Gwen Jorgensen Second Guessing Her Decision to Quit the Triathlon After Chicago Marathon

by Jonathan Gault
October 7, 2018

CHICAGO — It was less than a year ago that Gwen Jorgensen made one of the biggest decisions of her life, abandoning a thriving triathlon career in favor of trying to make it as a professional marathoner, with the audacious goal of winning Olympic marathon gold in 2020.

And after finishing ran her first “real” marathon today in Chicago, finishing 11th in 2:36:23 (she also ran 2:41 in New York in 2016 off very limited running training), Jorgensen wasn’t sure she made the right call.

“To be brutally honest, right after the race I looked at my husband and said ‘Oh my goodness, I’m really questioning what the heck I’m doing,’” Jorgensen said.

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That is not the final verdict — Jorgensen allows herself 24 hours to be “pissed off” after a bad race, which this was. But in the immediate aftermath, Jorgensen struggled to find positives from her performance. She said she had battled a fever all week but added that she doesn’t like to make excuses as she has raced well while sick in the past. She was happy with how she handled her fueling and nutrition today. Other than that? Not a good day at the office.

“I am, I would say, gutted, very disappointed with my result,” Jorgensen said. “I had training that was better than that…I really feel like my training was indicative of faster racing.”

Jorgensen, who shocked the distance community by running 15:15 in her first track race in January less than seven months after giving birth, went through halfway in 75:48 but faded big time in the second half. She was still on 2:33:16 pace at 35k but ended up running her final 7.195km in over 6:30 pace (6:32.6). Jorgensen said that while she did not have a time goal in mind for this race, she was under instructions not to run faster than 5:40 per mile (2:28:34 pace).

Today showed that Jorgensen still has a long, long way to go if she is to contend for Olympic gold (or even make the U.S. team, considering she was the fifth U.S. finisher in what was a weak American field), but she knew going in that her transition to the marathon would not be easy. She wanted a challenge. Now she’s got one.

“I wouldn’t say [the marathon] is more difficult [than I expected],” Jorgensen said. “Stepping up to a completely different sport, a completely different distance than I’ve ever done, I knew it was going to be this huge challenge and that’s something that I wanted. Triathlon, I felt like I had mastered it and that wasn’t exciting for me, it didn’t get me motivated every day. So for me to be confronted with what I need to do is something that gets me awake every day and makes me work hard.”

Jorgensen racing at Stanford earlier this year (via @talbotcox) Jorgensen racing at Stanford earlier this year (via @talbotcox)

While today was a subpar showing, Jorgensen was not entirely pessimistic about the training that preceded it. She was able to get up to 120 miles per week in this training block without her body breaking down, the kind of mileage it will take to compete with the world’s best.

And she pointed out that her transition to the triathlon was a rough one as well: she was unable to finish her first World Triathlon Series race as she was lapped on the bike leg (Jorgensen swam and ran in college but did not bike).

“I feel like I’m trending in the right way,” Jorgensen said.

After today’s result, it is still hard to imagine Jorgensen contending for a spot on the Olympic team at the Trials in Atlanta 16 months from now. American women’s marathoning is in the midst of an unprecedented boom, and the gap from Jorgensen to the likes of Shalane Flanagan, Jordan Hasay, Des Linden, Molly Huddle, and Amy Cragg seems insurmountable. And while some of those names may not make it to the start line of the Trials — Flanagan could retire; Hasay is hurt and hasn’t raced a marathon in a year and other contenders could join her on the disabled list — there will still be plenty of talent in that race.

Gwen Jorgensen always knew that her transition to the marathon would be a challenge. Today, the challenge got real.

Jorgensen’s splits today:

5k 17:59
10k 17:57
15k 17:48
20k 18:06
25k 18:17
30k 18:07
35k 18:58
40k 20:01
40k to finish (21:06 5k pace)

Discuss: Gwen Jorgensen 2:36:23 – where does she go from here?

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