A group of trail runners
Jess Thornton (green shirt) runs with Trey Nixon and other friends in the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness in Tulsa, OK.

Want a glimpse of Jess Thornton’s personality? Ask her to cite her most satisfying running accomplishment. You won’t hear about her 50-mile ultra finish or any of her multiple 50K races, marathons or half marathons. Instead, she talks about Raleigh’s Krispy Kreme Challenge

“In 2013, after two previously failed attempts, I completed the Krispy Kreme Challenge,” she says. “The challenge is a 2.5 mile run from the North Carolina State University Memorial Belltower to the Krispy Kreme. Once at the store you have to consume a dozen (cold) donuts, and then run 2.5 miles back to the Belltower — all in under an hour. My split for donut consumption was 14 minutes — I ate 12 donuts in 14 minutes! The trick is to just eat them one at a time, as quickly as possible! And also to wipe off as much of the sugar as you can. The bad news is that I still really can’t stomach eating donuts.”

 Jess is relatively new to the Blacksburg running community but she’s already making a big impact – with her outgoing personality, her savvy organizational skills and her leadership. She’s led Saturday morning group runs on the trails at Pandapas Pond and has worked in recent weeks to revamp and reenergize the Blacksburg Striders. (Please come to the next meeting: 7:30 pm. Dec. 5 at Runabout Sports)

Hometown:Mint Hill, N.C. (next to Charlotte) and now Blacksburg.

Age: 39

Job: HR Insights Consultant for a big bank — I try to get people to use data to make decisions, and better understand the data they have. 

When and why did you start running? I started running at age 27. After getting an office job, I started to put on some weight, and was generally unhappy with how I felt and looked. A friend convinced me to try running. I hated it. I couldn’t even run a mile on the treadmill without a walk break.

When was your first race? In September 2008, I ran my first 5K in Raleigh, NC — I had to walk a bit in the last mile. I came in at 36 minutes, and I was so determined to keep training to do better. I ran my first half marathon in November 2009, and my first full in November 2010. I’ve kept running because it’s a GREAT outlet for my competitive side — and I have made so many close friends through running that it really is the bulk of my social life. 

Most memorable running experience? Definitely my first (and right now my only) 50 miler. I ran Run Rabbit Run in 2016 in Steamboat Spring CO. Training and running strong that day was amazing, and I can’t wait to run more 50 milers. For this event, four of my friends were all training for their first 50 miler too. We did nearly all our training runs together. We all traveled up to Steamboat together, and we all finished the race (not together). The race was breathtaking – challenging, of course, but beautiful. I finished in just under 13 hours – my goal was to beat the sunset – and I did. I am definitely hungry for more of these. 

Most frustrating running experience? Injuries are horrible. In early 2017, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my tibia — I’m still recovering. I thought it was healed, and did too much too soon, and it put me right back to the start line. In May 2018, I had surgery to put a titanium plate in my leg. It was my first major surgery. I was on crutches, then a boot, and slowly came back to sports. I’ve just started running again. 

Who inspires and/or motivates you? Everyday, normal people that keep pushing and running and cheering each other on. I am all for inclusiveness, and it’s my friends that motivate me.

Favorite running route near Blacksburg? Pandapas is amazing. We are so lucky to have such beautiful trails right here. There is so much diversity in the trails – and they are pretty dang technical. Training out there makes you such a stronger runner. And I can’t wait to get back out there for long runs.

Favorite races? Wow! I have loved so many races! I ran the Big Basin 50k – which runs through the redwoods south of San Francisco from the skyline to the sea. It was gorgeous and difficult, and still my slowest 50k. I love tiny races like Big Basin, other tiny trail races — I seek them out! At the same time, I love a big, crowded city marathon! Philadelphia is always a winner. Also, the Oakland Marathon — I didn’t run the full on my own, I ran it as a relay – and my PR for the half is on that course.  But I love running through cities, seeing the architecture, seeing the personality come out. 

Music or no music when running? When I first started, I was definitely a music listener – but not anymore. I prefer to be chatty with my running partner, or to get lost in thought on my own (either thinking through work issues or thinking about hamburgers).

Trails or roads? Trails! I thank California for my love of trails. I started running in North Carolina, and my friends and I were all road runners. And then, I moved to the Bay Area, and the trails were so welcoming and they were in every direction. After that, there was no turning back. They ease you into trail running, almost like they trick you. Then I moved to Oklahoma, and it was a good thing I already loved trails — cause those dang Oklahoma trails will trip you! 

Fact about you that few people know? This is tough — I’m an open book. OK — I never learned how to swim as a kid. I mean, I played in pools, I could tread water, but I always lost at Marco Polo. At age 31, I took adult swim lessons at my community center pool in order to compete in triathlons. I am a horrible swimmer, but I swim.