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Jess Gillman still has a problem calling herself a runner. We all know that anyone who goes out for a run is a runner, and Gillman, who is preparing to run the Boston Marathon on April 18, not only reaches that criteria, but exceeds it.
As a soccer and basketball player growing up, Gillman, 33, is no stranger to sport, but never considered running until she was an adult working full-time in marketing for a running apparel company. “I still had that competitive drive. I didn’t know where I could find outlets to get that athletic energy out,” she says.
On a whim with some coercing from co-workers, Gillman was talked into running the Ogden Half Marathon with absolutely no training. “Anytime someone challenges me in any type of athletic type of challenge, I immediately am like, ‘OK, I can do this,’” says Gillman. “It’s mind over matter.”
She admits it was a miserable experience.
But the rest, as they say, is history. “I just thought to myself, like what can you do if you actually train decently,” she says.
Next she trained for the New York City Marathon in 2018, followed by London and Chicago in 2019. She has a goal to run all the World Marathon Majors and (barring any COVID-related changes) is on track to finish by spring 2023. She’s already signed up for Berlin in the fall.
Each marathon, she admits she’s made mistakes—like wearing a pair of shoes on race day that she only owned for a few days—but has learned and been able to improve tremendously each time.
Here, we catch up with Gillman as she prepares for her first in-person Boston Marathon (she ran virtually in 2020). We’ll continue to check-in with her before and after the race to see how it goes for her.
Women’s Running: So preparing for a marathon without a coach, you’ve relied a lot on trial and error. How are you adjusting for Boston Marathon?
Jess Gillman: It’s been even harder this year, because I do have a 7-month-old baby. And so training’s really difficult because I’m breastfeeding. So I’m constantly like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m leaking.’ And my body is still recovering from it all. You know, I have more weight on me than I had previously. And I just don’t feel as fluid as it was before.
But that’s OK. I’m giving myself grace. It’s OK. I’m not going to make the Olympic Trials, I know that. It’s just proving to myself and my kids that mommy is strong and even when things are hard, like she still is going to do what she says she’s going to do. And that’s going on that 20-mile long run that I did yesterday, it’s running Boston Marathon. I’m just trying to set an example. And honestly, hold myself accountable too. I’m striving to do other things besides just be a mom, just be a worker, or just be a wife. Other things make me happy, too.
WR: And it’s probably important for your kids to see you as more than parent as well?
JG: Yes, totally. I told my husband already—he never has come out to one of my marathons—but I want him to come to Boston, first, because it’s Boston and that’s exciting. But second, because I want him to be taking pictures with my daughter and my son, so we can look back and talk about that. You know, ‘this was a cool thing your mom did when she was eight months postpartum. And she got to have fun and you guys got to go watch her and experience it.’ It’s become a deeper thing than just, ‘Hey, let’s go run a half marathon.’ Now it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s go run that half marathon/marathon and really set the example I’m hoping to set for my kids.’ I hope they see that when they’re older.
WR: So, what does an average week of training look like for you?
JG: Usually on Mondays I either take off completely, or I get like a 30-minute strength training session. And I usually do that late at night after I put the kids to bed. I like to utilize Peloton right now for strength training for runners. But you’ll see me on there like 10 o’clock at night some nights because that’s just like the only time I had.
And then Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I try to vary it up between like, hill work, speed work, and then slowish tempo runs. Usually those tempo runs are the longer distance for me. It really just depends on how my week is shaping up if that’s gonna be on one day or it’s gonna be on that Thursday. So those are those are the three days I would say involve some type of run workout in particular.
And then Fridays, I try to take off completely. I have to give myself like a day to just recoup from from the craziness from work and kids and everything. So Friday’s completely off. I don’t even strength train.
And then Saturdays or Sundays it just depends on what makes more sense. I’ll either do my long runs on Saturdays or Sundays. And whatever day I do it, on the day before or the day after, I do a four-mile shakeout run after my legs are feeling a little bit better, but it’s slow. And sometimes it ends up being a walk-jog party with my kids. It’s just to get the get the lactic acid, either moving out or get my legs prepared for the next day.
WR: What is your weekly mileage?
JG: That kind of varies, but I would say on average, I’m probably doing anywhere from 30 to 40 miles a week. And that can be kind of a big swing. This past week, I did probably around 40, because yesterday was my 20-mile long run. But this week, it will probably a 33 or 34 mile week.