Tico Times Talks: An interview with Olympic hopeful Jenny Méndez

November 6, 2018

In late October, Costa Rican marathoner Jenny Méndez won the 43rdMarine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. with a personal-best time of 2:40:20.

The win came months after the runner finished fourth in the Central American and Caribbean Games marathon in Barranquilla, Colombia.

Up next for Méndez? The Colombian-born Tica hopes to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The Tico Times spoke to Méndez to learn more about her Marine Corps Marathon win, her Olympic dreams and her advice to new runners.

Note: The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

The Tico Times: What goes through your mind as you finish a marathon in first place with a new PR?

Jenny Méndez: “It was a wonderful experience. The Marine Corps Marathon is a run I really enjoy. Washington D.C. fascinates me as well, and I feel good running there. The weather was fantastic – thank goodness it didn’t rain — and from the moment the race began, I followed my planned pace, and I was able to maintain it for the entire race.

“In the last kilometers, you run with extra motivation and are thankful the race is almost over. The last 200 meters you have to run with all your heart – because it’s an uphill and because you’re full of emotion from all the work and effort you’ve put in. You enter the Marine Corps War Memorial and see all the Marines and the crowd cheering for you. If you were missing any motivation, you get it there.

“I almost started crying, because you remember all the work you’ve done for that moment. You think of all the times you thought you couldn’t do it. A whole world of memories crosses your mind in milliseconds.”

TT: What’s next for you as a runner?

JM: “For us [Méndez and coaches Daniel Gaviria Lopez and Cesar Lizano], this kicks off our Olympics-qualifying season. To qualify for the 2019 Pan American Games, we were told the cutoff time was 2:37. Since my best marathon time prior to the Marine Corps Marathon was 2:45, we had to scale up to a faster time to qualify for the Pan American Games and then the Olympics. With my trainers, we hoped to run the Marine Corps Marathon in 2:40 – and we achieved that. This prepares us to later qualify for the Pan American Games.”

TT: As a Colombian-born, howdoes it feel to represent Costa Rica internationally?

JM: “I was born in Bogotá, Colombia but have lived here in Costa Rica for a little more than 19 years. I’m a nationalized citizen, and I have two sons here. My whole family lives here in Costa Rica. We live, and we breathe this country — it’s my home. Costa Rica is where I began to love athleticism and where I learned how to be a runner and marathoner.”

TT: Running is hard. Running 26.2 miles in 2:40:20 is harder. What’s the secret?

JM: “You start with a shorter runs and work your way up. I remember thinking when I started, ‘This is too hard!’ When you start, everything is hard. I would run 300 meters and feel as if I was dying. But I put the work in and started running 5-kilometer races, then 10K races, then half marathons. Now the marathon is one of the distances I like the most.

“I started running just nine years ago, and this is my first Olympic cycle. For the first four years, I was running to lose weight and be fit. But I started enjoying it, so I started to take it more seriously and treat it as a profession.

“If you want to do it, you can. It’s never too late to start.”

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