Gwen Jorgensen’s routes to NYC Marathon, Tokyo 2020 both look unconventional

Gwen Jorgensen
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Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen‘s preparation for her first marathon has been, well, unusual.

Seven days before she races the New York City Marathon, Jorgensen completed her longest competition of the year, more than twice the 26.2-mile marathon distance.

She won the Island House Triathlon, a three-day, stage race totaling 64 miles of swimming, biking and running in the Bahamas last Sunday.

Her combined time for the three days was 3:55:01, likely more than an hour longer than she’ll spend on the roads in New York this Sunday.

“An unconventional route may not seem like the best, but everyone’s individualistic,” Jorgensen said Tuesday, kicking her feet up at home in Minnesota.

Jorgensen’s longest run of her life before winning gold in Rio was 12 miles. Her longest run since, 16 miles.

She doesn’t even know what pace she’ll start at those first few miles crossing Staten Island into Brooklyn on Sunday morning.

“I’m not setting any goals or expectations,” Jorgensen said. “I have no idea what’s going to happen.”

Jorgensen, 30, was a swimmer until joining the University of Wisconsin cross-country team as a junior in 2007.

She graduated, became an accountant and then was recruited to triathlon in 2009.

She ran her first true triathlon in 2010 and developed into quite arguably the world’s best runner in the sport’s history, erasing deficits of greater than one minute on 10km runs in Olympic-distance races.

Jorgensen decided before the Olympics that she would race the New York City Marathon, an idea coined two years ago under driving rain in Central Park.

She won the Dash to the Finish Line 5K the morning before the 2014 New York City Marathon and was urged by officials to come back for the big show another year.

She wouldn’t dare race a marathon while preparing for the Olympic triathlon, so she waited.

“I’ve been wanting to do a marathon for quite a few years,” she said.

After Rio, Jorgensen continued to train as a triathlete.

She finished second at the World Triathlon Series Grand Final in Cozumel, Mexico, on Sept. 17 and chose to race the Island House Triathlon the final weekend of October, surely a head-scratcher for marathon followers.

“We decided there’s no way in four or five weeks that we could just change everything we do and strictly become a marathon runner,” Jorgensen said, citing injury risk.

Her coach, New Zealander Jamie Turner, sprinkled in one marathon-specific workout per week. Jorgensen’s marathon race pace in those workouts fluctuated. She listed two numbers — 3:31 per kilometer and 3:40 per kilometer.

If Jorgensen kept that pace for an entire marathon, she would finish in the 2-hour, 30-minute range. A 2:30 would have placed in the women’s top 10 each of the last two years and second in the U.S. standings both times.

On Oct. 9, Jorgensen finished third in the U.S. 10-mile Championships on the same streets she trains on in Minnesota. She beat American marathoner Sara Hall by 20 seconds. Hall finished 12th in the London Marathon in a personal-best 2:30:06 on April 24.

Jorgensen would not engage in time predictions. Her husband, Patrick Lemieux, has told her the marathon results of other top triathletes, but she couldn’t remember them while speaking Tuesday.

She asked a reporter to tell her the times of 2012 Olympic triathlon champion Nicola Spirig (2:42:53, after more extensive distance training than Jorgensen) and 2008 Olympic silver medalist Vanessa Fernandes (2:31:25, four years after her elite triathlon career ended).

Jorgensen is prepared to take one full year off of triathlon in the 2020 Olympic cycle should she and Lemieux start a family, but she also has designs on defending her title in Tokyo.

She named Spirig and marathoner Kara Goucher as inspirations, two women who gave birth and came back to qualify for Olympics. Spirig took silver behind Jorgensen in a memorable Rio duel.

“Four years ago, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to be able to have a child and get back into sport and be successful,” Jorgensen said.

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