Haute Volée pushrim athlete Jenna Fesemyer was thrilled to be able to put a race on the calendar. Between the secure "bio bubble" and the tight turns, this London Marathon will be unlike any other. Jenna explains how this prep has tested her love of sport and ultimately brought her to place of gratitude and excitement.
It’s hard to believe that I am traveling to the UK to race in the 40th Virgin Money London Marathon! I’m starting to get all of those race emotions again – you know what I’m talking about – the immense gratitude for the ability to race in this current climate, the anxiousness of the final prep and tapering, and finally, the overwhelming joy and love that I have in my heart for the gift of wheelchair racing and marathons.
It’s no secret that marathon prep (and sport in general) has looked a lot different during this time. When quarantine started in March, our team quickly went to our training center, grabbed all of our training equipment (for wheelchair racers, that includes our racing wheelchairs, extra tires, gloves, helmets, flags, and an extremely heavy roller to train indoors) and we said our goodbyes with an uncertain tone, not knowing when we would train together once again. Races slowly canceled (or postponed and then canceled), the Games were delayed until 2021, and our spirits sank as our wheelchair racing community was silenced. We tried to iron out what sport would look like in the coming months.
As everything settled in, we slowly figured out safe procedures to train together once again. We had a summer full of high mileage as we realized that our true love and foundation for the sport didn't rely on any race or world rankings. It rested within the love for fitness, the ability to advocate for change through sport, and the willingness to make exercise a lifestyle for longevity and overall wellness.
When London announced its October race and I quickly replied with my “yes” in competing, I knew that this race would be a lot different than anything I had ever experienced. Upon receiving a formal invitation in July, London explained their idea of a 2k loop (about 20 laps, clockwise), a biosphere environment ensuring safety for athletes, and a series of questionnaires and testing as we were nearing our travel dates. My “yes” in competing at the Virgin Money London Marathon was ultimately a decision not made out of fear, but rather, prudence – a virtue I have been working on ever since the virus spiked in March.
My prep here in Champaign, IL has included a lot of race simulation, including practicing cornering and accelerating out of turns. Knowing that the course won’t have a straight leg longer than 800m, I anticipate a very technical race - very similar to a world championship or Games marathon – when athletes use strategy instead of speed to jockey for the top spot. Of course, the Elite Women’s Marathon field includes Manuela Schar from Switzerland. She is currently the fastest woman wheelchair athlete in the field, so I expect her aggressive accelerations on the course. This race will be as challenging mentally as it is physically; there may be a lot of congestion around turns as the athletes attempt the most efficient line around the corners. Ultimately, I think athletes will be excited simply to be racing again. I haven’t raced a marathon since the New York City Marathon in November 2019, so I want to channel that excitement into healthy energy that I can use on the course.
An immense amount of gratitude goes out to my teammates on the University of Illinois Wheelchair Track Team at this time. As I am the only athlete traveling to London to compete, I am so grateful for their encouragement during our training sessions and mentorship in this unique preparation. As summer has turned into fall, it is most certainly starting to feel like marathon season!
This will be a unique experience competing in the time of COVID, traveling without my teammates, and racing in a biosphere without any spectators or fans. But I know it will bring a great educational opportunity and the gift of celebrating life through sport.
So here we are! I am closing up the final prep for the 40th Virgin Money London Marathon, and I can finally say, I am ready to fly:
Head Up, Wings Out… with prudence and an immense amount of joy and love for our running community.
To watch Jenna compete in the 2020 London Marathon, tune in here at 5:10am Pacific on Sunday, Oct. 4th!