Fifty-five-year-old Jenny Hitchings of Sacramento, Calif. has been on a tear this year, breaking no fewer than four national US age group records since turning 55 on July 1. Most recently, she took down Joan Benoit Samuelson‘s 55-60 10K record at a turkey trot, the Sacramento Food Bank’s Run to Feed the Hungry 10k, in a blazing 37:29–almost a minute faster than Samuelson’s record of 38:20, set in 2014. (She also won.)
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18:05. A 5k win and a new American Age Group Record!! (Breaking the 18:32 record from 1997). Thank you for all your support these last few months @jenny.ann61. I appreciate it so much. #susanbanthony5k #sraelite #rabbitELITE #runinrabbit #rabbitresults #love_running #buffalochips
But this was only Hitchings’ most recent accomplishment. Starting in August, she has broken no fewer than three other US age-group records, all held by USATF Hall of Famers, all more than 20 years old, and all without leaving Sacramento.
On August 11 she took down USATF Hall of Fame member Shirley Matson’s 5K record, set in 1997 at the Carlsbad 5000, with an 18:05 finish at the Susan B. Anthony Women’s 5K. In early September she broke the 10-mile record held since 1998 by S. Rae Baymiller, with a 1:01:20 finish at the Buffalo Stampede in Sacramento. And in early October at the Urban Cow Half Marathon, she set her third national age-group record of the year in the 21.1K (also previously held by Shirley Matson), with a 1:21:18 finish.
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New 10 Mile American Age Group Record! Beating a long standing 1:02:39 by over a minute in 1:01:20 (and a PR). I can’t thank my new Coach, @jenny.ann61 enough for her support and patience with me! #sraelite #rabbitELITE #rabbitresults #runinrabbit #buffalostampede2018 #usatfmasterstrack
An article on the LetsRun site quashes any skepticism by pointing out that the 10K course, like the other courses Hitchings has run this fall, is certified and record-eligible.
Hitchings told LetsRun her last marathon was in May, before she turned 55, on a non-record-eligible course. (She was top female, running 2:51:28.) But she hints that she’s now looking to challenge that record as well.
Hitchings got into running for fitness when she was a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara 30 years ago, and got interested in racing when she moved to Sacramento in 1994, when her daughter Molly was a year old, and met some more serious competitive runners. She hired a coach in 2006. “I never really thought as myself as a more serious runner until I was close to 40 years old,” says Hitchings. “I’m a late bloomer.”
Hitchings says she isn’t very consistent about stretching, lifting, or cross-training, but when she does cross-train she enjoys spin classes or riding her Peloton spin bike at home. She also enjoys yoga and hiking. But mostly she just runs.
“The last decade I feel like I’ve been training for marathon after marathon,” Hitchings told us. “After I ran a May marathon, and won, my coach, Jenny Spangler (who won the 1996 US Olympic marathon trials), and I decided to train for a few shorter races, and give my body a break from distance. So I trained for a 6-miler. I was 16th woman… with a PR of 35:24 [3:40 per kilometre pace]. This race told me I had a shot at the 5k record, so I went for that, and then the 10-miler, and then half-marathon, and then this last 10K… I felt all the paces I had to run were in my wheelhouse. This is not to say, that I didn’t get anxious and stress before every race.”
Regarding Samuelson, Hitchings says, “I first wanted to break her age group course record at Boston in 2016. But due to a severe calf cramp, I had to drop at 20 [miles]. But I was on my way to taking the record down. Shoot!” She adds, “am I pleased to break Joan’s record? Sure. It makes it more fun (sorry, Joanie).”