Rachel Jaten, dubbed by Runner’s World as “The Comeback Runner,” competed in her second Olympics marathon trials this February at age 40. After competing in track and field in college, she took a decade-long hiatus before reemerging as a competitive marathoner in 2011.
The Spokane native ranked 125th in the field going into the trials and took 48th in the race. Now, she’s set her eyes on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
You didn’t run competitively for ten years, and now you’re competing to run in the Olympics. What’s your formula for success?
The biggest thing, honestly, was surrounding myself with people with similar goals, and then having someone to coach me so I knew what I was doing because I knew nothing about training for a marathon.
What was the moment you realized you could become a competitive runner again?
I joined the [Spokane] Swifts in 2008. I was getting back into running and all these women were women whose names I’d seen in results nationally. I had been so far removed from that and I was able to hang with them at workouts—for the most part. I was still fighting my way back. But it was the first inkling that if I got in shape, I could compete with them.
You ran track distances in college. What compelled you to switch to the marathon?
Mostly my age. I figured that’s what people do after college: You’re done with track and what’s next? A marathon, obviously. And I knew, too, that if I actually trained for a marathon, I’d get in pretty good shape.
What would you tell other women thinking about trying for their pie-in-the-sky dream?
Well, first, goal setting. And then, asking for help. There are people who are able to do this completely on their own and figure it out, but it’s so much smoother if you have people you can ask for help.
Having a coach and having some supportive people in your life. Not even a spouse, but having a mom or a sister or a friend—it’s sort of holding you accountable and pushing you forward when it’s the last thing you want to do.
What’s it like to be out there, racing in the Olympic trials?
They had a little athlete gated area but spectators could be right up against the fence. It was a little four-foot fence, and it was kind of cool because you could see people’s families coming right up to the fence and doing last minute well-wishing.
As I ran, there were always little groups of three to four people that were working together and moving together, so I would leave one group and move to another group and join them. That got me through the middle of the race.
I ran a lot of the race with Colleen De Reuck, 51, four-time Olympian and oldest contestant in the race. She would pull ahead and then check to see if I was with her. It just feels so much better to be running next to somebody than getting stuck in a void and running by yourself.
Before I knew it, I was at 18 miles. And I was like, “Wow, that went by fast!” And then I hit 22, and that was the longest four miles of my life. It was horrible, but I knew I could do it because it was only four miles.
What did it feel like to finally cross the finish line?
Tons of relief. Looking back on it, if I was thinking clearly, I probably should have taken an IV. They asked me if I wanted to go to the medical tent because I was having trouble walking.
I took it in for a few minutes and then I started looking for my family and I saw my wife Michelle. That’s kind of when it hit me, and I got a little teary for a few minutes and said, “I’m happy” and I was proud of myself.
So, you’re in for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?
Yeah, I will totally go for it. It’s funny because I’ve trained for two marathons now and for both of them, it’s turned out to be super hot, which is kind of frustrating. I still want to run a race that represents the training that I’ve put in.
My body feels pretty good, so I don’t see myself slowing down for a while. I’d love to be a Colleen De Reuck out there, the oldest lady out there and still killin’ it.