Local Hero Jenny Tobin Wins Again

Boise native Jenny Tobin just added another trophy to her mantle – and $10,000 check to her bank account. This time, she won the world championship Spartan Race, an international racing series in which participants run, jump over 8’ walls, crawl under barbed wire fences and leap over fire, just to name a few of the obstacles.

I recently caught up with Jenny to find out more about her many athletic feats, starting with her first, almost 40 years ago.

We’ve only just begun

Jenny’s athletic career started at a young age — 3 ½ years old, to be exact. She lived in California at the time, and was one of only kids her age who could make it across the pool in one lane. Did this foreshadow her future as a professional triathlete? At first, it didn’t look that way. She played soccer in her early years, and excelled to a level of playing year-round on a travelling team. When she moved to Idaho in junior high, however, she was forced to explore other sports. At the time, there was no soccer team in Kuna or Meridian. And though she swam for a year in high school, she pursued volleyball, basketball and track instead – all of which she either started or starred. In fact, she went on to run cross country and track in college, and played a year of basketball as well. Despite this early success, Jenny’s parents never pushed her to do any athletics – they only supported her in her choices. She also admits with pride, “My dad was my biggest fan growing up.”

Time to tri

After college, she qualified to run in the Olympic Marathon trials, running a personal best of 2:48. It was around this time that she got serious about triathlons, too. She spent two years – from 1995-1997 – trying to make a living solely from race winnings and endorsements (as an amateur triathlete and pro duathlete). Later, from 1998-2008, Jenny was a professional triathlete. Also during this time, she taught Physical Education in the Boise School District. As Jenny shares, “I never made a living solely from racing, as this is difficult to do. My earnings were supplemental and really only paid for my triathlon addiction.” During this 15+ year racing career, she participated in a variety of races around the country, including Ironmans (full and half), XTERRRAs, Olympic length triathlons, adventure races and marathons.

A self-motivated individual, Jenny describes her desire to compete, “I think I’m a persistent little bugger! When I feel good in a race, I’m happy and fast – fortunately, this attitude can win races.” Her career highlights include two-time Top 5 XTERRA Winter World Champs, Ironman Utah Champion, Powerman Colorado Champion, Bogus Hill Climb Champion, and three-time Top 5 at XTERRA World Championships.  Jenny even married a world-renowned endurance athlete, Michael Tobin.

A “minor” setback

A typical summer schedule might have included an Ironman one weekend, a woman’s challenge the next. Following these, she might serve as crew for one of Michael’s races. After spending 19 hours in a car, she might then participate in an XTERRA tri. In fact, this was her exact schedule when a swollen calf slowed her down. What could have been a big scare in 2002 turned into a minor setback for Jenny, thanks to her podiatrist friend who knew that a swollen calf wasn’t to be taken lightly. Jenny was diagnosed with two DVTs (deep vein thrombosis) and eight PEs (pulmonary emboli). She has a blood clotting disorder called Factor 5 Leiden.

According to Jenny, “I spent a week in the hospital trying to un-clot my system so I could try to live a normal life.  I was told by a number of doctors to take Coumadin, an anti-coagulant, for the rest of my life but opted not to do so. Now, I have to be careful about certain things that I do.” One of these cautionary measures is wearing compression socks to workout and work. Also, Jenny isn’t supposed to sit for long periods of time — which usually isn’t a problem except when she travels. She has to be very careful to avoid dehydration and shouldn’t participate in races that might preempt this condition (although she admits to a few events in which she competed that might not be doctor approved!).

And then there were two (more)

Despite her bout with blood clots, Jenny claims that children, along with entering her forties, have slowed her down more than other life challenges. Rather than spending her weekends travelling around the country, she elects to enjoy the time with her 4 and 7-year olds instead. She has recently taken up the sport of tennis for fun, and was rewarded for her efforts by being bumped to USTA level 4.0. Apparently, it’s hard to defeat an endurance athlete!

Par for the course

When she was racing more competitively, most of her training consisted of “double days.” Today, she only does them occasionally. However, she also admits that tennis “doesn’t count” and she rarely takes a day off. A typical week looks like:

  • Bike trainer, 3 days/week, 40-60 minutes/each
  • Running, 4-5 days/week
    • 1 long run on the weekends, 1 ½ hours
    • Rest of the runs, about 45 minutes, ranging in pace depending on if she is running hills or doing intervals
    • Swim, 1 day/week,  1500 meters

Small in stature, Jenny is naturally muscular, a build conducive to her active lifestyle! She also lifts weights occasionally, though used to be more systematic about it before kids. She also teaches PE, and will often join the kids on sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups, all of which came in handy when training for the Spartan race.

Eat it up

When training and racing, Jenny eats a fairly “normal” diet. Since her spouse doesn’t eat red meat or pork, she rarely does either. Most of their at-home meals are one-dish in style, consisting of chicken, or fish, vegetables and grains (e.g., rice, pasta). In the summer, they do a lot of grilling. She does not live by carbs alone, and likes to include a healthy dose of proteins in the mix.

Next on the horizon

Jenny is not sure what the future holds. Last summer, tennis tournaments conflicted with her triathlon schedule; but she hopes to participate in one or two this year. When asked if more Spartan races might be in the mix, she hesitated. “I injured my back and arm in the recent race, and I’m not sure I want to take the chance of being sidelined.”

Her favorite thing

Given a repertoire of talent, I asked Jenny about her favorite event. After stopping to think for a moment, she responded: “Probably not adventure races, unless I’m on a winning team! But my favorite? I’d probably say XTERRA races. These races are only 3-4 hours in duration and they don’t wipe you out afterwards. Longer races like the Ironman tend to set me back a couple of weeks. Not to mention, I love being outside running on trails.”

Whether she’s running the trails in Boise, Idaho, swimming laps in the pool with her daughter, or serving up another ace on the tennis courts, something tells me that Jenny will be doing it well for many days to come. And I can’t wait to see what’s in store for her children.

Thanks to Jenny for taking a time out to share her story. Hopefully, I’ll see her out on the trails (though she’ll likely be passing me!).

Melinda Hinson