The Casual Runner

My First Mile: Jenny Lenkowski

My First Mile: Jenny Lenkowksi (Guest Contributor)

Jenny is a native of Vermont who currently calls Baltimore, Maryland home, where she teaches biology to eager college students at Goucher College.  Speaking of eager, Jenny may not be the most eager of Casual Runners, but she succeeded in her Casual Running adventure despite this, and did it her own way…proving yet again that every Casual Runner has both a story to tell and a way to make Casual Running his or her own personal experience.  

I told Mike I would write a post after I registered for my second runDisney Wine & Dine Half Marathon. Admittedly I am starting writing this on the eve of registration, but he assures me that if I am ready at noon, I will be able to register. (Spoiler: I’m in for the 2015 Wine & Dine!!)


One of the inspirations for Jenny’s Casual Running journey: toeing the line at THIS starting line.

I have never been particularly athletic, but do like to be active. I walked many, MANY miles prior to starting to run them. My mom has multiple sclerosis, and I have crewed one and walked ten MS Challenge Walks in her honor. After the lack of training my first year, which lead to crazy blisters and painful joints, I was determined to train properly and in year two to not end up in pain like year one again! I got fitted at Marathon Sports in Boston with Brooks Adrenaline shoes, and they have been my go-to sneaker ever since. Also key was the Wright socks to prevent most of my blisters: 500 miles officially walked for MS, plus all of those training miles!

SMO Love: That’s right, I have shiny metal object from walking 50 miles! I am missing some because the first couple of years I did not think I might want them some day. Whoops.

SWAG Love: That’s right, I got lots of t-shirts for walking 50 miles. So many that I made a quilt with some!

Right now you are thinking: “But Jenny, this blog isn’t about walking…What about that first running mile?”

My tenth MS Challenge Walk was coming around in 2013 (I missed a year for a friend’s wedding) and I did not train as much as I knew I should. I did not fear the blisters, because I had my Brooks Adrenaline sneakers and now Injinji socks to prevent toe blisters, but I did fear painful leg muscles and joints. I would still push through. After all, my Mom has MS, so I could handle a few days of leg pain for her! But there was no (excessive) leg pain. I felt pretty good. Apparently my legs had become great walkers!

MS Walk

Jenny, her mom, and their team on the MS walk.

MY FIRST MILE: As much as I love walking for exercise, it is a bit time consuming when you start feeling that 4 to 6 miles is necessary to get in the requisite amount of exercise. So I started running…occasionally…because it was faster exercise than walking. I pointed this out to a friend, and he suggested that I run only because I am lazy.

That was right before Mike registered for his first Wine & Dine Half Marathon, and I may have been convinced to also do so were I not starting a new job the same fall. So I promised I would run the following year if he would too. It is not difficult to convince Mike to run a runDisney event. But if I was going to do it, my goal would be to run the whole race.

I basically trained for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon over the course of 14 months. I never officially stuck to a training plan, but did check out the Galloway plans on runDisney and realized that I could mix in some walking and actually get faster overall. While I may run because I am lazy, I am also lazy about running.

Intentional intervals are beyond me. I mean, sometimes a strong wind is enough for me to call off a planned run, never mind making it all complicated! I started running to get in exercise and would run 2-3 miles two or three times a week for several months. In the winter, I started upping it to the occasional 4.5 – 6 miles (there is a convenient 1.5 mile loop at work I often run!). By mid-summer before Wine & Dine, I was (usually in a good week) running 3 miles twice a week and 5 or 6 miles on the weekends. My knees and hips would start hurting around mile 6, which is when I was fitted with Brooks Cadence running shoes, and I have never looked back. Sometime in mid-August I think, I discovered a rail trail not too far from my house and started doing 8-10 miles every couple of weeks. My stamina was pretty good, so I would usually push myself to run 10k before mixing in my version of intervals.


Jenny and Mike celebrating Jenny’s first half marathon with the big Mouse himself.

Despite being my goal, my FIRST RACE was not the Wine & Dine! Because I had only run alone and at my own pace and with my own music, I wanted to have some idea what it would be like to run with a bunch of other people, so I ran a 5k on the college campus where I work. There was no swag or SMOs, but it was fun nonetheless.

My SECOND RACE was the Wine & Dine. Mike already reviewed it here. I knew I could walk the race in the time that Disney requires, and thanks to my distaste of running and therefore the idea of having to get up early on my weekend to run a race, I had not run a qualifying race to place into a better corral than the last one. Word of advice: if you do not otherwise have a qualifying time and plan on doing something other than just walking the race, RUN A QUALIFYING RACE.

Mike has already done an excellent job reviewing the race, so I will just mention a few of my own experiences to augment what he has already said. I sent Mike everything I thought he would need to pick up my race packet, but alas Disney still does old school paper stuff and I guess I was missing a paper. He was kind enough to go back to the expo the next day so I could pick my stuff up. [CR Note: runDisney has since eliminated picking up packets for other runners, and every runner must now pick up his or her own race packet in person].

2014-11-09 00.51.56

Not even the rain was going to stop Jenny from taking this mid-race selfie at the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights.

It rained. A lot. Disney still did their best to have some characters out there, and I made sure to stop once. When I finished I could have ended up getting really cold. Like hypothermia cold. We kept skipping bathrooms until we got to one where I could be inside to wait until I could change.

My parents had made a long weekend of my race to support me in my first big race. While I loved that I did not have to get up at 3:30 in the morning to run this race, it is tricky for supporters to stay up late to watch someone finish…especially someone who has not run a qualifying race and will be finishing a bit late. They were troupers and are pretty sure they saw me near the finish. The weather and crowds made it too difficult for them to find me after the race though.

Considering the weather and several more stops than I would normally do on a run that long, I was proud of my time. A few times, like around the Tree of Life in Animal Kingdom I was seriously cruising. All warmed up, a light rain, cool temps. The only thing holding me back was the crowds! Oh, the crowds! At no point in the race did I not have to worry about running around other runners.


Jenny certainly earned this bling as she crossed the finish line at her first half marathon, but not even the rain could wash away her pride.

To this day I maintain that I do not like running, but it is efficient exercise, and apparently I CAN do it. After last year’s Wine & Dine, my running tapered off. The good thing is I know I can run longer distances now, so even after a hiatus I push myself a little more and my legs catch back up faster. For now, the Wine & Dine will keep me exercising. This time around, my finish time last year will bump me up several corrals if I, ahem, do not run another qualifying race in the meantime.

Jenny’s story is the latest in our series of First Mile features. You can check out the others below, and, if you are so inclined, we’d love to add your own story to this collection!

– Carly shared with us why she wants to be a runDisney Princess, and reminded us of the importance of setting personal goals and sticking to them.

Jake explained how he got himself onto the path of his own Casual Running adventure, which now includes a very creative race costuming hobby

– Jennifer is a mainstay of the Casual Runner Team, but she had to start somewhere. Here is her first mile story.

– Mike also had to start somewhere. As we mentioned above, it took him several times of trying and failing before he was able to succeed in his goal of becoming a Casual Runner, Here is his story.

– Starting from a different point of view, Steve, ran his first mile, and never looked back.

– In sharing her first mile story, Jen helped us to understand the way we view ourselves as runners and running itself.

– Ryan’s compelling first mile involved conquering some personal challenges.

– Allison inspired us by sharing where she found her own inspiration.

– Kari’s first miles and race experience were unique and personal, and serve to remind us that we all have unique experiences and stories to share.

Like Jenny, we all have great stories and messages to share. The Casual Runner Team wants to hear from you. If you have any questions about anything we cover here on Casual Runner, if you have any questions regarding running gear or training for your own Casual Running needs, or if there is anything that you would like us to cover on Casual Runner, please leave a comment or email us using the links below.  To ensure that you do not miss all of the great content from Casual Runner, please be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and add us to your circle on Google+.  See you out on the running trails!



4 thoughts on “My First Mile: Jenny Lenkowski

  1. Pingback: The Casual Runner | Guest Contributor Jen Smith: My First Mile - The Casual Runner

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