“The sense of accomplishment overtook the pain”

Avatar photo

It’s a little over forty-eight hours since Caitriona Jennings ran herself into the record books as she talks to me from Mallorca where she is currently enjoying a cycling holiday.

“I think it is actually helping my legs to be honest,” she laughs. “It’s quite nice.”

The Letterkenny woman pushed herself way beyond where any Irishwoman had ever gone before on Saturday in Berlin, knocking a mind-boggling thirty-five minutes off her Irish 100k record to win bronze at the IUA 100k World Championships.

Her time of 7.07.16 is also a new O40 World Record as well as being the fourth and seventh best European and World performances respectively ever recorded.

“It’s kind of taken a while to sink in, I was just so happy after the race,” she explains.

“I had to dig in so deep to get the result.

“I kind of had it in my head that if I could get to 80k and feel reasonably okay, then I could pick it up for the last 20km.

“Now, that didn’t happen, I got to 80k feeling tired and then I just felt increasingly worse, so I definitely didn’t pick it up.

As Jennings was running the final small lap on the course her husband Martin and Irish team manager John O’Regan were on hand to throw her the tricolour, which she draped herself in as she crossed the line.

A moment she will never forget.

“The exhaustion kind of went at that point because I’d done it and the joy and the sense of accomplishment overtook the pain.”

What makes the achievement even more extraordinary is that Jennings considered pulling out of the race less than a month beforehand.

“I just didn’t feel like I was in the frame of mind to run it,” she says. “I felt that I was undertrained.”

“They do say you’re better off being 10% undertrained than 10% overtrained and I think I was mentally very, very fresh, because I had zero expectations.”

Jennings’ build-up on paper was far from ideal, but she believes it may have worked to her advantage in hindsight.

The 42-year-old took up a new position on the commercial team at CDB Aviation, a company she has worked with for several years, earlier in the summer.

Her job has taken her to Hong Kong where she now lives and has found herself training in temperatures close to forty degrees with the humidity making running an arduous task.

“I’d always have to take a hydration vest with me anytime I was doing anything over an hour,” she reveals.

“That was basically all I could do without needing to fuel.

“I did a couple of two and a half hour runs and that was the maximum I could get out of myself because it was just so hard.

“I think it may have worked in my favour on Saturday that I was used to training in the heat and the humidity.”

The journey for Jennings to get to this point has seen her excel in many different sports. She started out swimming, before taking up triathlon at the age of twelve, going onto compete for Ireland in the sport at European level.

It was in secondary school that her PE teacher Carmel Kelly encouraged her into cross country running but it took until her days in the University of Limerick for running to become her main focus.

She ran in the marathon at the London 2012 Olympics less than a year after making her debut over the distance picking up a stress fracture in her left foot and ultimately finishing last in the race.

That injury led her to turn her attention to rowing, moving to the National Rowing Centre in Cork where she had what she declares as a “pipe dream” to make the Rio 2016 Olympics in a boat alongside her sister Sinead.

Caitriona Jennings return to running

Sinead would ultimately go onto make the Olympic final with Claire Lambe while a return to running beckoned for Caitriona.

“I decided I was going to become a fun runner.

“I went back into the training group that I used to be with in Dublin and I said to them that I was only running for fun.

“They all just laughed because they obviously knew it wasn’t within me to become a fun runner.”

It was shorty after her return that the opportunity to represent Ireland at the World 50k Championships in Doha arose.

Jennings grabbed the opportunity with both hands and ended up finishing fourth in the race. She has since developed a love for the longer distances running the ‘Wings for Life’ race in 2016 before coming third in the ‘Comrades’ race in South Africa in 2019.

She is now supported by shoe company Hoka, but still maintains her full-time job making the training and dedication required to excel in the sport as she has done a challenge but something she couldn’t imagine living without.

“At the end of the day I love running and I couldn’t have a day without it.

“I’ll always be a runner,” she adds.

Most of her training revolves around traditional marathon preparation, only tackling really long runs in the few weeks prior to an ultra.

“Marathon training is just much easier because you can find people to do a few speed sessions with and you only really have one long run a week.

“It’s not as gruelling as someone that’s doing the real, true ultra-running training all year round.

“I think that would just be too hard, mentally and physically.”

Despite having achieved greatness, Jennings is still hungry for more.

“The European 50k is on in a few weeks and I’m trying to decide at the moment if I should do it or not.

“If I can recover in time for it, I’ll definitely give it a shot.”

The prospect of running at another 100k World Championships and finishing higher up the podium is also on her mind, as well as lowering her Irish record.

“If I can get the right race, I’d like to get closer to seven hours.

“It would be amazing to break seven hours.

“The great thing about ultra-running is that it has just opened up a whole range of potential new goals for me,” she explains.

“I had probably reached the peak of what I could achieve in the marathon, so this is very exciting to have.

“There’s lots of new targets that I can strive for in the future.”

Caitriona Jennings’ career will certainly be worth following closely in the years to come as she continues on her quest to rewrite the record books.

Irish Runner logo

The Runner’s Connect