Dynamic duo

When Jess Nicholson ran in the Boston Marathon in 2011, her twin sister, Jenna Maholtra, ran up to encourage her at 16-km.

The days keep flying by, and as I fit in my last few short runs before this weekend’s half-marathon, I keep thinking about all of the inspiring people I have crossed paths with over the years who have blazed the trail before me.

Jessica (Urbshott) Nicholson is one of those people. Both she and her twin sister, Jenna (Urbshott) Maholtra, made fitness a part of their daily life back in high school, when I was eating brownies and poutine like there was no tomorrow, and could barely run out my driveway to catch the bus. They would go to the gym in Owen Sound, Ont. – a good half hour away from our hometown of Wiarton – every day before class.

Since then, the sisters have each grown up to become successful in their own right. But each continue to push their own physical boundaries in ways that raise the hair on my arms.

I’ll never forget hearing about Jenna’s engagement to her longtime boyfriend, Keith, at the finish line of Wiarton’s Shore to Shore race in 2008.

And when Jess, now a 27-year-old occasional teacher, qualified for the coveted Boston Marathon in 2009 – deferring her race till 2011 – I felt another burst of Wiarton pride.

Jess continues to push herself to meet tougher goals. Read on to find out what she plans on tackling next…

How many half marathons and marathons have you run? What is your personal best? What is your next goal?

I have run eight half marathons and five marathons since 2005.  My personal best in the half marathon distance is 1:32:19 in the Toronto Marathon in October of 2010 and 3:29:06 in the Hamilton Marathon in November of 2011.  I am currently training for the New York City Marathon which is in November of this year.  My long term running goals are to break 20 minutes in the 5km, 40 minutes in the 10km, 1:30 mins in the half marathon and to run a 3:20 in the marathon.  Those goals are very dynamic in nature and require very different training and will be extremely challenging for me to achieve, but not impossible!  The Chicago Marathon is also on my radar as a must-run race in my lifetime.

Tell me about Boston.

The Boston Marathon is an incredible experience; anyone who has competed in that race would agree.  It is the most prestigious and sought after marathon for marathon runners and becomes a serious goal for dedicated runners.  I qualified in my second marathon in Toronto with a 3:37 in October of 2009 and I decided to defer and run Boston in April of 2011.  My family travelled to Boston with me and we certainly made a vacation out of the weekend.  We took in a Boston Red Sox baseball game as well as a Boston Bruins playoff game and toured the city.  The challenge for me was qualifying for the race and actually getting there; once I was there I just enjoyed myself and ran a comfortable pace with no time goal in mind.

The race itself is indescribable; with 26, 000 runners and screaming fans for 42.2 km, it certainly brings new meaning to the term “runner’s high.”  The infamous jacket tops it all.  Before I owned one I would always admire those wearing a Boston jacket and think of how fast they must be and now I can proudly wear mine as a symbol of my accomplishment.

What advice do you have for people attempting the half for the first time?

Go out and enjoy yourself! You have no benchmark or time to try and beat and it is important that you focus on completing the event and having fun doing it. After you finish your first half marathon and decide that you really enjoyed it, then you can start planning and setting goals for yourself for your next race.

In terms of fueling properly, every individual is very different in their nutrition and hydration needs. Personally, I train with a fuel belt with water and or an electrolyte replacement depending on the weather and length of the run.  I also use electrolyte chews and gels for nutrition along the way.  Everyone’s tolerance and reaction to different products is different and it is critical to exercise that trial and error process in your training so you know exactly what to expect on race day.  Experienced runners will be full of advice and do’s and don’ts for you but it is important that you do what works for you and not become consumed in other runner’s strategies and advice.

How do you get through the final few km?

I always say running is 99 per cent mental because many runners have prepared accordingly and their fitness level is appropriate for the event, however, at the later stages of the race they experience very difficult moments that affect everyone differently.  I have walked in every single marathon including Boston.  I find it very difficult from 32 to 36km in the full marathon and I often succumb to this perceived weakness and have walking breaks.  I am not convinced that it is necessarily bad for me as maybe that is what allows me to finish, however, it does affect my time.  It is important for you to do what works for you; some runners push through, others walk.  Listen to your body and do what you feel is in your own best interest and do not be ashamed to walk.

What inspires you to run?

The challenge of pushing myself to my limits and setting and achieving new goals.  I know I have not yet reached my full potential as a runner and I am anxious to do so and excited to see what I am truly capable of achieving in the world of running.


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April C

Writer, editor and mom in Saint John, NB.

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