Coach Spotlight: Jen D.

jen jump finish line

I’m Coach Jen, an ultramarathon runner, a marathon coach, a radio personality, and a first-year coach with Girls on the Run Chicago. I was introduced to the organization through my friendship with GOTRC board member Jennifer Elliot. We have run marathons together through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program, where I currently serve as a marathon coach during the summer months.

Running has always been something that I enjoy doing. It is one of the only activities where a person can set his or her own goals and achieve them without having to rely on anybody but one’s self.

My own relationship with running has been therapeutic.

It’s easy to compare myself to others, but somehow that has never been even a thought when it comes to running. In fact, I don’t follow the news about runners breaking records or know the names of the elites in the field. It’s all about my journey to self-awareness and betterment. I enjoy the weather, the people, and just finishing the miles of each race I enter.

When I typically run, my cares seem to disappear.  I have a constant smile on my face, which my fiancé tells me from a spectator’s point-of-view is unconventional of a participant in an endurance event. I use long runs, marathons and ultramarathon weekends as a way to escape.

I know how rewarding it is to see people completely transform their lives just because they began running. I hear these adults constantly say, “I wish I had started sooner,” and that is one of the reasons that I was attracted to Girls on the Run.

I completed my first Chicago Marathon in 2008 while fundraising to find a cure for blood cancer. Since that time, I have become a mentor, then coach for TNT, and in 2015 coached 160 members through five months of training to a Chicago Marathon finish. Because of my involvement, I have run seven marathons and more than 20 ultramarathons (races any distance more than 31 miles), including one, 100-mile finish in 2015.

I do not remember a time ever in my life that I have felt as confident, well-balanced and simply as happy as I am currently after years of building up my relationship with running.

I was never very confident through my teenaged years into adulthood. I don’t exactly know why, but I know that I was never happy with myself. There are so many tools that I wish on a daily basis that I had in my toolbox growing up, and I am blessed to be able to provide those to the group of girls that I coach with GOTR each week.

We do a lesson on negative self-talk, and seeing it in action is enough to break your heart. Hearing eight and nine-year-old girls shout things such as “I’m not smart,” “I’m ugly,” “nobody likes me,” was a difficult day. They ran laps around the school with these phrases on sticky labels, and placed them on a balloon which we promptly popped after the run was over. Their goal leaving that day was to identify when negative self-talk was happening, and try to dissuade it.

The very next practice, as I was leading a lesson, I tripped over my words and messed up. The unsure, teenaged version of myself said aloud, “I am SO BAD at this! Why can’t I ever do this right?”

Immediately, a few of the girls ran up. Sydney jumped in front of me so I could not walk away, and said, “No you aren’t! That’s negative self-talk! You’re really good at this! We love you.”


There I was in the midst of being the teacher, and in turn becoming the student. Little did I realize that as an adult, I still would be guilty of the same instincts I am setting out to eliminate. Sydney and the other girls not only taught me a lesson, but I realized that they just got a really amazing head start at being confident grown-ups.

This is just one small example of the remarkable acts that I get to experience each time I walk into the school to coach. The generosity and inclusion they express to one-another is something that I may have never actually seen executed throughout my entire life. I am so proud of these girls, and am incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to know them.



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