She says, “I think we are given, for various reasons, a very finite group of choices, by our teachers, by our families. I think the choices are not so limited. In fact, they are limitless! I’d tell them to find the confidence to do what they love, even if it’s more risky, less acceptable to others. And if you fail? So-what, you’re young. Try again! I’d tell them to be the firmest believer in their own success!”
Jill Deering, ladies and gentlemen!
Our conversation winds back around to Boston, to the goal of running a lifetime best time at thirty-nine years old, on a notoriously fickle course, in a part of the country famous for its extremes of spring weather. Again, I can almost hear her shrug. She talks again about the water fight, the family trip to the marathon in Washington. She talks about all the training runs, amazing and not so much, that tell a version of her life’s story on her Strava account, about the friends and memories she has made. “It’s this stuff I’m always going to remember. So, on one level, who cares about Boston?”
Through the phone I can feel her grin. “But that sub-2:45 would sure feel good.”