Sunday was a banner day for an abundance of rabbit racers from all over the state and beyond at the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon, starting in Ojai and finishing along the Pacific Ocean in Ventura. One of those racers was rabbitELITE team member Jenny Hitchings of Sacramento who won the point-to-point race in emphatic fashion, finishing in 2:51:28. In the process of beating her nearest competitor by over two and half minutes, she also set the unofficial master's course record by over three minutes.
At the age of 54 it's clear that Jenny is still going strong, but most importantly having fun with her training and racing. We sat down with her post race to learn more about her history with the sport, a few secrets to her longevity and how the race went down this past weekend.
First off, congrats on your win! Seriously impressive stuff Jenny. How many years have you been running and racing?
Thank you so much! I've been running for 35 years, but I didn’t start running competitively until I was close to 40 years old around 2004.
You've done everything from 5k races to 50-milers: what do you consider your race specialty to be?
Definitely distance road racing. Though I enjoy, and do well, in the 10-miler, the marathon seems to be my event…which makes it hard to change things up. I may have been faster at the shorter distances had I trained for them better, but I always seemed to be marathon focused. For awhile I was doing well in the ultramarathons, but went back to the pavement and have been focused solely on the road recently.
How did you first get into running?
I started running for fitness and to ward off that "freshman 15" at UCSB - how can you not run there? It wasn’t until I moved to Sacramento and met some other runners who were on teams that I got involved in more serious racing. Running partners, a team and finally hiring a coach in 2006 taught me so much about training, racing and my potential as a competitive runner.
What are a few pieces of advice you wish you’d known when you started?
1. To take my easy days easy (I still struggle with this though)
2. How to cope with pre-race angst (I battle it hard)
3. Best ways to deal with GI distress (Arrrrgh)
4. To trust your training, and the rest is what the day gives you (I truly believe this)
You’re headed out the door for a long training run; what are your essential pieces of gear?
I’m a minimalist when it comes to running; I don’t carry water (I do stop at fountains), listen to music or bring my phone. All I need is my watch, prescription sunglasses and now that it is warm, my super comfy catch me if you can shorts, freedom tank and sometimes a visor...and of course my running shoes, which vary.
Tell us about your win & master's course record at m2b, how did that feel?
Since the M2B course can change slightly year to year, I’m not sure if there are official course records, but that being said, I decided to run this race as a redemption marathon after having to drop from this year’s challenging Boston Marathon at mile 21 due to hypothermia. It was a little challenging coming home from Boston, taking it easy for 2 weeks and then having 4 weeks of gearing back up for another marathon. I was a little mentally and physically fried. But I knew I wasn’t injured from Boston and I still felt in shape enough to run a decent marathon. DNF’s make you feel so incomplete, and I've had a few of those in the last 2 years. I went into M2B hoping to break 3, and thinking there was a chance I would run 2:55. I was just going to go out there and run my best, and listen to how my body felt. It turns out, I felt super “comfortable” around 6:30-35s and even when I told myself I could slow down and run 7’s, I didn’t. Still, I did get tired and my calf started to twitch around 20 miles in. However, my pace just stuck to where it was and I let the race happen organically. I just ran, sometimes with a few people and sometimes alone. I was totally surprised that I was able to pass the first woman at mile 22, and keep on going for the win! And the best part? My father who has never seen me race, was at the finish line. Now, that made me cry.
Wow, that sounds like almost the perfect race, especially with having your dad at the finish. It seems like the rest of the year could continue to be pretty special for you. What's on the summer racing calendar?
I am going to run a few shorter races through September including Santa Cruz’s Wharf to Wharf (editor's note: the top 100 finishers will get rabbit zippity-do-dahs/zippits again!) in July and some PAUSATF long races in the fall. Then I need to decide if I want to run NY Marathon or CIM. I’ll be in a new age group, so I may have to go for breaking some age group course records!! I just hope to stay healthy, fit and the best runner I can be. For me.
Jenny with rabbitELITE teammates Susan Loken (5th place half-marathon), Jenn Betancourt (6th place marathon) & rabbit community manager Jeffrey Stern (5th place marathon) post race - they'll all see you in Boston in 2019!