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Jennings was tested

By Susan Bickelhaupt, Globe Staff, 04/20/99

hen Lynn Jennings ran the Boston Marathon 21 years ago, it was against the will of race organizers - at 17, she was a year too young to enter - and against the will of her coach, who had discouraged her to run and ended up severing ties with her for the next 10 years.

Yesterday, the Newmarket, N.H., runner returned to the scene in high style. Jennings was the first American woman to cross the finish line, with a time of 2 hours 38 minutes 37 seconds - eight minutes better than her first and only previous clocking on the course.

The 12th-place overall finish earned Jennings $2,100 and a place in the Olympic qualfying race next February. Bill Babington, the coach who had tried to talk a 17-year-old Jennings out of running the long distance and is now back with her, watched from several spots along the course, while Jennings's mother, Pat, and sister, Della, were charting her progress on television in their hotel room near the finish line.

Jennings, who prepared to run the Marathon last year but decided just before the race not to enter, has made her mark in the running world over the past two decades, in marathon proportions if not at marathon distance. A three-time Olympian and three-time world cross-country champion, she has 39 national titles on the road and track. She won a bronze medal in the 1992 Olympics, setting an American record of 31:19 in the 10,000 meters, was a 3,000-meter silver medalist in the '95 World Indoor Championships, and was the US indoor champion in the mile (1992) and 2-mile (1986).

Add to that nine US cross-country championships, 15 US road titles, and four current US road records (5K, 8K, 10K, and 12K), and you have an all-star runner.

But yesterday was a different kind of challenge.

''I knew it would be difficult, I didn't have any illusions about that, but I thought all the difficulties for me would happen later in the race,'' Jennings said. ''I was not really prepared to start feeling like I was hurting as much as I was at 15 and 16 miles. So that in itself was a learning experience.''

When she set out from Hopkinton, Jennings easily kept up with the more experienced marathoners, including eventual winner Fatuma Roba of Ethiopia.

''I had stayed with Colleen De Reuck for about the first 8 miles, so I thought that was a smart thing to do, because she was clearly stalking the leaders and I didn't need to be any farther,'' said Jennings. ''So I think I ran smart the first few miles, but, again, it was quite fast and I don't think I went out too fast.''

Jennings said she began to worry around Wellesley, at the halfway point. Even though her watch told her she was right on her ideal pace, at 1:12, she felt like she was drifting away from the leaders.

''I thought, the race has gone on without me,'' she said. ''I felt like I did what I was supposed to do the first half, but then I was just running along and I was definitely struggling.''

Jennings realized then that she wouldn't be making an appearance on the winner's podium. But she was determined not to abandon the race. Her pride was at stake, and so was a spot on the Olympic qualifying team.

''I just wanted to ignore any fleeting thoughts of dropping out, and make sure I got this up to 2:42 time,'' said Jennings, who slipped out of the top-10 pack but finished just ahead of fellow American Julia Kirtland (13th place, 2:39:45).

''It was a learning experience,'' said Jennings, ''just to keep putting one foot in front of the other.''

This story ran on page F09 of the Boston Globe on 04/20/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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