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To Celebrate 50, Jen Neary Runs a Marathon

Friends and family mark the finish line of Jen Neary's person marathon

To celebrate her 50th birthday, Jen Neary ran her first marathon on a day and course designed just for her.

She asked nearly 100 people to run a mile with her, from childhood neighbors to present-day best friends. To her surprise, nearly everyone said they wanted to help, including the employees at Fleet Feet in Elk Grove in Cali., who only heard about Neary's plan because she came into the store looking for shoes. Only Fleet Feet had a different plan.

The store purchased Neary’s shoes and helped her plan the marathon course, a series of two-mile out-and-backs to a common hub where supporters could station themselves throughout the day.

Neary, who doesn’t like the spotlight, had to commit. After all, the whole community was watching. But it wouldn't be easy.

Jen Neary runs a marathon for her 50th birthday

Neary ran a few half marathons five years ago. She ran a few more after that, but less consistently, averaging 15 miles per week or less. So why, with only three months until her 50th birthday, was she hoping to run two back-to-back half marathons in a single day?

“I have never been athletic or strong,” Neary says. “My kids are in multiple sports, and my husband plays and coaches basketball. I wanted to show my kids that I could do it, and that when you commit to something you don’t quit. You’re in it.”

Even if the goal feels unreachable.

And so, Neary got to training. Free time was scarce for the California office technician and mother of three, but she kept at it, often alone and when it worked for her schedule. When her long run reached 16 miles, unbearable hip pain threatened to derail everything. “I got eight miles out and had to walk home bent in half,” she says.

To quell the pain in her hip, she sought physical therapy, got sports massages and practiced deep breathing. Her husband even suggested she call off the run. She briefly considered a taco party alternative. Why did she want to do this anyway?

Because. She committed.

Jen Neary running a marathon with two friends

After three weeks of recovery, she ran six miles without pain. That, she decided, was the green light she needed.

Birthday race morning, she felt calm and ready. She took off at 5:30 a.m. with two friends at her side. Each return to the hub was a mixed bag. “I would stop for a minute or two, and things would just hurt,” Neary says. Every time, she felt like she could quit.

She persisted. One foot in front of the other.

Jen Neary celebrates with her hands in the air as she finishes her marathon

The final, most difficult lap was reserved for Neary’s husband and kids. She calls them her “best adventure.” They approached the finish line together, but after 26.2 miles, they wanted Neary to cross her finish line alone. Hands in the air, surrounded by cheers, signs and loved ones from throughout her life, the moment was hers to bask in.

Neary says, “I have more confidence today than I have ever had in my entire life. Everyone should do something like this.”

Now, it’s your turn.

Cross the finish line with Fleet Feet. Join us for the nation’s largest 5K event that celebrates Global Running Day this June 3.

Learn more and register for The Big Run near you.

By Kate Schwartz. Kate ran her first race when she was in fourth grade. Now an adult, she’s writes about running for the Fleet Feet blog and helps create videos for the Fleet Feet brand. But there was plenty of running in between: Kate was the South Carolina high school state champion in the 1600m and 3200m and ran collegiately at Mars Hill University before settling into adult life.

Now, she lives with her husband in Asheville, North Carolina, where she drinks coffee and runs for the Asheville Running Collective.

SHOP JEN'S FAVORITE GEAR

Brooks Transcend

"I love these shoes," says Jen. "They have a whole lotta cushion, a little support and everything I need. There were many long days when everything hurt or was tired, except my feet. These shoes are the best, and I would totally recommend them."

Buy the Brooks Transcend (In-Store Only)

Cold Brew GU Roctane Energy Gel

"I was a coffee master at Starbucks for many years," says Jen, "so pairing things with coffee was a key component."

Shop GU Cold Brew
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