Jess Stenson – Marathon Mum on the Comeback!

Australian distance running is currently in a boom period. Not only from a mass participation perspective, but at the pointy end of the field too. One of those leading the way over the last decade is Jess Stenson. She’s frequented podiums in some of the biggest events in the country, as well as the Commonwealth Games, however a recent injury ended her 2020 (21) Olympic dream. Here Jess talks about the rollercoaster journey that being a marathoner is, with some great advice every athlete can learn from.

You can also hear more from Jess via her ‘Sound Mind Sound Body Stories powered by ASICS‘ podcast, which is available from Tuesday 29 June on all major podcasting platforms.

What inspired you to start running?

I grew up in a country town in South Australia where being active was a way of life. My Primary School was bordered by a pine forest and nature park, which featured some beautiful but very challenging cross-country trails. Every year I lined up for the school cross country championships with my peers. Despite feeling sick with nerves, I loved the satisfaction that came from being able to push through the difficult moments to reach the finish line. Seeking that sense of accomplishment and seeing what I was capable of inspired me to start and to continue running.

What’s been the greatest highlight of your running career?

Achieving an Olympic qualifying standard for the 2012 London Olympics in my debut Marathon was a dream come true and a moment of euphoria that I will never forget. My Commonwealth Games bronze medals in 2014 and 2018 were also running highlights for different reasons. In 2014 I had overcome an injury setback and self-doubt, whereas in 2018 I faced the challenges of high internal expectations and warm race conditions on the Gold Coast. The end results meant a lot to me, both demonstrating the power of the mind and a strong support team.

What has been the lowest point?

Early in my career when I lacked self-belief and trust in the process. I attempted to make myself a better runner by pushing harder and under-fuelling when recovery should have been a priority. The result was poorer physical and mental wellbeing. Becoming a Mum has emphasised the importance of making rest, fuelling and other modes of recovery priorities around key training sessions.

How do you manage the highs and lows? Both come with their own challenges!

I am fortunate to have a very supportive family, husband, coach and network of friends. I communicate with them very openly during the lows and love celebrating with them during the highs! Setting short and long term goals, spending time with people who make me feel happy, making sure I get enough sleep, eating well, adopting a growth mindset and focusing on the ‘good’ in each day and are strategies that help me to manage all situations in life.

Recently you had a bone stress injury, what do you think were the key contributing factors?

– Increased commitments and stress outside of running which reduced my capacity to absorb training.

– Post-partum hormonal changes that may have impacted my stability, strength, movement patterns and bone mineral density.

What has your recovery program been like? What did you do to rebuild?

I took just four weeks completely off running. During this time I focused on maintaining cardiovascular fitness and strength through daily cross-training sessions on the elliptical machine and in the swimming pool. I also completed daily rehabilitation exercises at home to work on strength without aggravating my injury and to improve the quality of my movement. The next two weeks involved reintroduction of running on the anti-gravity treadmill before transitioning to the track/trails. From that point I was able to gradually progress my running volume, intensity and strength training in the gym.

What advice do you have for someone new to the sport?

Find a coach/training group whose values align with our own. Focus on and celebrate progress.  Be patient and enjoy the process of working towards your goals.

How do you manage being a mum and world class athlete?

By frequently reflecting on how fortunate am I to have the opportunity to be a Mum whilst also exploring my running potential. I have so much respect and love for my support network. Knowing they are there for me during the challenging moments as well as the highs, enables me to dream big and to be vulnerable.

What goals do you have on the horizon?

To run faster than I have before in distances from 5000m to the Marathon. Continue to be the best version of myself every day and a positive role model to my son and loved ones.