Five-time age group American record-holder Jenny Hitchings, 56, of Sacramento is now an age group world record-holder. Her 2:50:36 at the New York City Marathon in November 2019 beat S. Rae Baymiller’s previous age group world record (also the W55 American record, set at the Chicago Marathon in 1998) by a minute and 38 seconds.
Not only was her time an American and world age-group record, but the previous age-group course record in New York (2:57:13) was held by 1984 Olympic marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson.
This was Hitchings’ first time running New York, and she was so intimidated by stories about how difficult and hilly the course is that she didn’t go into the race thinking about the record. But, as often happens in these cases, she found it easier than she expected. “I was super intimidated,” she told us. “Everyone said it’s fun, but start conservatively or you’ll blow up… yes, there were hills, but I just ran a good effort on the uphills and let it go on the downhills… I kept saying to myself, ‘mile by mile.'”
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Hitchings admits that near the end, she thought she had a chance of breaking 2:50, but found the slight incline over the last mile through Central Park made it impossible.
Five weeks later, Hitchings ran the California International Marathon (which she calls her hometown race) in exactly the same time, down to the second, that she ran New York: 2:50:36.
Hitchings explains that, because of the rules around record eligibility, there are only so many opportunities for these records to be broken. (Gene Dykes found this out the hard way in late 2018 when, after breaking Ed Whitlock’s M70 world record at Jacksonville, he discovered the race did not have USATF certification and therefore his record could not be ratified.)
Hitchings set all her records (including Samuelson’s 10K record) since turning 55 on July 1, 2018. Like her recent world record, the American records she broke had all stood for 20 years or more.
“There are some fast masters and senior runners out there,” Hitchings told us in an email. “I’m sure some of these records won’t take that many years to break!”