When Jen Rhines built up her mileage training for the 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials, she kept running the same route over and over again: through Fairmount Park around the Schuylkill River.
When she lines up to run the Philadelphia Rock 'n' Roll half marathon on Oct. 31, she'll consider it a kind of homecoming.
"This is exciting for me and I can't wait to get out there," she said.
Rhines, 41, is bringing major running star power to what has been Philadelphia's largest half marathon. The race is typically held in September, but moved to Halloween because of the Pope's visit.
In the mid-1990s, Rhines ran for Villanova University and while there, she was a five-time NCAA individual champion. She has had a stellar professional career and ran for the U.S. Olympic team in 2000 (10,000 meter), 2004 (marathon) and 2008 (5,000 meter).
"We lived in Philly from 1992 to 2005, so I feel like it's very familiar for me," she said of she and her husband, and running in the city.
Rhines trained for a half marathon this fall because she feels that her personal best in that race (one hour, 11 minutes, 14 seconds) is not on par with her personal bests at other distances. "I didn't maximize that in the prime of my career," she said. "It gives me something to shot for and get excited about where I am now."
Rhines is a master's runner (a runner over 40) at a time when professionals are going longer into their careers while still running quality races. On Oct. 11, Deena Kastor, 42, set the U.S master's women's marathon record and finished as the first American woman in that race. In 2014, Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon two weeks before his thirty ninth birthday, and he's running the New York City marathon on Nov. 1.
Rhines has trained with them both over the course of her career. "We've been able to sustain a fairly high level into our early 40s," she says. She credits athletes continuing to work to stay in the sport longer, and training with younger athletes, as reasons why. Rhines now lives in Boston and runs for the BAA Athletic Club, where she often trains with women in their early 20s. She says they keep her going in her own running but also offer mentoring opportunities. "That unique combination elevates our performances," she said.
While she would like a new half marathon personal record, her real goal on Oct. 31 is to finish in the top three.
She says she could run the 10,000 meter race in the 2016 Olympic trials, but most likely won't, not only because her recent times don't compare to women running that distance now, and also because she says she "already made my Olympic field."
That doesn't mean she's done yet, and she looks forward to the energy she'll feel running the half marathon here on Oct. 31. "When you're stepping on the line with thousands of other people, it's exciting for everyone," she said.
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