Runner Profile:  Jennifer Black



Our latest ‘Runner Profile’ is a lady who has come to our attention over the last couple of months after producing several notable performances, the most recent being a win at the Chain Reaction Cycles Belfast Hills race.

On speaking to East Belfast based athlete Jennifer Black, it was interesting to find out that she was returning to competition and structured training after giving birth to her second son – Prior to this she had enjoyed longer distance running and had completed several well-established events.  However, would she go in the same direction now, or would she choose a different running ‘path’?  Read on to find out more…

Full Name:  Jennifer Black

Current Category:  Female Vet35

Associated Club:  Orangegrove AC (also a training member of BARF)

Personal Bests:  5k – 19:11, 10k – 39:34, Half Marathon (13.1m) – 1:39:51, Marathon (26.2m) – 3.58:59

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event? Does Victoria parkrun count? If it does then it would be that definitely!  It’s timed, it’s free, it’s every week, it’s friendly, it’s run by a fabulous club and they serve amazing buns!  What could be better?  Seriously though it is very hard for me to say because I have raced at very few events (in road racing I have only did three 10k’s, one 5k, two half-marathons and two marathons).  Aside from that I have completed a dozen or so fell races, a few trail races, the Seven Seven’s once and the Mourne Mountain Marathon three times. Up until recently I have been a bit shy about racing (and very inconsistent about training) but hopefully that has all changed and I will be sampling many events in the future.

When did you start running? I started running about 8 years ago.  Up until then I was a bit of a gym bunny and as I was turning 30 year old I wanted to do something challenging. I noticed someone in my spin class was wearing a mountain running t-shirt (it turns out it was Barbara Brown of Mourne Runners) and decided I would give it a shot.  I turned up at Tollymore Mountain Centre to have a go at one of the Hill & Dale races and happily made it to the end without any embarrassment.  At that race I met Mark Pruzina who convinced me to join BARF and that was that.

Why do you run? Running keeps me sane! I run for lots of reasons – the feeling of being fit when so many ladies my age have given up on it, also it de-stresses me (I sometimes think I run better when I’ve had a particularly hard day), also the buzz and feeling of confidence you get after a hard training session or successful race, not to forget being able to eat filled sodas in work on a Friday (or any day of the week for that matter!) and not having to worry about calories.

Two week’s ago (Saturday 24th May 2014) you had a great run at the Belfast Hills race organised by North Belfast Harriers; how did you feel about that? I was very surprised but absolutely thrilled. I hadn’t planned doing the race until the day before and hadn’t done any hill work for many weeks (since BARF winter training ended), so I thought I might use it simply as a training run. Then when the race started I just went for it!  I was delighted at being 1st lady but also at being 11th overall.

Given your recent form, your training must be going well then?  What does a typical week’s training involve? My training is very simple – I aim to do a longer run (about 5-6 miles as fast as I can go!) on a Monday night but if that doesn’t work out I might do ‘extreme parkrun’ with Orangegrove AC which is a 5k run with circuits thrown in; then Wednesday night is my speed session with Orangegrove AC (this is the important one, not to be missed); Saturday morning is parkrun, which I love and always push myself at (I will run parkrun in the morning even with a race in the afternoon, obviously just taking it easy, to see what my legs are at!). During the winter I also train with BARF which is usually a hill reps session on a Thursday night. So all in all I run 3-4 days per week.

What is your favourite training ‘session’? This is hard to say but I definitely think the speed session is the big one for me. I am relatively new to structured training sessions as I only joined Orangegrove AC earlier this year but last week we did 400m repeats which I really enjoyed so I think it might become a favourite. I also enjoy good old hill reps because it’s something very few people outside the sport of running would ever do, so it gives you a great sense of achievement at the end.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  I haven’t planned my next race.  So far most races I have done have been ‘day before’ decisions but I think that will have to change if I want to get better!  I would definitely like to do another 10k over the next month or so, maybe a nice flat one.

I know that you used to compete, but took some time off to start a family, tell me a little about your previous achievements within the sport of running? Going back 7 or 8 years ago I was more into the hill running and am proud to have completed the gruelling Seven Seven’s albeit in a very slow time (I remember being on my hands and knees crawling up Lamagan at one point).  I think it was a big thing for me just to complete this without having done any proper training.  The hill running was an adventure for me and I have met some amazing people through it but I never trained hard enough to be good at it and I don’t think I will ever master running over rough terrain (I’m far too cautious). Likewise I am proud to have completed two road marathons but I am not proud of the times – again I always fell short with the training and I know that I haven’t done myself justice at that distance.

When I had my first son in 2009 I noticed an improvement in my running performance and I was proud to run a personal best at the Larne Half Marathon only eight months after having Lemmy and despite having a chest infection! However it’s only since having my second son, Ruan, last year that I have discovered that my speed is much better than my endurance, which is why I am now focused on shorter distances.  I hadn’t realised I was fast until people started telling me!

Are there any of these achievements that stand out for you, a favourite?  To be honest it’s my more recent achievements that are standing out for me.  I never thought I could ‘podium’ at a race (on my own that is – Joanne Curran and I got 3rd female team at the last Castlewellan Cracker) never mind actually win a race until March 2014 when I won the ladies race at the Addiction 10k (Seeley Cup course). That has to be a special one because it was only my scond 10k race and I managed a reasonably comfortable sub-40. I think the Belfast Hills race will also be a favourite (when my calves start to heal that is!)

Since your return to competition, you have been racing over a variety of terrain, do you have a preference? I am happy running on road or ‘good’ trails – as long as I can go fast and can clearly see the path ahead of me!  I loved the last section of the Belfast Hills race as it was downhill all the way on a good wide trail with a few twists and turns to make it interesting. I felt like I was flying downhill but at the same time I felt safe!

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals? I tend to have something simple like toast and marmalade a couple of hours before a race and maybe a banana too. Then some coffee about 30 minutes before and I sometimes sink one of my little boy’s innocent smoothies for a final sugar boost.  Post-race, it really depends what time of day it is and how well I have done!  If it’s the evening and I have ran well then it’s a celebratory Chinese (salted chilli chicken with rice and a few chips stolen from my hubby) and lashings of white wine!

What is your running ambition? I am still working out what it is I really want to do but in the short-term I want to go sub 19 minutes for 5k and then from that keep pushing to see how close I can get to Gladys Ganiel’s Victoria parkrun course record of 18:03. I would like to get my 10k time down too – perhaps try for sub 39 minutes this year.  Also, if possible I would like to compete in the next cross country season. I was going to give it a go last season but hadn’t realised the season finishes at the end of the winter so I only did one race but I was happy to get a top ten position (I had never done cross country before).  I’m not getting any younger so I really need to set goals and work hard towards them now if I want to make sure I have no running regrets in the future.

Outside running are there any other sports do you like? With having two young sons I don’t have much time to watch other sports never mind take part in them but I have always liked the idea of triathlon and would definitely like to do one in the future. Perhaps they will do one with me one day!