Please welcome our newest American Trail Running Association (ATRA) Trail Ambassador presented by CamelBak. Race director, camp director, author, and trail advocate Jenny Baker exemplifies what it takes to build community.
Nominator Amber Hefner-Rishel, sports and event sales manager for the Dalton Convention and Visitor Bureau, wrote, “Jenny Baker is a trail race director who goes far beyond just the race to help the running and trail world. As the race director of the Georgia Jewel 100 miler, an event she and her husband took over four years ago, the event has grown every year since and is a huge economic impact for the City of Dalton. Jenny and her team always give back to the Dalton community where she holds the GA Jewel Race, by buying and staying local. Jenny also donates all the extra-unopened food and drinks to the local food bank at Providence Ministries in Dalton.
“She is an advocate for trail maintenance and cleanup of the trails,” continued Hefner-Rishel. “The GA Jewel holds a pre-race day clean up on the Pinhoti Trail to give back to the trails. She is also the director of an all-female outdoor adventure camp, which is held in Chattanooga, TN, each year in July, called SheVentures Camp, and author of a book titled, The War on Normal.”
Meet Jenny Baker:
At age 38, Jenny Baker has a busy life with her husband Franklin and two children – Luci age 8 and Levi age 6 whom she home schools – and Forest the family’s three-year-old dog. With a hometown of Dallas, TX, the family has lived in Chattanooga, TN, for the past five years.
She started trail running in 2006, “Because I was invited,” said Baker. “Invitations go a long way! I’ve done short trail races and ultras and my favorite distance is definitely a 50k or marathon. I can run and get back home to still be a good mom/wife/friend for the day!”
Her foray into race director came about almost by accident. “Franklin decided to run the Jewel 50 miler our first year living in Chattanooga. As I waited for him at the finish line I overheard the RD talking about letting the race go because of upcoming international traveling. I casually told her I’d be more than willing to volunteer to help her,” related Baker. “The next month she called and told me she’d like to give me the entire race. I walked back into the kitchen and much to Franklin’s dismay, announced we were now Race Directors.”
“We just completed our fourth year directing and feel like we’re finally figuring it out (maybe…),” continued Baker. “The Jewel is Georgia’s oldest 100 miler and in addition to a 50 and 35 milers, we added an 18 miler in hopes of encouraging runners to give the trails a try. It’s a family adventure for sure and we love the opportunity to teach our kids what a lifestyle of volunteerism and giving back look like!”
In fact, Baker said, “I might love volunteering as much as running a trail race!”
Over the years she has performed a wide array of volunteer duties, from being a cook, an aid station captain, a pacer and crew. “One of the cool things the RDs in our area do is what we call a, ‘volunteer swap.’ We each commit to volunteering at the other’s race to help support, promote and encourage the good work we’re all doing. When RDs work together the entire trail community benefits and is elevated. We learn from each other, share our best practices and even pass down unused Cokes, chips and other leftovers. We’re SO fortunate to have a group of kind and generous RD’s in our circle of friends!”
Baker says the best part of volunteering is serving people. “In our culture we’re wired to take care of ourselves and might even teach our kids that survival motto,” explained Baker. “I had a runner tell me after this year’s race that he’s never had someone offer to fill his water flasks before and was amazed at the kindness. That’s how life EVERYDAY should be. I love being able to show people how worthy they are of being cared for…and yeah, it sounds super gooey but it’s true. When we help other’s reach their personal goals we ‘stick’ kindness to them and it’s really hard to not naturally want to pass on that sticky goodness. When runners leave a race feeling that way, they take it into the world and our culture becomes better.”
Volunteerism for Baker extends to trail maintenance which she often does, “If not on the Pinhoti then on our local Chattanooga trails, or on the trails on our 530 acres,” said Baker.
She explained the work she and her team does on the Pinhoti Trail. “It has taken us 4 years to develop our relationship with all the amazing groups who touch the Pinhoti. We’re super fortunate to have LOTS of great people who love this trail system! Caring for these trails takes constant communication with SORBA, The Pinhoti Trail Association and our National Forest Service friends. To do tree work (more than just picking up branches) in a National Forest, you’re required to complete and pass a Sawyer Certification Program. Franklin worked with our local foresters to do this and we’re thankful to be able to work with others to clear downed trees and other obstacles that prevent people from staying on trail and lead to trail erosion because of this type of, ‘trail creeping.’ Trail maintenance is an on-going endeavor and not just one that can be done in one big work weekend. The countless and quiet volunteers who work with us are truly the amazing heroes of the trails.”
Baker has learned some great lessons from trail running. “I’ve learned that quiet spaces are a gift and not a burden; that running helps empty my heart and head of noise so that I can hear the voice of inspiration and truth; and that trails are a healing, and hopeful place!”
Her advice to someone considering getting into trail running or racing is simple. “Just say yes. Find a friend/race/group that will shower you with encouragement and support and then just try it,” said Baker. “My first ultra race I knew nothing. I ate white bread and pretzels the whole time, drank nothing but water, wore a hydration belt (this was pre-hydration packs), and wore shoes a size too small…and, I loved it! You don’t have to know everything to say ‘YES!’”
In the coming months, you’ll find Baker racing on the trails at Lookout Mountain 20 Miler in December and Mt. Mitchell Marathon in February. She said, “At this point in my running journey my yearly goals are the same. Live a generous life, run as much as I can in as many places as I can, while still giving my family and community my best.”