Running for a Lifetime with a Balanced Lifestyle
Interview with Tania Jones
Posted Monday, 21 February, 2005
Canadian Tania Jones has been winning championship track events for nearly twenty years. Through her years of running, she has developed a keen sense of priorities and succeeds in balancing life as a professional runner, scientific professional, sports commentator, wife and mother. She has become one of Canada’s top marathoners and on October 24th earned 2nd place at the Niagara Falls Marathon. SheRUNS recently interviewed Tania about life and running. We know you will be impressed by her clarity of thought, life-priorities and balanced lifestyle.
Give us a brief run-down of the highlights of your running career:
Canadian Juvenile Champion – 3000m 1986; Cdn collegiate champion-ship 3000m 1992, University of Victoria; National Team member; 2001 World Championship Track & Field (marathon); Ekiden Relay teams (1995-1997); National record holder; Member of 4 x 800m indoor relay team, 1988; Guinness World Record; Member of 100 x 1 mile record team, 1999; Winner of numerous North American road races; Coco-Cola 5-mile Richmond Virginia; Subaru 4-Mile Chase, Buffalo, NY; Newark Distance Classic 20k, Newark, NJ; MDS Nordion 10K, Ottawa, Canada.
Describe the best and worst of running so far.
Best: Opportunities that running has created for me: travel, personal development (ie. Media work such as color commentary of race coverage), meeting new and wonderful people.
Worst: Frustration of not reaching full potential. Knowing that I am capable of so much more than what I have done to date, particularly in the marathon event.
What different strategies do you use when training for different distances?
10k/half marathon can be run well with less mileage than a marathon and a much shorter weekly long
run.Total anaerobic or threshold work, when training for a 10k/halfmarathon, is less than during marathon training and the pace of intervals is faster.
You have entered shorter distance races in the past few months and are training for the Niagara Falls Marathon, right? Is it tricky to combine the training for both types of races or is it complementary?
One has to be fit to run a fast 10k or half marathon if they wish to run a fast strong marathon. Anaerobic capability built from speed work is essential for execution of a marathon as is the strength gained from mileage and long runs. While we need to be able to balance speed work and mileage, the fatigue from training these two different energy systems can be overwhelming. Yes, it is tricky. Experience will help you to find a balance of workload and rest that allows you to do both speed and
distance without a breakdown. Plus, I always build up during a marathon training block very carefully – balancing the increase in mileage with increased speed on the track.
Is your focus on the marathon now? How did you decide to focus on this distance?
I spent many years running traditional cross-country and track events. I slowly brought road racing into my portfolio and enjoyed doing events with large groups of like-minded individuals rather than running in isolation on the track. The marathon is a natural progression since my running style is well-suited to the marathon. As an elite marathoner, I can challenge myself as an athlete while being part of a huge community of runners with a common goal.
Describe how it feels to run a strong, fast race.
Mentally engaged, no fear, pleasure in racing. Body responds when asked to do more. Smooth rhythm.
Have you experienced injuries? Many of our readers struggle through the healing process from running injuries. Can you describe yours and their impact physically and psychologically on your training and on your psyche? Any advice for other women getting through injury?
Yes, I have dealt with minor and career threatening injuries. I have also dealt with a medical condition that has had a great impact on my running. My most serious injury was a chronic Achilles tendon problem. After running injured for over 18 months, the tendon calcified at the insertion at the heel. Of similar impact was the post-partum thyroid condition that I developed 4 months after the birth of my son. In both cases, goals and dreams were destroyed as my running was shutdown and the timeline to recovery was unclear.
The key to getting through injury or medical issues is to take control of your condition. You have to get the best, most advanced and engaged medical support that you can find – as soon as possible. The right people will give you the right advice and get you back on your feet much faster. Every day that you wait, could mean extra weeks of recovery.
For example, Achilles injuries are very challenging to manage and diagnose since they vary dramatically and we individually perceive the pain so differently. Initially, I received some poor advice and continued to run in pain, managing the injury through multiple marathons. When I finally recognized that I couldn’t continue I found the best sport physician with the most progressive mind-set regarding injury management. He was willing to do diagnostics that thoroughly identified the severity of the problem. In addition, he was a North American leader in an expensive and painful therapy that we used to break down the calcification in my Achilles so that I could run once again (after 6 months of additional therapy!).
In the case of my thyroid condition, I became severely hyperthyroid 4 months post-partum followed by a severe hypothyroid state at 6 months post-partum. At this point, my endocrinologist told me that I could do no physical activity for a minimum of 4 weeks. I immediately consulted with sport physicians and other doctors with an understanding of elite athletics. As a result, I was able to create a modified activity program that allowed me to recover, maintain some of my fitness, and retain a positive outlet.
How has running affected your life as a woman? I know you ran as a youngster as well, do you think this ‘coming of age’ while in the sport of running has helped to meld you into the woman you have become?
If I were to look back at any stage in my life I would be able to see where being a runner has influenced the person that I was at that time. It seems like I have always been ‘Tania the Runner’. It was a special talent that helped build my confidence and gave me experiences that have broadened my world and shaped my thinking. I have a healthy active lifestyle due to my ongoing involvement in the sport. Balancing athletics with career and family has made me more focused and decisive in my daily life.
How do you manage your work career and running career now that you have added a baby into the mix?
We have streamlined our life. This means that we have removed all activities, people and things that do not support the main goals of our family. Streamlining is a very challenging exercise and requires constant revisiting. I have set very clear goals with an action plan to deliver those goals. To be most effective and deliver results, everything I do has to have a clear purpose and tie back to our goals.
Have there been fundamental changes (personal, psychological, physical, career-oriented or training oriented)?
I have much greater focus and determination. To optimize each activity in the day, I must be focused and in the moment, giving full attention to the activity that I am engaged in at the moment. When I am at my desk I must give everything I have to deliver results for the business. After work I shift into elite athlete mode and clear my head so that I can focus 100% on the track and the workout facing me. Then, I head home to be with my boys (the big one and the little cutie). The mornings and evenings are for family. In all activities, be it running, home-life or work, I try to determine what the most
critical activities are (those that truly deliver results) and focus on executing on those activities.
How is this different from the full-time female athletes?
I did have a taste of being a full-time athlete during my maternity leave from work. The biggest difference is the opportunity to physically and mentally be at rest during a day. In my current working life, I have lost that extra time for relaxing, supplemental recovery (ie. Stretching, Epsom salt baths) and reflection that can be very positive for performance.
What do you feel you gain and what do you feel you lose through the more diverse life you choose to lead?
Gains: I have a stable life with a predictable income that is critical for raising a family. I have developed a career skill set that is in demand. I am physically fit and strong.
I don’t really feel that I lose anything since I have gained so much by creating this balance in my life. But, I do feel that some dreams are put at risk by approaching them in this manner. For example, I may never fully realize my potential as a runner. I am convinced that I can improve but there may be limits on how good I can become due to a lack of support and resources necessary to be a full-time athlete.
What motivates you? Has it changed over time? Why?
I want to have a healthy and dynamic lifestyle. A positive, high-energy lifestyle will help me age in
good health and raise a happy family. Competitive running is a vehicle that I use to keep me focused on the elements of this lifestyle. In the past, the motivation was more externally focused. Confidence and well-being came from accomplishing running goals and the external validation that came with that.
What discourages you? How do you keep these thoughts, feelings, etc. in check?
“Fatigue makes cowards of us all”. Low energy levels threaten our sense of wellbeing. Of course, there are times when we need to be pushing the envelope and stressing our bodies so that we can adapt to a higher level of performance. But, over training and fatigue negatively impacts my confidence and impacts my daily performance.
Life balance and recovery are critical to managing fatigue. Change in routines can help to add some mental energy to the mix. Physical recovery in the form of a day off or a less intense training session can help reenergize as well.
What elements make a strong, woman runner?
It is critical to have a ‘clear head’. This means that you are focused on the important things (these differ for each person). You know where you are going. You must have a positive vision of yourself in the future. It is important to then develop goals focused on achieving that positive vision. To help get this clarity, you may have to remove activities and people that are not adding value to your life.
What do you, as a woman, bring to the sport of running?
Throughout my running career, I have approached my running as a genderless person. I train as any man would. I set the same challenging goals. I demand as much of myself in pursuit of those goals as any other human would.
At the age of 35, I am from one of the first generations of women who have had equal opportunities to do this sport.
What are your plans for the future, in running and in life?
I plan on continuing to train and compete at a high level. I would like to focus on having fun and picking the right races. I hope to execute an excellent marathon and set a substantial personal best. My focus for my life is to build a strong family unit where each member of my family is confident and has the support they need to reach their full potential.
Racing Stats 2004:
To give the readers perspective: Callum was born on Aug. 3, 2003
Date Race Placing Time Months post-partum
April 18 Hartwell Challenge 5k 1st 17:29 8
May 29 Canadian 10k Road Race Championship 4th 34:17 10
July 11 Great Lakes Challenge 5k 3rd 16:50 11
Aug. 1 Beach to Beacon 10k 12th 34:10 1 year
Sept. 12 Montreal Half marathon 2nd 1:16.20 13
Sept. 25 Waterfront marathon 2nd 2:48.04 13
Oct. 24 Niagara marathon 2nd 2:41.26 14 (almost 15)
For more information on Tania, checkout: www.taniajones.com
Follow up by Jennifer Bostwick - SheRuns publisher
I have created SheRuns because I believe women runners need a voice and a space for expressing themselves. Although more women run than ever, there are limited magazines for running, in general, and insufficient magazines and articles aimed at women, in particular. Running is individual, for certain, but as a group, I believe women make up an amazingly connected presence with unique perspectives, goals and lives. With SheRuns, I hope to address issues that directly relate to running and how it fits into our lives as women. Excerpted articles for the current issue of SheRuns will be posted here monthly. This is the third article to be published. Be sure to come back and check out next month's article! Send me a note, let me know what you think.