Gwen Jorgensen is an Olympic gold medalist and one of the fastest women in the world's triathlete circuit, but even the best athletes have their doubts about how a race day will end.
Gwen Jorgensen has a killer game face. At a Rio press conference just days before becoming the first American to win gold in the women's triathlon at the 2016 Summer Olympics, she was asked about her desire to run a marathon. Jorgensen said, "It's not something I ever thought about doing. I'd obviously have to train for it. Who knows?!"
What the 30-year-old Olympic champion didn't admit to at the time is that a marathon had long been on her mind. As a former collegiate track star and generally the fastest woman in the World Triathlon Series circuit, Jorgensen is a runner first, and a triathlete second. Just how far the Wisconsin native can run is a question she'll answer on November 6 when she lines up at the start of the TCS New York City Marathon. (Heading to NYC to watch, cheer at, or run the marathon? Here's the healthy travel guide you absolutely need.)
"The New York City Marathon is one of the most iconic and largest marathons in the world. It truly excites me to have the opportunity to compete against some of the best international marathoners as we race through the five boroughs," says the ASICS elite athlete. Jorgensen confessed that she had decided to run the marathon even before Rio, but was still keeping it to herself back when that question was asked in Brazil. "Running is my favorite out of the three triathlon disciplines," Jorgensen adds, "and so running a marathon seemed fun to me." (Let's see if she's singing that same tune at mile 18.)
Though the marathon has been on her secret race calendar for some time, Jorgensen didn't change her training leading up to Rio. Her longest run pre-Olympics was 12 miles. Her longest run leading into the NYC marathon: 16. The tax accountant-turned-triathlete doesn't need a calculator to figure out that's 10 new miles she'll have to discover on race day. It's not ideal, but she didn't have much of a choice considering she just closed out her triathlon season in mid-September at the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Cozumel. And in case you're wondering, she placed second, coming in less than two minutes after the winner. That means she had one month to prepare. (Don't try this at home, kids. This is superhuman stuff.)
"With only four weeks to get ready, I had to be smart about my training and not risk injury," says Jorgensen. The average marathon training time is about 20 weeks. Training for one-fifth the recommended time is not only dangerous but also impossible for most people. Gwen, however, is not your average athlete—though she does recognize that her abbreviated training will leave her at a disadvantage.
"I know that I will be underprepared going in with an unconventional training approach, but I know that almost all races and runners—both pro and amateur—will have had some sort of hiccup in their training too, so I think I can relate to a lot of runners," she says. The trick to making peace with not being able to bring her usual A-game: She hasn't set any goals other than to get to the finish line—a big difference for someone who last year held an unprecedented 13-race winning streak in triathlons.
"I don't have any expectations or time goals that I'm trying to achieve," she says. "I am going to go out and experience my first marathon without any expectations. This is something I have wanted to do for years. I want to take it in and celebrate this occasion."
While Jorgensen isn't ready to make any time predictions, others are happy to do so for her. The Wall Street Journal recently studied her triathlon times and estimated that she might be able to complete 26.2 miles in under 2 hours and 30 minutes, along with the other elite female runners. But that's only if she can keep up that incredibly fast pace of 5 minutes and 20 seconds that she showed off at the USA Track and Field 10-Mile Championships in Minneapolis-St. Paul about a month ago. She came in third, beating elite marathoner Sara Hall, who came in fourth.
There's no doubt this will be a difficult race for Jorgensen, but you might sooner see her walking on the course than dropping out and getting a DNF. "I have respect not only for the distance but also the NYC course," she says. Since hitting a time goal isn't a concern, we suggest she stop to take selfies, sign autographs, and enjoy this victory lap as she wraps up her epic Olympic gold-medal winning year.