Jacquie Mannhard overcomes injury, unhealthy eating to blossom
By Henry Howard
Jacquie Mannhard has been running her entire life with a brief pause post-college. Her lifelong journey, relentless passion for the sport and perseverance through injury all led to her breakout performance this month, becoming the winner of the 2023 Leadville 100 in 21:24:55 by nearly two hours over the women’s runner-up finisher.
Saying she was “running in utero,” Mannhard explains that her mother was a runner, competing in marathons in the 80s and 90s.
“That was pretty rare at that time to be a woman in marathons, and especially to be a mom in marathons,” says Mannhard, now 38 and the mother of two. “So I grew up in that environment where on a Sunday morning you pile in the minivan and you take water bottles out to Mom on her course on her long run.”
Mannhard, who lives in Boulder, Colo., started out as a swimmer and began running with her mom around 8 years old. She ran cross country and track in both high school and college. That’s when her flame was briefly extinguished.
“I was very burned out, injured and unhealthy with running at that time, so I needed to take a big break,” she recalls. “I pretty much didn't come back to running until about five years ago. I didn't have an appetite to run when I was pregnant, it was hard on me. So it really didn't come back until my youngest was about 2 years old, and at that point I jumped into the trails and ultra world.”
The catalyst that got Mannhard back into running was Kate Davis.
“Running will just always be the song of my heart,” Mannhard says. “I knew I would get back to it at some point. But a friend, an old teammate, who’s a mom, too, reached out to me. We went out for our long run together. I think it was an hour and it was the maximum I could handle. She really helped me get momentum again and encouraged me to sign up for our first ultra together. She extended a hand and pulled me up in that moment.”
That first ultra was a 50K at Copper Mountain, near Breckenridge, Colo.
“I think I really benefited from being naïve. I didn't know what I was getting into,” she recalls. “I was just out there having a blast. I remember loving it and then it got extremely painful. I couldn't wait to finish this and see my kids (Rose, 9, and George, 7). I can't wait to stop running. I just have great memories of it, like how foolish I was and how unprepared I was and how much I still loved it.”
Long distances seemed to call to Mannhard, a recurring theme throughout her running journey.
“I have always been drawn to the longest distance,” she says. “When I was a kid and the longest distance was one mile, I wanted to do the one mile. And then in high school when it was cross country, for me it was a 5K. That's what I wanted. In college, the longest distance was 10K. That was my distance. So I've just always been really drawn to long distance. I felt like that's what my engine was built for.”
Passing it down
Her passion for running has been passed down to the next generation. She coaches both her kids’ cross country and track teams.
“My kids were running in utero before they were born, too, so they didn't have a choice,” she says. “I haven't pushed it on them, but it's certainly like monkey see monkey do. They see that Mom and Dad are out running, and so they're interested in running. They're both great runners. They love running with me and my husband. They're great at crewing and cheering at races, too. So they definitely have the bug.”
As the mom of a young daughter, Mannhard may be perfectly suited to lead her to making good decisions amid the peer pressure, skinny models and other factors that glorify thin women. She admits that she was too thin, fueled improperly and overtrained during college.
“No one was talking about these things,” she says. “I never had a coach tell me once you need to be fueling, you're getting too thin, and so it becomes very addictive because for a short time you run really well. You get very thin and very light and you run very well, and then you don't run anymore because you're on the sidelines. I'm glad to see that that narrative is getting mainstream attention and people are speaking out about how wrong it is and yet how widespread this problem is.”
Mannhard’s wish is for drastic change for the next generation of women. “It's just so tragic that my story is not in any way a unique story. So many of my peers went through this same thing, and it takes a long time to overcome it, too. It really took me stepping away completely from running to overcome it.”
There has been some progress made. Coaches are more likely now to address nutrition and related topics with their runners. The media is highlighting different body types, even in running magazines and advertisements. At the same time, an emphasis needs to be placed on a lifetime of running — and health.
“Training for a single race or a single season is a losing game,” Mannhard says. “Your career as a runner can span decades. And you have to think that way in how you train and care for your body. It was very fundamental when I started working with David Roche, his very simple philosophy is 'Eat enough always,' and the extended version is ‘Eat too much sometimes, eat too little never.’ I would shout that from the rooftops. Eat enough always. Food is fuel. No one told me that. I wish someone told me that. If you want to train like a beast, you have to fuel like a beast.”
Mannhard started working with Roche, who is also my coach, about three years ago. At the time, she felt like she had plateaued yet felt she could reach a new level.
“The more that I learned about him and his broad philosophy — he's the most uplifting person in the world. I've never had a coach like David before. It's truly life-changing to work with him.”
Roche gets the most out of his athletes, whether they are running rock stars in college and they can become elite, or middle-of-the-packers who have different goals. His approach includes relentless belief in the athlete, a research-backed training plan and holistic self-care.
“It's the training methodology and the psychology, and for me, the belief is the foundation,” she says. “The belief is first. He believes that every one of his athletes has this deep potential. And he believes that from the beginning, whether you're coming up from the very bottom or you're coming out of injury or whatever, there's this belief in the potential. I think that type of philosophy creates really fast, happy, strong runners, uninjured runners.”
Mannhard knows all too well about injuries and recovery. She has healed from two stress fractures in her left femur. During her recovery time, she focused on swimming and biking.
“I actually love cross-training and that's something that's been in my toolkit since I was a kid,” she says. “I had a chapter of doing triathlons. My parents were doing triathlons, too. So I still felt quite happy cross-training and knowing that I was working back to fitness. I just had this feeling that I had unfinished business, and that's what motivated me through that time. I'm going to run my whole life. I'm going to run as long as I possibly can. So I knew with that injury that it was a roadblock, but it wasn't the end of the road.”
Queen of the mountain
Fittingly, Mannhard and her supporters stayed at Copper Mountain, site of her first ultra, before her race at Leadville.
“There we were right at the base of this mountain, which is where my ultra running journey started just a few years ago,” she says. “It was this very full circle moment. We were sitting out at the base of the mountain, having dinner the night before Leadville, and I just was flooded with memories of that race and being there with my friend. It was really cool.”
Looking back, Mannhard does not recall anything remarkable about her training for the race. “I even remember saying to my husband before the race I was having doubts. I was very low mileage compared to the other women coming to the starting line. It started to deflate my confidence for sure. But I just had this voice in my head, this voice that has always been there, saying, ‘You can do this, this is where you belong.’ And my husband said, ‘Jacquie, there is that voice in you telling you that you can win. Listen to that voice.’”
That helped her flip her mindset. Still she didn’t focus on winning, until she was out on the course.
“In mile one of the race — mile one — as soon as my body started moving, I felt awesome and I knew I was going to have a good day. I saw my crew at the first aid station at mile 13 and I told them, ‘This is my day.’ I knew right away.”
It was such a good day, she didn’t even have to dig deep out of a rough patch.
“Honestly, there were not many low points. My headspace, like my mental game, was super strong. Going over Hope Pass, it was getting hot. Hope Pass is super hard no matter how fit you are, and I was suffering. And I thought to myself, every single runner out here is suffering, all you have to do is suffer better. And I know that I can suffer well, so there weren't many dark spots at all. I was out there just loving it and feeling good and knowing that I was having the best race of my life.”
‘I’m breaking the tape!’
She also had the best finish line celebration.
“I'll tell you, when I took the lead of the race, I allowed myself to envision that moment of breaking the tape, which is something I had never thought of before,” she recalls. “That image came into my mind, and it was so motivating that I allowed it to bounce around in my mind a bit because I was gaining so much power from that thought. By the time I reached the actual finish line that thought had been in my mind for hours — I'm going to do this! I'm breaking the tape!”
Leadville allows crews to accompany their runners for the final mile.
“I was so buoyed by their energy. They were hooping and hooting and hollering, and the moment that I crossed that finish line was so huge for me. I was not in the mood to play small. That was not a time for moderation. That was time to be absolutely freaking out, like the deepest primal roar I could muster. Oh my gosh, that was a time for extreme celebration. And it was this moment of showing the world, showing everyone else what I knew all along, I had it within me.”
Her epic finish line celebration also included champagne spray.
“They handed it to me. It was not planned at all. I didn't even know how to open champagne. I don't even drink. So, that was amazing. I had never done that before. It just was super spontaneous.”
Her Leadville victory is “the beginning of the next chapter,” Mannhard says. As she explained before, she always looks to go longer. So do 200-mile or longer races interest her?
“Maybe. I'm planning to try to keep racing well at the 100-mile distance. I like running fast, too. So I try to sprinkle in a handful of sub-ultra races every year. I think through the fall and through the winter I'll probably do some shorter races, work on speed, and then I'd like to come back to the 100-mile distance again next season, next summer. A 200 isn't on the radar yet, but you know, it's in the back of my mind.”
Name: Jacquie Mannhard
Hometown: St. Louis
Number of years running: 30
How many miles a week do you typically run: 35 to 65
Point of pride: “My ancient, steel-frame road bike, Black Beauty, that I stubbornly will never quit riding.”
Favorite race distance: 50 miles and up!
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: “Pizza - prerace, during race, and post race.”
Favorite piece of gear: Hoka Speedgoats!
Who inspires you: “My mom. She has been an athlete her whole life, and now in her 60s is still thriving in training and competition! She is the definition of longevity in sport!”
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: “Lil Nas X, Industry Baby.”
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: By Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
• Instagram: @jmannhard