Stephanie Jenks doesn't have to "Tri" too hard to be successful

Photo by Deb Jenks

Stephanie Jenks pulled off an impressive triple at this week’s Iowa State Track & Field Championships.

The sophomore from Linn-Mar High captured the 3,000-meter run on Thursday with a new state record of 9 minutes, 24.67 seconds (US #2). Less than 48 hours later on Saturday, she proved victorious in the 1,500m (4:31.10) and finished second in the 800m (2:10.20). In all three races, Jenks recorded national-caliber times.


Not at all. Not to this talented and versatile teenager, who is not only one of the top prep distance runners in the country, but also one of the best young triathletes.

Want some proof?

Photo by Anita Bieszke

Just a few weeks prior to her terrific trifecta at the state meet, Jenks solidified a trip to China this summer for the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games by winning the women’s 16-17 age group at the Monterrey PATCO Triathlon American YOG Qualifier in Mexico on May 2. The Iowa tenth-grader finished the 750m swim, 20K bike and 5K run in a combined time of 59:55.

Back on April 24, she was in track mode at the prestigious Drake Relays during a spectacular weekend where she first dipped under the state 3K mark with a winning 9:26.87 clocking. She also claimed the 1,500m crown with a personal best of 4:28.72 and was a runner-up in the 800m with another PB of 2:11.65.

With her rigorous training schedule the 16-year-old Jenks, who also maintains a 4.0 GPA in the classroom, rarely has time for a breather. She’s not complaining, though.

“I do about 15 to 18 workouts a week,” said the Linn-Mar standout. “I get up in the morning at around 5-5:30 and either swim or bike. I go to school and then have track practice. After track practice, I come home and swim or bike and then do homework until 11.”

Photo by Anita Bieszke

“(Training is) really tough but I think my body has really adjusted to it,” she continued. “But I just love that feeling of my legs falling off and I can’t move. Then I know I have done something. Then I know I have improved on something.”

Jenks considers herself more a runner than a triathlete. In her brief high school career so far, it’s quite evident she excels once a pair of racing flats are firmly placed on her feet. In mid-December, Jenks placed ninth at the Foot Locker Cross-Country Finals. As a ninth-grader, she was the class and state 4A cross-country champion and the 3K outdoor titlists. After forgoing her cross-country season this fall to concentrate on her swimming, she earned All-American status twice at the New Balance National Indoor (NBNI) Championships (March 14-16) this year where she was a runner-up finisher in the 5K with a sophomore national mark of 16:37.50. She also took fifth in the mile run by winning her heat with an indoor best of 4:49.28.

Photo by Don Rich

In her record-setting 5K, Jenks battled eventual winner Tessa Barrett of Abington Heights, Pa. Barrett pulled away in the late stages of the race and went on to set a national mark of 16:11.85.

“It was my first 5K ever on the track. I’ve done it before in cross country,” Jenks said. “It was completely different. We took it out hard. I was pretty comfortable behind Tessa for a while and then she just took off.”

What is interesting to note is Jenks’ NBNI appearance came less than a week after winning the Junior North American Triathlon Championships in Sarasota, Florida.

“I was a little bit tired,” she admitted. “But I tried not to let it get too much into my head. I try to put the past behind me.”

As for triathlons, Jenks has been competing in the three-sport ever since she was a youth. Her first experience came in 2004 at the age of seven when she took part in a youth triathlon that featured a 50m swim, a mile bike and a quarter-mile run.

“I just fell in love with it,” she said.

Jenks has been a competitive triathlete the last four years, both nationally and internationally. Last summer, she took second place at the Pan American Junior Championships, qualifying her for the ITU Junior Elite World Championships in London.

At the Youth Olympic Game qualifier at the beginning of May, Jenks demonstrated just how strong her competitive drive (and running) can be to get to that finish line first. She trailed the leader by more than a minute and a half once she got off the bike. She took her one and only lead with about 100-meters remaining, sizzling the 5K distance in 17:11.

“When I came out of the swim my heart was racing. I was trying to keep my bike up. I came off the bike I was 96-seconds down,” she said. “When I got to the run, I just told myself I could do it. I knew I had to do something remarkable. I just kept on running and caught her with about 100 meters left.”

Jenks (pictured right by Andrew Everett) receives her coaching in biking and running from her mother, Deb, a former collegiate runner. She’s also a top athlete for the school’s swim team under coach Chad Deriein. This season she broke the 200m freestyle school record with a time of 1:59.97. It was a mark that lasted just one week, broken by her freshman sister, Jenn, an exceptional swimmer who is also a triathlete.  

Jenks has plenty on her slate in the coming months. On Thursday, she leaves for Dallas, Texas where she’ll compete in the Pan American Junior Triathlon Championships. She also has several high-profile track meets on the horizon, including the Festival of Miles in Missouri (June 5), the adidas Dream Mile in New York (June 14), the New Balance National Outdoor (NBNO) Championships in North Carolina (June 13-15) and the Brooks PR Invitational in Washington (June 21).

Jenks is the defending champion at the Festival of Miles and will be competing at the Dream Mile for the second straight year. Last year as a freshman, she finished fifth at the N.Y. meet with her current best of 4:44.50.

“I am pretty much hoping I can get a PR and do something to get more exposure in mile and also see how I can do against top competition,” Jenks said.

Unlike the other three big meets where she will compete in the mile, Jenks will be entered in just the 800m at the NBNO meet. With the date conflicting with the Dream Mile, that is the only race she’ll be able to make. Right after her race on the East Coast she’ll be taking a flight to N.C., to test her talents against the top middle-distance from around the country.

“I don’t really consider myself an 800 runner yet,” she said. “But I am really surprised how I improved in the 800. I have dropped my time by a second or two (since last year).”

Judging by how things have gone so far in her young triathlon/running career, the chances are Jenks will not disappoint with her upcoming schedule and the future certainly looks promising.