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Jana Rugg

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At what age did you begin participating in running and triathlon?

I was 45 years old when I started running and I started with triathlon a couple years later.

What first made you want to participate in running?

I picked up running in 2011 when my kids were getting a little older and I felt I could invest a little more time in my own health and fitness. I joined a running group (RunnersWorld Tulsa) where I made some great new friends. The accountability of a running group helped me stay on track while having fun and my running buddies and I started to set and meet new goals together.

For me, running to lose a few pounds led to running a few 5ks, then 10ks, half marathons and then of course marathons, including destination marathons.  That eventually led to triathlon.

I enjoyed feeling more healthy and energetic and that drove me to want to do more.  And I loved the positive and upbeat environment of racing events.  Crossing that finish line with spectators cheering us on and getting a medal was such a rush. It reminded me of elementary school when you would get a star or an A on your paper - it just felt good!  Let's face it, we don't get a lot of medals for being a wife, mother, business owner or housekeeper. I got lucky in finding some really fun people who liked to travel and push themselves for more.

In 2012 I had issues with my foot that required a break from running, and that is when I decided to see if I could learn to swim and give triathlon a try.  I took swimming lessons and borrowed a bike, and before I knew it, I was building up to my first Half Ironman.  To date I have completed 17 marathons, 5 Half Ironman Triathlons and 2 Full Ironman Triathlons.  I have found my happy place in the running and triathlon communities!

What other sports did you play growing up? Any good stories about them?

I was totally not an athlete! I tried them all, softball, basketball, dance and cheer but nothing stuck. I used to hate it when our gym teacher would make us run. I didn't find my inner athlete until my mid-40s! I call it my "midlife crisis"!

What were some of the challenges you faced? Early on? Now? As a woman?

One of the biggest challenges of training for and competing in endurance events like marathons and ironman distance triathlons is time management. Especially for working women like myself who have a family. It is a balancing act to put all you want to put into training and not neglect your family. It means getting up at 5am to get your training done, doing swim drills at noon, and running or biking while your daughter is at dance. Even if you don't have a husband and kids, you also have to check yourself to make sure you are not neglecting your non-running friends, your other hobbies, your home and your own spiritual health.

Greatest moment/accomplishment in your sport?

It would have to be the completion of my first full Ironman Distance Triathlon in 2015 (2.4 miles swim, 114 mile bike, 26.2 mile run). It was something that I had never in my wildest dreams imagined I could do. But I had a great group of friends and we took the leap together. We followed a training plan together and all five of us finished and became Ironmen that day. It was incredible! We made it through so much sweat and spills and aches and pains together, each of our own individual effort. I had a couple of panic attacks in open water during the training season and I worked really hard to overcome that and become somewhat comfortable in the open water. That's what I love about triathlon. It is up to you, only and you, to overcome the obstacles and cross that finish line. The reward of completing it belongs only to you.

What keeps you going year after year?

Trying new things and setting goals. I love discovering new ways to enjoy the sports of running and triathlon.  I love travelling with friends to different cities. I have a long-term goal to complete a marathon in all 50 states. I have 9 so far, so I've got a long way to go for that one!

Also, Ainsley's Angels came into my life in April of 2017 and it has opened my eyes to a totally new kind of joy in running and in life in general. Ainsley's Angels is a non-profit group that provides opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in endurance sports. We push people with special needs in specially designed racing chairs and race with them in all distances of running and triathlon events. I ran in a race last year with the OKC chapter of Ainsley's Angels and was immediately hooked! So when I was later asked to be the Ambassador for a brand new chapter in Tulsa, I could not say no. In December of 2017 I officially took on the Ambassador role and began spreading the word of inclusion here in Tulsa. With the help of a few friends who shared a passion for this mission from the beginning, we are creating a thriving group of Angel Runners, Athlete Riders, and Guardian Angels here in Tulsa. Our most recent race was the St. Patrick's Day 5k and we had 11 Riders and 28 Runners participating. It is such a joy to share the racing experience with someone who would not otherwise be able to experience it. The cheers and smiles as we run the course and cross the finish line in our Teams are unlike anything else. We are just getting started and I think Ainsley's Angels is going to make a huge impact on the running community here in Tulsa, and will impact the community at large, too. When people run or ride with us, or just see us out there on the course, they understand that together just about anything is possible!

Future plans within your sport?

I want to keep doing 3-4 marathons a year and working toward my 50 states goals. And I'd like to keep doing at least one half distance Ironman a year for as long as I can. I am doing a 70.3 in Waco TX in the Fall this year. I will likely take on another full Ironman in the future but not until after my daughter finishes high school. Right now I'm pouring a ton of my energy and time into getting the Ainsley's Angels program up and off the ground here in Tulsa. That means a lot of fundraising until we have enough racing chairs to accommodate all the interested riders here in Tulsa. I am also on the board of the Tulsa Area Triathlon (TAT) club and hope to continue in that role, helping promote triathlon here in Tulsa.

Future plans outside of the sport, i.e. professional life, personal life?

I have been married for 27 years and have two teenage kids. They are and always will be my first priority. I also own a recruitment firm, which specializes in the pharmacy profession. I want to continue to grow my business and support my kids as they get through their final few years in high school and college. My husband and I want to travel more and work less, which is always a challenge when you are self employed!

How far have the sports of triathlon and running come during the timeframe in which you have been involved?

It is amazing how many women are getting involved in triathlon and in running, too! These are sports that were originally oriented toward men. In fact, in 1967, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston marathon and a race official attempted to stop her and remove her from the race! It wasn't until 1972 what women were officially allowed to participate in the Boston Marathon. So, we have come a long way! The first triathlons here in the US took place in the 70s but women got involved in the sport early on. There is a lot more equality in the sport of triathlon, although women's groups are still working to make the prize money and Kona slots more equal. Now, while running enjoys a 62/38 split of women to men, the sport of triathlon flips that ratio in the exact opposite direction with 37.6 percent being women. Even in the few years I have been involved, I am seeing more and more women specific-events and opportunities for women to get into the sport. Our local Tri club, TAT, just held a Women's Beginner Tri camp that was hugely successful.

Where would you like to see your sport be in the coming years?

I'd love to see running and triathlon events continue to grow and make more and more unique opportunities available. I'd love to see the general public become more supportive of these events and cities do more to make running and biking safer. There are daily reports of people being hit by cars while running and biking and I'd love to see more development and innovation in safety for athletes who train on our roads.

What lessons have you taken from running that have helped you in your professional and personal life away from the trail?

Training for marathons and triathlons has taught me discipline, commitment, and the importance of sticking to a plan more than anything else in life! They have also taught me that any regular person can do incredible things if they are willing to make the sacrifices and stick to their plans. Overall, my achievements in these endurance sports have brought me confidence! I have also grown so much by giving back to the sport. Being a run leader with my running club and leading others toward achieving their first marathon has been amazing. Serving on the board of TAT allows me to helps triathlon to continue to grow. And now with Ainsley's Angels, sharing my legs to push a person with disabilities that prevent them from running or even walking, has brought me more joy than doing these things for myself has ever done. It has been a journey, and I feel like it has just begun!

What advice do you have for younger athletes coming up in running?

Get involved a group for the motivation and accountability that brings you. Learn from others who are experienced and don't be afraid to ask questions. Learn from your mistakes. Always have and follow a plan but don't let it rule YOU. Find a way to create balance and avoid obsession. Find ways to teach, share, motivate and include others - it will enrich your experience tenfold!

3 words to describe your sports journey. Discuss why you chose those 3 words.

Confidence - if you want something, go for it? You are never too old to start something new. And if you listen to advice from others with experience and follow proven plans, you will get there. Never give up on yourself!

Passion - if you love what you do, it is much easier to stick with your plan and push yourself to achieve your goals. So keep it fun! I see some folks in endurance racing that start taking things so seriously that it is no longer fun and they lose their passion. Keep it fun and surround yourself with positive thoughts and positive people.

Inclusion - find ways to share your passion with others. For me, it has been in mentoring others, encouraging friends though their tough spots, and now finding a way to include people who are not able to do it alone due to disabilities. Doing what you love and sharing it with others makes the journey such a joy!