Hello, hungry friends! Welcome to our December installment of the #ItsARunnerThing Q&A series! This is a series on Hungry Runner where each month we’ll hear from a new runner to find out what makes them tick, what inspires them and what they love most about this crazy, incredible sport.
This month’s guest is Jennifer Kyle, a passionate runner and the blogger behind J Bird Runs. She lives in Marin County, California, with her dog and her boyfriend, and feels lucky to be able to run all over Marin and throughout San Francisco. She is a territory sales director for an insurance company professionally, but running and eating good food are her my favorite things to do (me to, Jennifer, me too).
If for some reason she’s not running or eating, she loves volunteering with Bennie The Dog at her local hospital in the pet therapy program, drinking a glass of excellent wine, doing some yoga, or taking a hike. Also, new activewear (for being active or for lounging) never fails to make her smile. Jennifer is also travel obsessed, and loves to run every place she visits.
Today, Jennifer is sharing more about how she fell in love with running — despite a doctor who told her she “just wasn’t made to run” — why it’s the “everyday” runners that inspire her the most, and her goals for sweet comeback at the Boston Marathon in 2018!
Q: Tell us the story of how you were introduced to running and eventually fell in love with the sport. Was it something you enjoyed immediately, or did it take some time for you to develop a real passion for it?
A: I honestly don’t really remember the first day I went out on a run. I was in college and I ran a lot for a lot of different reasons. I remember I hated running PE in junior high. Mostly I think I just hated junior high though. Anyway, in college I started running. I ran on the treadmill, and eventually started running outside around campus when the college gym would inevitably close for holidays or maintenance. Initially it was part of negative cycle of burning calories just to stay thin, and get thinner and thinner. I had to take a break from it (and any “cardio”) to get back to a healthy mindset. Eventually though, I learned that if you want to run well, you have to eat well, and that is something I’ll always be grateful for.
Q: Your story is unique in that running was there for you as a new pasttime when you decided that showing horses competitively no longer aligned with your overall goals. Can you tell us about that transition and how running played a role, and what it meant to you at that time?
A: It’s funny because I was always “the horse girl.” Hahaha. I started riding horses when I was 4 years old and it was always the focus of my life. I liked to run, but I had a knee “thing” that would pop up every time I tried to run more than 6 miles, and I went to a doctor for it once and he told me that I just wasn’t made to run long distances, or even at all. But, my best friend convinced me to try to run a half marathon anyway. Once I overcame that, I was hooked. I ran this race (and several others) while I was still showing horses.
As an adult in the competitive horse-showing world, I realized just how much money and politics were involved. I think as a kid, you are kind of sheltered from those things a bit more. It was becoming more and more clear to me that I was going to have to work to earn a huge salary to afford the sport that I loved— and that was overwhelming to me. The more I ran, the more I realized that running and races were giving me a lot of the same things I looked for in horse showing. A community, a goal to work towards, a sense of achievement, an adrenaline rush when show day/race day finally arrived.
Saying goodbye to my pet was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I also knew that it was time to take a step back from the political and financial trappings of showing horses. Running just gave me the courage to actually take the leap.
Q: Showing horses and running are pretty different sports, but have you noticed any similarities between the two in terms of what you’ve learned as a competitive athlete?
A: I remember going to the American Quarter Horse World Championship show about a month after my first half marathon and realizing just how similar the two disciplines really are. As runners, we know that a race is incredibly mental. When you are showing a horse, the horse is your partner. You spend hours together practicing, and because of this, the horse can read your emotions like a book. Horses take their cues from their riders, emotions included. If you can’t control your emotions and be in the right headspace for your horse, you are never going to get the performance you need.
I also noticed that the increased core strength and leg strength I was getting from running helped me be a stronger rider. And on the flip side, when I started running, I excelled at running up hills thanks to my strong quads developed from years of riding.
For both sports, preparation is key. You really cannot fake either one without the training. If you don’t put in the work, it is going to show. Showing horses has really taught me so much that I apply to all other areas of life — how to present yourself well in an interview, how to have patience, to have compassion, when to press, and when to rest. One of the most important similarities I draw between the two has been that there are going to be times when you just need to put your head down and keep going for the love of the sport. Sometimes your next big breakthrough is right around the corner.
Q: You ran your first Boston Marathon this past year. What drove you to aim to qualify for Boston, and what, if anything, did you learn from crossing the finish line?
A: I think that the goal of qualifying for Boston really came as a product of training for my first marathon. As I started to train, I was looking at the times I was running, and seeing the qualifying standard times, and I just thought, “Why not me? Why not try?” I was training for this race on the heels of the decision to sell my horse and stop showing horses, and I think I kind of needed, or wanted, a goal to throw myself into.
When I crossed the finish line in Boston, it was really special. I don’t think that anyone can run that race and not feel that way. I would have never thought that I could run a marathon, and certainly not the Boston marathon. I’ve never been athletic, never was good at sports, and it taught me to never count myself out.
Q: You’re running the Boston Marathon again in 2018! What’s your goal for the race this time around? What are you most looking forward to about the race this time?
A: I am really excited for 2018! Last year when I ran, I had just been diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Which was honestly kind of a relief because it gave me an answer as to WHY I had been feeling so bad lately and running slower and slower paces. I found out that my thyroid was not doing its job about 2 months before the race, and it really wasn’t enough time to get back to feeling my best. It takes time to get the medication right, and 2 months just wasn’t going to cut it. So I went into the race with adjusted expectations. With that in mind, I planned to run a 26.2-mile victory lap on race day.
This year, I am hoping I get the opportunity to run MY race in Boston. The weather is always a screwy factor there, so we will see what we get. But I feel like I’ve got a much better handle on my health, and that makes me excited. I couldn’t be happier to be going back and to get the opportunity to give it my all again.
Q: What inspires you to keep running, especially on those days when you’re not feeling as motivated or as fired up as you normally do?
A: Running is as much a part of my routine as my morning cup of coffee. I don’t really know if it is so much motivation that gets me out the door on tough days, as it is habit. If I can get out for just 15 minutes, my mood always turns around and I am so grateful I did decide to go for my run today. And of course there are some days when I don’t hit my paces, or days when I just feel tired — but those days are par for the course. I would rather have a less than stellar run, than no run at all.
Q: If a beginner runner asked you for advice about starting to run but you could only offer them one tip, what would it be?
A: Let go of your expectations of how far or fast you should run, and just run.
Q: Who is your biggest running inspiration and why?
A: It is so hard to pick just one person. Of course I love to follow the stories of the professional runners we have come to know and love. I mean, let’s be real here, I could start crying just thinking about Shalane [Flanagan] winning New York, let alone actually watching the race. But I think the everyday runners are the inspiration for me. These are the people getting it done amongst the pressures of career, family, ect. No one has time to train for a race, you make the time.
Q: Your blog is called “J Bird Runs” — what was the inspiration behind the title?
A: My dad started calling me J Bird when I was really little. It was a nickname I always liked. I’m an only child, so I’m super close with my parents. They are so amazingly supportive of everything I do. When I showed horses, they backed me 100%. Now that I’ve started running, they talk about it as though I’m an Olympic athlete. My mom’s marathon spectating trick is to hold balloons so that I can spot her when I’m running by, and I think I’d recognize my dad shouting my name anywhere. I even heard him at Chicago through all the noise there. Even though I couldn’t see him, I knew it was him haha! So when I came up with the name for the blog, I didn’t really put a lot of thought into it — it just seemed to click!
Q: What’s one thing — serious or silly — about running that non-runners will just never understand? #ItsARunnerThing
A: I think the thing about running that I get the most incredulous looks about is the circumstances I will deal with, and the lengths I will go to in order to get my run done.
- In Vegas for a work trip? Who cares about slot machines? You bet I’m getting up early to get my run in.
- It’s storming outside? I have a good jacket.
- Boarding a 6 a.m. flight for a full day of travel? A 3 a.m. run seems reasonable to me.
- In Alaska for the holidays? They are called “YakTrax,” and no, I’m not skipping my run today.
Thanks for sharing Jennifer!
And make sure you stay tuned for next month’s #ItsARunnerThing Q&A! There’s lost more inspiration and running advice coming your way!.