We are pleased to feature Jen von Sehlen as this month’s Member Spotlight. Jen has served as Race Director for the Run for the Luck of It! race since inception eight years ago and currently serves as a board member for Run Wild Missoula. She is active in the community and an inspiration to many. “Jen is the reason I started running,” noted Jen Geist, fellow runner and RWM member.
When did you start running, and why?
I first began to dabble in running when I was a freshman in college to curb weight gain and to increase my fitness. For several years, running was an “on-again, off-again” activity until one day Vo (the hubs) and I decided to train for the inaugural Missoula Half Marathon. We had no idea what we were doing and I think we did our longest training run the week before the race. But, I did it, I was super slow, and it hurt real bad! After that experience, I could not understand why people enjoyed running that far; however, I found myself training for the full marathon the following year. “It’s the natural progression, right?!?,” I thought. This time, I joined the Missoula Marathon training class thanks to some encouraging words from Meg Brooker (yes, it’s all her fault and I’m not even sure she knows this!)! Training with the group that year (and a few subsequent years thereafter) was a game changer. I was/am still slow and the full marathon hurt more than the half, but I knew I was in good company along the way! Moreover, listening to Coach Anders each Sunday morning was always entertaining (and educational, of course!). After year two of the Missoula Marathon, I just stuck with it, and running became a part of my identity and routine. Since then, I’ve run the Missoula Marathon half or full every year, and a variety of other races (and non-races).
You’ve been an active RWM Board Member since 2012. What drew you to this role, and what do you enjoy most about it?
I wanted to join the board because I wanted to learn even more about Run Wild Missoula (RWM) and give back to this awesome running community. I had never been on a board before and wasn’t entirely sure what it would entail. I’ve learned so much over the years and it has been fantastic working with my fellow board members: each one of them passionate about RWM, and each one bringing their own skill sets and areas of expertise. I especially enjoy the opportunities we’ve had to work on strategic planning for the organization. Lastly, it’s been quite fulfilling to collectively discuss and decide upon ways to give back to our members and community.
You also have been the Race Director for Run For the Luck (RFTLOI) of It 8 years in a row. What do you enjoy most about being a Race Director? Why this Race?
Being a Race Director (RD) has been a kick! In the years before we started RFTLOI, I found myself running in so many 5Ks and 10Ks (and the MM) that I thought, “I could do this…what fun!” I conveyed my interest to RWM and when the opportunity surfaced to launch a St. Patrick’s Day-themed race, I accepted with the caveat that I’d have a co-race director. I convinced my friend Maggie to co-direct with me, which she thankfully did for the first four years before moving back to Minnesota. After that, I became a solo RD, but was not without tons of help from awesome people. I couldn’t do it without dedicated volunteers, the hubs (who carefully marks the course each year and jumps in where ever help is needed) and RWM staff! Even for the smaller races, there is so much planning and logistics that goes into it. With each race I run, I am ever more appreciative of the RD and the many volunteers who make the event come together. Finally, for me on RFTLOI race day, it’s inspiring to watch people challenge themselves whether they’re seeking a PR or running their first 5K ever – seeing all those smiling faces cross the finish line and enjoy a morning of camaraderie makes being an RD all the more worthwhile!
What is your favorite running memory and/or race?
There are so many that it’s difficult to choose, but I have to say running (and power hiking!) the Grand Canyon is my favorite. I, along with a bunch of “crazy” Missoulians, ventured to the Grand Canyon in the fall of 2015. Some folks went down to the bottom and came back up, while others (including myself), did the rim-to-rim-to-rim (R2R2R) trek. The entire experience was amazing!
I’d decided many years ago that I wanted to do the double crossing. I grew up in Arizona and went to college in Flagstaff. I’d been to the Grand Canyon many times, but often as a tourist with out-of-towners, except for one backpacking trip into Havasu Canyon to see the famed falls. I had never seen the heart of the bottom of the canyon and crossed the Colorado River. The longer I was away from Arizona, the more I wanted to go back and go all the way down!
The R2R2R group set out in the dark and one of my favorite memories from that day was watching the sunrise over the canyon as we sunk lower into it. Seeing so many different perspectives of the Grand Canyon in one day was sensory overload. I was in complete awe for so much of it and came away feeling so insignificant – the landscape is so powerful. I am humbled each time I am swallowed up by enormous mountains, canyons and rock, and wide-open spaces.
How often do you run (# of days/week)?
Spring, summer, fall, I’m usually running four-to-six days/week. Winter running days are reduced to make more time for XC skiing.
Average miles per week?
It definitely depends on whether I am training for a race or a long trek. The seasonal averages can range from 25 to 60 miles per week.
Trails, Roads, and/or Both? Do you prefer one over the other, and if so, why?
When I think back to when I sporadically ran in college while living in Flagstaff, I ran on trails and loved it; I didn’t realize I was “trail running.” Ironically, when I really started running in Missoula, I rarely ventured onto the trails. However, as a believer in mixing it up and challenging oneself, I found myself abandoning the roads for the amazing trials in our own backyard. I discovered that my body felt better because of the varied terrain and I stopped getting blisters on my feet. I also discovered that once I find my rhythm out there, I can relax and let go. While I still participate in road races (5K to half-marathon), I typically use the 5Ks and 10Ks as tempo training to work on speed.
What goes through your mind at the starting line?
The cycle of thoughts usually goes like this: “Relax! Run your own race! You’ve trained for this, now git ‘er dun! You decided to sign up for this race – nobody is making you do this, so have fun and enjoy the experience! Do I have enough fuel? What should I eat after the race? Did I put on sunblock? Do I need to hit the porta-pottie again? Yeah, I probably do…I better go get in line again. What if I miss the start? Who cares, that is what chip timing is for…you better go!”
Do you have a pre-race meal, and/or ritual?
For a pre-race meal, it depends on race and distance. I usually try to keep it simple…sometimes it’s just a rice cake with peanut or almond butter and honey…sometimes I go with oatmeal, walnuts and chia before a longer/tougher race. Oh yeah, and I usually warm up my body…unless it’s pouring rain or freezing cold…then I sit in my car like a wuss and wait till the gun is about to go off.
How about a post-race indulgence?
Oh man, I could eat pizza any day of the week, but I feel especially deserving after a hard race or long training run!
My current favorite trail shoes are the Saucony Nomad…the tread doesn’t look like much, but they get the job done on a variety of trails, for reals! Bonus: they come in super fun colors and patterns! For road shoes, I’ve been wearing the Brooks Launch for many years – they are light and always come in fun colors/patterns, too! (Cleary appearance is important to me!). 😉
Go-to energy snacks (e.g. fuel)?
For a quick snack during shorter trail races, I like the Honey Stinger gummies. For long hauls on the trail, I’m usually packing a PB&J, Lara Bars, salty pretzels and trail mix…okay, mostly it’s my excuse to eat peanut M&Ms.
Must have when running?
Visor when it’s warm/sunny. Good gloves and base layer (I’m a recent convert to Smartwool!) when it’s cold! Good socks – I like Feetures!
Finish sentence: If I didn’t run, I’d probably be dead! Okay, joking…I’d do more of everything else. As long as I can play outdoors, I’ll be a happy camper! 🙂
Words to live by, or favorite quote?
Several years ago, while reviewing family history with a Physician’s Assistant, I shared that my mom had suffered, and barely survived, a massive heart attack. She was just 64 years old and had never smoked or drank, though her health wasn’t necessarily great…and heart disease “runs in family,” after all. As I talked this over with the PA, she could sense my worry in spite of my level of activity and (mostly) healthy diet. After a moment, she looked at me and said, “just keep going – don’t stop moving your body!” Her words and advice were so simple, but it is so true. Therefore, that is what I do and that is what I encourage others to do, too! Move. Challenge yourself physically. Make your heart work! Sure, we may slow down as we get older, or be sidelined by injury from time-to-time, but most likely, we can find an alternative activity to exercise the most important muscle in our bodies!
Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, Jen moved to Missoula to pursue graduate studies at the University of Montana in 2002. She and her husband Vo have a sweet fur baby named Millie, who accompanies them on trail runs during the cooler months. In addition to running, Jen enjoys baking and cooking; during the growing season, she loves to try new recipes while incorporating all the veggies from their weekly farm share and garden. “We started gardening again last summer so I am looking forward to that again this year.” She also is known to “craft” from time-to-time with friends, including the “craft” of beer tasting, “yes, that is a hobby!”
Employed by the University of Montana for the past 13-years, and in grant management for the College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences for the last nine, Jen also serves as a “Wellness Champion” on campus and co-leads, with fellow RWM member Kelsi Camp, Team UM for the Missoula 5K Corporate Challenge. “We lead weekly training runs and try to get folks hooked on running and walking…and I have to mention we’re pretty proud to have the largest team out there on race day,” says Jen (gloating just a little bit). 😉