Twenty-four-year-old Jenny Scherer is what you might call an unlikely professional runner. The Wisconsin native was first and foremost a basketball player, even walking onto the hoops team at Division III St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. She didn’t give track a try until college, but when she did, she made a splash! Jenny went on to set school records and win All-American honors nine times during her collegiate cross country and track career. After graduating in 2010, she became one of the youngest members of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, winning her professional debut. She has since left the Hansons team and moved to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
As she begins the next phase of her running career living and training in the Twin Cities, Jenny gave Salty Running a glimpse into her running, motivators and more!
First, let’s talk about your move to the Twin Cities. On your blog you speak very openly about Hansons letting you go because you weren’t progressing the way you had hoped. Why do you think you didn’t thrive under the Hansons program?
I never communicated as well as I should have with the Hansons. I increased my mileage and then didn’t decrease intensity, so I never gave my body enough time to recover. Hansons philosophy has always been high volume, and instead of communicating when I felt really exhausted, I just kept pounding away, focused on the numbers, thinking I’d be able to grit it out and that eventually it’d pay off. Well, instead of paying off, too many miles plus too little recovery really meant I just dug myself in to a hole I couldn’t crawl back out of. I was sort of a long shot making the Hansons team already, so when I got hurt and then couldn’t seem to bounce back and run what I did upon first arriving there, we just decided it was in my best interest to move on and find a better fit elsewhere. I look back on my time there recognizing I learned so much about what it takes for long-term success in the sport (had some amazing teammates providing examples), and most of all, I know I’m a better person because of what I went through in my time there. At the end of the day, that’s really what matters.
[At Hansons] I learned so much about what it takes for long term success in the sport (had some amazing teammates providing examples), and most of all, I know I’m a better person because of what I went through in my time there. At the end of the day, that’s really what matters.
Have you adjusted to life in Minneapolis? Have you picked a new coach or training group yet?
I have lived in Minneapolis for about a month now. I have an awesome new sales job at TC Running Company, and currently am taking a couple weeks off of running to fully give my body a break. I ran a 10K in early September and it did not go well at all. With the guidance of some great people I met with upon moving here, we decided shutting it down for a bit, doing something I’ve never done –that is, take off more than a week at a time from any physical activity– would help me become better than I’ve ever been. I’m feeling really great and for once I haven’t even been tempted to run throughout this whole period I’ve taken off. I’m sure I’ll be ready to get back at it soon, but it’s clear to me now more than ever my body absolutely needed this break! I’m still deciding on coaching, but I’m very excited about the possibilities. There’s a lot of really great running related resources in the Twin Cities!! Stay tuned!
Now let’s jump in the way-back machine and talk about how you began your running career. You have a unique story, in that you didn’t start running until college. If you could change things, would you have started running at an earlier age?
I actually did run cross country in high school, but it never meant much more than staying in shape for basketball season. First starting out freshman year in high school I remember basically begging to do the least amount of miles possible. Oh how times change! It’s true though that I didn’t start taking running seriously until second semester of college, when I had made the basketball team, rode the bench, ran to vent my frustration, been seen by the head track coach, who then persuaded me to join. And it was a MUCH better fit. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing regarding my introduction to competitive running.
When did you first realize that you wanted to run professionally, and that you’d have that opportunity?
Really the summer between my final collegiate track season and my final season of eligibility for cross country is when I started reflecting on all I had done and how much untouched potential I believed I still had, since running was (and is) still pretty new to me. I thought if I could have a really solid final cross country season, competing post-collegiate would be a sure bet. I emailed Keith and Kevin Hanson knowing I was a long shot and didn’t really expect to hear much back. But Corey, one of the assistants with the HBDP, came and watched me at the National cross country meet, and I ran well, and from there we set up a visit!
You made the leap from Division III collegiate running to competing for one of the better-known professional groups in the U.S. What words of wisdom do you have for those who are dreaming big like you did?
Never give up on your dreams. You can make what seems impossible possible. Just keep working hard, stay as patient as you can, and always stay positive. Good things take time!
How would you compare collegiate running to post-collegiate running, both from a physical training and a mental perspective? What would you list as the pros and cons of both?
It’s a whole new ballgame, just as going from high school to college is. It was definitely not an easy transition for me. I ran more miles with the Hansons group than I ever had in my life, at a faster pace than I ever had before too.
There aren’t many better feelings in this world than the happiness and smiles that come along with setting a goal and reaching it, or even surpassing it!
I also trained with other elite women for the first time. It really opened my eyes and gave me a whole new perspective on being a “professional.” The women I trained with all had been professionals for a couple of years, and I learned so much about patience from them. They didn’t become some of the best in the nation (and in some cases, the world) overnight. I really enjoyed having women to run with day in and day out, and we talked about so many other things outside of running. We all became such good friends. I ran by myself way too often in college, and I regret that I didn’t make more of an effort to run easy days with teammates, because once I got to Hansons and discovered how wonderful it is to have running buddies, I wished I wouldn’t have settled for running by myself almost all the time in college!
A major con for me at Hansons was the pressure. I already put a lot of pressure on myself just innately, and so to add the pressure of a professional contract as well as comparing myself and my performances with the rest of my teammates, it just got very tough. When I wasn’t running well, it got difficult to stay optimistic and not be down on myself.
You have mentioned on your blog that your outlook on nutrition changed when you started running with the Hansons-Brooks group. What’s been the biggest change you’ve made? What do you typically eat pre-race?
Another problem for me in running a lot by myself in college was that I didn’t really recognize the importance of recovery, and especially recovery nutrition. I simply didn’t eat enough. My body changed a lot from a basketball player to a long distance runner, so when I lost some weight, I unwisely thought it was okay to continue losing it. While it is true you’re able to go faster the leaner you are, there’s obviously a point of diminishing returns.
Once I got to Hansons, I had a group of women that showed me in order to last in the sport you have to think of food as fuel. Your body can’t possibly continue to function well if you let it get near empty too often. And I didn’t realize this fully until after I got injured, which I know correlated with my undereating. Finally, I have the mindset that I have to have an energy balance; that is, I’ve got to properly replenish all the thousands of calories I burn with my high mileage weeks in order to run to the best of my ability and stay healthy. This is something that is still a work in progress for me.
Typically, pre-race I will eat plenty of carbs, and add in some protein as well – sometimes pasta with meat sauce, sometimes stir fry and brown rice. I’m not too set on a specific pre-race meal. I do try to avoid lots of fiber and fat as that can mess with my stomach on race day.
Has running changed your perspective on any other parts of your life?
Absolutely it has. I think especially when it’s been taken away from me due to injury. It just reminds you of what’s truly important in life, teaches you never to take your health or really anything in your life for granted. And along with that, coming back from injury teaches strength, and perseverance, which can be translated to many other areas of your life. Additionally, the goals I have set in my running career can easily be translated to the workplace, too. There aren’t many better feelings in this world than the happiness and smiles that come along with setting a goal and reaching it, or even surpassing it!
You’ve dealt with a number of injuries throughout your career so far. What advice do you have for dealing with the mental side of being injured?
You’ve got to take it day by day. Ask yourself, “what can I do TODAY to get one step closer to being back running healthy?” First, visit a sports doctor and get a firm diagnosis. Be sure to find a doctor that can help you find the cause behind your injury. Injuries are usually caused by either overuse or weakness in a specific area of your body (or both!), so that’s why getting to the root cause of your injury is incredibly important. It will help you get back from the injury quicker AND prevent it from happening again! Then, finally, find out which, if any, forms of cross training you can do to stay sane while your injury heals. You should be able to either bike, elliptical, swim, aqua jog, or even just walk to keep your cardiovascular system strong. The only exception may be if the injury is due to overuse. In that case, a couple weeks of rest might be best before trying to do any forms of cross training. Bottom line is to remember in due time you will return to running. Stay positive!
Part of our Salty Running Manifesto is “Be brave and try new things. Go crazy. You might just amaze yourself with what you’re capable of.” How did you decide Minnesota was the next step for your running journey?
I love that manifesto. It’s so true! Getting out of your comfort zone can always lead you to new heights.
I wanted to stay close to my family in Wisconsin, yet discover an area I wasn’t too familiar with. I also wanted a place where running and an active lifestyle is commonplace. The Twin Cities definitely fulfills all of those prerequisites. I also walked in to a running store while visiting (prior to moving) and was told they were looking to hire a full-time female employee. The stars had aligned for me!
You have lived in Wisconsin, Michigan and now Minnesota. Setting aside things like teammates and coaches, what’s been your favorite from a pure running perspective?
Oh jeez, that’s very tough. All three have their “rave runs.” I think thus far, though, the most breathtaking runs I’ve had have been around the bodies of water right here in Minneapolis and St. Paul. I had one particular sunset run around Lake Harriet in Minneapolis where I couldn’t stop smiling! It was so gorgeous.
You are a very prolific Twitter-er, and are always sharing or re-tweeting quotes. Do you have a favorite quote that can be applied to running?
“Life’s battles don’t always go to the strongest or fastest man,
But sooner or later the man who wins is the fellow who thinks he can.”
Obviously, I normally replace ‘man’ with ‘woman,’ but I love this quote because running is a sport where hard work can get you especially far, as well as a sport that is so very much mental. In races, and in life, he/she who comes out on top isn’t usually the most talented, but the one who works hard and the one who believes they can come out on top. Hard work, faith, and confidence are a nearly unbeatable trifecta!
And, yes, I love Twitter. @Knightrunner22. Follow me, I’ll do my best to follow you back. (even if I am currently over the follow limit!)
Do you have any race day mantras?
I wish I would have used mantras more when I was in college. I use them more now as I’ve recognized how much they can sharpen your mental game. I use “strong, believe, achieve!” because it reminds me of how much strength I have within me, and that as long as I believe and have confidence in myself and all the hard work I’ve put in, I can achieve just about anything!
Accept where you are in your present state and do all you can now to be the best you possibly can be.
What’s the best running advice you ever received?
To never compare results from last year to where you are now. Accept where you are in your present state and do all you can now to be the best you possibly can be. Running is always going to be a bit of a rollercoaster (as is life!), with plenty of ups and downs, so you just have to do your best to enjoy the ride, enjoy the here and now. Put in the day-to-day work, and eventually your hard work will pay off and those PR’s will come. This is something I still struggle with – focusing on the present, not looking too far in to your past or your future!
You’ve run four half marathons. Do you see a marathon in your future?
Yes, definitely. I need to get my PR’s down in the shorter distances first, though. And I do love the half marathon distance. I have no set year or age in mind for my marathon debut. I’m truly not in a huge rush to run 26.2. Studies show for women your peak marathon years are 28-32, so I’ve got plenty of time!
You spectated at both the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and the Track Trials. How would you describe those experiences, particularly from the point of view of a professional runner?
Absolutely amazing experiences. Each unique in their own way, but so inspiring and so much fun to be a part of! At the Marathon Trials, thinking about how I was less than a minute from qualifying to be able to line up with those women was pretty tough, but in the end just incredibly motivating. I will be on that starting line in 2016! And Hayward Field just gave me the chills. There’s a reason Eugene’s called TrackTown USA. Such pure fans of the sport inside that stadium and running all over town and along Pre’s Trail. Both events were extremely special to me. I am so blessed to have been able to attend both and I certainly take away memories from each to last a lifetime!
What are some of your long-term goals?
Make the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2016. Place as a top 10 American at several US road races. Make a World Championship team. Dabble in trail running, hopefully at the international level. Contribute on a larger scale to the sport of distance running and track and field – help to promote it and increase its popularity within the United States (continue the momentum/buzz from the Olympic year!). Get more people of all ages running. Coach at some level. Educate young women/women runners about the importance of fueling their bodies properly, and help them develop positive self-esteem. I know will never stop setting lofty goals… and I will never stop sharing my passion for running!
We here at Salty Running wish Jenny the best of luck as she starts this new phase of her running career! Read more about her passion for running and keep up with her adventures on Twitter at www.twitter.com/knightrunner22 and on her blog at http://www.jennyontherun.com.