The summer of 2013, Malena Jackson, a 39-year-old mother of three, came to a mother runner party in Denver with her pal Melanie. It was the first party we decided that we wanted attendees to write goals on their nametags...a little ice-breaker of sorts and a way to take advantage of the positive energy the events create.
Without much thought, Malena wrote down a pretty ambitious goal: 40 races before she turned 40 in December of 2014. Sarah and I, of course, loved the symmetrical, ambitious goal, and both mentioned it when we signed her copy of Train Like a Mother.
"Well, now it was in print by the famous Mother Runners," Malena remembers, "Now I really had to do it! I decided to count my previous four completed races as part of my 40. And I made my own rules: 1. Must be 5k or longer. 2. Can repeat a race. 3. Time doesn’t matter; finishing with a smile does!”
Before we give away the ending, here's the story of Malena and her running, told in her words:
THE REAL START OF IT ALL—AND THE FIRST FOUR RACES
In the summer of 2010 when my third child turned 1, I decided I was likely finished trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, or nursing. It was quite the realization, as I had been involved in one of those three activities for about 13 years! I decided to try to take my body back. A runner friend of mine, Miriam, told me the Galloway run-walk program. It seemed pretty conservative and most importantly doable, so I tried it — maybe just 20 seconds of running and then two minutes of walking.
Before I knew it, after a few weeks I had made it two whole miles with a run-walk. Some time after that I looked at my husband and said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to run a marathon before I turn 40.”
My husband’s response, “What?! We’ve been together since high school and you’ve never mentioned this before! Well, okay. I’ll do it, too.”
By the fall of 2010 my husband was also running. I had lost about 30 pounds; he had lost about 50. In October 2010 we both signed up for and completed our first 5k at the Race for Fetal Hope (now called the Great Candy Run), then the March 2011 Running of the Green 7k, followed by the Colfax Half Marathon in May 2011. We ran the Walt Disney World Marathon in January 2012 and completed it together in 5:48.
Just like each runner has a story, so does each race. But two of them stand out in my mind slightly more than the others.
In February 2014 I ran the Walt Disney World Princess Half with my friend Jennifer. It was one of the very few times I traveled and left my family behind. Because I didn't have to worry about childcare and could be on my own schedule, I was in the perfect state of mind for that race. I didn’t PR—I stopped for some photo opps—but I felt AWESOME for the whole race. It was an amazingly empowering experience—with lots of glitter.
The other race that really stands out in my mind was the 2014 Denver Rock n Roll. This was a last-minute add to my 40x40 because my BRF Beth decided to do it; it would be her second half and my ninth half (as well as my 36th race). I had another half scheduled for just three weeks later so I knew I shouldn’t try to PR, as I didn’t want to take a chance and get injured. Instead, Beth and I agreed that I’d attempt to get her to PR since my pace was a bit faster than hers. She PR’d! Seeing Beth’s smile at the finish made this one of my most gratifying races ever.
LEAST FAVORITE RACES
I raced in 18 degrees on Super Bowl Sunday thinking it was a good omen for Peyton Manning (#18 for the Broncos) to bring home the win for the Broncos, but apparently that didn’t work. I slogged through freezing rain/snow/wind during the 10-mile Cherry Creek Sneak; and I froze my tushy off in pelting snow during the 10k Race for Open Space in Denver.
But my truly least favorite was the 2013 Denver Rock 'N' Roll Half. It was an extremely crowded course that never thinned out; there wasn’t a whole lot of entertainment, one of the water stops was empty; and there were no bags to hold all our recovery food/drinks at the end. By that point it was my 13th race and my fourth half. I was extremely disappointed. With just yards to go I didn’t have a clear shot at the finish line and ended up yelling, “MAKE A HOLE!” Very unlike me to yell out something mean during a race. I’m usually full of encouragement for those around me, as it helps to spur me on. (As a postscript, the 2014 Denver Rock 'N' Roll was MUCH better.)
We all draw inspiration from one another. Listening to other runners was a great motivation—as was thinking about the awesome bling from the longer races. Along the way friends and family were telling me, “I started running again because of you,” or “I didn’t think I could run, but I saw you were doing it so I wanted to try.” Or my husband who would say, “You know without you, I never would have lost those 50 pounds or started running.” Those are powerful ideas to think about and added fuel to my training.
For my longer races I began to wear a sign on my back that read, “Running 40 races before my 40th birthday! This is race #XX!” That was a fantastic motivation, as other runners would comment on it during the race. A few even said that they were going to set the same goal because they liked the idea so much. And a couple of times I had runners say, “Hey, I saw you at this other race! Good for you!” I had kind of become my own celebrity.
Admittedly, there were times I thought it would be nice to just sleep in, but with each race I was one step closer to my goal. There would be time for sleep later.
SHE DID IT—AND HAS THE BLING TO PROVE IT
A RUNDOWN OF THE DISTANCES
(2) full marathons (Walt Disney World, 2012 and 2014)
(10) half marathons (thought it would be fun to say that 25% of my races were 13.1 miles)
(1) 8-mile trail run
(1) 10k+5k double race
TOTAL MILES: 311.45 + countless training runs
ADVICE (IN CASE YOU'RE INTERESTED)
I once heard a saying about parenting: The days are long, but the years are short. I think that sentiment can apply to so much in our lives. If you never try to reach your goal, how will you ever know if you can succeed? You might be surprised what you really can do. The most important thing: Have fun. It’s not worth the time commitment if you’re not enjoying it.
NEXT GOAL (MAYBE)
I’ve thought about a total of 50 halfs before I turn 50, which leaves me with an average of four halfs per year. I’ve also thought about trying to run a half in all 50 states with no specific timeline in mind. I still have never done a relay or something like Ragnar, so maybe I’ll aim for one of those at some point. Truly, at the moment I’m still basking in having completed my original 40 by 40 goal.
Congrats, Malena! Love your attitude and story–and hope it has you, dear mother runners, thinking about what you want to focus on this coming year. Tomorrow and Thursday we'll have a little exercise—no sweat required—where you can take advantage of the strong energy this community creates...and maybe win a prize too. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, curious: have you ever set a goal like Malena's?