Hodge on Health

City High alumna Jessica Hodge coaches the girls cross country team on running and health

Coach Hodge adding bananas to her smoothie.

Ever since she was a teenager, Jessica Hodge has loved running. As a City High student, she ran on the cross-country team, and later went on to the University of Iowa. Now returning as an adult, Hodge is one of the girls cross-country coaches. 

“I coach because I love to teach and I love kids,” said Hodge.“I love to be someone that can explain something that I love and put that into someone else’s life. I coach running because I have found a lot of joy in it and it’s taught me a lot about life.” 

Throughout her life, Hodge has always been active. Being a multi-sport athlete for soccer and running, she developed a love for both. When she quit soccer and continued to run in track and cross-country, she realized how much she loved to run. 

“It’s the thing that I do; everyone has that thing that brings them joy and mine has been running,” Hodge said. “I enjoy my days off but I know that it’s a part of the whole process of running. I love that about it. I love that it’s a journey.”

Since Hodge is a coach, she set goals for the team not only physically, but emotionally. She made it a priority to encourage positive attitudes to make practices more productive. 

“I want the girls to look forward to practice, to look forward to seeing their coaches and teammates and going on a run. I want there to be positivity every day,” Hodge said. 

Oftentimes, a runner’s biggest challenge or competition is themselves. Running is as much a mental sport as a physical sport. Even with an amazing time, a runner can still feel bad about their race.

“I want each individual runner to be able to leave their race saying, ‘I went as far as I could, I dug as deep as I could go and I emptied the tank,’”  Hodge said. “The goal is to never be, ‘Eh, OK,’ because that’s not the point. The point is to work your butt off.”

Hodge went on to play soccer in college, where nutrition played a bigger part in her experience. However, there is a fine line between unhealthy and healthy lifestyles. 

“They definitely talk about nutrition in college. That’s why I started to really care about it. When I quit soccer, I didn’t have that exercise, so I started to use eating as a way to stay extra healthy. Then I abused healthy eating,” Hodge said. “When it looked like I was eating extremely healthy, I actually wasn’t because it was too healthy. All I thought about was food. It was exhausting. I was never satisfied with myself.”

Hodge now lives by the mantra ‘food is fuel:’ When used in the right way, food can help fuel athletes or non-athletes. To get to that mindset, it took Hodge a lot of growth and work. 

“I love eating to perform, and to fuel my body. I don’t like eating to necessarily reward my body or restrict it. It’s more about ‘food is your fuel,’” she said.

Being a coach on the girls cross-country team, she has influenced many athletes in a positive way. 

“I had her as a coach in seventh grade,” said Rowan Boulter ‘22.  “She is an inspiration to me because back then I did soccer and hearing about how she did soccer and cross-country in high school, I related to her. She makes you feel good about yourself, and she’s a great role model.” 

Through experience, Hodge has found that eating well improves any athlete’s performance. 

“Nutrition is one of the top three most important things for any person that’s not even an athlete. Nutrition heals you from the inside out,” she said. “It’s going to help your performance, no matter what,”

Usually as runners get older, their times get slower, but that has not been the case for Hodge. Even after having a baby, she has seen better time results with running. 

“I’m realizing that I want my son–or future kids, for that matter–to know they can eat what they want, and that they’re going to be OK, that people are still going to love them,” Hodge said. 

Hodge’s times have gone from a 20:14 5K in high school to a 18:12 5K now. She ran at the Nike Cross Nationals and the Roy Griak Invitational in high school and has run in the Boston and Chicago Marathons since graduating. 

“Ever since I found this truly balanced lifestyle, I’m faster than I’ve ever been,” Hodge said.

Hodge has tried to teach the athletes her experiences with running and nutrition to help them with not only their sport, but also their lives. 

“Jess has impacted me a lot,” said Lucy Corbin ‘22.  “She made it important for us to know that food is fuel and you need it. She has shown us that you should eat what you want to eat, and you shouldn’t have to put restrictions on food.”

Hodge learned the hard way about how nutrition affects the human body. Now Hodge shares her knowledge with girls on the cross-country team.

“[Nutrition] went from controlling me, to now…I feel so much more freedom and ability to eat what I want,” Hodge said.