By Henry Howard
While Jenn Giles achieved some success on the high school softball diamond, her coach told her that she ran too slow to ever be great.
And she believed her coach.
Fast forward to adulthood, and Giles has excelled as an endurance athlete, even representing Team USA at the World Championships in the Olympic Distance Triathlon. And now she joins Marathon Training Academy as a coach.
Meet Jenn Giles, new MTA coach
In addition to softball, Giles swam during her high school years but did not push herself. “I didn’t know how!” she laments.
When she turned 19, she was out of shape, tired and overweight. She needed a change.
“I saw a few people out running and thought to myself if they can do it, then maybe I can too,” she says. “Running was inexpensive (I was a college student after all) and all I needed was shoes (so I thought). I went to the running store and bought a pair of running shoes. I went out later that day and ran . . . I made it ¾ mile before I had to walk home with a pulled muscle in my back.”
Determination kicked in and Giles made it to a full mile the next day, then two miles.
“I ran two miles every day for four months and I lost 30 pounds,” she remembers, adding that she worked herself up to four miles and sometimes six miles.
Learning to Cross-Train
Even though she didn’t know it at the time, Giles launched a cross-training program that would serve her well later in life. “My junior year I became injured with a self-diagnosis of tendonitis of my knee,” she remembers. “I iced it often, wore a brace, took a lot of Advil — but I never rested it (silly young college student). I would literally limp through the first two miles of each run until the endorphins kicked in. Eventually I started swimming as cross training because the pain was so bad. I also started strength training. All of a sudden the tendonitis got better! And guess what? I got faster! This experience was better than reading any article in Runner’s World. It opened my eyes to the science of the sport. I learned about injury prevention and the importance of it! I continued to only run, however for about 10 more years (with one weekly swim and two or three strength training sessions).”
Friends with endurance challenges
Then, after college, “one of my friends said, ‘Let’s sign up for a marathon,’” she says. “I said, ‘No, way — I can’t run 26 miles — I can only run six!’”
After her friend convinced her that a training plan would help Giles bridge that gap, she signed up for the marathon. “After months of training I crossed the finish line of the New York City Marathon,” Giles says. “I was overcome by a sense of accomplishment that I had never felt before. I said to myself, ‘If I can do that, I wonder what else I can do?’ I was hooked.”
At the time, Giles probably didn’t realize it but her endurance athleticism would take another turn, thanks to another friend.
“When I was 29 another friend said, ‘Come do this triathlon with me,’ so of course I said, ‘Why not?’” she says. “After a handful of marathons I now thought I could do anything. I borrowed my sister’s bike and went for it. Once again I was hooked. Becoming a triathlete made me an even better, stronger, faster runner. It has strengthened not only by body but my mind as well.”
To date, Giles has completed two full triathlons, 20 half triathlons, 10 marathons, 40 half marathons and various other races.
And, of course, representing Team USA. But it wasn’t easy.
Representing Team USA
“Just like the wolf huffed and puffed and was unsuccessful a number of times, I tried and tried MANY times to make the Team USA cut and was unsuccessful,” she says. “I was so close but not close enough. I went back each time and trained harder and smarter and with more focus and a whole lot more heart. I wanted it really badly.”
In 2012 she made the team, qualifying in Burlington, Vt., for the 2013 World Championships. She repeated and represented Team USA in 2013 and 2014, competing “very well” in the Olympic distance race — a .93 mile (1.5 km) swim, 24.8 mile (40k) bike and 6.2 (10k) run.
“When I finally made the cut I was elated, there are really no adequate words to explain that feeling,” Giles says. “And then to accomplish that same goal three years in a row — still no words can describe.”
‘There is an athlete in everyone’
After completing a few marathons, friends of Giles asked her for help in training for races. “I shared what I had learned and what I knew — and they were successful,” she says. “So I thought, ‘How fun is this!’ I loved helping people experience the magic of running and of achieving their goals.”
As she learned more about proper coaching, she developed her own coaching philosophy — “There is an athlete in everyone.”
Giles explains: “We just have to find it, foster it and allow it to flourish!!! Each athlete’s plan needs to be unique to him or her. We all have different schedules, lives, stresses, families, running styles etc. . . . Our training plans need to reflect that so you can become the best runner YOU can be.”
It’s a philosophy that dovetails nicely with that of Marathon Training Academy’s.
“My philosophy as a coach and as an athlete meshes perfectly with Angie and Trevor’s philosophy,” Giles says. “I fell in love with their vision for MTA. Plus the MTA community is an amazing, cool, inspiring, fun group of people!!!”
And, like the Spencers, Giles fully believes that all athletes — weekend warriors, mid-pack runners or even a back-of-the-packers — will find their own personal success while working with a coach.
“It is such a gift to have someone prepare, plan and adjust your running plan on a day-by-day basis,” she says. “Elite runners have their goals — but they are no more important than mid-pack runners or back-of-the-pack runners! And with a well-planned science based plan those mid-pack and back-of-the-pack runners can move up significantly.”
As a coach with MTA, Giles is clear with her goals. “I want to spread the love of life-long running to as many people as possible,” she says. “I want to make sure that they are educated about how to keep themselves happy and uninjured runners for the rest of their lives.”
Goals and Bucketlist Races
As for her personal goals, Giles isn’t hanging up her sneakers, bicycles or swimsuits. Her goals:
- To stay running for as long as possible. I’m getting older and I don’t want age to stop me from an activity that makes me feel so good.
- I still have a faster marathon in me, I know that. I have to find out when and where that will be.
- I also have a faster 140.6 in me, stay tuned 😉
And, her bucket list is full: London Marathon, Chicago Marathon, SOS Triathlon and doing “any half or full with any one of my kids.”
Even with her success at triathlons, Giles wants to make one thing clear about her commitment to running.
“I may be a triathlete but I consider myself a runner at heart,” she says. “It’s my favorite thing to do and it’s my favorite part of triathlon. I always say to myself when I get to the run portion of a tri, ‘I’m so glad I’m home,’”
Name: Jenn Giles
Hometown: Southbury, Conn.
Number of years running: 25 this past August.
How many miles a week do you typically run: Weekly mileage completely depends on time of year and what I’m training for. Offseason can be 10 miles per week with lots of swimming and biking; in-season can be as high as 50-60 miles per week when training for distance.
Point of pride: Representing Team USA at World Championships for Olympic Distance Triathlon. There is something very self-satisfying (not to mention really cool!) about wearing a Team USA racing suit with your name on it.
Favorite race distance: It’s a tie between half marathon / half distance triathlon (70.3).
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: small cup of coffee, Greek Yogurt, banana and Ucan.
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: I never run with music. Ever.
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: “Push a little more than you think you can.”