After 19 marathons, Ball State alumna Jennifer Courtney said she has tracked more miles by foot than she has in her car.
Courtney has been training for and running marathons for nearly a decade, and will be running in her 20th marathon Sunday in Paris.
“Jennifer has a disciplined approach to setting goals and achieving them,” said Joanna Robinson, Courtney’s colleague and senior vice president of technology at Burwood Group. “She inspires others; everyone is blown away at the amount of marathons she’s run. Even [I am] inspired to go out and run. She’s unstoppable.”
Courtney has always been interested in physical fitness as a casual runner in high school and college, but said she never planned on being as engrossed in marathons as she is today.
After moving to an apartment in Chicago, she would frequently observe the Chicago marathon runners from her window. Eventually, a friend of Courtney’s, who ran multiple Chicago marathons, suggested that they run a marathon together, so she decided to take on the challenge.
Since then, Courtney has run marathons in Ohio, Iceland, Prague, Czechia and California and is constantly training, planning and exercising.
Before running in her first few races and joining the Chicago Area Runners Association, CARA, Courtney followed marathon runner Hal Higdon’s training plans. Now she has developed her own training schedule and allots four months of strict weekly running before each event.
Each week includes two to three 6 a.m. runs and a long morning run on the weekends. As she progresses through her schedule, the number of miles increases on each run, but never exceeds 20 miles, even though the marathon is 26.2 miles.
Courtney said that if an individual can run 20 miles, they can run 26.2 because those last couple miles are fueled by pure adrenaline.
“A typical week would look like five miles on Monday, 10 miles on Wednesday, three miles on Thursday and 18 miles on Saturday,” Courtney said. “It’s a lot.”
Courtney also knows that she needs to allow her body to heal after vigorous running and has learned that one of the most important components of training is listening to her body, so she increases her mileage two weeks at a time and then takes a “cut back” week.
She also tries to stay off her feet as much as possible the day before she races, and she continues cool-down exercises after the race, which include resting and walking to reduce the lactic acid buildup that causes intense soreness.
As Courtney has become a more experienced marathon runner, she has also utilized power yoga to strengthen her core, so she can maintain good posture during distance runs.
Beyond her physical training, Courtney must also mentally train for a race. Every day is not a fantastic running day, Courtney said, but she finds ways to prevent her negative thoughts by breaking her goal into smaller components.
“During the marathon, when you’re at mile 18, it hurts, it doesn’t feel good, but that’s just normal. Inevitably, your mind goes into panic mode,” Courtney said. “It’s so important to center myself and not let the negative thoughts overtake me. You give yourself affirmations, dig deep and suck it up.”
When she first started running marathons, Courtney was focused on cutting down her four hour and 15 minute marathon time, but she has since learned that she can never fully prepare for a race because of the weather.
To take pressure off of herself, Courtney’s goal is simple: cross the finish line and enjoy the run with her friends.
“It’s the ability to set a challenge for yourself and meet the goal. One of the most important things about running is that it teaches you lessons that you can take to any other component of your life,” Courtney said. “It teaches you [the idea] that you have to show up and put the time into training. You must be dedicated and follow through with that commitment that you’ve made to yourself. You can do anything you set your mind to if you just focus on mind over matter.”
Since she’s started running marathons, Courtney has noticed various health benefits like high energy throughout the day, no mid-day slump and an increased motivation to walk to places rather than driving.
"I am registered for [the] Chicago [marathon] in October of 2018, so that will be number 21,” Courtney said. “I plan to keep running marathons until my body tells me it’s time to take a break."