Why We Run: Jennifer Black
For Jennifer Black, it’s all these things. But it’s also a need for speed – something she doesn’t admit right off the bat. And yet here she is: 27 years old, a physical therapist living in Asheville, sporting a long blonde ponytail and a tiny frame on top of two seriously strong legs, and she’s killing it. This year, she was the overall female winner for Asheville’s Race for the Taps series, and most recently she won second female overall in the Cherokee Half Marathon with a time of 1.32.09.
Running with Dad
A former track and long distance runner who grew up in Charlotte, Jennifer hasn’t always been speedy. She discovered her love for running at a young age, thanks to her dad, Tim, who asked her to run alongside him during his runs when she was just 11 years old. Running was a special bond between the two of them, and Jennifer smiles when she thinks about that time.
“He encouraged me to run one to two miles,” Jennifer says. “And I felt like a total badass. I was really bad at gym class, but really good at the mile run.”
When Jennifer was in 8th grade, Tim asked her to join the track team as a Father’s Day present, and luckily for both of them she loved it enough to stick with it, even running the Charlotte Half Marathon at only 15 years old. She ran competitively throughout high school, but when she became a psychology major at UNC of Asheville, she was a walk-on.
“I wasn’t setting any records,” Jennifer says about her time with the UNCA track team. “My coaches encouraged me because I ran hard and set a good example…but I wasn’t the best runner.”
Running with the Maggots
Jennifer kept running after graduation, and when she finished attending physical therapy school at Western Carolina University, she moved back to Asheville and decided to join the Maggot workouts on Tuesday nights. Those runs are led by Norman Blair, owner of Jus’ Running and former high school track coach of T.C. Roberson. During Norm’s tenure, T.C. Roberson qualified for the state finals every year and won two state championships, and Norm himself won 10th place at the Boston Marathon in 1985. He knows a thing or two about speed and running, and he shares his passion by providing free track and hill workouts every Tuesday that start from his running store on Merrimon Ave.
“The Maggot workouts…they are well-thought out workouts every week, and you run with people who push you and encourage you,” Jennifer says. “It was everything I loved about college running again.”
Jennifer started seeing results in her times, and she found a running partner who helped push her even further. She started running five days a week, 35 to 45 miles; but it was those consistent track workouts that really made a difference.
Jennifer’s Training Tips: Set reasonable goals from the start, research a good training plan that works with your schedule so you are more accountable to it. Find people to run with that push you to be better and keep up with your training. Find races that match your competition level. Smaller local races will be easier to win but have less competition to push you!
“I became stronger and better,” she says. “And every time I felt a sense of accomplishment. I look forward to it every week.”
Exercise is Medicine
For the past two years, Jennifer has run a race every month to help her stay competitive and motivated. To set a goal for this year, she signed up for all the local brewery runs – “because it seemed like the Asheville thing to do” – and started winning, something she wasn’t really expecting. She ran seven brewery races and finished in the top five in all of them.
What does Jennifer think about when she’s grinding through a race at top speed?
“I think…be tough, you got this, only so many miles to go,” she says. “I try to focus on a target up ahead and convenience myself to just get that much further.”
That type of thinking is what also helps Jennifer get through her day as a physical therapist. Using exercise as medicine, she sets long-term goals for her clients and works towards them slowly and consistently. There’s no one step solution: You just have to grind and get through it. Like running on a track. Like life, really. You set goals. You find your tribe. And you push yourself through it and have some fun along the way.