Three-time Olympian Jen Rhines Shares Tips for Running LongevityWritten by Barbara Huebner for NYRR
April 11, 2012
New York, NY
In 1991, Jen Rhines won her first New York state high school title, at 1500 meters. That's 21 years ago. Now, at the age of 37, Rhines will toe the starting line on Sunday, April 15 as a favorite to win the More Magazine/Fitness Magazine Women's Half-Marathon in New York City.
In between, she won three NCAA championships and is a three-time Olympian at three different distances: 5000m (2008), 10,000m (2000), and the marathon (2004). In June, she expects to compete in an Olympic Trials for the seventh time when she seeks to make her fourth Olympic team, this time at either 5000m or 10,000m. In January, Jen Rhines finished the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in 2:43:35 (64th place). Photo at left by Victah Sailer, www.photorun.net: At the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, Jen Rhines placed ninth (31:47.59) in the women's 10,000m.
As a child, Rhines dreamed of becoming an Olympian, and vividly remembers watching, with her dad, Mary Slaney in the 1984 Olympic Games. But when she was winning those state titles back at Liverpool High School, on the shores of Onandaga Lake near Syracuse, NY, did she ever think she'd be at it this long?
"Definitely not," Rhines said.
In those two decades, Rhines's only serious injury has occurred when she tore her plantar fascia on the last lap of the 5000m 2008 Olympic semi-final. She still managed to make the final, where she finished 14th.
The secret to health and longevity, she believes, is in maintaining a healthy variety in both exercise and diet, and in doing the little extras even if you are a time-starved recreational runner instead of a pro.
"If you can fit in a little time to do the stretching and strengthening and a little bit of gym work, or at least kind of mix in a few different things, that really helps, especially to avoid overuse injuries," said Rhines in a telephone interview. "If you're running the exact same pace every day and using the same muscles, things can get fatigued and overworked."
Rhines said that the most important "extra" for a recreational runner is to take a few minutes to stretch every day or two even if it means cutting a run short by five or 10 minutes. In addition, she recommends adding a few "strides"—fast pickups of 60 to 100 meters; not sprinting but quick—to the end of easy runs to keep muscles loose and prevent yourself from getting stuck in the same pattern of running.
Similarly, Rhines suggests that runners gain core strength by alternating days of doing a few planks with some medicine-ball work, in which "even five minutes will hit a little bit of everything," she said.
--Don't be afraid to take a day off, and definitely take some down time after a marathon. "A lot of recreational runners I've met have a phobia of taking days off," Rhines said. "Especially coming off marathons, they don't want to take any time off. That's when I take two weeks off. I took three weeks off last time."
--To keep your training fresh over the long haul, don't fall into a one-distance rut. "I definitely think that varying distances has kept me fresh," she said. "I ran my personal best in the 800 meters in 2009, when I was 34. Keeping some speed work in the training program keeps an older athlete fresh and helps enforce good running mechanics."
--To stay motivated, run with friends or join a training group. "I don't think I'd be able to go out the door every day and do what I do on my own," said the longtime member of the Mammoth Track Club in Mammoth Lakes, CA, where her training partners include Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor and Amy Hastings. Kastor finished sixth (2:30:40) and Hastings was fourth (2:27:17) at the U.S Olympic Marathon Trials in January.
--Don't be too hard on yourself after a less-than-ideal race. "As I've gotten older, I've gotten better at that," Rhines said. "It's just a waste of time to drag it out and be hard on yourself."
Rhines said that she is committed to competing as a professional for the next two years. After that?
"I will see where my passions lie," she said. "I'll always run for fitness, because I really enjoy it. I also think I'll still hit the weight room or gym when I retire. I really like doing the ancillary strength work in addition to running."
Click here for some Stretching Tips and Medicine-Ball Exercises aimed at runners. View Photos of proper plank technique.
Read about the benefits of Core Conditioning. The core includes the muscles that attach to the pelvis, abdominals, and back.