Jenny was born in Brown Constable Street, Dundee, later living in the Blackness area. One of six children, she won a scholarship to Harris Academy, but family circumstances forced her to leave school at 14. All her life she wished she had had a university education; one can only speculate on how that might have changed a life full of achievements. Jenny married Roy Allen in 1938; her honeymoon was ‘a cruise’, she joked – a trip across the river on the Tay Ferry. Like so many others, she raised her family while her husband was serving in the armed forces during World War 2.

..”I was a rather clumsy child,” she wrote in her contribution to Life After Work (The Women’s Press, 1999). She worked in retail, at Cairds and Robertsons, and later with Spencer’s. In the 1930s she took up cycling, and joined a men’s cycling club. In her twenties, she would cycle to Glasgow, sleep overnight in a bothy and compete the next day, before cycling back. Jenny was an unofficial (women’s cycling was not at the time recognised as a sport) Scottish cycling champion as a time triallist, and always claimed that cycling had developed the stamina she showed in later life. Dundee Roadrunners awarded her honorary membership.

Jenny was keenly interested in public speaking, and became a member of the International Toastmistresses organisation. Later she was to become its Scottish president, then president for Great Britain, then international vice-president. She was invited by the local Conservative Association to stand for the city council; three unsuccessful attempts in Labour strongholds did not daunt her and were followed by election to the West Ferry Ward, where she served for 14 years. She championed women’s rights and better education for women. According to the rule-book, she was deemed to be ‘too old’ in 1988 and she was deselected. By this time, however, she was already running marathons.

As a councillor, she was involved in organising the first Dundee marathon in 1983 and had asked, casually, if she was too old at 71 to take part. Family, colleagues, friends and her GP all advised against it. (Her GP predicted a finishing time of 9 hours if indeed she finished at all.) Jenny took advice from Dundee Football Club physiotherapist Eric Ferguson, trained hard for five months and reached the finish in 5 hours, 34 minutes, raising £1000 towards the purchase of a minibus for Dundee Sports Association for the Disabled. In 1985, in Dundee, she set a new women’s over-70 world marathon record with a time of 4 hours 21 minutes – the first of many records. In the 1986 New York marathon, she set the fastest time in that race for a woman over 70, and the New York Runners Club commissioned a Tiffany vase especially for her.

As the oldest woman ever to complete a marathon at the age of 90 in London 2002, she remained in the Guinness Book of World Records until December 2010, when Gladys Burrill aged 92 completed the Honolulu Marathon in just under 10 hours. During training for London, Jenny had injured her head in a fall, and took 11 hours, 34 minutes. “I feel just a bit disappointed that it took me so long,” she said. Thereafter she retired from running. In every London marathon, the BBC commentators had mentioned her, and she was featured in a documentary, ‘Long Distance Runners,’ in 1992. Jenny completed over fifty marathons, and also ran in the world’s largest timed running event, the 1993 City2Surf 14-km run from Sydney to Bondi Beach, Australia. Her example inspired many other women; in 1995 she helped form the Dundee branch of the Reebok Running Sisters -‘Fun, Fitness and Friendship’ – to encourage women into sport.

One of the most special moments in her running career, she said, came in 1996 when her fellow Dundonian Liz McColgan won the women’s race in London. “I think she was first and I was last, but it was a special moment as we were both from Dundee and I admired her for her dedication.” She was proud to be from Dundee, and Dundee was proud of her. She served as a Justice of the Peace for many years, chaired Dundee Teaching Hospitals Trust, supported the Good Neighbours Scheme working with local disabled people, was awarded an Honorary Degree (MA) by Dundee University in 1994, and was named Dundee’s Citizen of the Year in 1997. In 2001 she was at the Savoy Hotel, London, to receive the Help the Aged NOJO (Not Old Just Older) Award for outstanding sporting achievement. MC Angela Rippon listed her achievements for the audience and the 1980 Olympic figure-skating champion Robin Cousins presented the award. In the 2004 New Year’s Honours List she was made an MBE. “I don’t think I’m anything special,” she said, surprised.

Jenny also, at the age of 88, joined a creative writing class at Dundee College, and four years later won a Scottish Arts Council award in an adult learners’ writing competition. Often she was invited to talk about running in Dundee schools. On her 90h birthday, her old friend Henny King (q.v.) gave her an ankle-bracelet – a gift that shows the spirit of fun inspiring them both.

Aged 91, she completed the Glasgow 10K, and continued to enter shorter races as walks. In her later life she lived on her own in Douglas. Jenny ran and walked for charity, and raised over £40,000. She supported, among many other good causes, the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland and also Cancer Research; her husband had died of the disease in 1991, and her eldest son Graham in 1994. Her surviving sons Alistair and Kenneth said, on Jenny’s death, “She was an inspiration for us and for young and old people alike.”

Perhaps in an echo of the words of a well-known hymn, ‘Run the straight race/ Through God’s good grace,’ Jenny said of her own long life:
‘I have done my best in the race. I have finished the course and kept the faith.’