DES MOINES, Iowa – Gwen Jorgensen was the only Olympic gold medalist in the women’s 10,000-meter final at the USATF Outdoor Championships as well as the only runner who wasn’t sure how she should warm up.
Sure, Jorgensen has run loads of 10Ks in her career. But usually they’ve followed a 1.5K swim and a 40K bike race. As one of the top triathletes of the last decade, Jorgensen became the first Team USA athlete to win a gold medal in the sport at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
And then at the peak of her career she decided to switch to track and field with the goal of winning a gold medal in the marathon in 2020.
Jorgensen, 32, finished a respectable seventh at her first USATF Outdoor Championships, which is part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Xfinity. Molly Huddle led wire to wire to win her fourth straight national title in the event.
“Normally in a triathlon I had it down to a science of what I’d do to prepare for a race,” said Jorgensen. “Here I’m still experimenting. Should I do 10 minutes? Should I do 30 minutes?”
She decided on a 20-minute run, with the last couple of minutes just a little bit faster, followed by four strides. Jorgensen then did a few more strides right before the race.
Huddle, an Olympian on the track who also hopes to compete in the marathon in Tokyo, was in command the entire race to finish in 31 minutes, 52.32 seconds, which included a blazing final lap of 64.52 seconds. Marielle Hall was second in 31:56.68 – with a 68.51-second final lap.
Jorgensen’s time was 32:24.09, which was slower than the 31:55.68 she ran in May to win the Stanford Invite.
“It was tough,” Jorgensen said. “I think I wasn’t in great position and there was a move that was made and I wasn’t able to cover it and those girls ran really tough today. Molly was leading from the front and it was super windy, so she ran a phenomenal race.”
At 5-foot-10, Jorgensen was the tallest runner in the 20-woman field, so she could be easily picked out as she picked off runners.
She said she hasn’t been considered an interloper in track and field, a sport she hadn’t competed in since she was in college at Wisconsin.
The response, she said, has been “amazing. I have the Bowerman Track Club and they’ve been just phenomenal. All of the girls have been super supportive, and everyone here as well is super friendly and it’s a great community.”
Huddle said she welcomed Jorgensen to the pack. “She brings a lot more attention, which is good, from outside the running world,” she said. “She got big cheers on the start line. I think people are intrigued and watching and interested, which is good for everybody. So yeah, she’s hanging in there.”
Jorgensen said a local triathlon club turned out to watch, and her 10-month-old son Stanley, who was born Aug. 16, 2017, was also in the stadium.
And she stands by her choice to switch sports.
“Triathlon picked me,” said Jorgensen, who was recruited to the sport. “I didn’t pick triathlon. I hated swimming every day. Every day I’d be like, ‘I don’t want to go. I don’t want to do this.’ And that was a big struggle for me. So being able to do something I love every day is exciting. It’s motivating. It’s super fun. It’s challenging.
“At the same time, I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish in triathlon. And to go back to something and have the same goal just wasn’t exciting for me. I’m an athlete and I’m someone who’s motivated by a big challenge and big hurdles to overcome. For me, that’s what really helped me choose to want to do this marathon journey.”
She ran the New York Marathon the November after her Rio victory, placing 14th. Then she became pregnant and had Stanley. In November of 2017, she announced that she was going to become a marathoner.
She joined the Bowerman Track Club in Portland, Oregon, whose coach, Jerry Schumacher, had coached at Wisconsin and grew up in her hometown of Waukesha.
“I called Jerry and said, ‘I have this crazy idea,’” Jorgensen said. “I called a few coaches and some said, ‘There’s no way you can ever do it.’ And Jerry was one that said, ‘We don’t know. You’re totally just raw. You’ve never done this. You haven’t done the miles.’ And he was willing to give me a shot, so I feel really fortunate for that to be able to train with the best in the world.”
She increased her mileage from 40 miles a week to 120, which was no easy feat, especially after giving birth.
“I think there’s a misconception that after you have a baby that you can’t get your body back,” Jorgensen said. “I just stopped breast-feeding and I’m starting to feel a little bit normal. In the past two weeks, I’ve started to feel a little bit like my old self, so I’m excited to see how that keeps going.”
She recently came off altitude training where the goal was to build miles and get the feel of “marathon fatigue” in her legs. “There were a couple of long runs at the end of a 100-mile week where I was basically walking, and I know that’s not anywhere I need to be to be successful. So I know I have a lot of work to do but I’m excited for the challenge.”