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Murray Journal

Local runner turns childhood illness into fitness motivation

Jan 09, 2020 10:00AM ● By Jess Nielsen Beach

Wilkins surfs down the mountain during the Brighton Cirque series race. (Photo courtesy Jill Wilkins)

By Jess Nielsen Beach | [email protected]

You see them every time you drive down the street: runners, of all shapes and sizes, pounding the pavement in snow or shine. For Jill Wilkins, a West Valley resident, you’re more likely to see her at a more elevated level.

Wilkins, 39, grew to love trail running after a prolonged childhood illness. 

“I was really sick my whole life,” Wilkins said. “I missed four years of school. I had to have daily nutritional IVs, and I was very unhealthy. I was always ‘the sick one.’”

Rather than let her illness defeat her, she used it as a way to better herself.

“I always loved the strength of runners. You’ll be driving and see people running in bad weather and think, ‘wow, good for you!’ I wanted to be the strong one, because I’ve always been the sick one.”

Although the fitness guru now has years of training under her belt, it didn’t come easy. Her first 5K was with her uncle, who was nearing his 50s. Her only goal was to not let him beat her—which he did, sooner than she expected.

“We started running and an eighth of a mile in, not even a half mile, my uncle takes off,” Wilkins said. “There’s nothing more humbling than seeing your older uncle take off and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

After finishing that race, Wilkins was determined to get better. She began to train and love the workout, and she wasn’t about to pay for a sitter.

“It’s so simplistic.” Wilkins said, explaining her routine as a mom who loves to run. “You don’t need a babysitter for the gym, you’re not stuck in a room with sweaty, smelly people not knowing what to do and being intimidated. You just put one foot in front of the other.”

Once her love of exercise was cemented, Wilkins began to explore the nearby mountains.

“I’ve always loved hiking and running, and then I found trail running, which just combines it all.”

In addition to the scenic views and fresh air, Wilkins is grateful for the easier toll trail running takes. Rather than the flat, monotonous pavement on roads and sidewalks, the dirt and snow serve as a cushion to not wear down as much.

“I like the mountain running because it’s very hard to do, but it’s much easier on your body. It’s less impact. There’s also trail variances, there’s rocks, roots, ups, downs; you’re using all the parts of your legs and all different tendons.”

If you’re looking to start trail running, or running in general, don’t be scared. According to Wilkins, there is one important factor if you decide to embrace the great outdoors, even in the snow.

“Running is not for everybody, but hiking is for almost everybody. You can get enjoyment out of it and you don’t have to do hard hikes. It’s putting one foot in front of the other. If you have to take a breather, do it. Get yourself out and enjoy the mountains. We are so lucky. There are so many people who pay to travel here and experience our trails, and they’re right here.”

As for fellow moms with young children, she adds, “Most people think it’s complicated to get kids out, but it’s really not. It’s no different than going sledding or seeing the lights at Temple Square. Warm clothes, snacks if they’re hungry and hand warmers.”

If you’re ready to get out there, Wilkins recommends checking online for avalanche dangers as well as consulting the app, All Trails. 

“All Trails will filter hikes, show the distance, elevation gain, etc. That way you can see oh, this will be an easy trail versus something more challenging.” Wilkins said. “If you have a pair of hiking boots, you’re fine. Just pick a trail that doesn’t have a lot of steepness. I like trekking poles, they’re great for balance. In the snow, you might be a little off, so pull out your poles and get going.”

For more fitness inspiration and photos of Utah’s most stunning views, you can follow Wilkins’ Instagram page: jillrwilkins.