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This particular thing is a silver Mazda Miata with a license plate that reads A KICK. With a six-figure income from running and consulting work for Nike, Jennings can afford to buy a lot of other things, yet she stubbornly refuses. She lives with Tim Hayner and their three cats, Dundee, Stirling and Castine, in a 150-year-old Cape on a side street of tiny Newmarket, N.H. She puts up jams, she bakes pies, she knits, she turns her backyard into the neighborhood playground. Once or twice a week she drives down to Boston to run intervals with her coach, John Babington.
Jennings is fiercely, almost eccentrically self-reliant. Whenever she requires the three staples of her existence—beer, ice cream and The Boston Globe —she will either bike or walk to Marelli's Fruit and Real Estate on Main Street. "I don't use my car unless I really have to," she says.
When she is strapping on her psychic armor before a race, Jennings is a fearsome presence. "People know not to get too close to Lynn when it's nearing race time," says Babington. "She radiates some of her less social characteristics when a race is near."
Jennings's game face has been known to annoy her friends as well as her rivals. It dismays those who know her other side. She confesses, "When I'm about to be interviewed, Tim always says, 'Let them see you're a sweetie, that you're soft.' "
More often than not, Hayner's plea falls on deaf ears. A recent interview in the Globe caught her at her fierce, uncompromising worst, sounding like a robotic, Nietzschean superrunner.
"I have the killer instinct," she was quoted as saying. "I embrace a sense of superiority. I will not allow someone to be better than me. I will myself to be the best. I look my competitors in the eye and think: '...you!' " At this point in the interview, Jennings put her thumb on the table in front of her, print down, and twisted it viciously, as if relishing the thought of squishing every ounce of life out of one of her hapless rivals.
But she also points out that her ferocity is a tool, to be picked up when competition demands it and put aside when it doesn't. Jennings chafes at the narrow range of emotions our society allows women to show. She feels no need to be soft or "feminine," no need to please. "The 'be nice' thing," she says. "It's a burden women ought not to have." She goes on to say, in words so measured that you know she wants to get this right, once and for all: "I'm a woman. I'm a classy woman. I'm a nice woman. I'm a sweet woman. But when I'm running a race, there's more to me than sweet, nice woman. There's that whole athletic side of me being expressed. It was even harder when I had my hair cut really short."
Ah, yes. That haircut. In 1987 Jennings appeared in a Nike ad with her hair so short it looked as if a porcupine had taken up residence atop her head. "People were questioning my sexuality," she says.
But Jennings's ferocity went beyond her haircut. She also had a chip on her shoulder. "I was self-coached at the time," she says. "I was very angry, defensive about my running. I had to be, because there was nobody to help me share the burden of what I was trying to do. I feel as if I've mellowed incredibly in the last two years."
Hayner and Babington have helped a great deal in the mellowing process. Jennings met Hayner in 1988 when she returned from the Seoul Olympics to discover that the horse chestnut in her yard had blight. She contacted a local tree service, and Hayner came calling. They still debate the outcome of their second date, a 20-minute mud-wrestling contest in the middle of a swampy soccer field.