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Time in after family time out: Jeannie Sullivan aims at Chicago Marathon goals

Jeannie Sullivan is supported by her family in a return to competitive running. Husband Todd, Phoebe, 2, and Dashiell, 4, are on her right while Natalie, 8, and Rory, 6, are on her left.
Credit: Provided

Jeannie Sullivan knows juggling as well as running.

On a delay in an interview for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, she explained, “I spent the morning at Lurie’s with our 2-year-old who fractured her arm jumping off the couch!”

Sullivan, a mother of four from Clarendon Hills, should be among the top finishers from the Chicago area Sunday at the 41st Chicago Marathon. More than 40,000 runners are expected with 1.7 million spectators anticipated.

At the University of Michigan, Sullivan ran varsity track (indoor and out) and cross country.

“I was XC captain my senior year but I would not call myself a standout –  I was just middle of the pack, happy to be part of the team and traveling!” Sullivan emailed. “That’s what’s fun about my running career post-kids: I come to it from a totally different perspective from in college and in my 20’s.

“Back then it was kind of a slog – getting it done. Now I’m just so grateful – grateful to my body for allowing me to do this and grateful to my support system that gets me out the door at all. When you change your perspective, it changes everything. I never thought I’d be crushing a 5K 20 seconds off my lifetime PR at age 38 after having four kids, but here we are!”

That 5K PR (17:46) came at a tuneup Sept. 23 in the Chicago Half Marathon/5K, where she was the top woman in the 5K. At the Madison Mini-Marathon on August 18, Sullivan ran a 1:25.52, second in her age group (35-39), but short of the PR (1:25:26) she set May 5 at the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon in Indiana.

Sullivan has goals for Sunday.

“Since this is really my first competitive marathon since having children, my goal is to nab a big PR (current PR is from Boston ’08, 2:59:03) to cut down the overall time I need to cut for the [Olympic Trails qualifying time], which is the ultimate goal for 2019,” she emailed.

She and husband Todd have four children: Natalie, 8, Rory, 6, Dashiell, 4 and Phoebe, 2.

“Being a running parent, it’s SO hard to set time goals out loud because you just never know what will happen on the day or in the week leading up with your family, which can affect everything –  but I’m very well trained so I can say that a big PR is goal number 1,” she emailed. “Close to 2:50 would be goal 2 and sub-2:50 would be icing on the cake.”

So how does she juggle the training?

“I could certainly not be competing at this level without the support of my husband – I am a full-time mom but we have a part-time nanny four mornings a week (more if he’s traveling) to help me get a grasp on my sanity and keep my training on-schedule,” she explained. “At the height of my marathon training we would get a babysitter so that he could bike along with my longest runs to keep me company and manage my fluids. Such a huge help!

“I think it’s super important for my kids to see me working hard toward a goal and coming to some of my races to see me competing and doing well. They run the kids’ races at a few of the events I do and have a lot of fun. It’s definitely a sacrifice to pour myself into marathon training because it is so time-consuming and I’m exhausted half the time – so as a mom you feel a bit of guilt around it – but I know it absolutely makes me a better mom and role model in the long run (no pun intended).”


Jeannie Sullivan running in the Madison Mini-Marathon.