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‘I did it, by a lot’: Sacramento runner breaks national record for women’s 5K

Sacramento resident Jenny Hitchings crosses the finish line at the Susan B. Anthony 5K race as she breaks Shirley Matson’s 21-year-old American record with a 18:05 time in Sacramento on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018.
Sacramento resident Jenny Hitchings crosses the finish line at the Susan B. Anthony 5K race as she breaks Shirley Matson’s 21-year-old American record with a 18:05 time in Sacramento on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. Contributed

Sacramento resident Jenny Hitchings wasn’t too surprised when she broke a 21-year-old record at the Susan B. Anthony 5K race Saturday morning.

Hitchings woke up at 6:15 a.m., had some coffee, read the newspaper, stretched with some friends around 7:30 a.m. and then set an American 5K women’s age group (55-59) record by 27 seconds with a time of 18 minutes, 5 seconds in the race adjacent to the American River.

The 55-year-old sub-elite competitive runner had recently established a personal-best 6-mile time of 35:24 in the Wharf To Wharf Race in Santa Cruz on July 22 and then reached out to race director Carol Parise to get the Susan B. Anthony 5K course sanctioned by USA Track and Field.

“I thought, ‘OK, I’m 55 and there’s a 5K coming up in town here; if I could run a 5:54 average for 6 miles, I know I can do that for 3 miles, and if I did that for 3 miles for a 5K I would have an American record,’ ” Hitchings said. “I thought I’d just go for it even though 5K is not my race and I hate it because it’s hard and it hurts, but I’m just going to go for it and see what happens … and I did it, by a lot.”

Shirley Matson previously held the record, set in Carlsbad in 1997.

Hitchings began running for fitness and participated in a few races as a student in the early ‘80s at UC Santa Barbara. She challenged herself with a Los Angeles marathon in 1987 and another in San Francisco a few years later.

“Both of those I didn’t really know how to train,” said Hitchings, who is now a personal running coach and runs two marathons a year. “They didn’t really even have sports gels or seamless bras at that point. I just kind of went out there and did what I could running close to four-hour marathons.”

Hitchings’ running career didn’t take off until the mother of two moved to Sacramento, joined the Buffalo Chips Running Club and hired a coach to help teach her how to seriously train and take care of her body.

“Because I’m mainly a distance runner, most of my training has to do with mostly running 60- to 70-miles-plus a week,” Hitchings said. “I take one day off because as I get older I need that rest day and I probably do one to two speedier workouts a week, which might mean going from half-miles to miles at a faster pace.”

So what’s next for the Sacramento Running Association Elite team member?

First, she planned to celebrate with a drink at a local brewery with husband Andy Hitchings. Then, she’ll chase another 20-year-old running record next month.

Hitchings has the 10-mile mark in her sights at the Buffalo Stampede on Sept. 9 in Sacramento, contingent on whether it is a sanctioned course.

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