Jilene Mecham discovered the thrill of competitive running at a young age. When her father realized he was overweight, he decided to change the family’s diet and exercise habits. He began challenging 7-year-old Jilene and her siblings to races across the yard, using a microwave as both timer and finish line.
Years have passed since the family competed in those informal backyard races. Jilene grew up, got married, had kids, and has now set a goal of running 50 marathons before she turns 50.
The running enthusiast is a 46-year-old dental hygienist who lives in Orem with her husband, four children and dog. She watched her sister and husband compete in marathons about 20 years ago and decided that she wanted to run one too.
Jilene began officially training after her second child was born. She said it was difficult, but found she could run 26.2 miles if she set her mind to it.
“It’s mental. If you want it, you can get it,” Jilene said. “And you realize how strong your spirit is when you really want something.”
She ran her first marathon in 3 hours and 25 minutes and running has been her addiction ever since. She has run 33 marathons to date and has also competed in bike races and Ironman triathlons.
Jilene said she still struggles with certain aspects of racing. It is often hard for her to not compare her recent races to other people’s times or her own past performance.
“I shouldn’t beat myself up, but comparing is my downfall,” Jilene said. “If I could learn not to compare and compete and to just enjoy and accept, life would be wonderful.”
The marathon mom said running has helped her make lifelong friends and memories. Her favorite marathon memory was running the St. George Marathon with her siblings, husband and oldest son.
Jake Mecham, Jilene’s 21-year-old son, said the St. George race was his first time running a marathon. He and the rest of the family ran it in honor of Jilene’s younger sister who was in a car accident a few years ago.
As many family members as possible participated, including Julie, who recovered in time for the marathon.
“My mom was freaking out because it was my first race,” Jake said. He was 17 years old at the time.
Jake said his mom completed the marathon before him and waited for him at the finish line.
“My mom said she heard the crowd yelling and said, ‘That’s my son!’ She pushed everybody out of the way,” Jake said. “She was crying and screaming, and she attacked me as soon as I crossed.”
He said he never would have been able to finish if Jilene hadn’t given him support and tips as he trained.
Their family friend Hailey Unice said the Mecham kids support their parents and the parents support their kids too.
“Jilene is just so determined and fit, and she loves being outdoors,” Hailey said. “She really encourages her kids to do the same kind of things, and she cheers them on when they do.”
Jilene and her husband John said they have always encouraged their kids to find activities they love and stick with them. The kids swim, sing, mountain bike, and play soccer as well as ultimate frisbee.
Hailey also said Jilene’s youthful personality contributes to the Mechams’ fun family dynamic.
“She’s just one of the kids,” Hailey said. “She’s jokey, she loves singing off-key for everyone to hear, and she even added me on Snapchat the day after we met.”
Jilene said her family is what matters the most to her. She said she feels a sense of accomplishment after a big race, but her biggest achievement is being married for 24 years and loving her husband.
“My marriage makes me feel like I’ve climbed Mount Everest,” Jilene said. “Not because it’s been that hard, but because it’s that big of an accomplishment.”
She said she doesn’t describe her marriage as happy, but said that content and joyful are better words, even though they still don’t perfectly capture her feelings about her relationship with her husband.
Jilene’s best advice for married couples falls in line with her love for exercising and being outside.
“I consider a tandem bike ride the best marriage therapy, as long as you invite the Holy Ghost,” Jilene said.
Her next big finish line is her 50th birthday in 2018, and she said it looks like she accomplish her goal and run 17 more marathons with her family’s support.