Jen Rhines, Olympic Marathon Runner

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by Faye Rapoport

In only the third marathon of Jen Rhines’ career, she took the bronze at the 2004 U.S. Olympic trials and found herself qualifying for the team and on the road to Athens. She had beaten her own personal record by 11 minutes, 19 seconds, bettering the Olympic “A” qualifying standard of 2:37.

The marathon was new to Rhines, but competitive running definitely wasn’t. The daughter of two recreational runners started out as an eighth grade sprinter in Liverpool, New York. She moved up in distance, winning two state 1500m titles in prep school and becoming a college star at Villanova, earning NCAA titles in cross country, indoor and outdoor track. She also earned her degree in civil engineering.

Rhines came into her own on the elite track scene when she placed 2nd in the 10km at the 2000 Olympic Trials, using an impressive kick to make the Olympic Team. She repeated that runner-up finish at the 2001 GMC Envoy USA Outdoor Championships, then won her first USA title in the 10 km in 2002. Rhines added a team silver to her credits at the World Cross Country 8 km championships that year. Her 34th place in Athens is just the beginning of what promises to be an exciting marathon career, with the focus now on Beijing in 2008.

On a personal note, Rhines is married to distance runner Terrance Mahon. She recently spoke to about the physical demands of marathon running, especially on the feet. How do you feel about your Olympic experience in Athens?

Rhines: It was a great experience. I didn’t place quite as high as I was hoping in the marathon, but it was still a great experience to run along that historic course and to represent the United States at the Olympics. Why did you start training for the marathon distance after you had spent much of your running career competing at shorter distances?

Rhines: It just finally felt like I had gotten strong enough physically to do well in the marathon after training year after year and building endurance. I always had a shuffle-like stride, so people were always telling me that I would be a good marathoner. It took me time to be able to learn the event and do it well. I’m still going to run on the track, but my main goal now is to run faster in the marathon. Are you going to train to qualify for the next Olympic team?

Rhines: I am definitely training toward the next Olympics. Definitely, yes. Most people can’t even imagine running more than 26 miles, and how much stress that must put on the body. How does running that kind of distance affect your feet?

Rhines: You definitely tend to get blisters during the marathon. I was very lucky in competition, very fortunate in Athens. My feet weren’t sore and I only got one blister. I wear Adidas Adistar Competition running shoes. If you are going to be out there pounding for a long time, it’s really just about finding a shoe that works for you. Do you do anything else to prevent blisters, like wear orthotics?

Rhines: I don’t wear any orthotics, but I sometimes put Vaseline on the bottom of my feet to prevent blisters. What about socks? Do you wear any particular kind?

Rhines: I wear Adidas socks, ankle socks. They have CoolMax in them. I wouldn’t wear a thick cotton sock, I’d tend to wear something much thinner and designed to wick away moisture during the race. Have you experienced any other foot injuries during your running career?

Rhines: I don’t think I’ve experienced any other injuries. For me, it’s more about finding the right shoe and being comfortable with it so that your feet don’t get sore during the marathon. That’s important, especially if you’re going to be out there for a long time. Is there a difference in your gait or foot strike when you run a long distance, versus the shorter distances?

Rhines: You probably do run more heel to toe during the marathon, but it depends on the individual and their own foot strike. In the marathon you wear racing flats, on the track you’d wear racing spikes. You can get some bad blisters wearing racing spikes to, and when you switch paces on the track you can get blister problems. It is really just getting used to what you’re going to be wearing during the race. Do you do any specific training exercises to strengthen the feet or lower legs?

Rhines: Heel raises, calf raises, and a few running drills specifically for the lower body. One of them is called “quick feet” and involves moving your feet on and off the ground very quickly in a running type motion. Especially in the marathon, it is really important for your feet and lower leg muscles to be strong. Going 26 miles, everything is going to fatigue, so even those smaller muscles are important. Do you have any advice for runners who are interested in trying to do a marathon?

Rhines: Just in general, do the proper training for it and make sure, in terms of your feet, that your shoes are broken in and that you’ve done some longer runs in the shoes that you’re going to race in, and at least one tempo run. You want to have done a few workouts in your racing shoes so they’re broken in and you’re not going to have too many problems. At the same time, you don’t want too many miles on them. Also, if you’re able to get a massage, make sure that your feet are worked on as well. I always get my feet worked on when I get a sports massage. Thanks, Jen, and good luck with your goal to make it to the next Olympics!

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