#whywerun - Dr Jess Mena-Garcia
Words: Jess Mena-Garcia
I am a regular nobody to be honest. Now a grown woman, who still 20 years later, is just as obsessed with the one and only constant in life, running. Running has led me to every significant person, experiences, career, and spouse. I hope that I will do this until my legs can no longer take it.
My name is Jessica and I am a Los Angeles native, first generation American, physiotherapist, wife, and passionate runner. And I don’t think I found running, running found me- thankfully!
I remember as a young girl wanting so badly to fit in with my soccer team, needless to say that did not work out. My middle school physical education coach however, saw a potential spark in running. He would say “Miss Mena just beat all the boys! Good job kiddo, time to join students run LA.” I ignored him for a full academic year. In 7th grade Coach Sampson finally convinced me to join the infamous Student Run Los Angeles (SRLA) organization. This non-profits goal was and is to “challenge underserved secondary students to experience the benefits of goal-setting, character development, adult mentoring and improved health by providing them with a truly life-changing experience- The training for and completion of the Los Angeles Marathon.”
Image: Steven Carvente
That is what SRLA did for me. My coaches created a safe place to train and introduced me to marathon running. At age 12 I ran my first Los Angeles Marathon in a whopping 7 hours.
I never looked back.
You see, SRLA really changed my life. As a first generation american living in what now a days is considered poverty level, my parents couldn’t afford much. They worked long hours and driving me to practices was something I know they couldn’t do. I understood what my life was at that time even from a very early age. My parents couldn’t afford shoes, which meant also couldn’t afford exercise clothing, coaching, race entries. However, SRLA took care of that for my parents. We were sponsored public school kids who received 2 pairs of Saucony running shoes, shorts, and running tanks, and trained after school. I was set, and I was overwhelming grateful. I had joined a team of kids all like me, trying to find a spark and take full advantage of this ONE opportunity. And thus, the LA running community became my family whether I fully understood or not at the time. I enjoyed the challenge, the commitment, and the drive to want to run better each race. I was hooked. I got to run through different parts of the city, I earned medals, got free snacks, free t-shirts, sometimes sweatshirts – and all for running! Each year I got faster , stronger, and when it was time to move onto high school I joined the cross country and track in high school. That led to running both sports in college at a DIII school.
The passion for the sport only flourished with each year. Don’t get me wrong – I was not a naturally fast runner. I had to work 2x more than everyone else just to be an okay runner especially in college. I knew that and deep inside I did not care. All that mattered to me- was getting out every morning and running. Running with friends, new people, no one. I was going to get out there and pound the pavement for miles and miles. I have done that very thing every week for 20 years.
All my life, I have always been unsure of what would become of life. The one constant , the one thing that I knew would ALWAYS be there for me was running. I was that person that truly ran for fun. There was a period in my young adult life where I did not race at all- it was about a span on 4 years. After graduate school and becoming a physical therapist I finally decided “lets get back to training for a race.” So I did.
I ran my 9th LA marathon in 2016 in 4:46 without help, a coach, or a plan – I winged it. I knew I needed structure. Fast forward to 2018 I trained with a community team and after proper training ran a 3:59 I was happy about it. Then one of the running club leaders asked me “why haven’t you BQ’d yet? You know for running all these years, not sure why haven’t you ran Boston?” I HAD NO IDEA WHAT HE WAS TALKING ABOUT. Remember I ran for the love of running not for accolades or public recognition or glory. However, when he said that I felt this fire burning in my gut. I knew he didn’t mean to offend but I sat in my car thinking “can I do this? Yes I can? I NEED TO DO THIS.” The following week- my was ready, no I mean I was really ready. March 2019 came along and I ran the LA marathon in 3: 48 and thought “what? No no nooooo.” That night I signed up for another marathon in May 2019, and 2 months later ran a 3:26 marathon.
Image: Steven Carvente
I really ran to prove to myself what I could do. After that first BQ I started running for all the other people out there who FELT EXACTLY THE SAME. I started getting messages from women applauding me and putting themselves down with “I don’t think I could do that” “what an inspiration I wish I could run that fast.” I thought- what a bunch of horse radish. I am a regular joe. I am not sponsored or recognized, a runner who doesn’t run for the recognition, a runner who loves this as much as everyone else I see out there in the morning. Now I run not just for myself but for those people with full time jobs who run before the sun rises and after the sun sets. I run for those people like me who want to push their bodies to see what their hearts and guts are made of.
My BQ is for all those little brown girls whose parents cant buy them running shoes or afford race entries. I run to prove to the people who work their tails off each day- to do incredible stuff for themselves. I run for the ordinary people who want to do something a little extraordinary.
I have been so fortunate that my career and running passionate have melted together. I get to help other people get back to what they want to do, and in turn I get to help myself do the same. Now that I live back in the same community I grew up in, my next goal is help grow a supportive running community. To try to help inspire other people who want to BQ, or just run a race whether that be a 10k, a marathon, whatever.
My why- I want to hype all the people that need some hype.
Because regardless of our backgrounds- we can all be extraordinary.
Training for a BQ.
Training for a Boston qualifying time is not impossible. Is it difficult? Yes because all physically and mental tough things are not easy feats. I have dealt with injuries, bad weather, harassment from strangers in the street, illness, you name it – it will be thrown at you.
But you persevere.
You push on.
I run before work or after work 6 days a week. So aside from my 40 hour work week I logged in about 12 hours of training. That entails sometimes driving 1-1.5 hours away to an open track 1 time a week for a speed work out with a team, driving to catch some miles with friends in different cities, but mostly running alone in my neighborhood. Sometimes my husband offers bike support especially during the winter when the sun sets at 4:45pm. But mostly – the road is rather lonely and for me that’s okay.
Now a days the goal is not only to run faster each year, but experience new types of running adventures.
Next stop before Boston 2023, running from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in March of 2022 with a group of 9 other running friends. Yes 390 miles in under 50 hours.
This too- will be conquered.
Because us regular joes just like elite- we push, we persevere, we dream, we conquer goals.
You can follow Jess on Instagram here