Jenny Ash sweats. Constantly.
Sometimes it’s from her training regimen of running, cycling and swimming. More often it’s over things such as course layout, or athlete safety, or signage, or transportation, or water or volunteers. Or a hundred other things that most people never consider, but are vital to a race director.
“People joke, ‘What do you do? Put up a couple cones the night before?’” Ash said with a smile. “They can’t believe it’s a full-time job.”
Sweating the details is part of Ash’s job description as race director for Outer Banks Sporting Events. Come Veterans Day weekend, Nov. 10-12, when the OBSE stages the Towne Bank Marathon and Southern Fried Half Marathon, Ash will have logged hundreds of hours in preparation so that it all appears seamless and efficient.
“Jenny is a breath of fresh air,” said OBSE executive director Ray Robinson. “She’s very knowledgeable, in terms of her experiences. The who, what, when and by what means for our races, she’s 100 percent the expert.”
Ash is a perpetually sunny, 47-year-old with the perspective of both an administrator and a competitor. She has been OBSE race director for 2½ years, and when she isn’t organizing and overseeing local events, she regularly trains for races around the region. She runs a 1:50 half-marathon, a sub-4:00 marathon, and completes a half-Ironman triathlon (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, 13.1-mile run) in under six hours.
Much of her work revolves around communication and building relationships. For example, the November marathon runs through Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head and Manteo.
Town officials in all four municipalities must be informed of potential impacts and what’s required to put on a race. She meets with school and civic groups to solicit volunteers for hydration stations along the course. Any course that runs through the Wright Brothers Memorial site requires conversations with National Park Service reps.
“I always feel like I have a responsibility to the athletes,” Ash said. “It’s important for me to remember that the municipalities and sheriffs and police who I work with have a big responsibility to the residents. Making it known that a race is coming up and being gracious about sharing the roads and all that stuff is something that I really try to make sure they know I understand.”
Ash traveled a broad path before transplanting to Duck with her family in 2011 — husband Steve, daughters Megan and Chloe, and son Luke.
A Baltimore native, she is the sixth of Bill and Jane Bowen’s seven children. She played tennis in high school and didn’t start running until she attended West Virginia University, but then mostly for fitness and recreation. She graduated in 1993 with a degree in advertising. She never envisioned working for an ad agency, but she was a natural salesman.
After college, she moved to Colorado, married and helped run clothing and consignment stores in Boulder and Breckenridge. When she and Steve, a fellow Baltimorean, had small children, she continued running.
“It was my release,” she said. “I would run just for downtime. It took me a while to really like group runs, because it was always my down time. I didn’t want to run with anybody else. I just wanted to run solo. Now, that’s changed. My initial building of the distance, sort of started with being the mother of two young kids. Then I thought, I might as well put it to the test.”
Ash entered local races and small triathlons, beginning in the late 1990s, saw improvement, and was hooked.
The family moved to Florida in 2001 for two years, as Steve sought a commercial airline pilot’s license. He was hired and assigned to Minnesota. The family lived in the Twin Cities for seven years, and Jenny became a program coordinator and race organizer for the local chapter of the YMCA, managing a staff of 30. She ran the Twin Cities Marathon for nearly every year, qualifying for the Boston Marathon in 2011.
As their parents and siblings aged, Jenny and Steve wanted to relocate closer to home. Steve was now based out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport, but was permitted basically to live anywhere.
“We wanted to live somewhere that was geographically cool – mountains or ocean,” Jenny said. “We were thinking about closer to Baltimore, but then we thought let’s go somewhere that’s close-ER and easy to see everybody, but somewhere geographically different than the city.”
She sold furniture and radio advertising here on the Outer Banks before she was hired as OBSE race director in 2015.
She has made tweaks to the organization’s various races, and she and Robinson have discussed perhaps adding and promoting an event or two per year. OBSE races and participants and visitors generated an economic impact of $8.5 million in Dare County in 2016, according to a local study.
The nonprofit organization also recently surpassed the $50-million mark in total funds donated to its two beneficiaries, the Dare Education Foundation and Outer Banks Relief Foundation.
“The races we put on are absolutely a destination for a lot of people, because of our location,” Robinson said. “But when folks come back year after year, they do so for a reason. They have great experiences. It tells you that our courses are second to none, our service management is second to none, and that’s a reflection of the staff.”
Ash loves her job. The more she does, sees and travels, the better she’ll get. Perspiration is a necessary by-product.
“When the starter’s gun goes off,” Ash said, “all that work is really worth it.”