In 1991, Jen Rhines won her first New York state high school title, at 1500 meters. That's 21 years ago. Now, at the age of 37, Rhines will toe the starting line on Sunday as a favorite to win the More Magazine/Fitness Magazine Women's Half-Marathon.
In between, she won three NCAA championships and is a three-time Olympian at three different distances: 5000 meters, 10,000 meters, and the marathon. In June, she expects to compete in an Olympic Trials for the seventh time when she seeks to make her fourth Olympic team, this time at either 5000 meters or 10,000 meters.
As a child, Rhines dreamed of becoming an Olympian, and vividly remembers watching, with her dad, Mary Slaney in the 1984 Olympic Games. But when she was winning those state titles back at Liverpool High School, on the shores of Onandaga Lake near Syracuse, NY, did she ever think she'd be at it this long?
"Definitely not," Rhines said.
In those two decades, Rhines's only serious injury has occurred when she tore her plantar fascia on the last lap of the 5000 meters 2008 Olympic semi-final. She still managed to make the final, where she finished 14th.
The secret to health and longevity, she believes, is in maintaining a healthy variety in both exercise and diet, and in doing the little extras even if you are a time-starved recreational runner instead of a pro.
"If you can fit in a little time to do the stretching and strengthening and a little bit of gym work, or at least kind of mix in a few different things, that really helps, especially to avoid overuse injuries," said Rhines in a telephone interview. "If you're running the exact same pace every day and using the same muscles, things can get fatigued and overworked."
Rhines said that the most important "extra" for a recreational runner is to take a few minutes to stretch every day or two even if it means cutting a run short by five or 10 minutes. In addition, she recommends adding a few "strides"—fast pickups of 60 to 100 meters; not sprinting but quick—to the end of easy runs to keep muscles loose and prevent yourself from getting stuck in the same pattern of running.
Similarly, Rhines suggests that runners gain core strength by alternating days of doing a few planks with some medicine-ball work, in which "even five minutes will hit a little bit of everything," she said.
Rhines said that she is committed to competing as a professional for the next two years. After that?
"I will see where my passions lie," she said. "I'll always run for fitness, because I really enjoy it. I also think I'll still hit the weight room or gym when I retire. I really like doing the ancillary strength work in addition to running."