Jenna Thurman -- Adams State University
(2013 Graduate - Del Norte High School)
This series is meant to look into the current progression for a former New Mexico standout track & field athlete, and understand their recent transition into collegiate athletics. Many of these athletes were high school champions, state record holders, and multiple time all-state honorees. However, athletes find out that navigating the collegiate experience is not always easy, and their shared experiences can help inform current high school standouts to make educated decisions about their own athletic careers at the NCAA level.
Our first subject is Jenna Thurman, a 2013 graduate of Del Norte High School in Albuquerque, NM. Jenna's high school athletic career is particularly impressive because she was a two-sport star, splitting her time between both soccer and running. During the fall season, Thurman played on the Del Norte soccer team, and she also participated on the Del Norte XC team, and was coached by Fred Polich. During the spring season, Thurman played on a competitive club soccer team, and also ran for the Del Norte Track & Field team, where she was coached by Andrea and Drew Kexel.
Thurman was an immediate success in both sports, but her running ascent was the true story. Thurman was the NMAA 4A XC State Champion in both 2011 and 2012, and parlayed that success into the 2013 spring track season to become the 1600m and 3200m State Champion. Jenna finished her high school career with personal records of 2:14.88 (800m), 5:03.19 (1600m), and 10:59.70 (3200m). Thurman also completed her senior year awarded as the Gatorade NM Cross Country Runner of the Year, Gatorade NM Track & Field Athlete of the Year, and the Albuquerque Journal Athlete of the Year. Just as impressively, Thurman also graduated with a 3.96 Grade Point Average.
In the spring of 2013, Jenna signed a national letter of intent to run XC and Track & Field for the Adams State University Grizzlies. Adams State University has a storied history as the preeminent Division II running school in the country, and has produced multiple national championship teams and individuals. Adams State University is a perennial contender for the XC National Championship, and the Grizzlies are coached by Joe Vigil protégé Damon Martin. New Mexico has deep ties to Adams State University, with alums such as storied NM coaches Rob Hipwood, Kathy Hipwood, and Peter Graham. NM Milesplit caught up with Jenna Thurman to learn about her transition to the NCAA, and to give a blueprint for current NM standouts to understand as they aspire to compete at the next level.
As a collegiate athlete, how do you balance the school/athlete workload?
As a collegiate athlete, I balance the school and athlete workload by avoiding procrastination. I try not to wait to do huge papers, projects or reports until the last minute because I could be up all night working on it. Sleep is a really important part of running performance. When I'm traveling for meets, I make sure to get notes from a friend or classmate so I don't fall behind in class. Sometimes the pressure of big races and traveling to meets causes me to fall behind, but I just do as much as I can do and try not to worry about it too much. I sometimes have to pick and choose my battles.
What is the single biggest difference between success at the high school level and college level?
The single biggest difference between success at the high school level and college level is patience. There is a huge jump between the talent in high school and the talent in college. It is important to be patient and let yourself catch up to the new level of commitment. For me, I had to adjust to more mileage, and being in faster, larger, and more tactical races without getting too frustrated. Usually, in high school races, the pack would break up and string out quicker, and in college races there are 10 girls with you until the last lap of the race.
What is the biggest accomplishment in your collegiate career?
(Thurman (Bib #7) earned Division II All-American honors last November. Photo Kyle Terwillegar/USTCCCA.)
The biggest accomplishment of my collegiate career so far was at the NCAA Division II National Cross-Country Meet this fall (2014). I finished 8th place out of over 300 collegiate runners, was the first Adams State athlete to finish, hit a PR and received my first All-American honor!
What do you do in your training that is key to your success?
Being consistent with training is the key to success. I try to be as consistent as possible, which means I do everything right and do everything I am supposed to do every day, every week and every month. We believe that good training, day in and day out, better prepares me mentally and physically for what is to come. Five days a week, I have a secondary run every morning at 6:30. I run these morning runs solo, which is extremely challenging, but is very important and rewarding. Going to sleep early, eating right and living a well-rounded running lifestyle is also key. If everything is done right, there is not a doubt in my mind that I am not prepared to run fast. My coach constantly reminds me to do everything right and to believe in the training program.
As an individual standout in high school, you likely trained alone. But as a collegiate athlete, you have teammates much closer to your level of fitness. How strange is it to train in an environment with capable training partners?
It is very strange to train in an environment with partners that are at the same fitness level. In high school, if I was having a bad day, I would just get through the workout and still finish ahead. If I am having a bad day here at Adams State, 5 or 6 girls will kick my butt. It is a lot more challenging mentally to not allow those bad days beat you down. You just have to learn to blow it off. However, it is also nice to constantly have someone to push you. It keeps me from falling off pace without realizing it. It also better prepares me for and resembles the bigger races where I have people all around me until the last lap.
What is your favorite component to training?
My favorite component to training is the feeling I get after I finish a hard workout. It is rewarding and it allows me to see my increase in fitness and improvement as the season unfolds. As I gain fitness and confidence, I am ready to race. I gain the most enjoyment from racing, because I have proof that the training is working. There's nothing like the feeling of having an awesome race or workout!
Can you describe your hardest workouts?
The hardest workouts for everyone are different. It really depends on the athlete and what I may think is hard, others may think is easy. I find our weekly Sunday runs to be the hardest. Usually, I am assigned a 13-14 mile run, and it is difficult for me to keep pushing after an hour and a half has passed and I still have 2 or 3 more miles! Our training weeks are very demanding, so the long run is especially tiring because it's at the end of our week.
I do remember a specific XC workout from last fall, it was a descending ladder workout of 2k, 1k, 1k. The 2k was almost all out, and two of my teammates and I finished in about 6:25. After the 2k, the 1k repeats were even harder and I finished those in 3:10 and 3:09 at altitude. All of the workouts up here at 7,500 ft. seem way harder than I was used to in Albuquerque. It was difficult to stay on pace and stay focused to keep pushing through; especially towards the end of each rep.
Describe the coaching at Adams State, and how you handled a coaching change after your high school career.
Damon Martin is my coach at Adams State University, and his coaching is centered on pure commitment to the process of training to become great. Our training plan consists of much higher mileage than high school. Damon definitely pushes us to our limits and always strongly encourages us to do everything right. He has been coaching top class athletes for a long time and knows what it takes to be successful. Damon encourages us to believe in something greater than ourselves, which is the success of our team. This concept is important because we know that it is easier to believe in yourself when your entire team depending on you.
The training is definitely different from high school because I played soccer at least 4 times a week, ran on the other days, and then competed on weekends. Now I run 7 days a week and 5 days of the week I run twice a day. Damon's coaching methods certainly develop great runners, and the most important principles include hard work, a lot of miles and living a healthy lifestyle.
Are you aware of the national respect and prestige that Adams State has earned over the years? How can you add to their storied history?
I am aware of the national respect and prestige that Adams State has earned. I was aware of it the moment I first walked into Coach Martin's office. There were over 80 national trophies on shelves all the way up his wall. It felt like such an honor to know I was getting a scholarship to be part of one of the best running programs in the country. The girls cross country team has not won the national title in 5 years and I want to add to their history by being a part of the team that breaks this streak and brings the national title back to where it belongs.
What is your biggest challenge, and how do you handle this challenge?
My biggest challenge is definitely maintaining mental toughness. There are many new variables in college - such as being away from my parents, cooking all of my own meals, the heavy academic load, and even being the underdog coming into college. To overcome these challenges, I reassure myself that my parents are 100% supportive of me and would drop everything in an instant if I needed them to. They are still my biggest fans, and are always there to help me through everything.
It is hard to balance the priorities for success in both school and running. As a student athlete in pursuit of a Biology degree, I understand the steady commitment to studying, and I do everything I can to get my work done on time. I know I'm not perfect, so I'm able to understand the big picture and not stress out if I can't get an "A" on every test.
At this high level of running, I am not the favorite that makes winning look easy. Now I have an underdog attitude, and this outlook is the biggest challenge that I am trying to overcome. I am not used to being the underdog or especially getting beat by my own teammates. I just have to be patient and know that my development will come, so I keep a positive attitude going into races and practices. I know that I have come a long way, but my patience and hard work will pay off.
Who are your heroes, why?
My family is the greatest set of heroes. My parents, Krista and Ron, travel hundreds of miles to support me and come watch me run, because they know how important it is to me. They said that they would rather go into debt to come watch me run than miss my race, which means so much. They are always so proud of me and make sure to tell me that.
My freshman year of college, I had a really hard time with the transition. I did not run as well as I wanted to, but they always let me know how proud they were of me and tried to help me in any way that they could. No matter how bad I ran, or which place I finished, they always made sure to tell me they were proud. Without their support and belief in me, I would not be this far in my college career!
It helps that my mom knows exactly what it is like to be a runner. She knows all of the challenges I face because she was a runner and faced almost identical problems and hardships that I am facing now. She knows exactly how to help.
My sister, Dani, is my hero and served as an amazing role model my entire life. I always had her to look up to and follow. She had an amazing high school career at Del Norte and collegiate soccer career at Eastern New Mexico and is the reason I played soccer since I was 4 years old. I wanted to be just like her. She was always so hard working and never gave up, which reflected on her talent and skills in the sport. When you have an older sibling who has such great characteristics, it is easy to follow along the same path. She is still so admirable and is my best friend. I tell her about my workouts or races and she always humorously responds with "you are a robot"!
Are you surprised at how good your teams have been? What did you expect coming in to a team atmosphere?
(Thurman [center] and her teammates after winning the RMAC Cross Country Championship. Photo courtesy of Jenna Thurman.)
I was not surprised at how good this team has been. It was clear to me with how many national titles Adams State has won, so I knew they were good. I never knew what it was like to be surrounded with teammates that were good enough to win team championships at the national level.
It was a great experience to come in and have people around me that were of the same talent. The team atmosphere was great, and its been a great environment for me to train with supportive and talented teammates.
What is the next big goal you are currently chasing? Can you share your goal building process?
The next big goal I am currently chasing is winning a national cross-country title, both as a team, and as an individual. I have to take each day one step at a time, do everything right and continue to improve. With each season I surpass PR's from the year before, which is a step in the right direction. I have to focus on achieving smaller short-term goals and take baby steps to reach the next level.
Is it overwhelming to think of yourself as a role model for successful high school athletes? If you could give them advice, what would you share?
I don't think it is intimidating to think of myself as a role model. I think it is an honor and really special. If I could give them advice I would tell them to never give up and to work extremely hard. I would also tell them not to overdo it in high school! I didn't truly specialize in running, because I played soccer, so I actually became a more well-rounded athlete. I would always encourage high school athletes to set big goals and follow their dreams, and do what makes them most happy.