DURBAN - "I didn’t put any pressure on myself for the race; it was my first Ultra Marathon and you’re allowed to have a bad one on your debut,” laughed the second-placed lady at the Two Oceans Marathon, ran last week in Cape Town.
Jenna Challenor, who resides in Durban North with her husband Brett, a former South African lifesaver, and three daughters, surprised many, including herself, when she took the silver medal in the race among a top quality women’s field.
Challenor, much more familiar with races in the 10km to 20km range, had started stretching her legs towards marathon distances before breaking into the ultra distance with her debut in the Cape.
She explains how there was little expectation or pressure on her when she decided to take the plunge into running the 56km course just three weeks before the race began.
That absence of expectation allowed the KPMG runner to stick to a plan and surprise no one more than herself.
“A lot of runners will be modest and say they didn’t have an expectation of placing heading into a race," she said.
"But I really didn’t know where I stood. It was new territory for me so I stuck to the plan outlined by my coach Ernie Gruhn.”
“I was wishing for a top 10, a gold, but when I saw the field I knew that would be an amazing accomplishment.
"But really, this was more of a test to see how my body would hold up. I tried to really play down my chances, but guys like Hank McGregor (multiple world canoe marathon champion) were really motivating me to go for it!” she grinned.
Having made her name in 10km and 21km races, Challenor has only completed three marathon distances, so for her to go beyond the 42km mark, and be so successful, is a true testament to her ability as an athlete.
“I am still getting into longer distances, but I always feel that I run out of road in things like the 10km,"she said.
“I am still working on my marathon distance, and would like to get that time a little quicker because running ultras is a totally different thing.
“The hardest thing for me is getting my discipline right,” she admitted.
“In the shorter distances it is head down and go! I saw the others ahead of me at the Two Oceans pulling away and had to rein myself in, trusting the plan that my team had made for me.”
Challenor is a shining example to many ‘ordinary’ women out there.
She remarks how so many people feel that once they have children their dreams and aspirations are over, but with the help of her family, and team, she has been able to excel.
“I have three children, and it is a juggling act, but it does not spell the end of sporting achievements. The life of an athlete is not just the smiles at the end of the race, it is not just work, train, sleep - there is a lot more too it.”
Challenor also dedicated her race to her husband, Brett, who she calls her rock in regards to his super support of her racing career, but others, such as Wayne Holroyd and Dr Kevin Subban at EADP Prime, her sponsors, KPMG, Adidas, and 32Gi, are all part of the team that makes this one athlete tick.
The question for every long distance runner, especially in KZN is, ‘What about Comrades?’
Challenor admits that she has always wanted to run the Ultimate Human Race, and it is in her near future, but she can’t put a year on it yet.
“People only consider you a real runner once you have run Comrades. It doesn’t matter if you have represented South Africa (which she has), they switch off when you say you have not done Comrades!”
Challenor has opened up a new path in her running trajectory, knowing now that she can handle the rigours of ultra distance, but she admits she will be easing her way in - regardless of how hard Bruce Fordyce nags her.