January often means making fitness-related resolutions, and one Many Rivers Whole Health employee is already off and running to meet her goals. In-Home Behavioral Specialist Jackie Denegar is training to run her first marathon this year, and it’s a big one: the Chicago Marathon.

“Chicago, Boston, and New York are the ‘Big Three,’” Jackie says. “I wanted to start there because I grew up in Chicago, and it’s known as a fast, flat course.”

Jackie’s journey to the Chicago Marathon began a few years ago, and she started getting more serious about it around a year ago.


Jackie Denegar (right) at the Ice Breaker

“I took my time getting into it,” she says. “It started as a fitness goal. My son was on the cross-country team, and I was running to meet him along the race and getting winded, so I started running to keep from embarrassing myself,” Jackie says, laughing.

“Then I started running with a running group, getting more miles on weekends, and they told me ‘You could run a marathon.’ I said, ‘I could run a marathon!?’”

This year’s Chicago Marathon is October 8, and Jackie will be there along with local friends and family members who will be cheering her on along the way. For those of us who can’t make the trip to Chicago, there will be an app available closer to the race that tracks runners by bib number, so we’ll be able to get updates on race day. But be quick because Jackie doesn’t plan to take all day!

Jackie Denegar on top of a mountain smiling with the sun behind her


Jackie Denegar on a run

“You’re considered a finisher if you finish within 6 hours and 35 minutes, but I’m not about that. I’m getting this done! My goal is 4 hours, 10 minutes because my birthday is April 10, and I want to run my birthday,” Jackie says.

There are myriad benefits to daily exercise. For Jackie, it gave her confidence. “I started dropping weight, and people started noticing. And just overall it has me trying to be healthier: eating better, getting more sleep, all that. I’m a different person now.”

If you’re just starting out, though, it pays to be careful and listen to your body. “There’s a difference between sore and painful,” Jackie says. “You might feel a burn— that can be a good thing. Pain is different.”

Running in Montana’s winter and spring present unique challenges as well. Jackie cautions new runners to be aware of snow, ice, and cold due to the risk of injury, especially to those who aren’t used to such conditions. “If you hit a string of cold days and you don’t want to break your groove, you might want to hit the treadmill,” she says.