Earlier this summer, the woman who is arguably America’s best and most versatile female distance runner grew tired of answering reporters’ questions about her upcoming birthday and how it might affect her performance. In response she said, “What’s the difference between 29 and 30? Or 30 and 31? One year doesn’t matter Life doesn’t end at 30, especially not running life.”
As her family, friends and coaches now know, that’s precisely the sort of direct, confident response to expect from Lynn Jennings, who also runs the website Anderbose.com. An articulate and outs spoken woman who has weathered the peaks and valleys of world-class athletic competition for more than 15 years, Jennings has reason to feel confident. She’s running her best ever in track, road and cross-country races. And now, at age 30, she feels that women’s running and racing have evolved far enough to help her fulfill her extraordinary athletic potential.
“Each year, more women of all ages run faster than ever,” says Jennings. “I think the improvement in women’s racing is partly the result of better training and coaching for high school and college women. But the continued growth of all-women’s races, such as the Tufts 10K and Freihofer’s 5K, and the fact that most other races now treat women equally also help women race better”
The ultimate fulfillment of her own potential, says Jennings, will come in the 92 and 96 Olympics. “I’ll be 32 in Barcelona. I want to improve on my sixth-place finish in the 10,000 meters (in the 1988 Seoul Olympics) in 92. And in’ 96, who knows? I’ll be 36, but look at how 37-year-old Francie Larrieu-Smith is breaking new ground, running a 2:28 marathon PR this year Like her, I intend to run fast well into my 30s.”
And with those words, Lynn Jennings has issued a challenge. To herself. To other women. It goes something like this: Forget about your age and about what others may think. Follow your ambition and go full speed ahead.
Since 1987, Jennings has
lived in a tidy white Cape
Cod-style house on a quiet street in Newmarket, New Hampshire, population about 3,000. It’s an old mill town, and Jennings, like many New Englanders, is in no hurry to leave. “I love this area. I grew up near Boston and I’ve always lived here. I even have my dream property-complete with an old house, barn, apple orchard, and dilapidated outbuildings-picked out.”
Jennings, who recently described herself to a reporter as a “single mother of two… Siamese cats (Stirling and Dundee),” clearly treasures her time in Newmarket. So much so, in fact, that she has had no desire to cash in her 1 0,000-plus frequent flier miles to travel someplace exotic. “The world’s a big place,” she says. “I’ve been to a lot of nice places-Paris, Oslo, Auckland, Zurich-but I want a little corner of the world to call my own. And that corner, for me, is Newmarket.”
Her father, Stephen, and mother, Pat, live in the family homestead about 80 miles away in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts (an hour west of Boston). Nearby lives her 27-year-old sister Della, who has been to most of Lynn’s major races (along with their parents). “We’re pretty tight,” says Della. “And Lynn’s really generous. She usually buys my airplane ticket so I can be there when she races.”
“We’re best friends,” says Lynn.
Last March, Della accompanied Lynn to the World Cross-Country Championships in Aix-Les-Bains, France. The day after Lynn won the race, becoming the first American to do so in 15 years, they took off on a 10day vacation. “We had a great time. For the first five days, we were itinerants,” says Lynn. “We drove from town to town, stayed in hostels, and ate baguettes and Brie in the car. When we arrived in Paris, we spent five days exploring the city on foot.”
As for being “Lynn Jennings’ sister,” Della says, “I enjoy seeing Lynn race, and I’m really proud of her. But I’m not a groupie. I have my own life and identity.”
Della has reason to be proud. In February, Jennings set an American indoor record (8:40.45) in the 3000 meters at the TAC Indoor Championships Rather than holding back during the early laps of the race, as she frequently does, she ran all-out from the start. She passed the leaders-fellow Seoul Olympians PattiSue Plumer and Vickie Huber-with two laps to go and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
“That race was a breakthrough for me,” says Jennings. “I’d never hammered full speed from the gun-the way Ingrid Kristiansen does-and I felt that it was time to lay it all on the line.”
Since winning that race, Jennings hasn’t looked back. In fact, she hasn’t even glanced over her shoulder. She followed up by setting an American road record at the Red Lobster 10K (31:06), winning the World Cross-Country Championships and capturing the TAC Championship at the Freihofer’s 5K (15:31) in early May. Even when rival Judi St. Hilaire ended Jennings’ 14-win streak at the mid-May Nike Women’s Race in Washington, DC, Jennings was already looking ahead: “Now that this streak is over, I can start working on the next one.”
Unlike some elite athletes who migrate to Florida or New Zealand for winter training, Jennings prefers to live in New Hampshire all year. “I stay here because I have very basic, traditional values: home and hearth, family and friends. And I really enjoy running through the seasons, especially in the fall with the changing leaves,” she says.
And so, no matter what the season,
Jennings trains in New Hampshire. She runs twice a day, every day, except Sundays (when she does a single 13- to 16-miler), logging tom 65 to 95 miles per week. “I never take a day off,” she admits, “but I do get regular massages and make sure I sleep and eat well. My body has handled high-mileage training really well, although I wouldn’t recommend double workouts and mega-mileage for most runners.”
To satisfy her need for speed, she travels to Boston once or twice a week to run track workouts. Under the supervision of John Babington, who coached her during the mid-’70s when she was a child prodigy and again briefly before the’ 84 Olympic Trials, she has flourished.
“We’ve both matured and shed our emotional baggage,” says Jennings, whose current stint with Babington began in 1989. “After being self-coached for about 4 years, I felt that I had done all I could for myself. I’d worked through my serious post-’84 Olympics blues (she failed to qualify for the team), and I needed someone to coach me, so I asked John. We agree on, basic coaching philosophy, so it was a natural progression.” And last but not least, when she’s not running, traveling or doing media promotions for Nike (her sponsor since 1985), Jennings renovates her house, “puts up” jam, reads, writes letters, spoils the cats and chops the logs that fuel her woodburning stove year ’round. It’s my crosstraining,” she says. “I went through about four cords last year-it was a rough winter.”
But a very good year.