'To run is to stay healthy'
US distance runner Janet Cherobon-Bawcom shares with us her journey so far, her training style and the road ahead
It all began after she completed high school. US runner and Kenyan-born Janet Cherobon-Bawcom was all of 19 when she met her mentor and Kenyan gold medalist Peter Rono, who encouraged her to run and secure a scholarship to travel to the United States for her university studies. Why running, you ask her and she says, “That was the only way I could afford to go to Harding University and study further.”
Bawcom, an eight-time American title holder, studied healthcare management in university where she pursued her running.
“Initially, it was very difficult for me in the States. The food, the people and the culture were totally different from what I had experienced back in Kenya. But the school support system was great. And my running was helping me to keep going,” recalls the distance runner, who went from running 5 km in 20 minutes in her freshman year to doing it in 16 minutes in her second year. “I had improved by 4 good minutes,” she says of her time in Arkansas.
By the time Bawcom graduated as Janet Cherobon in 2005, she had eight NCAA All-American titles and three Division II national championships to her name.
That’s also the time around which she met her now husband Jay Bawcom.
“I never thought I would do professional running though,” says the athlete who had only begun it to secure a scholarship and get her education.
But her husband was a high school coach and she once again began running with the kids there. “We had shifted to Georgia then and I had no social circle. I was running to simply meet people and network,” Bawcom tells us, adding that around that time, she participated in an event and got USD 200 for winning it. “I was like ‘wow’. Whoever gets paid for running!” the Olympian exclaims.
She then took the sport seriously and in 2010 went on to complete a half marathon in 70 minutes. That’s when her husband wanted to move to Arizona for his further studies and “he asked me if I could solely focus on my running for that one year,” she narrates, and focus she did.
Soon enough, she was competing at the 2012 Olympic trials at Stanford but as destiny would have it, her watch had stopped working. She realised it at the start point. “So I just decided to run as fast as I could, and stood fifth,” she recalls. She did make it to the US Olympics team that year and stood 12th at the final 10,000-metre event, even as she improved her personal best of 31:12.68 by more than 20 seconds.
Four years later, Bawcom stood fifth at the 2016 Olympic trials too.
What about 2020, we ask her. “It is a long shot. But I will definitely give my best. I had never in my life thought that I would be running at the Olympics,” says the 40-year-old who is currently practising for the Olympic Marathon Trials to be held in Atlanta on February 29, 2020. “The American field is very strong,” she says of the trials for the August 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
HOW SHE TRAINS
How exactly is she practising, we ask the athlete who is undertaking training from top-notch running coach and exercise physiologist Jack Daniels since 2011.
“Apart from the formal training, I practise my own personal regime too. Jogging in the pool and doing the gym routine thrice a week is what I do,” says Bawcom, adding that the idea is to keep changing your workout pattern for best results.
And how does she avoid injuries that are oh-so-common among runners? “I am blessed to not have had any major injury luckily,” she says, adding that she did initially have a few minor ones but soon realised that it was a matter of listening to your body well.
TIME IN INDIA
Roped in by APG Learning for the Bajaj Allianz Pune Half Marathon (BAPHM) 2019, Bawcom will be the face of the event. In India for a couple of weeks, the runner says that “she’s loving it here.” On her maiden visit to the country, the athlete has been to Mumbai apart from Pune where she has been following her running schedule to a T. “I am loving everything about Pune, including the food, without the spice though,” she laughs as she prepares to boost city runners on Sunday.
Running, “for me is to stay healthy and to explore new places,” she signs off.