Q&A: For the love of exercise with Jenny Jakeman

Jenny Jakeman is a keen trail runner, cyclist, hiker and healthy liver. We’ve loved following Jenny’s journey so far, so we are delighted she has joined us to chat about her love for exercise and fitness, and her best running and cycling experiences. Read on to find out about her top tips for beginners, her motivations, and her views on a ‘healthy lifestyle’.

The interview:

Jenny, welcome! To start, introduce yourself…

Hello Vivi Nation! I’m Jenny. I am 24, and I am convinced my family and friends don’t understand why I spend what little money I earn on bikes and running shoes which inevitably end up getting covered in mud. Whether I’m on my bike or running on the trails, I love a challenge – the hillier and muddier the better!

I actually get more joy from going up then going down! Working for Cotswold Outdoors and Odlo I am lucky enough to lead quite a flexible lifestyle, where my Instagram account makes it look like all I do is go on adventures. Sadly, I can only dream of a life where I get paid to go on adventures! Never say never though!

What does exercise mean to you and how did your love for exercise begin?

Since I was in primary school, PE was by far my favourite subject! I really never understood those kids who would try to skip PE. Exercise to me is something I have grown up doing. It wasn’t something I was forced to do, but it was something that was ingrained in my lifestyle.

I suppose my obsession for exercise (and Strava segments) properly started when I was about 14. We have a family friend who is a very keen cyclist and runner. He used to come and stay for a few weeks twice a year and he would bring his bikes with him. I spent hours chasing him around the Malvern Hills on my Halfords MTB in some of his old jerseys which were too big for me. We would get home with smiles on our faces and mud everywhere to upload our rides to Strava and see how much quicker we were than the last time we did it.

Then one year he told me he had brought a new bike and that he was going to leave his Giant XTC bike with me! From this day on I was up on the Malvern Hills finding new routes and creating Strava segments as I went. Back then I was just a kid who loved being out on her bike and getting muddy. I was so naive about nutrition, statistics and the pressure to perform. I think this is one of the reasons I have never really competed much on my bike (except for QOMs!). I ride because it’s something which fills me with happiness, and I get scared that if I rode with a club or started racing it may take that away from me.

Running is something which really has only been in my life for the last 3 years. I always did cross-country at school and would very occasionally go for runs by myself but I would never have called myself a ‘runner’. Following a shoulder injury from climbing, I decided that luckily my two legs were working fine, and you know what legs are good at? You guessed it! Running!

I decided to join the running club where I was based at University in Chichester because I knew that being in a club would give me the motivation I needed to turn up to training. I never imagined how dramatically running would change my life. I started training with the club twice a week and quickly got pulled into racing in the cross-country league. With training comes routine and with routine come structure, and that is how my crazy life of running began!

Why do you love fitness so much?

I have never exercised to lose weight. I am blessed with a high metabolism and despite the constant pressure of social media saying what I should look like I have a strong belief that making my body as healthy and capable as it can be is far more important than getting rid of a squidgy bit here and there. Of course I get days where I wish I looked like Lara Croft but that isn’t what motivates me to exercise!

There are a couple of cheesy quotes which I think perfectly explain my love for fitness. The first being: ‘You can’t achieve anything without the possibility of failure’. This was said by a man called Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell who is the founder of the Barkley Marathons (if you haven’t watched the film you are missing out!). I know you should go into races prepared, but that’s not really my style. The feeling of completing a race where on the start line I literally don’t know if I would see the finish line is indescribable. The only negative of using this method is that after every completed race I know that the next one I sign up to has to be harder! One day I’m sure I will find my limit (I hope)!

The other is: ‘Go to where you feel most alive’. For me this represents what I was saying earlier about riding my bike. I get this feeling also from running. I believe this is because of the places my running and cycling takes me. Whether it is the green of the forest I cycle through on my bike or the mountain ranges my legs take me on my running adventures.

There is so much freedom in getting on your bike or pulling on your running shoes and going to places you never thought you would see.

What motivates and inspires when the going gets tough?

I am motivated by the people around me. My boyfriend Keith and my friend Tom both are good runners. I know I will never be as fast as either of them (and they sure do like to remind me of that every day) but I feel like they are my biggest supporters. They drag me out in the rain when I least want to go training but they also believe in my abilities way more than I do.

I like having the pressure from them too – the fear of failure is something that keeps me going. When I was racing the Salomon Ring of Steall there were moments where I literally did not know how I would finish the race, or even get to the top of the next Munroe. But the thought of those two being at the finish line waiting for me with smiles on their faces helped me pull though.

Do you have any beginner tips for anyone reading this who is looking to start getting fit and healthy, but has no idea where to begin?

Being ‘fit’ is a definition which for me changes as a result of experience, what mood I am in and who I am around. I have never thought of myself as an athlete. I have many role models and follow lots of athletes on social media and compared to them I am definitely not fit! But I also have lots of friends who probably couldn’t run 5k.

The most important thing you need to understand when you’re getting into running/cycling or any sport is that the only person you can compare yourself to is you. There is no point looking at the person next to you or on your screen and comparing yourself to them. Everyone is on their own journey.

I highly recommend if you are looking to start running to join a club. I know it sounds scary because you think you will be the slowest or people will judge you for stopping, but if you stopped then you had to have started! And getting started is the hardest part. I also think a club is great for education. Speaking to people about what running shoes to wear, what chafe cream they use and how many times they need to go to the toilet during a run makes you realise you are all in the same boat no matter how far or fast you run!

For me, starting running also made me think about what I eat a lot more, and when I eat. Also, please don’t think that being fit and healthy means eating less. This is such a myth. I eat more now than I ever have done. It is worth educating yourself on energy-efficient foods and a healthy balanced lifestyle.

What have been your best running and cycling experiences? You’ve certainly achieved a lot to date!

Thank you! Believe me, if you would have told me two years ago that I would be racing in the Salomon Ring of Steall this year I would have firstly asked ‘What’s that?’ and then said ‘I can’t run more than 10k’! I definitely owe a lot of my ‘success’ if you want to call it that to the people around me.

A year ago this week I raced in my first trail half marathon. The Ennderale Trail race weekend in the Lake District was one I will never forget. Surrounded by people who have so much belief in me and the same passion for running, I surprised all of us by finishing the 6th lady! Before this race, placing in the top 10 wasn’t even something that crossed my mind.

In January 2019 I took part in the Winter Fan Dance race. This was a 24km out and back race over Pen Y Fan in the Brecon Beacons. The compulsory kit list for this race was very strict and I was very anxious that this was something I wasn’t prepared enough for. I have never been so nervous on a start line than I was for this!

Being an out and back race you generally had an idea of where you were positioned during the race. I try not to put too much pressure on myself about where I want to position. However, after the half-way point, I was aware that I was in the top 2 women. My own ability surprised me during this race and I came away with my first ever first place win and a nice trophy to go with it!

Last month I took part in the Salomon Ring of Steall Sky Race. This is the most mentally and physically challenging thing I have ever done. There were many moments where I just wanted to stop and give up. But fortunately for me, the only way down the mountain was to complete the race. I couldn’t have asked for better weather – blue skies, light breeze and the most beautiful mountain range in the UK! This, however, did not help my legs.

When the first climb takes you 2 hours you spend a lot of time doubting yourself. I used every tactic I knew for conserving energy. This was no longer me racing for a time, this was me trying to make the finish before cut off (‘completing not competing’ my boyfriend likes to call it). I was semi-confident I could make it if I conserved my legs and kept eating and drinking. I would refill my bottles at every stream and eat every 30 minutes even if I wasn’t hungry. I got to the final Munroe thinking this is it, I am nearly there, closely followed by the realisation that this final Munroe was the penultimate one and as I stared over the ridge seeing ant-like figures scrambling up the Munroe in front of me tears filled my eyes.

I literally did not know how my legs would carry me up there. Every movement hurt, going downhill wasn’t even enjoyable. It was only when I was about 2 miles from the end and the ground had become actually runnable again, I began to realise what I had just done and that I knew I would make it to the finish. I knew that my boyfriend Keith and my friend Tom would be on the road waiting for me. I thought about them a lot during the race, on how I would feel when I saw them.

I kept thinking I would cry when I got to the end but I was so ecstatic when got there that I was smiling from ear to ear. It was definitely a race which took me a few days to process. At the time, I promised myself I would never do it again, but those feelings have changed now. I mean, if I can do it once, I can do it twice right?

Any challenges on the horizon?

Well that would be telling! I have definitely looked into some races for the New Year. I will usually try and have 2 or 3 big ones and then lots of less intense ones which I will do with my running club or as a spur of the moment thing. I like having races planned as it gives me something to look forward to and focus on. I am really keen to do the Ring of Steall again. I also have been looking at doing the Adidas Infinite Trail World championship Relays which is in Austria in June. But time will tell!

What’s your best tip for someone looking to get into exercise?

Do it with other people! It’s much harder to say no to someone who is relying on you to go out with them than it is to say no to yourself. Find a club or decide to do it with your best buddy. Once you have got into the habit and got addicted to those endorphins you won’t be able to stop!

Finally, being active and healthy is what we are all about. Summarise what a healthy lifestyle means to you?

For me, a healthy lifestyle means balance. It’s something which is drilled into us, but many people still don’t do it. Food is literally what keeps me going. If you put good stuff into your body, then good things will come out. Tom uses the expression, ‘Eating is Training’ a lot. Having good food in your body to fuel your exercise is just as important as the food that helps you recover. Of course, I still eat pizza and a ludicrous amount of chocolate, but I also decide to spend my weekends off work running for hours in the mud and climbing mountains.

Thank you so much to the brilliant Jenny Jakeman, keep doing what you’re doing!

Follow Jenny on Instagram here. You can also find our other inspirational stories here.

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