Forward by Coach Erin: Let me preface this by saying Luke is one of our OG’s, and also basically the mascot of Rocksport Training. To know him, is to love him! Luke is as famous for his unrivaled sense of humor as his fascinating antics both on and off the race course. Definitely don’t miss reading his most embarrassing moment!
Where are you from? Indianapolis, IN; currently reside in Louisville, KY.
How did you get into endurance sports? I was a short fat kid in elementary school. In 6th grade, I started running on my own to train to keep up with my soccer team when we had to run laps before and after practice. Then I grew 7 inches and got fast; I joined the track team in 8th grade and ran my first half marathon when I was a freshman in high school. The rest is history.
When did you first start with Rocksport coaching? March of 2016.
Favorite two races? Urban Bourbon Half Marathon; Ironman Louisville (hopefully it comes back one day but if not; it was fun while it lasted)
What is the achievement you’re proudest of as an athlete? Finishing Ironman Louisville in 2017 after leaving work at 5a the morning of the event and being 27 hours sleep deprived at the start. I left the hospital and walked straight to transition/body marking.
Morning or evening workouts? It’s a mix pending my work schedule but I have no preference as long as it’s dark.
What’s your bucket list race? Leadville 100.
Three songs most likely to be on your training playlist? I don’t listen to music while running or training outdoors but occasionally while cycling on the trainer I’ll listen to Freakonomics podcasts
One song that would NEVER be on that playlist? “Red” by Taylor Swift
Favorite running shoes? It’s a toss-up between Brooks Adrenalines and Brooks Ghost; I get whichever is cheaper at the time of need.
Most embarrassing racing (or training) moment? I was at the exact halfway point of the bike in Ironman Chattanooga and in the midst of my own fart circus when a woman cycled beside me and played the chorus to “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi and asked me to sing it with her. (I obliged, of course). BUT…there is no way she did not hear and/or smell my biological output. She didn’t say anything about it but I felt super bad because she made the halfway point of the bike special; I did too but in a very different way.
Most inspiring athlete? Oscar Pistorius; he’s great at conveying what not to do.
What movie makes you laugh out loud? Dodgeball
Any podcast, book or YouTube channel you recommend for training motivation? Ultrarunner Podcast with Eric Schranz. He interviews both male and female ultrarunners from all backgrounds and skill levels to discuss races and what motivates each individual
Ultimate goal as an athlete? To train as much as my wife and my life can tolerate.
Where are you from? Lots of places around Eastern KY/WV – I’m an actual coal miner’s daughter.
How did you get into endurance sports? Team-in-Training, the 2003 Maui marathon. I’d started “running” after college (there’s not much of a post-college cheerleader market), and a marathon seemed like a cool thing to do.
When did you first start with Rocksport coaching? 2015!! I SOOOOO wanted to be the first, but I think I was second, but maybe the first IM finisher?
Favorite two races? Easy to pick one: The Marshall Marathon. Harder to pick a second. Worlds in Lausanne, Switzerland was an amazing experience.
What is the achievement you’re proudest of as an athlete? Finishing IM Louisville that first time.
Morning or evening workouts? Oh gawd, please not early morning. But not evening either. How about before lunch, or early afternoon? You know I can’t just pick from what you give me as options . . .
What’s your bucket list race? I honestly don’t have one. How about any triathlon where I run 8 minute miles?
Three songs most likely to be on your training playlist? This is. So. Hard. 1. Could Have Been Me, the Struts; 2. Paint it Black, the Rolling Stones; 3. Do or Die, 30 Seconds to Mars (Just off the list: How Far We’ve Come, Matchbox 20; any Green Day; Just Like a Pill, Pink; Move Along, All American Rejects; Under Pressure, Queen. I’ll stop now.)
One song that would NEVER be on that playlist? LOL, you KNOW this. Anything, anything by the Rooster people (Alice in Chains).
Favorite running shoes? Asics, something named after a cloud . . .
Most embarrassing racing (or training) moment? Racing – this year, THIS year, forgetting and undoing my helmet before getting to the bike racks at Nationals and getting called out by the referee. Training – first time trying clipless pedals ever and with my new brand new tri bike in my driveway, failing to unclip, falling into our Japanese Cherry Tree, and Kevin saying (after making sure the BIKE was OK), “I thought you were more coordinated than that.” (We are still married.)
Most inspiring athlete? Rinny!!!!!!! And Simone Biles – just wow.
What movie makes you laugh out loud? The Wedding Singer
Any podcast, book or YouTube channel you recommend for training motivation? Not really – most of that stuff just intimidates me, or makes me feel like I’m not doing enough or the right thing. It’s fun to watch the GCN/GTN people.
Ultimate goal as an athlete? I don’t want one, because, then what?
How did you get into endurance sports? I was a soccer player and swimmer growing up and always loved to run to stay in shape, had good endurance. Played ultimate frisbee for Butler’s club team and on a travel club in Indy, but then walked on track/XC junior year of college and fell more in love with endurance sports. Wanted to try triathlon a bit after graduating, and so glad I did!
When did you first start with Rocksport coaching? July 2018
Favorite two races? For shorter distance, waterfront triathlon in Chattanooga. For Ironman/70.3, probably Augusta.
What is the achievement you’re proudest of as an athlete? Qualifying for IM 70.3 worlds twice now without a roll down slot! And just continuing to be constant with my progress in the sport overall.
Morning or evening workouts? Morning and mid afternoon.
What’s your bucket list race? Kona of course! Or if they move it, just IM championship.
Three songs most likely to be on your training playlist? Drop the World— Lil Wayne and EminemLast Resort (Reloaded) — Papa Roach with Jeris JohnsonImma Shine — Youngbloodz
One song that would NEVER be on that playlist? Anything Backstreet Boys
Favorite running shoes? Saucony endorphin pro for racing, endorphin speed for training
Most embarrassing racing (or training) moment? The classic falling over when still at a light clipped in on your bike
Most inspiring athlete? Lucy Charles Barclay
What movie makes you laugh out loud? Horrible Bosses 1 and 2
Any podcast, book or YouTube channel you recommend for training motivation? I’ll Have Another with Lindsey Hein podcast and The Rich Roll podcast
Ultimate goal as an athlete? Qualify for my pro card and continue to get better and eventually be competitive as a pro
How did you get into endurance sports? I’ve been running competitively since 3rd grade but was starting to get bored with regular road races and struggled with longer distance training without injury. My sister started training for her first Olympic tri and shared how much the cycling mileage seemed to help her increase her running mileage with a lot less of the struggle. I bought a garage sale mountain bike for $10, eventually signed up for a duathlon (I can’t swim!) and was hooked.
When did you first start with Rocksport coaching? 2019
Favorite two races? Tri for Sight and the women’s only Mason Duathlon
What is the achievement you’re proudest of as an athlete? Being one of very, very few female head coaches (especially of a boys team) and using what I learn as an athlete to coach my kids more progressively than I was coached.
Morning or evening workouts? Evening
What’s your bucket list race? Hmmm i don’t have one, really. I want to have a more successful Olympic attempt. I feel like I’ve just struggled through them as a horrible training day vs actually trying to be competitive
Three songs most likely to be on your training playlist? Sublime caress me down; any Kesha pop bc the beat is fast; and old school Eve bc she raps so fast
One song that would NEVER be on that playlist? Any country
Favorite running shoes? New balance are currently my obsession
Most embarrassing racing (or training) moment? That time I ate shit 5 seconds into the 2020 virtual du in front of two dudes and my sister. I truly thought I lost my front teeth.
Most inspiring athlete? I was obsessed with Flo Jo as a child. I’m a sprinter at heart and I tried to mimic her nails. She was a badass. I think she had a quote about how she was trying to change her body rather than master her body. I feel like coaches (typically males) had a very dated way of training female athletes. It’s continuously been proven that we can’t change biology and we shouldn’t fight it and rather than train girls into missing periods and being thin, we just restructure the training to adapt.
What movie makes you laugh out loud? Shaun of the Dead
Any podcast, book or YouTube channel you recommend for training motivation? I don’t have any currently – excited to see others respond.
Ultimate goal as an athlete? Become a stronger cyclist and put together a fast Olympic race
On a warm, overcast weekend in late July, 1300 runners of all ages and backgrounds flocked to Lexington to compete in the Master’s Nationals track meet. Some were there to defend their titles, some were there to rehash collegiate memories and some were there with the sole intentions of completing their races with a smile. And smiles there were- pure happiness, euphoria and excitement radiated off that blue, rubberized track all the way to Louisville.
When I first heard this meet would be held in Lexington, I knew I had to do it. My background in track is weak, to say the least. In high school, my teammates and I were instructed to run (as a warm up) to our practice track, which was about half a mile away. I came up with the bright idea to conserve energy by taking the city bus instead. That kind of dedication led me to be among the most mediocre of all sprinters in St Paul, MN from 1993 through 1996. In hindsight, I probably should have been a distance runner but to me they appeared to be a whole different species and I could not comprehend how people could run for more than a minute or two. Shockingly, I did not attempt to run track in college.
Deciding to do this meet at age 44 gave me a new and refreshing goal. Since I did have some unfinished business in the shorter distances, I chose the 400 and 800 meter races. I also thought it would be fun to put a Bluegrass Runners relay team together. Shannon Florea was on board right away, and eventually Shannon Million and Betsy Laski joined us.
All summer, we knocked out track workouts under the cover of darkness, or on weekend mornings, commuting a good half hour to have access to a track. We did drills, we battled elbow to elbow through countless intervals and we were motivated by other friends who joined us for some of the workouts. Storms, humidity and insane heat did not slow us down.
Finally, race weekend arrived. When I went to pick up my packet, the nerves kicked in. The stands were packed, and hundreds of runners in fancy uniforms from all over the country had swarmed the UK track facility. Clubs like Atlanta Track Club, NYC Tracksmith and Southern California were there. One of my favorite clubs was the GYS Track Club from North Dakota (it stands for Get Ya Some.) Among those clubs were our own Bluegrass Runners, and we would go on to represent Kentucky well. One of the highlights of the weekend was cheering on our fellow Kentuckian friends!
All it took to ease the nerves was watching one race. It was the women’s steeplechase. There were some very competitive women, and there were others who were clearly out there to have fun. One woman was dressed like a superhero, and smiling the entire way. Another woman in an 80+ age group finished the race and then grabbed her cane to walk off the track.
My first race was the 400 meter dash, on Friday. I felt completely out of my element, and like an imposter. After years of running long races like marathons and Half Ironmans, here I was in spikes, backing into starting blocks to run a sprint with some of the fastest women in my age group. Of the seven of us, I was the only one who had not traveled in from hundreds or thousands of miles away.
When the gun went off, I pushed from the blocks and got a decent start. However, my legs had a hard time finding a rhythm. I was in lane six, and was passed quickly by three women. My secret hopes of a medal were gone. At the halfway point, I was blowing hard and starting to fatigue. With 100m left, the legs started to turn to noodles. I could see three athletes ahead of me. One was about 10 yards ahead, and I was slowly reeling her in. I didn’t think I could close the gap, but I dug deep, pumped the arms and got up for a bronze medal about two strides before the finish with a 1:07:00, half a second off my high school PR, which isn’t too shabby 25 years later. I had a ton of fun in that race, and couldn’t stop smiling.
The next day, I competed in the 800m dash and won it in 2:35. Shannon Million, a teammate and friend, was second. We can now say we are the 800m National Champion and Runner Up!
Finally, it was time for our 4 x 800m relay that we had trained for all summer. We were wearing our Coeur uniforms and I will say we looked like a strong and formidable group as we paraded to the starting line with 13 other teams. This would be the final event of the day, and the spectators were plentiful and loud.
I was the lead off runner, and when they lined us up there was a gun malfunction. They positioned us in “set” and had us retreat about three times. The suspense was awful! But then, we were off! I quickly fell into a small group of three women, None of us really wanted the lead, so it was a slow first lap but we found ourselves well ahead of the rest of the field. Had I known that one of them was Olympic Trials marathoner Katie Ruhlman and the other was Courtney Naser, post-collegiate steeplechase specialist from Georgia Tech, I might have let negative self talk get the better of me. Fortunately, I did not know that and was able to stay with them. In the end, Naser was about a stride ahead of me and Ruhlman was a stride behind me as we made the initial handoff after running a huge negative split with a 1:15 second lap.
Shannon Florea seamlessly took the baton and was off. She quickly left the Atlanta Track Club runner but was challenged early by the Dayton Track Club Runner. Their entire team had a very impressive resume, and they were there to win. Shannon, the gritty athlete that she is, never did let the challenger overtake her. She dug in and even pulled away as she got ready to pass the baton to Shannon Million, who would have her work cut out for her against standout Ohio master’s runner Julie Mercado. Shannon gave 110% effort, and knocked five seconds off her time from earlier in the day. She had to be in the pain cave that entire half a mile, but she made us proud.
By then, Dayton Track Club had a significant lead and there would be no catching their anchor runner. But our own anchor Betsy Laski, despite a debilitating hamstring injury, brought the baton home well ahead of Atlanta Track Club. The rest of us were screaming in excitement as she crossed the line at 10:57, breaking our goal of 11 minutes and winning our age group.
But that was only the beginning of the fun! As each team finished, we stayed on the track to cheer on the other teams. We got to cheer in our friends from North Dakota. We clapped in awe as world record holder Michelle Rohl ran by us. And when it was down to just a few teams of women in their 70s and 80s, the yelling and cheering reached an all time high. I think we all had goosebumps and it was one of the most magical experiences of my life. I love this quote from first time competitor Danny Richie:
“What stood out to me most was the overwhelming level of unity of the athletes. There was a fellowship there that transcended age, gender, nationality, race and color. I saw men cheering for women and women cheering for men. I saw the youngest, strongest, and fastest come to their feet and applaud the races of the oldest competitors, and continue to cheer until the last competitor crossed the line. The oldest competitors were also the most honored and admired. I saw old men come together like military veterans that had fought a war together. I saw people from all over the country, from different nationalities and races, come together to form relay teams with one another. Each race was then commemorated with pictures taken with each other. People were celebrating seeing old friends and making new ones. It was truly an uplifting experience. We live in a world where every difference we have is being used to divide us, yet here at this event it was an overwhelming level of unity. It is too bad the rest of the world isn’t like the example set by these people.”
This July, runners from across the country will converge in the heart of the bluegrass for the USA Track and Field Masters Outdoor National Championship. This four day meet will host events on Thursday, July 28 through Sunday July 31 at the nationally recognized University of Kentucky Track and Field facility.
This historic event began in 1968. Over the years it has been held in states like California, New York, North Carolina and Iowa, but this will be the first time the venue has been in Kentucky. The athletes competing have everyone from ex-Olympians and NFL stars to centenarians and recreational runners. Some athletes will have the sole goal of completing their event, and some will be out there to duke it out.
Although any event with the word “championship” in the title can be intimidating, don’t let that stop you. This rare opportunity has potential to be a fun and memorable experience.
Spectating will be just as exciting as competing. While there will be hundreds of inspirational athletes out there, here is a quick look at a handful to watch. All photos are provided by Rob Jerome.
*Michelle Rohl: 2021 USATF Athlete of the Year in the W55 age group. This versatile athlete competed in race walking in three Olympic games, and broke three American records at last year’s USATF Masters Championships (800m= 2:23, 1500m= 4:54 and 4 x 400m relay in a world record 4:23.)
*Brian Hankerson: standout long jump and high jump specialist in the M60 age group
*Nolan Shaheed: this well known 73 year old has broken age group world records in the 800 meter, the mile and the 1500 meter run.
*Betty Lindberg: At 97, she is currently the oldest competitor registered. She will be competing in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500 meter. What a workload! Betty recently smashed her 5k age group world record by over 30 minutes!
*Gloria Krug: This 91 year old will be competing in the long jump, triple jump, shot put, discus, hammer and weight throw
If you are interested in registering, you must be a current member of USATF. Price will increase on June 29. Detailed schedule with times will be released two weeks before the meet begins.
Until recently, I was a triathlete who dabbled in marathons. All four marathons I did (other than my first) involved a lot of biking and swimming during the build, and not that much run mileage. But in 2019, I broke 90 minutes for a half marathon and decided I wanted to properly train for a marathon. I would put the triathlons on the back burner for a while, and see if i could get closer to my potential as a runner.
I traded in the Pearl Izumi tri shorts for Rabbit gear (what real runners wear,) started listening to running podcasts all the time, and began following all the pro runners. I upped my mileage to about 70 miles a week for a month or two, and toed the line at A1A Marathon in Fort Lauderdale in January of 2020. I surprised myself with a 16 minute PR of 3:07, finishing 2nd overall female. The spark was ignited. Unfortunately, the beginning of Covid was just around the corner and I wouldn’t get a chance to have another shot at a marathon for over a year.
During Covid I ran….a lot. I was thriving on long runs and 70, 80 even 90 miles a week as I trained without a goal in sight. Sometimes on my long runs I would run the marathon distance just for fun, since no races were on schedule. I loved everything about it, and kept looking for races.
Finally, in September I had a chance to test my training at the Indy Women’s Half. I ran a strong 1:26, and started thinking that maybe I could knock out a 3:05 full.
As races started to come back, I figured Indianapolis was a safe bet. The Carmel Marathon organizers had successfully put on that women’s half, and seemed to be very organized. I signed up for Carmel, along with a handful of my athletes.
We spent the winter training, and we trained hard. There were long runs in the rain, sleet and one very memorable one with pace miles on treacherous ice with Caroline. That was the hardest run workout of my life. We hit the track, we did hill repeats and we trained until our legs felt like they were bricks, and then we trained some more.
My athletes stayed relatively healthy. I did not. I had a chronic calf issue that would rear it’s ugly head every time I overdid it. I had to take a few days off going into races and long runs, and then take a few days off after. But, I knew I could run through it and also knew if I could get to the starting line I could probably make it through the race and then I had all the time in the world to let it heal.
I had one prep race- the Greenville Half- and it did not go great. I ran another 1:26 and finished third master, but felt uncomfortable and off the entire time. My legs locked up (an unfortunate occurrence that happens to me on flatter surfaces and treadmills) and I couldn’t shake it. I was still pleased with my time though. It was good enough that I planned to go for 3:05 at Carmel.
The day before Carmel, my friend/ athlete Sarah and I drove the 3+ hours and got to packet pickup around 3. We did a little shopping and headed to our hotel (Spring Hill Suites.) Sarah loved driving through all the roundabouts.
After a decent, plant-based bowl at Public Greens, we headed back to the hotel early and got a decent night of sleep. I woke up at 5:30 to have my Picky Bar How About Dem Apples oatmeal, and then relaxed in bed for an hour. After that, I did the Myrtl Routine and sipped on a Nuun electrolyte drink. Sarah drove myself, Shannon M and Caroline to the start of the race.
We got really lucky with the weather, other than the wind. It was mid 30s and sunny. Last time I did the half here it was pouring rain.
We parked at a church about half hour before the start, and headed to the port a potties. That was a mistake. The lines were crazy. Operation Find A Bush ensued. Thankfully, there was an isolated area near the car.
We warmed up for about ten minutes with easy jogging and drills. My calf hurt when I put weight on it, but I knew it usually loosened up. I ate an Untapped waffle and lined up. My plan was to run with the 3:05 pace group, and I was so excited to work with a pack. Unfortunately, the 3:05 pacer was not there so that plan was aborted. I freaked out a little because I hadn’t thought of a strategy, so decided to just wing it at about 7:05 pace.
The gun went off and so did I. There was a lot of chaos, as people darted all over the place while blindly taking off their masks. I tripped mildly a couple of times and then found running room. My legs didn’t feel great, and I was worried this might not go well. I decided to focus on just one mile at a time. The first mile was 6:54… a little quick.
I didn’t feel much better the next three miles, but around mile 4 or 5 I found a rhythm. My legs showed no sign of locking up, and my calf had warmed up and I knew it would be OK. The next few miles I settled in smoothly and averaged about 6:53.
At mile 6.5 we went over a timing mat and I had my first gel- an apple cinnamon Huma gel. I was also making sure to drink every time we passed an aid station. I carried a 20 oz electrolyte bottle of water and Nuun right in my Senita shorts pocket, and it was super handy to just reach down instead of pull off to the side of the aid stations. It definitely saved me some time, and I plan to keep doing this.
A couple miles later, I made a friend. Jonathan and I had been running together for a little while, and struck up a conversation. He was with a big group from Knoxville. One of his training buddies, Andy, was about 150 yards ahead. Jonathan said he was trying to stay behind Andy, because Andy would be closer to a 3 hour marathon. I made a mental note to stay behind Andy too.
Around mile 11 things got a little tough. We were running into a headwind, and there are a couple uphill miles heading back into the finish area. It was motivating seeing some of the half marathoners pick up the pace and take off toward the finish. I was also starting to notice a couple female elite bib numbers around me, as well as runners in briefs, and that made me question whether I was in over my head. I don’t think I am worthy enough as a runner to don briefs. Those women are hard core.
I crossed the half marathon timing mat at exactly 1:30:37. I remember this part clearly, because that is almost the exact time I ran in 2019. I was trying so hard to break 90 minutes that day, and was struggling at the end. This time, I felt so comfortable and like a different runner altogether.
The comfortable feeling didn’t last long. About mile 14 the wheels fell off. We had been running into a headwind, and that mile was kind of an uphill grinder. I was trying hard to hang onto a couple guys, and felt them getting away. I took another gel, and that helped tremendously. It had just been a rough patch, as happens often in 26 miles. It wouldn’t be the last.
Once we were out of that nasty headwind, things were better. I passed a few runners and caught up to Andy. I talked to him a little bit, and we played cat and mouse. My miles in this stretch were about 6:57 pace.
Mile 17 was my hardest mile. It was also my slowest so far, at 7:05. That was another rough patch. I had to keep reminding myself that pain was temporary. At this point, the sun was starting to beat down. Even though it was a cool day, the glare off fresh blacktop and no shade was a factor. I even started pouring water on myself at the aid stations.
About mile 19 I had another gel. They were going down well and my stomach felt very good. But, I ran out of my water and from this point on I would drink at all the aid stations. That definitely slowed me down a bit, as I have to walk to get water down or I choke on it.
Getting through mile 20 was a mental positive. I had a solid 21, clocking a 6:56 even with a water stop. I caught back up to Andy and we played cat and mouse again. We didn’t say much at all, but suffering with another person always seems to help.
Mile 23 to the finish was a battle. We turned back into the headwind around 24, and I took my last gel. My fueling plan worked out well, but my legs were not working so well at this point. I was so relieved they never locked up, but muscle cramps started. My quads, my hamstrings and my calves were all protesting. But I knew I could push through it, and I was starting to get excited about my time. At this point I knew 3:05 was going to happen.
The last thing Andy said was that his legs were cramping. There were a lot of people pulling off to the side of the road and rubbing their muscles. I remember seeing one girl pull off in these late miles, getting her vitals checked and taking off her bib. I felt so bad to see that.
Miles 25 and 26 were back up that bike path and straight into the headwind, which was much stronger now than it had been 90 minutes ago. I tried to suck it up and grind, even though I saw the pace on my watch lagging. My last two miles were 7:16 and 7:30, but I was still passing a lot of people. There were definitely a few that passed me too though!
Finally, with about 150 yards left we took a right turn out of the wind and even down a little hill. The finish was in sight, and the crowd was cheering loud! I looked at my watch and knew I would be in the 3:03s. It was too late to break 3:03, so I slowed down and took in the moment. I was grinning from ear to ear, and even though everything hurt, I was so happy. Unfortunately, another Master’s women took that opportunity to fly by me and beat me by a few seconds. I must not have a competitive drive because instead of trying to race, I was just super happy for her!
I crossed the finish line with a huge smile and other than the cramping legs, I felt fantastic. I was still energized and fresh. But I just couldn’t move too fast! Within about 30 seconds I was walking like Frankenstein.
I grabbed a water and headed to the finish line to watch my runners come in. Like any other race, there was excitement and there was disappointment. No matter how well we train, it is not always our day, and I hate to see people not have the race they hoped for. However, everyone came back sound and will live to fight another day. Cheryl had a solid half even though it was just off her goal. Sarah was sick during her race and still gutted out the half. I did get to see Caroline crush it with a 3:10, Austin finish his first marathon, and Shannon absolutely smash her PR and finally achieve her dream of a BQ after many attempts, with a 3:26!
In retrospect, there is not much I would have done different. Training build was ambitious but doable, with a few 300+ mile months in there. If I could have stayed healthy I would not have had to cross train through the taper with almost no running, so I may have overdone the build by a week or two. Fueling was perfect. Clothing choice and shoes were good, although the laces on the Next bruised the top of my feet.
I feel lucky to still be improving and running PR’s in my 40s. I am fairly confident there is a sub 3 in my future, which still is hard for me to believe because I spent years chasing a sub 90 half. I guess high mileage is magical, and has been key in all of this improving. Having only trained hard for two marathons, I keep learning. I never thought the marathon would be my distance, but there is something addictive about it.
For now, it is time to step back and let the calf heal. I’ll be back on the bike and swimming more this summer, and work on my 5k speed which is pretty bad. What 3 hour marathoner can barely run a 20 minute 5k?! And as soon as I forget the pain of miles 24-26, I’ll start thinking about finding a fall marathon.
As light at the end of the pandemic tunnel began to appear, my athletes (and myself) were chomping on the bit to find a live, in person event. I read about the Greenville Half, touted as the “fastest half in the south” on a flat and net downhill course.
It didn’t take much arm twisting to get a few friends and athletes on board, and we all decided to make a long weekend of it. My friend Shannon offered to drive. As a professional passenger, I packed an incredibly delicious cooler of snacks, to hopefully avoid being compared to the scrub in the TLC song (the one hangin’ out the passenger side of his best friend’s ride.)
On the six hour ride to Greenville (more like 12 hours after Shannon stopped to inspect every item at the Restoration Hardware outlet in Asheville) we passed through severe storms and torrential downpour. Shannon was meticulous at navigating through the hollers and winding roads of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We pulled into the super cute downtown of Greenville, and checked into the Spring Hill Suites. It is a beautiful hotel with a great staff, fluffy clouds for beds. It had swings, a huge bar, an outdoor courtyard with a pool and firepit, and a nice sized gym.
After checking in, we hooked up with some friends and grabbed dinner at Green Fetish, just across the street. Our friend Sarah had graciously picked up bibs for about 20 of us, so we were able to collect them at dinner. I had a delicious bowl of rice, tofu and veggies. Shannon and I went back and passed out by 8pm.
The next morning we were ready early, as “we” (Shannon) had to drive about fifteen minutes to the start of the race. It was a point to point course, starting in Travelers Rest and finishing near the hotel. One of my more ambitious athletes, Austin, was thinking about running to the start but we talked him out of that idea.
After a little hiccup of a forgotten bib (Caroline) we finally made it to the start. Fortunately, the rain had almost stopped. It was mild and even a little humid. We all warmed up together with a short jog and some drills, and then it was time to go.
Shannon, Caroline and I all lined up together. Sarah, Shannon M and Cheryl lined up in the corral just behind us. The gun went off, and so did the masks. We were racing!!
I had been nursing a posterior tib injury (deep in the calf) and hadn’t run much the week leading up to this race. Being in a marathon build of 80 and 90 mile weeks, it was probably an overuse injury. It had plagued me last fall, but always seemed to improve with rest. It felt OK now but the rest of me felt sluggish and flat.
The first four miles felt bad. I could not find a rhythm. It was much hiller than I expected, and I could feel my heart rate through the roof. Splits ranged from 6:25 to 6:44 these few miles. At about mile three, my left leg locked up. This happens sometimes on the treadmill and on flat courses, and is really terrible. I feel like I can’t control that leg, my gait changes, and I almost feel like I am going to fall. Unfortunately, it would last the entire remainder of the race so I never got comfortable.
Turning onto the bike path for a fast few miles with a nice decline made things feel a little better. Splits dropped from 6:40s to 6:20s and low 6:30s. I was in no man’s land, but saw a big group ahead of me so worked on bridging the gap. Eventually I did, and started to pick off a few runners one by one. I saw some runners in briefs, so knew I was approaching the fast crowd. I am always in awe of runners in briefs!
My stomach was not perfect, so I was not interested in getting any gels in. I made a mental note to work on this, because while a half is doable on no fuel, a full is not. I did not drink much either. I think I had one gulp of water at about mile 10.
My calf hurt, my left leg was locked up and I was being a Negative Nancy in my head. I knew the last two miles would be tricky, with twists and turns and road construction and a couple uphills. I was not quite on pace to PR anyway, so I just tried to maintain through that hard stretch. I held it together, but my last two miles were 6:35 and 6:40. It was a relief to finally see the finish line. I did not celebrate and looking at my race photos did not even smile. I was over it by then, but in retrospect I am really happy with my time of 1:26:49. It was good enough for 3rd Master’s in a really competitive race.
Two of my athletes, Caroline and Austin, and also Shannon, finished around the same time. We snapped a few pics and cheered on Shannon M, Sarah and Cheryl as they came roaring to the finish. It was great to be able to walk to our hotels and take the hottest shower of my life.
The race itself was an A+. Greenville knows how to put on a show, and the atmosphere was great. As the day went on, the sunshine came out and we had fun exploring the town and grabbing pizza. I was even a good sport when I found a slice of ham the size of a small cat on my vegan pizza! I couldn’t finish the pizza after that, but made up for it with some Insomnia cookies.
Shannon and I spent the night listening to live music at our hotel bar after indulging in some fabulous chocolates. We explored the wooden sculptures around the lobby, requested 90s songs, chilled out in some swings, got invited to spend the night on a floor at a nearby party, and sat around a campfire, all while wearing our fancy slippers from Restoration Hardware. We know how to party.
We finished the Greenville trip with a fancy shakeout run the following morning. We threw in some flexibility and mobility exercises, and recovery ran like rock stars. We grabbed a quick breakfast at a bagel place, grabbed a few juices from the Southern Squeeze and hit the road back to Kentucky. It was definitely an enjoyable weekend and I hope to be back!
“You Can’t.” There are not many two-word phrases in the English language that are more powerful than this pair. How many life paths have reached a dead end after hearing this phrase? How many dreams have been denied? How many lives have been uprooted?
It was 1999. I had spent the summer learning to exercise-ride racehorses at Canterbury Park in Minnesota. I was 20 years old, turning 21. I was new to the sport, and was thrown off so many horses. But I would always dust myself off, and fearlessly (or maybe ignorantly) hop back in the saddle. I worked my tail off, and slowly improved throughout that year. Toward the end of the summer, I had an encounter that I will never forget. A cowboy hat-wearing horse trainer, Johnny R, stopped me in the track kitchen.
“You can’t make it as an exercise rider. I know you are trying, but you are not strong enough for this. You won’t make it.”
That was the fuel I needed. I pledged to do everything I could to make it as a rider. I started getting on more horses for more trainers. I started hanging out at the receiving barn (a barn where horses ship in from farms and questionable places, and there is more of a danger factor.) I continued to fall off occasionally, but I learned something new every day. And I never forgot Johnny’s words.
I did make it. I made it my career for over fifteen years. I was no super star rider, but I rode at the best tracks in America. I worked at places like Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Woodbine and Saratoga. I rode for Hall of Fame trainers. I rode graded stakes winners and Breeders Cup winners and champions. And I look back and thank that man (who passed away many years ago) for igniting that spark, and challenging me to prove him wrong.
“You can’t run. You’ll hurt yourself with those knees.”
I’ve always been knock-kneed. If you want to get scientific, I have externally rotated femurs and internally rotated tibias and it causes me to run with a swinging gait, swooping my feet out significantly (see photo.)
As a kid, I was always told not to run. Gym teachers, parents of friends, and other adults all were concerned. Even in my own family (thanks mom’s side of the family for these genetics, lol) they are referred to as Grandma Tora knees and definitely not run friendly! But again, I took it as a challenge.
I began running in grade school. I “ran” in high school. I wasn’t too serious about it. In fact, we used to take the city bus a half a mile to the running track rather than jog half a mile as a warm up! I was a 400 meter sprinter, and I wasn’t very good. I never made it to state, or even regions. But I raced every week and had a lot of fun with it.
I set running on the back burner for over a decade (doing an occasional 5k race every few years and sporadic jogs.) In 2008, I picked it up again and got serious about it. From there, I became a competitive runner and triathlete. I run 70, 80, even 90+ miles a week when marathon training, and am rarely injured. I do stay on top of strength and mobility work to keep those knees healthy, but it works. I never hung up my shoes, and don’t plan to anytime soon. I’m so glad I never listened to those voices.
The year was 1999. I had just returned to my college campus at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. I was torn between wanting to finish school, or follow my dreams of working with the racehorses. This was right after the summer I started riding them.
It was hard for me to go back to college that fall. I had changed my major a few times, and even spent a semester at another college before returning to Gustavus. This was my senior year and I knew I would probably graduate late, but I needed to strategize and figure out the right path. I was a communications major at the time, and set up an appointment with my advisor, Terry M.
“You can’t do this,” he said in a frustrated voice. He told me my credits were too varied after changing my major several times. “You’ve wasted all this time. I don’t know how you expect to graduate.”
That was the time I did listen. Maybe he was right. We were only a couple days into classes and I remember sitting on a bench outside the chapel, and letting the tears flow. I decided he knew best. I went to the office of the registrar, filled out the paperwork to terminate school and had to do the walk of shame from teacher to teacher, getting all of them to sign off on my decision. I turned it in at the end of that day, gathered my belongings, and left that school. It was one of the hardest choices I ever made.
Fast forward to about fourteen years later. I was coming to the end of my riding career. My husband and I had decided to move permanently to Kentucky, after following the circuit from NY to FL for a long time. I thought of Terry’s words often, and I had never stopped wanting to finish school. There was no time like the present.
I applied to UK. They asked for my transcript. Gustavus wouldn’t release it. They said I owed $6000 and that I hadn’t signed the paperwork in time. In their own way, they were saying “You can’t.” I was not going to pay them for their mistake, so I had to come up with another life plan.
I found one school that didn’t require a transcript. I could do a full time, 13 month program to get a degree in personal training. I jumped on it, and I ended up loving every minute of my time in that program at Lexington Healing Arts Academy. I hit the ground running as a trainer. I became a running coach and triathlon coach. I started my own business, Rocksport Training. And I never stopped educating myself. If Terry hadn’t discouraged me, I might not have found this path to happiness.
Instead of seeing the words “You can’t” in a negative light, they can be a positive. They can ignite fires. They can be the best motivation. And they can be the driving force behind the will to succeed. Never let words stop you from achieving your dreams.
The other morning I was doing my leg swings and chatting with a few runners prior to a run. I mentioned I was apprehensive about an upcoming interval workout that was still five days away.
“I’m surprised you worry about workouts,” one of my run buddies said.
That got me thinking. I was honored that someone thought I was confident and worry-free about the hard days. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Speed days have never been my forte. Give me a 20 mile long run at aerobic pace and I look forward to it all week. But hard interval days? That’s a different ballgame. Hitting paces (especially shorter intervals) is no guarantee. I envy the runners who head out for mile repeats knowing they are going to nail their splits.
When I had a coach, I remember him programming intervals at paces I knew I couldn’t hit. I would lose sleep for two nights beforehand, knowing I would be slow on the watch. My mile pace is only seconds faster than my 5k pace, which is only seconds faster than my half pace. Coach Greg McMillan categorizes runners into two labels: Speedster and Endurance Monster. I am a poster child of the latter. The vast majority of runners are a combo.
Endurance runners often struggle with intervals. Endurance monsters are more likely to have anxiety before speed days, just as speedsters are more likely to be apprehensive about long runs and long tempos.
That said, show me a runner who has zero apprehension about certain workouts. I’m sure they are out there, but the majority of us have some inner demons.
The thing is, I like those inner demons. They turn hard workouts into a gritty and challenging adventure. We might not hit our splits. But we also might crush it. When that happens, it is a sense of satisfaction that is going to have us on cloud nine for the rest of the day. Our confidence goes through the roof, and the dreams of a successful race day ignite.
So I’ll lose a little sleep, and stay a little nervous the day (or week before) a key workout. The sport of running is all about unknown adventures, and taking chances is something we all do. Fingers crossed we slay the workout, but if not I know there will be others to crush down the road. Those demons can hang out and keep us modest. Who wants to be around a cocky runner anyway?