Tips for women on the trails: Introducing Jenn Coker

Trail running tips for women is series of articles sponsored by ATRA corporate member inov-8. In this installment our Outreach and Partnership Specialist, Peter Maksimow, spoke with inov-8 Advocate Program member Jenn Coker, who moved from Georgia to the Colorado mountains. We will hear from other inov-8 ambassadors, listen to their stories and provide tips for women on the trails in our Trail News section throughout 2017. If you have questions for a future installment in this series please email them to Peter ([email protected]).

Jenn Coker has been a trail runner her entire life and the mountain trails were a huge bonus when she moved from Georgia to Colorado in 2012 to continue her career as a spinal cord injury researcher and pursue her PhD. You can usually find her running the trails in her inov-8 Roclite 305s at Deer Creek Canyon or White Ranch near Denver, Colorado. Jenn is an Ambassador for Skirt Sports, a women’s running apparel company out of Boulder with the mission to empower women of all shapes and sizes to make health and fitness a priority and to look damn good while doing so, and a Trail Sisters, a group who works toward inspiring others to lead healthy lifestyles while adventuring outdoors and protecting Earth’s playgrounds. Jenn runs ultramarathons to spend time on the trails with awesome people, and while mostly a mid-pack runner who carries Fireball whiskey and talks to everyone, somehow managed to win the 24 Hours of Boulder in 2014 and Indian Creek 50 in 2016.

[Peter] You are an ambassador for women’s clothing and apparel companies, encourage women to get outside and and be active and are an obvious advocate for women in trail running. Tell us about that.

[Jenn] Some of my non-running friends get annoyed with me when I talk about running, but it’s really my favorite thing to talk about. I love encouraging other women to step out of their comfort zones and push themselves to have more adventure. That’s what it’s all about for me – so many people think they can’t hang because they aren’t fast or haven’t been running long or “just” run 5ks. I run because it is FUN for me. Sometimes I do well, sometimes not so much, but it’s really the best way to get out and explore. I invite anybody who’s looking to start running trails and/or ultras to hit me up – let’s go for a run!

[Peter] Women have more challenges than men when it comes to trail running. In your opinion, what is the biggest hindrance or challenge for women in trail running?

[Jenn] I think, as women, we are told so many times that we shouldn’t be out on the trails alone, that “it’s just not safe” and it really bothers me that women have to go through this big safety rigamarole just to go out for a damn run. Men don’t have to do that.


[Peter] What do you see the as the way to solve that challenge?

[Jenn] Until people stop attacking people on the trails, I don’t think anything will change.

[Peter] How does trail running differ from road running? What is your experience in the two?

[Jenn] For me, I like the more relaxed atmosphere you find in trail running. I started out as a road marathoner and I was always so nervous before races, worried about hitting my splits and making my time goals. It’s quite possible I don’t take racing as seriously now, but with trail running every trail is different, every course is different and you never know what’s going to happen and you really can’t bank on things going exactly the way you envisioned. I like knowing that I’ll likely have to adapt on the fly at least once or 12 times during a trail run.


[Peter] Tell us what your “secret weapon” is!

[Jenn] My secret weapon is my smile. Even on the days when I don’t want to get out there or the weather is nasty or I’m sucking wind, I just remember to smile and it somehow makes everything better. Also, trail selfies usually can turn a crappy run into a laugh-fest.

[Peter] How does your work as an spinal cord injury researcher and working on your PhD translate to your trail running? Where do you find the time—it sounds like a very busy schedule?

[Jenn] Right now, running just doesn’t get the priority spot in my life, and I’m ok with that. I’m really fortunate that I love what I do for work and I’ve been pretty successful recently in receiving grant funding, so there is a lot going on. I’m mostly a weekend warrior these days, and I’m really grateful to my running buddies who tolerate that and let me tag along with them on adventures! Priorities adjust, and I know running will be higher up that list again one day.

[Peter] What has been the nerve-racking thing you have witnessed up in the mountains? Did it have to do with wild weather or wild animals?

[Jenn] I guess I’ve been lucky because I haven’t seen anything too scary out in the mountains. The most nervous I’ve been was when I was pacing a friend in a 100 miler in the North Georgia mountains.  We were going up a fairly steep climb and keep hearing what sounded like an animal tracking beside us. We would speed up – it would speed up. We would slow down – it would slow down. We started hootin’ and hollerin’ and finally realized there was a ravine off to our side and we were just hearing an echo of our own steps. Ooops.

[Peter] What would be your best advice for others?

[Jenn] Don’t be afraid to get out there and run by yourself, but at the same time, be smart about it. Always let somebody know where you are going, take a cell phone (taking photos is a must anyway!), carry a trail map with you (or, I like to use Trail Run Project app – the maps are available even when there is no cell service), and try to run with people when you can (but solo runs are really nice too). Don’t be afraid to join a group! For women, Ultra Dirt Divas on Facebook is a great group – lots of beginner trail runners who can benefit from some amazing experienced trail runners who just love running with people!

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