Doing it her own way

2014-09-06 00:00

DURBAN’S Jenna Challenor has burst onto the women’s professional running scene in the last two years – mainly due to her doing things “backwards” by her own admission.

A member of the South African World Half Marathon Championships team, Challenor was born and bred in Durban and attended Durban Girls’ College during her high school years. Coming from a sporty family, Challenor, now a mother of three, always enjoyed sport and running in particular.

“I always loved running and did it at school. The only problem is that Natal was limited in terms of running. There weren’t really full-time coaches and not a lot of tournaments,” Challenor said.

Nevertheless she participated in a variety of sports and represented KZN for hockey but also did a lot of swimming and went to the Lifesaving World Champs back in 1998 where she met her husband, Brett.

It seems a love of the road runs in her blood as her mother earned a green card after running 10 Comrades marathons. However, the 33-year-old didn’t go straight into professional running straight out of school.

Studying an Education degree specialising in foundational phases, Challenor spent her late teens enjoying life while running socially.

At 23, she had her first daughter, Nicolette, which was part of her “backward” running career.

“I loved running but I walked a different path compared to other women runners. I always wanted to run for South Africa but I had my children first and then came the time for me to reach my goals,” she said.

The time between her three pregnancies took out around five years of training but she believes that her timing was right and she now has the support and time to race full time.

Her schedule is hectic to say the least.

“I train seven days a week and two to three times a day,” Challenor said. Most of it is spent running while she also does bike and conditioning sessions to mix things up.

“A lot of my friends think I run twice a week to get where I am but in actual fact it’s quite hard to comprehend how hard I train,” she said.

The training has paid dividends as she has been regular contender in the Spar Ladies’ but she specialises in the longer half marathon. Her most recent result saw her come in second at the Mandela Day half marathon two weeks ago.

The result is one Challenor is proud of. However it is just part of the puzzle she is busy building as she has her eyes set on specialising in marathons.

“I want to run my first marathon sometime this year,” said Challenor. She was coy to say which race it would be as she does not want to add unwanted pressure.

“A marathon is a different story, you have to feel right and eat right – it is really technical. My first one will be a control just to experience it, the first few are really just trial and error,” she said.

That being said, Challenor has her eyes set on running a marathon for the South African team at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Challenor on being a wife, mom, runner and


“It’s a major juggling act but where there’s a will, there’s a way. I do photography when I have the time and my husband is very supportive and hands-on.”

On her part-time job:

“I have always loved photography and just leapt in and taught myself. I have a studio at home and I do newborn, family and wedding photography when I have the time!”

Can you live comfortably being a full-time runner?

“It isn’t comfortable enough to make a good living unless your’re winning big races all the time, you really need to train full time to get there. Most pro-runners wake up, run, get home and eat and sleep. I have to do that but then look after my kids – that being said I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

When will you call it quits?

“I don’t know how long I’ll be running competitively but definitely until I have had a go at reaching my goals. Then I want to sit back and watch my girls play sport and live their lives.”

What is so great about running?

“I have to say that I met my husband because of sport. We like to go running together, it’s our time together and it’s great to share a sport together. Other than that I love the social side.”

Challenor facts:

Role model: Elana Meyer (South African long-distance running legend)


Loves watching movies (when she has the time) and is learning how to surf.

Advice for youngsters:

“Never give up. If you have a dream, go for it no matter how old you are. I had a dream of running for South Africa and I only did that recently. There is no time limit; you only need to do what it takes to get there.”


Two-time winner of the Spar Ladies’ 10 km Pietermaritzburg race.

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