“I was just doing my thing, enjoying it, and trying to see how much I could push my body.”
Jen Bergstrom grew up in Newton, Massachusetts near the Boston Marathon course. As a kid, she was into art and reading. As she got older, she took up ski racing and rode horses. Her introduction to running happened at the all-girls prep school she attended, in Pittsfield, MA. Her and a few of her classmates started running a few miles in the mornings. “It was sort of freeing, we didn’t have fancy equipment or special running clothing, it was the nineties.”
After high school, Jen headed west, where she attended Colorado State. Her running had stopped, but she did travel most places there on her mountain bike. Over the next few years, she studied abroad in New Zealand and after graduation, moved to North Carolina, where she took a position at New Bern Parks and Recreation. Shortly after, her grandfather passed away, and she decided to move back to MA, to be closer to her mother. She was in her early twenties, out in the real world, trying to figure out who she was. It was only a few years later, that she would be fighting the toughest battle of her life.
By her mid-twenties, Jen’s love of cycling was growing, as she participated in many charity rides, benefiting such causes as AIDS and MS. In college, she had mostly biked around her large campus and around the city. Now, she was covering distances up to 100 miles. However, something else was happening, something that was taking the joy out of her experiences: depression. “I stopped worrying about what I was eating, I just didn’t really care about life that much.” She spoke candidly about this dark period, including her weight gain and difficulties getting on the right medications. She couldn’t see a way out, and at the age of 25, she tried to take her own life. But despite her depression, Jen was a fighter. Over the next year and a half, with the help of a therapist, she was able to get off all of her medications, and found a way out. Shortly after, and idea came into her mind. “I looked in the mirror, and decided to start running again.”
Exciting things were happening, as Jen entered the next chapter of her life. She lost 80 pounds and was still cycling and running in a few 5k’s. 2013 was a pivotal year, as she ran her first marathon, in Hyannis, MA. Only eight weeks later, she ran her second marathon, at a slightly more famous venue, the Boston Marathon (getting in with a charity bib). She was on Hereford Street, turning onto Boylston Street when the second bomb went off, marking a tragic day in our Nation’s history. But she showed what it meant to be ‘Boston Strong’, and she came back the following year, running the race again. She was achieving incredible milestones and getting healthy, both physically and mentally. In addition, she was competing in triathlons. It was through this community, that she met her future husband, John. Over the next couple of years, their relationship grew stronger, and they travelled around the country together, eventually completing the Ironman in Lake Placid. They married in September of 2015.
In 2017, she broke into the world of ultra running. It was time to test new limits. In May of that year, she crossed the finish line of the Pineland Farms 50k in Maine. “I loved it, the people were chill and welcoming.” Later that year, she also raced at Ghost Train, setting a new personal recored at 52.5 miles. She battled through calf and IT band pain, but was loving the trails and the challenge of the sport. She was also looking for longer distances.
She kept the momentum going, and in January of the following year, signed up for her first 100 mile race. She picked the Javelina Jundred, located in Fountain Hills, Arizona, which would be in October. That July, she completed the Vermont 100k. In Vermont, she was paced by a high school student named Claire, who ran the last 20 miles with her. She recalled the ‘heat and hills’ of the event, as a great tune-up for Arizona, which was three months away.
On October 27, 2018, Jen achieved another incredible feat. Over a period of 28 hours and 48 minutes, she covered her first 100 mile race at Javelina. She was thrilled to finish, although her happiest running memory occurred earlier in the race, as she ran through Javelina’s desert trails. She found herself running alongside one of her trail-running heroes, Catra Corbett. As they chatted, she was blown away when Catra informed her that she had been following Jen’s journey online. “I was just doing my thing, enjoying it, and trying to see how much I could push my body.” She had no idea how much she had actually been inspiring others.
When I asked her, who she would most like to share a long run with, she chose Nikki Kimball. Beyond admiring Nikki’s impressive collection of ultra running wins at Western States and UTMB, Jen relates to something they both have in common. She watched the documentary, ‘Finding Traction’ about Nikki’s quest to break the time record on the Long Trail in Vermont. She was impressed with her grit, toughness, and her willingness to talk openly about her own depression. “She’s someone that I think I would really get along with.”
Jen and John are looking forward to Mont-Tremblant Ironman this August up in Quebec, Canada. She is also toying with the idea of doing Ghost Train this Fall. Looking ahead to her 40th birthday, she already has a gift idea in mind, to compete in the Moab 240. This race in Utah features 112 hour cut-off and a course that follows the Colorado River through canyons and mountains, up to an altitude of 11,000 feet.
Like so many of us in this community, Jen sees running as a gift. Her time spent on the trails continues to benefit her in countless ways. “I am fine with my thoughts on the trail, because of all of the interesting stuff you come across. It’s peaceful for me, that’s basically what I have found.”