Always Looking for the Next Challenge: Interview with Jean Quinn Wescher
Meet Jean Quinn Wescher… our first featured Body Physics Endurance Athlete. This native of Schaumburg, IL is a busy mom of two and an avid runner who recently not only completed the challenging Ice Age 50-mile endurance trail race but did so with hours to spare, much to her own surprise.
The Ice Age Trail 50, founded in 1982, is one of America’s Classic Ultramarathons beginning and finishing in the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine Forest just north of La Grange, WI. This ultra run is famously demanding with incessant hills and a mostly single track dirt course—with treacherous rocks and exposed tree roots providing additional excitement— that twists and turns through pinewoods, hardwood forests, and rolling prairies. With total elevation gain/loss of 7454/7488ft over the brutal 50 miles, this course is known throughout the ultra community for being tough.
Despite its daunting reputation, the race has a 12hr cutoff time for the 50 mile distance. However, with her hard work and dedication, Jean was able to come in well ahead of the game by finishing in under 10 hrs despite the wicked winds and unseasonably cold temps on race day.
At an average pace of 11:37/mile, Jean’s official race time was 9:40:28 placing her in the top 20 of all the female finishers. One might wonder how she was able to accomplish such a feat, especially since she trains almost exclusively on flat terrain, but for Jean it’s easy: she loves to challenge herself!
“I’m always looking for the next thing… always thinking of where I can push myself.”
And, indeed she does. Jean recalls running the 50k distance at Ice Age last year and then deciding to try for the 50 miles. Unfortunately, due to an illness, her longest training run prior to the race was only 22 miles. However, true to her ambitious self, she decided to attempt it anyways. Upon the suggestion of her friend, who had done it before, Jean planned to run a certain pace to ensure she’d make the intermediate cut off times. At the first check in, however, she recalls being 7 min faster than her friend’s recommendation, so she just pressed on. As she puts it, “I continued to pace myself and never felt like I needed to stop.”
Jean is no stranger to amazing running accomplishments—from running the 50 miler to qualifying for Boston (not once but twice!). However, it hasn’t always been like that. While she used to run cross country and track in middle and high school, she stopped while in college. She jokes that it wasn’t until she started gaining weight that she decided to go back. It was then that running became her obsession. When asked about her motivation, Jean remarks, “I’m actually very lucky because I LOVE running and it feels great to just DO IT. For me, running is NOT optional… it’s just something I DO. Plus, I love to eat so I run to earn my ice cream!”
And while she can earn a lot of ice cream with her runs nowadays, at first, she preferred the much short distances. “If you had told me I’d be running these endurance type races a decade ago, I would have told you, “no way!” In fact, it was only 10 years ago that she ran her first 10 miler at Soldier Field. Before that, she always thought running long distances was crazy but finishing that race gave her a push to attempt a Half Marathon. And that was enough—she discovered she COULD run these distances because she had a lot of endurance. Since then, she’s completed 18 marathons and 3 ultras. In 2016, she’d even done the Mittens Challenge which consists of running 2 marathons back-to-back: the Wisconsin Marathon in Kenosha on a Saturday and the Kalamazoo Marathon in Michigan the following day. It's worth noting that Jean was able to run each of the consecutive marathons in roughly 4 hrs with less than two minute difference in her finish times between the two (4:04 on Saturday and 4:06 on Sunday).
In addition, Jean’s running resume also includes qualifying for Boston. The first time was in 2010 at the Indy Marathon after missing the cut off time by 38 seconds three weeks prior in Chicago! While she didn’t run it that year, she went on to requalify in 2018—and ran it together with her friend. “We made a pact to run together and to just enjoy it! Which was great because no pressure meant no failure. I loved that race because of the atmosphere, the city, and all the people coming together despite the horrible weather.”
Obviously an accomplished runner, Jean has had to work hard to fit her training into her busy daily life. As her routine got increasingly busy with two little ones, she has had to rely on some creative solutions including running on the treadmill during naptimes and waking up very early in order to get the run in before the kids—now 7 and nearly 5--woke up. And it doesn’t hurt to have a great team backing her: “Fortunately, I have a very supportive husband who takes care of the kids when I don’t make it back home on time or when I have to do my Saturday long runs.” In addition, for the last 10 years, Jean has worked with with Coach Tom who has done a great job helping her balance her life commitments and athletic goals and taught her how to train smart—not long.
As a seasoned athlete, Jean does have a few words of advice for the aspiring runners: “First of all, trust the process! Good days and bad days are all part of it and, with time, you will train your body to do more so have patience and take it one step at a time—you can’t go from nothing to running a long-distance race without putting in the work. Also, have fun! It’s really not about the speed but about having the right mental attitude.” Lastly, she points out that getting fitted and buying good shoes is also very important because having the correct equipment makes all the difference.
So what’s on the agenda next? Jean laughs, “I’d love to do a 100-mile race next year! That reminds me—I should probably tell Coach Tom!”
Written by: Marta Dolan