DARIEN, Conn. – Darien runner Jennifer St. Jean thought she had hung up her track spikes for good 17 years ago, but she came back and last week won a silver medal at the World Masters Track and Field Championships in Lyon, France.
St. Jean, 40, finished the women’s (40-44) 1,500-meter race with a time of 4:37.0, missing out on the gold by three-tenths of a second. She is now ranked second in the world and first in the United States in her event.
“The race itself was very intense. There was a very tight pack at the start,” she said. She and the 12 other runners were in a very tight pack for the first 300 meters or so. After that she and a small number of the other racers began to pull ahead. She ran on the outside and really kicked into gear in the last 400 meters, her eyes on the gold.
“I just ran as hard as I could. The crowd was going insane, they were yelling so loud.”
She said she was initially a bit disappointed that she didn’t grab the gold, but she’s proud of her silver medal.
St. Jean started running in 8th grade when she joined her school’s cross country team, and set records in high school, earning All-New England status. She was a walk-on at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst track and cross country teams. After college, she trained with the hopes of making the Olympic team, but ultimately decided to focus on career and family.
“I never thought I would be back running. I ran for health and wellness and the occasional 5K, but nowhere near the elite level,” she said.
She married, had two children and started a design company . She started training again about two years ago, and 11 months ago began training with Mike Barnow of the Westchester Track Club. She had a successful season, and finished second in her event at the USAT Masters Indoor National Championship in March. She discovered the World Masters Championship and realized that her time was good enough to make the team.
She competed in the trials on Aug. 12, running in the first of three heats comprised of 13 runners each. The winner of each heat, and the next 10 fastest runners, would move on to the championship.
“Since I was in the first heat, I had no knowledge of how everyone else would run. My only option was to win.”
She won her trial by 10 seconds to move on the World Masters Championship.
St. Jean said that one of the things she likes best about the Masters races is the fact that it gives people a second chance at competing at a high level.
“A lot of people think that if they’re not in their early 20s, and certainly by the time they hit 30, that’s the end of their career,” she said. “Masters is challenging that. It shows that athletes can come back, even if they’ve been away for long stretches.”
Next up, St. Jean is planning on competing in the Fifth Avenue Mile in Manhattan on Sept. 13. She is hoping that she can come back to the next World Masters Championship in Perth, Australia in October 2016 and capture that gold medal.