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  • Writer's pictureThathe Msimango

'I thought my running was over' - Jenna Challenor on life, sickness and Comrades 2024

Comrades Marathon multiple gold medalist Jenna Challenor describes her absence from the road as something she needed to do to heal and reestablish balance in her life. Following a famous finish at the 2022 Comrades Marathon which saw her crawling to the finish line to take fourth position, Challenor had to deal with health problems that kept her out of the sport for a period of 18 months. Far from throwing in the towel, the Durban based runner is making a comeback and showed her Comrades intent when she took fifth place at the Harry Gwala Marathon in March and then followed that up with a 2:52:56 clocking to finish in seventh position at the Durban International Marathon at the end of April. 

"Its a been a very long road back from illness since Comrades 2022, I have had vaccine damage, glandular fever, Epstein-Barr virus, Coxsackie myocarditis and anaemia," she told #TheTopRunner.

Challenor's dramatic entrance at the Moses Manhida Stadium to finish the 2022 Comrades Down Run in fourth position. Photo Credit: Supplied.

"I’ve never been so sick in all my life. For 18 months I was unable to run. If I tried running I slept for 3 days. It was awful but my health is improving and I am able to run again and for that I am eternally grateful. I thought my running was over, I’ve missed it so much. I honestly just love to run so I’m enjoying being able to run and trying to bring my body back . I am definitely not at full health or full fitness but I am making my way back slowly and surely," explains Challenor, who is the holder of a 2:36:50 standard marathon personal best time which was set at the 2019 Valencia Marathon.

The 42-year-old Challenor believes that she would not have been able to overcome the hardships she encountered without a wonderful support from her husband. Plus, those difficulties made her connect with God. "You must have a great support base to get through some things in life. My husband, Brett has been there for me. Without him and the support from the family, I wouldn't have pulled through. I also learned to be closer to God. Each day, I was praying to get better. I consulted more doctors and specialists to help me but none of them knew what was wrong with me."

Challenor poses with her three daughters and husband Brett at the finish line of the 2022 Comrades Marathon. Photo Credit: Supplied.

"It was quite a difficult time of my life," she added. "You have to be positive and hope things will be better. I also learned that you some things you can't change in life and be patient with the process. In life, I have learned one thing that people live the present. People forget about you easily. For example, Caroline Wostmann was such a wonderful athlete but no one mentions her after retiring from athletics," reflected the woman who also claimed gold medals at the 2017 and 2019 Two Oceans Marathon races.

For Challenor, her next next stop is Comrades on the 9th of June. It going to be her second Up Run after she claimed a sixth place 6:35:18 finish on her debut in 2019. " I have entered Comrades as I really wanted to run it, but I am taking things one day at a time. I’m going to see how the next few weeks go then make a call about my target closer to race day. I am a mum and wife and my family needs me. I can’t finish the race sick like I was so I need to be ready to make a wise call.  Time will tell. If I’m healthy and strong I will run, if I feel I'm not ready I will not sacrifice my health and I will keep building back until I am ready again." 

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