74. JESSICA STENSON – Commonwealth Gold a History Making Event

EP 74. JESSICA STENSON (née Trengove)

74. JESSICA STENSON – Commonwealth Gold a History Making Event

Today on the show I chat with 2 x olympian, 3 x commonwealth games marathoner and Gold Medalist Jessica Stenson nee Trengove and to say I was excited about this conversation is an understatement.

Jess is Adelaide Running Royalty but you would never know it the way she carries herself. If she’s not running on the world stage you’ll find her at the local running events around Adelaide and the country either competing or supporting those that are racing. She ran an impressive 2:27:31 on an undulating course finishing 29 seconds in front of Kenya’sMargaret Wangari Muriuki.

Jess’s comeback after giving birth to beautiful little Billy back in 2019 hasn’t been a smooth one but 24 months postpartum she has run a marathon PB at the Perth Marathon with a time of 2:25:15. Running stronger than ever, her Gold at The Birmingham Commonwealth Games has put her in the history books becoming the first female athlete to win three Commonwealth Marathon medals and is Australia’s first female Commonwealth Games Marathon champion since the late Kerryn McCann.

In this episode, we chat about her lead-up and prep to the race, her mindset throughout, how she managed the conditions and the importance of her teammates and her husband Dylan and their support throughout the marathon.

An incredible athlete and an even better human being.

This episode is not to be missed.

Attitude Training For A Marathon

Jackie 03:00
Jess, thank you so much for chatting with me today. Welcome to the Body’s Built Better podcast.

Jess 03:05
Thank you. Now I’m excited to chat today.

Jackie 03:09
Looking forward to it. It is so awesome to be chatting with you. You’re like royalty here in Adelaide. Especially since you’re incredible run at the Commonwealth Games. Congratulations on gold.

Jess 03:23
Thank you. Yeah, it really was an incredible experience just the whole month away. We were training in St. Moritz for three weeks prior to the game. So we sort of arrived in Birmingham, feeling as though we’d really filled our cups there. And then, um…

Jackie 3:37

Jess 03:38
You know, that experience in Birmingham was just something really special to top it off.

Jackie 03:43
Well, I mean, as someone who watched it, firstly, you looked incredible, like so strong throughout. And I mean, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind, like gold. Seriously, but, you know, you said you’re in St. Moritz for three weeks. And the thing that I that is really interesting to me is the behind the scenes and everything that takes, you know, leading up to it, and then obviously during race day, so I’d actually really love to start there at St. Moritz.

Jess 4:18

Jackie 4:19
What–what is the strategy behind going there for the three weeks and how do you prep leading into the games?

Jess 4:23
Yeah, well, look, I guess, um, attitude training is something that I’ve tried and tested before. So prior to having Billy at the end of 2019, I actually had been on a few atitude camps at Flagstaff in Arizona over in the states and then St. Moritz in 2017 prior to the World Champs marathon in London, so for that particular event I did 21 days and came down, like, off the mountain about four days prior to the race. And I felt that that worked really well. Something we’ve asked to training to consider is that you can sort of hit a bit of a rough patch where you’re adjusting obviously, the idea behind it is that you, um, have less oxygen in the air. And that, um, prompts your body to develop more red blood cells to help with your oxygen-carrying capacity. But while your body goes through that adjustment phase, it can actually be a bit detrimental to performance for a while. So you either tend to race straight after coming off the mountain for about three weeks afterwards, to just avoid that, you know, awkward patch where your body’s adjusting. So I chose to race straight off the mountain. So I followed the same protocol this year as I had followed in 2017. And it was–it’s a big decision, particularly when you’ve got a family, a young family to travel to a place like that. That is, um, obviously I think, one of the most beautiful locations in the world. And I know how motivated I feel when I get there. But it’s an expensive place as well. So, you know, Dylan, and I had some chats and thought, Look, if we really want to, you know, give myself the best chance of performing well, um, we want to do it and we want to do it as a family because I would have found it hard going up there for three weeks on my own. So it was just really cool that Dylan and Billy could be there. You know, Eloise, and Sinead, my marathon teammates, they were there with their families too. And it just–there was a good vibe there. And we got some good training in and, uh, I guess the hard part is holding back when you’re starting your taper and you’ve got so many beautiful trails that you want to go and you have to be disciplined and stick to the programme. But that’s a good problem to have, you know, wanting to run more. So…

Jackie 06:41
Yeah, that’s it. So when you arrived in Birmingham, how what was that? Was it a day before race day or…

Jess 06:48
so I sort of following the same protocol as 2017 arrived on the Tuesday for a Saturday race. Okay, so yeah, around four days beforehand, which gave me enough time to just you know, settle into the village. And then there was quite a bit of travel involved. We caught a three-and-a-half-hour train from St. Moritz to Zurich, and then a flight to, uh, London, and then drove two and a half hours to, you know, Loughborough/Birmingham. The boys were staying in Loughborough. So that was a big day of travel. So you wouldn’t want to do that the day before the race.

Birmingham Marathon Race to be Uphill Battle

Jackie 07:26
Yes. Absolutely. When you arrived in in Birmingham, like as athletes, how far in advance? Do you get to know what the course is like? And then once you know what the course is, like, you know, hills undulation. Does that change your strategy going into it?

Jess 7:46
It does. So we were aware that the Birmingham course would be quite undulating, it was difficult to tell from the elevation map just how undulating it would be, because, you know, depending on the metrics, that the map users, you know, they could look more severe or less severe. And it was, it was a bit tricky for us to determine just how severe those hills were going to be. So we sort of took the map into account, tried to run some Helia long runs in St. Moritz. And then it wasn’t until we arrived in Birmingham that we could drive a part of the course. And we got to really see what those hills looked like. So that was about 300 metres of total elevation. And we started with an 18-kilometre loop, which we did twice. And that just had, yeah, pretty gentle uphill, and then more severe downhill sections. But it was the final five, six keys of the race, which we didn’t get to, um, see beforehand. They–they weren’t allowing cars onto that part of the course. So that was a bit of a surprise. We knew that it would be somewhat hilly. And then when we were sitting in the courtroom on race day, watching the wheelchair athletes navigating those hills, we just, we suddenly realised how, you know, sharp some of them were so I was prepared for it, but I just hadn’t seen it before in the flesh.

Training For A Marathon Requires Significant Support

Jackie 09:08
Oh, wow. And I’d love to know, I mean, during all this prep, I mean, you did mention, Dylan, you know, the three weeks in St. Moritz, wha– what’s his role in all of this during your time, arriving into Birmingham?

Jess 9:25
Yeah, Dylan played a vital role he he always does. He’s one of my greatest supporters. And he has a lot of belief and has a way of, you know, making me just feel composed going into a race and so because he’s a runner himself, he understands what it takes to be at your best and that’s not just getting the training done. But getting adequate sleep nutrition. You know, our toddler was quite keen to be carried in St. Moritz and Dylan was you know, doing the heavy lifting so that I didn’t stare up my back. And, um, yeah, he, he was just fantastic. And when I lined up to race, I just I was doing it for, you know, my loved ones as well, including Dylan and Bailey. And I think when you’re out there running for a bigger purpose, it definitely gives you an edge.

Jackie 10:15
Yeah. Absolutely. And I read in your blog that you guys had had a chat. And, um, you know, he’d warned you that to see you at the hardest part of the marathon. Sacrificing, you finish? How did that conversation come about?

Jess 10:34
I mean, he asked me a few days beforehand, where I’d like him to stand. And I said, Well, typically I find that, you know, 25 to 35k, somewhere in there, I generally go through a pretty tough patch, it was hard to know what this course where exactly that tough patch would be. But he worked out that if he stayed around this particular park, you could see me at 4-and 5Ks, 20-and 21Ks, and then that 33-34k mark. So that’s where he chose to be. But it was quite a whole seven K’s away from the finish line. So he wasn’t sure how we get there. But he said, we’ll find a way to get there eventually. And as it turned out, the channel seven crew happened to be there with him. And so they had a van and they drove Dylan and Billy to–as close as they could to the finish line. And then they ran like crazy through the crowds to get there. I think within a minute of me finishing so Dylan said Bailey was just in hysterics, as they were running through the cameraman was lugging this big camera around.

Jackie 11:39
Yeah. That’s so awesome. Because–because we were watching it. I was like, “Is he gonna make it?” Well, and then with, you know, as you coming through the finish line, and yeah, that was awesome to see as well. I remember I was as much focused on you as they were odd to hear man.

Jess 11:58
Yeah, and look, it was, I’m so glad they were there at that 33-34k mark because I specifically remember seeing them and getting a bit of a lift. And yeah, you know, that fueled me for the next little part of the race. So I appreciated that, you know, they might miss the finish, which, which they wouldn’t have wanted to do, either. Just to help me get through that section of the race.

The Importance Of Mindset In Achieving Success

Jackie 12:20
Yeah. What was your mindset at the start line?

Jess 12:25
Um, I was really trying not to think too much about the outcome going into this games, you know, I had people saying, well, you know, you’ve got two bronze medals, obviously, you want to make it a different colour. And I just felt that that mindset would create pressure that would be unhelpful. So instead, I was thinking about, let’s just execute the race plan that my coach has given me focus on, you know, one 5k sort of section at a time and, and really not think about the result. And, you know, consequently, I sort of got to the final five kilometres of the race, and I was really focusing on just, you know, getting up one hill at a time, because it was all a bit of a surprise, we turn one corner and I think what’s coming up here and not yet, there’s a bit of a camber on the road, let’s run here. So I was thinking about my footing and my posture. And it wasn’t until I really got onto that final–I don’t know might have been 100 metres straight, where I could see the finish line that I realised that would now well that the gold medal was really within my reach. I remember thinking with probably 20 minutes to go okay, I’m in a good chance for a medal here. Let’s just make sure I secure a medal spot. I really didn’t know where the other athletes were, I don’t like to look back in races, I just don’t know how that could be beneficial. When either you look back, there’s someone in detail and you panic or you look back and you’ve got you know, plenty of room and you might get a bit comfortable. So I just thought look ahead, just get squeezed everything out of myself. So it was just quite a shocking and emotional, I guess, journey down that home straight realising that I was about to win gold.

Jackie 14:07
Yeah. And it was such a beautiful moment as well. I’ve never seen this–an athlete do this before running down this straight, engaging with the crowd, but also thanking everyone. It was beautiful.

Jess 14:24
I think that’s partly due to the nature of races over the past couple of years, there haven’t been many people around, you know, COVID…

Jackie 14:33

Jess 14:33
…really restricted crowd capacity. And I wasn’t sure coming into this Commonwealth Games, whether it was going to be well supported, whether there would be crowds we just had no idea so to arrive and to see that the locals had shown up and they were just–the noise and the energy was insane. I just was so so happy.

Jackie 14:56

Jess 14:57
So they definitely deserve those thank yous because it makes such a difference to the athletes running to have that noise and support out there.

The Importance Of Hydration And Nutrition While Training For A Marathon

Jackie 15:04
Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned, um, you know, like the cambered sections as well, when you’re in a race, what are the things that you’re taking into account that us as spectators have no idea that–that do help you, I guess, conserve energy.

Jess 15:24
Hmm. So I was trying to stay on the flattest sections of the road. And sometimes it’s not always the most direct route. But I think if you’re running for too long on a camber, it can, you know, put too much stress on one side of your body, that will backfire later on. You know, on a hot day, you’d be looking for shaded sections of the course you’re thinking about tucking in to protect yourself from the wind. Nutrition plays a really big role, making sure you’re in a good position to be able to grab your bottle that generally has an energy gel strapped to it to be able to, you know, see out yeah–your nutrition plan which I come up with with a sports dietitian. And it’s something that I’ve tried and tested. And so generally it’s it’s similar for marathon to marathon. But if it’s a hotter day, you might be trying to take on more fluid or, you know, there are a lot of little factors that you’ve got to plan for depending on the course and the conditions. And yeah, other than that, I think it’s just about knowing what the purpose of the races, so I’ll sometimes line up for a marathon with the idea of needing to run a particular time to try and qualify for a major championship. And in that type of race, I just want to try and hit the same splits every kilometre. So Perth marathon last year, that was my intention. Whereas in this race, I was there just to race the race, I didn’t look at my watch at all, I had no idea what splits we were hitting, it was just about getting a feel for the race settling in. And as I said, executing that plan that my coach had given me.

Marathon Strategy: How to Pace Yourself

Jackie 17:05
Was that plan?

Jess 17:07
So because the course we had those two 18 kilometre loops to begin with, from about 36 kilometres on woods, I mean, that’s the final 5k section was quite hilly, but there was this little sort of 3k strip, before we hit that final hilly section where it was flat. And that’s where my coach sort of said, I’d like you to make moves there, if you’re going to make them he said, from 28 to 30Ks on woods, you can start to wind up the pace, get going along that strip, and then in the final hilly section, so from, let’s say, 36-37k onwards, I want you just to really hold on and stay strong, it’s going to be hilly, it’s going to be hard, you don’t want to be having to chase someone down or, you know, make a big move there. So that’s what I did it, I think it was around 30k, I just started to get in the zone of let’s start to roll the pace along here. And I think by 34k, I was starting to push a bit harder. And then by the time I hit that 36-37k mark, I wasn’t–like the hills where we’re doing the work. I was just holding on, as Adam had said, so I guess the–the mantra he would come up with was, be patient and smart in the first third, middle third, be brave, you can start to make some moves and then be strong in the–in the final section. So they’re the words that I had on my hand.

Even Pace Leads To Victory

Jackie 18:44
Brilliant. And you, um–did read your blog, and you’d said at the 7k mark, the pace had slowed significantly. When something dramatic like that happens, what goes through your mind? Are you are you just going with the flow? Do you stick to a strategy like how does that affect you?

Jess 19:07
So within a strategy, you do need to have flexibility to read the play of it. And I like to run a more even race I think generally the–the Ozzy girls, and we were out there working together as much as we could. That was–that was what we all were hoping for. So when it suddenly stalled, there was a bit of chatter amongst us and I think we decided just to try and continue at that even pace and the rest of the pack would either follow or they wouldn’t. So you know, if the girls at the front did stall it we’d go around and try to keep things moving so that you’re not just doing a fart lucky.

Jackie 19:44
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I’m basically dictated to someone else’s strategy as well.

Where to find Jess

Website: www.jessicatrengove.com.au

Instagram: @jess_tren

Rundies: www.rundies.com.au

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