NEW YORK -- When Gwen Jorgensen stepped up to the starting line of the New York City Marathon on the Staten Island side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on Sunday, she wasn’t sure what to expect.
Crossing the finish line in Manhattan’s Central Park a little over two hours and forty minutes later, she was happy to finish and glad she took on the challenge. Will she try it again? That’s a definite maybe.
“It was just so tough,” said Jorgensen, the Olympic gold medalist in triathlon this summer in Rio. “I didn’t know what to expect. My muscles are definitely going to be pretty sore.”
Jorgensen ran the meandering course, with its five bridges and 300 intersections, in a more than respectable 2 hours, 41 minutes, 1 second. Her 6:09 mile pace put her 14th among women’s professional finishers.
Mary Keitany of Kenya ran to her third consecutive victory on Sunday, finishing in 2:24:26. Sally Kipyego of Kenya, placed second in 2:28:01 and Molly Huddle, who set a U.S. record in the 10,000-meter at the Rio Olympics, was third in 2:28:13. Like Jorgensen, Huddle was racing in her first marathon.
It was a solid marathon debut for Jorgensen, a former All-America track and cross-country runner at Wisconsin whose blazing foot speed often sets her apart in triathlons. After winning Team USA’s first Olympic triathlon gold medal in Rio, she decided to test herself in road races. Leading up to the Rio Games, her longest-ever training run was 12 miles. Yet last month she had a strong third-place showing at the USA Track & Field 10-Mile Championships in Minneapolis and St. Paul, where she makes her home.
But coming off her triumph in Rio, followed by a win at the Island House Triathlon in the Bahamas just a week ago, she couldn’t help but be a bit subdued by her result in New York.
“Not having done as much work as I should have to really be competitive or try to be, it’s hard to have a strategy,” Jorgensen said. “I have a lot of respect not only for the course and the distance, but also the other athletes. They do this full time; they are incredibly talented. For me to just jump into a marathon without proper training and just expect to do well is a bit naïve. I’m happy I was able to finish and I’m still standing.”
Jorgensen ran most of the five-borough course on her own, which she admitted was difficult. New York City’s often boisterous, always loud fans helped pull her through.
“When you’re running with people, it’s a lot easier,” she said. “For a long time I was solo, and I slowed down a lot then. It was difficult to be solo at that time, but it was encouraging as well, because I heard a lot of ‘Go Gwen!’ I thank all the fans for that.”
Sunday was also a new experience for Jorgensen’s husband and manager Patrick Lemieux, a former pro road cyclist who helps with his wife’s training and is her main source of emotional support. He didn’t have to prepare Jorgensen’s bike, or worry about a flat tire.
“She got taken away in the bus at 6:30 (in the morning) so my job was far, far easier than it’s ever been before,” Lemieux said. “I just went over to Brooklyn after kilometer 10 (a little over six miles), hung out and had a bagel, watched her come by and then took the subway and hung out at the finish.”
Lemieux was a bit more philosophical about the race than his wife.
“Obviously, we were both nervous going into it,” he said. “But what’s the worst that’s going to happen? She’s going to run three and a half hours. For us, after the Olympics everything is pretty easy. She would have wanted to run better, I’m sure, but we’re both smiling at the end of the day.”
Jorgensen and Lemieux will now turn their attention away from biking, swimming and running to matters closer to home. The couple has made no secret of their desire to start a family, and with the Tokyo Games four years away, now is the perfect time. Inspired by athletes like 2012 Olympic triathlon champion Nicola Spirig of Switzerland, and two-time U.S. Olympic long-distance runner Kara Goucher, Jorgensen plans to combine her athletic career with motherhood.
“I think I have a pretty good handle on how to train for triathlon,” Jorgensen said. “After 2012, I had a four-year plan. Now I want to get pregnant. We tried month one and failed, we’ll see how month two goes. Running marathons isn’t much help to get that baby to stick, so we’ll see.”