Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Monday in Minnesota- Tuesday, Poland.

What a whirlwind of a day, and an incredible reminder of how God is capable of blessing me beyond my wildest imagination.

I’m on board my first of three flights en route to Poland, and still working my way down from the initial high of realizing I get to represent my country at the IAAF World Indoor Track and Field Championships.

While it’s still fresh in my memory I want record and share with you the happenings of this awesome day, and describe where my head is at right now.

When I woke up this morning, I was thinking today was a ‘starting anew’ kind of day. I took a down week following the US Championships (meaning I had no track workouts, I just ran how I felt every day and took 2 of those days off), so today was my first workout back to prepare for my outdoor season!

I had a 30 minute threshold run on the treadmill, and was lucky enough to coordinate with my friend Elizabeth to meet at Lifetime Fitness for some company on the treadmill. We got more fun than we bargained for, as two of my teammates Ben Sathre and Jon Peterson also showed up midway and joined our ‘treadmill party’.

I joked that it is weird to come back to workouts even after just a week off, like I expect to be out of shape, but then the workout went really well. Warm-up to cool-down it was a solid 10-mile day, and I was stretching out on a mat waiting for Jon to finish his run, as we planned to lift weights together too.

My phone started ringing from a GA number I didn’t recognize, so I silenced the call (thinking I didn’t want to be that obnoxious girl talking on her phone at the gym). Figured whoever it was, they could leave a message, if it was important.

After what seemed like a long time following the call, my voicemail notification pinged. Curious as to who would leave such a long message, I decided to just listen to it right there.

At some point I will have to re-listen to it, because all I remember catching were bits and pieces once I realized the purpose of the call...

“Sandy Snow from USATF...” - “Mary Cain withdrew...” - “You are the first alternate...” - “...Get you on a plane...”

I probably also didn’t quite hear the whole message because about halfway through I was already bolting back to the bay of treadmills, jumping up and down with my phone to my ear. My teammates Jon and Ben both gave me quizzical looks before I half-squealed: “I GET TO GO TO WORLDS!” I quickly explained what I knew as they celebrated with me mid-run, and Jon even called out to everyone in earshot, “She’s going to Worlds! She’s going to Worlds, people!” (Ironic how I didn’t answer my phone because I didn’t want to be obnoxious and then moments later I’m totally cool with making a scene.)

I quickly dialed back to Sandy- she informed me that the spot is in fact mine if I want it, but I will have to leave very soon to get out there ASAP, and my Team USA gear would be waiting for me in Poland since there’s not time to send it to me here in MN. (MY TEAM USA GEAR- Wohoo!) She said she’d be in touch with my agent, Ray Flynn, to arrange flights, and to get ready!

During this call, I’m giddy, but also couldn’t help but laugh at the melodramatic feelings I had towards going through Team USA processing as ‘just the alternate’ in Albuquerque. I went to the processing area with a good friend, Molly Ludlow- formerly Beckwith, who placed 3rd in the 800m. She was also the first alternate for the Olympics of 2012 in the 800m. I think we both felt a little like the knife was being twisted in our chest to know we were so close, but not on the team.

I handed in all necessary forms ‘just in case’, but really had no hope at all that I’d get this call. All the officials were really nice as I grumbled about being the alternate, saying even if I don’t go this time, they save all my information for ‘next time’ when I make the team outright. In my self-deprecating mood at the time however, I was thinking it was a waste of time.

Re-living those feelings was the first time it dawned on me how much of an honor it is to be the alternate. I’m not just the first one ‘out’, but the first one ‘in’ if anything comes up. I was on call for the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS. How did I never see it this way?

Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely pleased with my overall performance- I ran my race, and I rallied back from mid-pack to the podium in the last 200m. I ran an altitude converted lifetime PR. In the 1500m for crying out loud!! Placing 3rd in the country is already an honor, but I did it in a relatively new event for me, and I had to recognize my success, even if it was a little bittersweet being one spot away.

Back to the moment at hand, once I finished my call with Sandy, I called my husband next (left a message because he was still outside running in the tundra- tough guy), then called my boss and friend Bekah Metzdoff of Mill City Running to let her know I’d be missing work to go to Worlds (“I’ve got good news and bad news...”).

Then, without even knowing what’s going on, my dad Face-Time called me from their vacation in Mexico just to chat, so I got to break the news to my parents right away that I won’t be here in MN when they get home because I’m going to Poland!!

From there it was a quick shower, short drive home, a brief wait to learn when my flight would take off (6:41pm today!), and then time to start packing!

My husband Ben, who had originally planned to visit an account in Iowa today for his work, decided to reschedule his trip and be home with me before I go, which was awesome. He helped me figure out what to pack, as I was seemingly in shock and very ineffective in deciding what I’d need, and what I’d probably get from my Team USA kit when I arrive.

From there, it was a mass influx of positivity via social media as the news broke. So amazing how much I heard from the running community, friends and family, all telling me congratulations, and that I deserved it.

At first, I felt a little weird about being congratulated at all. It seemed like ‘Congratulations’ was the wrong word to describe my situation? I didn’t do anything, really, and now I am going to Poland. Maybe people should just be saying, “Wow, you’re so lucky you get to go now”??

This is where it comes in handy to have such a smart husband. I told him how I was feeling about all the congratulatory messages when it felt like a submissive way to gain a spot on the team, and he said, “No, you do deserve it. You earned your spot when you fought back in that race last week.” Oh. Right. Forgot about that.

Since then I’ve been inundated with people telling me how my gutsy performance paid off, and all the years of hard work and gradual improvement have brought me to here, and that I will be a great representative for USA. I cannot thank you all enough for your support, and in this short time I already feel better about my ‘belonging’ on Team USA- a team that is arguably one of the hardest to make in the entire world.

I will continue to live in that truth, but cannot help but continue to see parallels between this wonderful opportunity and the greatest ‘free gift’ one could possibly accept- salvation. I could almost cry when I think about how I don’t necessarily deserve either of these things, but it was freely given to me just the same, by the grace of God.

And the similarities don’t stop there. The odd thing about all this is I didn’t have all last week to get excited, do specific training, or even the time to fret over competing in a world competition. Some people might view this ‘lack of control’ as a bit of a disadvantage, but given the circumstances, I truly view this is an opportunity to RUN FREELY without dependence on my own usual preparations/expectations.

Just like the freedom we receive by handing the control over to God, I feel light as air (which is rather appropriate, as I sit on a flying aircraft!) about this opportunity I face.

While I would certainly have preferred simply making the team via a top-2 performance at USA’s, I’m almost finding that this way (His way) is much better than the version I hoped for. I am learning so much more, and I am humbled by this trip as I grow closer to God, rather than possibly becoming inflated by my own accomplishment.

As I am writing, I am worried that some of you may be interpreting this to mean I am approaching this whole thing from a place of passivity- which is simply not the case. Relying on the Lord’s plan does not imply ‘lack of action’, but rather an openness for His infinite power, strength, courage, and grace to work through me. I intend to approach these races with confidence and purpose, clothed in the armor of Christ. I will perform to the best of my ability with trust that this is all part of a plan much bigger than me, and I am not alone.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sponsors, Supporters, and Training Partners! This One's for You!!

For those of you who follow professional running pretty closely, you may have noticed a lot of ‘costume changes’ in the past month or so. The new year brings up contract renewals, swaps, and in some cases, drops. I have seen more than a few great athletes who are now dealing with the reality of being unsponsored.

It is with this awareness that I am very grateful and proud to announce that I get to continue to stay loyal to the best brand out there- ASICA America, through 2016.

Seriously, I’m not just saying that because they pay me. Asics was my first choice for sponsorship upon graduation from the University of Minnesota for the very practical reason that they make the best shoes. Period. What more does a runner need but a pair of kicks that are immediately forgotten because they just fit me that well?

Beyond the incredible product I receive, I remember before my first race as an Asics athlete, speaking to my rep at the time who told me,

"We’re not the kind of company that will drop you after one bad race. Rest assured we want to see you through your career, so go out and race with confidence. We picked you up because we have faith in you, and we never want you to feel like there is even more pressure to perform from us."

Ironically, immediately following that conversation, I went out there and sucked it up big time at the 2010 Drake Relays 1500m. HA! Maybe I was just testing them... ;)

Joking aside, what I’m trying to get at is simply the fact that Asics has loyally supported me in a way that makes me want to represent them well for my entire professional running career.

I have a similar sentiment towards my training group, Team USA Minnesota. They were with me from the very beginning, and even were willing to extend the definition of their team as a true ‘Distance’ training group to include me, an 800m specialist with suspected potential for the mile.

As most professional runners will tell you, our incomes generally have several fewer zero’s behind it than what you might see on a pro basketball or football player’s salary. Therefore, a lot of us are working other jobs in order to sustain a decent living and create a little balance in our lives.

The financial support of Team USA Minnesota profoundly decreases the amount of hours I work at other part time jobs so that I can focus on my training and still feel like a responsible adult who pays her bills and all that good stuff.

What’s hard to explain in words is the fact that the entire setup and collection of additional support we get as Team USA Minnesota athletes is better than any money could's a few examples:

Dennis Barker is a coach who is incredibly smart, largely because he never stops learning and evolving each of our individual training programs to fit us perfectly. For being a quieter kind of guy on the surface, many may be surprised to hear Dennis is also funnier than a grand majority of humans I've met, and knows how to motivate and build me up like no other.

Then comes Travis McCathie, a chiropractor practicing out of Bloomington Natural Care Center, who donates his time to work on the team athletes. I know everyone says that whomever they are loyal to seeing for regular running ‘maintenance’ is the best, but I truly believe that’s only because they haven’t met Travis yet. I pride myself in being a fairly ‘durable’ athlete in terms of injury, but I have to give serious credit to my weekly sessions with Travis to keep me running healthy. Plus, he and his wife Becky are like the coolest, kindest, and most lovable couple you could ask for as friends.

You've probably noted lately that Minnesota gets pretty cold, particularly this winter (the coldest in 30 years...meaning I don't remember a winter that sucked any more than this one in my lifetime! ;) Therefore, the added perk of a Lifetime Fitness membership is SO clutch. I have been on treadmills more than I like to admit this winter, but without this option, I can promise you I wouldn't be nearly as fit as I am right now!

There are SO many more great benefits, use of facilities, teammates, etc. that I could list, but I also want to give some love to my training partners before I stop my rant of thankfulness!!

In the past couple years in particular, I feel like my training and race performances have taken a major leap, and beyond the many details mentioned above, I feel I would be remiss if were not to accredit my awesome training partners who push/pull me to higher heights.

First off, Lance Elliott, who I oftentimes refer to as "Super Lance" because I have no idea how he does it. Lance is a high caliber middle-distance Masters athlete who also happens to run his own business, raise 5 busy kids with his wife, and still manages to come to nearly all my workouts, usually only with short-notice texts the night before!

Heck, I even remember a time I sent him a text at like 10am, just to say, sorry, I have to get my workout in quick over the lunch hour today....and he replied with, “I’ve got my spikes in my trunk, I’ll be there.” How does he do that?? (I’m convinced he has a body-double...)

Our ‘training partnership’ started almost 3 years ago now, with a Facebook message from Lance. I remember showing it to my husband, saying, “This guy says he wants to help me out with workouts...” Naturally, I was excited, and Ben was protective. He said the only way he’d allow it, is if he got to meet this “Lance” character, and make sure he wasn’t going to abduct me or something.

So, the next time I had a workout scheduled, we met with Lance. Ben quickly deemed him ‘trustworthy’, the 800m repeats went well, and so it began.

Not only is Lance talented enough to pace/push me in most workouts, he also is incredibly encouraging and motivating. He's helped instill a huge amount of confidence in me, and knows just the right time to elbow me in a workout to really get me to kick it down to the finish line!

Unfortunately, Lance was a little banged up this fall/winter with a stress fracture (probably because he decided to run sub-2:00 in the 800m last summer, and then run a 2:36 marathon in the fall!), so I thought I was back to training solo for awhile...

But no! In his usual amazing fashion, just when I need him most, my husband, Ben Kampf shows up in a big way.

Throughout the years, Ben and I have logged quite a few miles together on long runs and recovery days, but probably only a handful of workouts because Ben has his own training priorities to attend to. I always tell people that even though I’m the one getting paid, when it comes to living a ‘runner’s life’, he’s probably the more dedicated one of the two of us. Thus, I basically have him to thank for getting me to bed at a decent time every night, out the door running most mornings, and reminding me to keep the fridge stocked with healthy foods. :) Sometimes I tease him about being a man of routine, but really I don’t know where I would be without his consistency.

As many of you probably already know, Ben was a standout High School athlete for the Farmington Tigers, he also ran track/CC at the University of Minnesota, and has now come to be known as “The Lord of the Trails” in our household (and worldwide, no doubt;), given his many victories in long, rugged, trail races. He is a very talented, and very tough runner.

Therefore, I wasn’t particularly surprised when he agreed to join me in my weekly ‘cross country-esque’ 1200m repeats over grass this fall in Lance’s absence. What really rocked my world, was when he showed up for hill sprints, and then as winter rolled in, indoor track workouts!

Ben is about as perfect a training partner I could ask for- he’s fit enough to outlast me in any long workout, then when it comes to speed, he knows how to stroke my ego before repeats by begging, “Please don’t drop me on this one....”, (when really I think he says it as permission to leave him in the dust if I’m feeling good.) There’s not a lot of men out there who are so confident and comfortable in their masculinity to willingly put himself in a position to lose in an athletic contest to his wife, and I respect Ben so much for this.

What is especially cool about Ben is that he comes to my practices entirely as an act of service. He always says, “This isn’t my workout, I’ll do what you need!” Whereas the training relationship between Lance and I is at least kind of reciprocal because we have similar goals, Ben has no other agenda but to help me. When I’m struggling to finish, he doesn’t take off and run how he feels, he takes the lead and pulls me along at whatever pace I can handle. He’s selfless. And precious. And I love him so much for helping me, because it communicates to me that he truly understands what this all means to me.

I don't think people realize how incredibly rare it is to find even one, but TWO training partners like mine. Not only are they CAPABLE of running with me, they are willing to follow a training program written specifically for me (not them), flexible enough to fit my workouts into their own busy lives, and do it in the most selfless, supportive, and FUN way imaginable. Maybe not everyone needs a training partner, but to me, they help me find that extra 1% in every workout- and at this level of the game, that 1% can mean a whole lot when it comes to race outcomes.

This past week, the stars aligned and I got to run 5x1000m on the track with BOTH Ben AND Lance (back from his healing hiatus), and couldn't help but think,

Does life get any better than this?

I keep thinking it can't, and then it does. :)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Life is Bermudaful!

As I am aboard the plane en route from Bermuda back to chilly Minneapolis, I am torn as to how I can delicately respond to the question I know I will get from everyone:

“How was the weather? I bet it was gorgeous!!”

Comparatively speaking to what we’re experiencing at home, yes, it was fantastic. I ran in shorts and a t-shirt, and I didn’t get frostbite... #Triumph

Comparing the potential for perfect weather in Bermuda vs. the percentage of time I actually experienced said perfection during my stay on the island... #Bummer

Here’s a short recap of the weekend’s events:


I arrived around 4pm, just in time to watch young Bermudians in school uniforms scattering home for the day while we winded along on the left side of the road in our taxi to the hotel. Weather-wise, the temperature was comfortable, just a touch of humidity in the air to negate some stronger winds at sunset when I went out for my pre-race run.


It was lightly raining in the morning when my roommate, Sarah Brown, and I did our morning shakeout run, but it cleared up later in the day, and actually turned into ideal racing conditions by the time we headed over the course around 7:15pm.

Like last year, the race schedule was appropriately on ‘island time’, and our tentative 8:40pm gun time was delayed until closer to 9:45pm, but the wait was hardly a burden given the energy of the entire event. They had waves and waves of milers, starting with the Bermuda Triangle Challenge runners (who competed in the mile on Friday night, the 10K Saturday morning, and then either a half or full marathon on Sunday morning!), then moving through kids from primary school, high school, local elites and masters, and finally on to us. The din of the crowd was electric.

As many a ‘rust-buster’ race goes, I would describe the race as a transition from pace-shock to ready-to-rock. First, there’s the momentary panic when the race goes off and you think, ‘man, I thought I was in shape, but this feels fast...’, but then somewhere along the way the pace starts to feel more comfortable, and then (if you actually are in shape like you thought), the discomfort of not going fast enough sets in. I got that feeling around 500m to go, so rather than passively waiting to see how the race would unfold, I decided to make the race unfold how I’d like it to. I was confident that if I broke away then and gave it my all, I wouldn’t hit ‘empty’ until at least the finish line. I did exactly that, keeping my peripherals open just in case I had to reach for the ‘after-burners’ and broke the tape for a repeat victory in Bermuda.:)


Saturday morning came way too soon after a late night of racing and drug testing, and with it, came heavy rain. Like, raining cats and dogs rain. The kind that comes down, and blows like sheets in the wind. The streets were puddling and cars were reminding me of one of my favorite theme park rides as a kid (The Wave)...splashing puddles at the racers in the opposite lane of traffic. Long story short, my first-ever 10K was a wet and memorable one, and I ended up placing second!

The rest of the day was pretty gloomy as the rain continued down, but it gave me some nice relaxation time to work on a fun new project (I’m making my own website!!), and enjoy the official pasta dinner that night.


Naturally, on the day I’m departing, the weather is gorgeous! I got to enjoy a nice morning recovery run on an awesome trail before I caught my ride back to the airport to head home. I went into total tourist mode, and tried to take a bunch of pictures on my run, particularly of several gates that I found to be beautiful and metaphorically significant at the beginning of the season- having so many possibilities through various 'gateways' ahead!!

All-in-all, I am not blind to the fact that a couple less-than-desirable days of weather in Bermuda is still legions ahead of sub-zero wind chills and 5 inches of snow, and I am grateful I had the opportunity to race in such a beautiful place filled with some of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

Beyond that, I am excited about Bermuda serving as the kickoff to my 2014 racing schedule, which will be QUITE busy in the coming month or two.

Here’s what else I’ve got coming up:

January 25th: New Balance Games at the Armory in NYC- Indoor Mile
February 1st: Camel City 800m in Winston-Salem, NC- Indoor 800m
February 8th: New Balance Grand Prix in Boston, MA- Indoor 1000m
February 15th: Millrose Games in NYC- I will be pacing the Wanamaker Mile
Feb 22-23: Indoor USA’s in Albuquerque, NM- this is where I will be competing to make a World Championship team to Poland!

Stay tuned for more updates!!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Starting Over with Eyes Forward

I'm not sure where exactly I came up with the idea, but for as long as I can remember, I've thought it was important to view life as a process of constant improvement.

If I think really hard, I can come up with a few places in my mind that this developed from:

1- My resistance to/fear of aging... If I had a quarter for every time someone older than myself tells me something new about how it's tough to get old, I would be retired already. Whether it's my childhood friend who told me during a pool party, "Just wait, when you get older, your metabolism slows down and you'll gain weight..." (Mind you, we were probably about 11 and 13 at the time, so this conversation was a bit preposterous to begin with, but for some reason I still remember her saying it!!), or the people I help fit at running shoe stores that say how their body doesn't work how it used to, and they can't make a shoe with enough cushioning to save their achin' joints...or my mom making jokes about how she is "Mrs. Alzheimer's Disease" when it comes to remembering things these days, the list could go on...

2- My unwillingness to accept limitations as 'truth'...If you tell me I can't do something, I will be all the more motivated to prove you wrong. This is also true for others, I despise the general notion of telling people what they can and cannot accomplish, as if some external force or general trend of results in the past is infinitely more powerful than the capabilities of the human mind, body, spirit, and will. (Obviously I am still rooted in logic, it wouldn't irk me if someone were to tell me I can't teleport to anywhere in the world with a blink of the eye (though I secretly wish I could!!)) I believe nothing truly great was ever accomplished if not for someone insisting that they CAN do what others thought impossible.

3- My overwhelming tendency toward optimism...As far as I'm concerned, there is really no point in worrying about things you cannot control. You can certainly be smart, and plan and prepare to the best of your ability for the future, but then ultimately we just have to maintain hope, and believe that everything is a part of God's greater plan that we are not equipped to understand just yet.

4- My husbands birthday 'cards'...Every year since we met, I have given my husband Ben a birthday "card" (I put card in quotes because it's actually a 3-4 page typed love letter of sorts). Each year, I write about why THIS year will be his best ever. Not gonna lie, sometimes I curse my 17 year-old self who started this tradition, but it is a great practice in both recognizing life progress, and building up my hubby! Most years I have written about how he will slide gracefully into the greatest year of life, but for his most recent birthday (27), I also told him what he will need to do in order to make 27 be the best, because sometimes it takes work to get what you want.

So with all of these things floating around in my head, I committed to view life as a constant climb, even in the face of dips, dead ends, or drops. So long as I view each victory AND each trial as a stepping stone along the way, then I will always be moving towards 'something better'.

Depending on who you are, your beliefs, and your ideas, 'Something Better" can mean a lot of different things.

To me, 'Something Better' is something that improves the quality of my life, or positively impacts others-
whether it be a major life milestone (graduating, getting married, buying a house, getting a dog, etc), advancements in my running career, growth in my faith, helping the kids I coach accomplish their goals, trying new things/seeing new places/meeting new people, gaining financial stability, growing closer to family members, home improvement projects, increasing my cooking/recipe repertoire, practicing greater generosity, or even just learning more about who I am...

The key for me was/is to recognize and celebrate growth, in any form and any size it comes in, every time.

Before I sound too much like a self-help commercial, I share all this stuff just to set a tone for how I feel as I begin my training for the 2014 season. THIS year will be my peak, on the way to another peak in 2015, and even higher heights to come in 2016. Not unlike Ben's 27th birthday card though, I know that it will take hard work and dedication in order to make this plan into a reality. Last year I wrote up my 'New Year's Resolutions" for entering into a new season, and had my best year of running yet. This year, I want to continue my commitment to those resolutions, but also build upon them.

Even though I was very happy with running new personal bests, and winning more races than I had in the past, one big thing that was missing from my 2013 schedule was consistent, high-level competitions. Sure, I had brushes with great races, but I could have really used some people pulling me along more often. So this year, I decided I couldn't have a 'soft' schedule. It's time to to get tossed into 'deep pools' of talent, and learn how to do more than just float, but swim with the best. I think this is the only way to get the best out of myself.

And in order to get into more of these high caliber races, I'd need someone working on my behalf, so I enlisted in the help of a new agent, Ray Flynn of Flynn Sports Management. I had been representing myself for the past two years, which had gone pretty darn well I thought, but sometimes I have to be willing to accept help (and pay for it, in this case!) in order to move forward.

For now, given that my first scheduled race is not until January 17th of 2014 (The Bermuda Mile again!), it's back to the grind! I am on my third week of the 'typical Dennis Barker fall training schedule', and things are going well! Fall is all about building an aerobic base and tons of strength. Not gonna lie, it's always a bit of a wake-up call to get back into everything, but I know that the work I'm putting in now (and the soreness I am feeling!!) will be what carries me through a long season and fast races! This year will be a little different, in that there is no outdoor world championships to prepare for, but there is an Indoor Worlds in Poland, so that;s what I've got my sights set on right now!

That all I've got for updates at the moment, but stay tuned for what will surely be great things to come!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Camp Kampf

In the summer of 2010, I was sitting in a dorm room in Leuven, Belgium awaiting my last race of the summer season. I received an email that Apple Valley High School was in pretty dire need of a coach with distance running knowledge to help out with the cross country team in the fall. I decided to come aboard. After falling in love with the kids, it only seemed natural to come on as the distance coach for track in the spring, and now I am beginning my fourth season of coaching at the school! Crazy how time flies...

I share all this about my coaching beginnings because it was through coaching at the school that a new and exciting opportunity presented itself last winter. My co-coach called me, and said that in the past, other schools have hosted youth running camps in the summer, and maybe we should host one. And by we, she meant me. ;)

It had always been a dream of mine to host a running camp, I spent many-a-summer in my college days serving as a camp counselor for various running camps and always had a blast. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to get one started. We worked with the district's Community Education Program to advertise and collect fees online, I hired some of my current/recently graduated athletes to help me out as camp counselors, and suddenly, I had nearly 30 kids, aged kindergarten through 8th grade, signed up!

The camp itself took place across four days (July 29th-August 1st), from 9:30-11:30am each day. I have to laugh looking back now, because I originally made very specific laid out plans for each day, scheduling the camp down the minute....and after the first day I realized I had to scrap that mentality! With such a wide age-range and varying levels of experience, I learned quite quickly that it is much better to have a basic outline of the day and go with the flow, rather than micromanaging a bunch of energetic youngsters!

I will be the first to admit that the first day was pretty hectic, but it probably felt more that way to me than it did to the kids because they all left with smiles on their faces. Each day after that, camp got better and better, and I think by the end of the week they learned a lot (as did I)!

Over the course of four days, I got to teach the kids the importance of a good warm up, and we practiced dynamic stretching and good warm-up drills to prepare for workouts and races. We had snack and drink breaks each day, and through that had a great opportunity to talk about the role of nutrition and hydration in running. We practiced pacing ourselves for our recovery days, and working hard on workout days. We did hurdle races, and sprint relays with water balloons for batons (and of course a water balloon fight ensued).

We watched some awesome race videos on a rainy morning, where we got to discuss how different race strategies can be effective if you play to your strengths, we got to see what a cross country race looks like, witness someone diving to cross a finish line to make an Olympic Team (Men's 800m 2008), and even showed the kids some of my own races... I think I have to do that on the first day of camp next year, because after watching my Big Ten 600m fall/get back up video from 2008, one of the kids asked, "You're kind of a big deal, aren't you?" and then I swear they seemed to listen to me better after that??!

We played lots of fun games and emphasized the importance of teamwork, played running trivia, where I was pleasantly impressed to see how much information the kids were retaining from the camp! On the last day, we talked about goal setting, and ran either a half mile (for the youngsters) or full mile cross country race, and ended with a fun awards presentation and picnic lunch.

Even though I felt like things were going really well, it was so affirming to see and talk to all the parents during the picnic, and hear that a lot of the kids were wishing the camp was longer, and wanted to come back next year. My favorite quote was when one of the boys triumphantly proclaimed, "BEST WEEK EVER!!!" as he walked away on the final day wearing his brand new Camp Kampf T-shirt. :)

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to come speak at a youth Cross Country Race in Apple Valley, and got to see quite a few of my campers from this summer again! (Many of which were kicking butt in the race, I might add... ;) ;)

As I was speaking to the kids about the importance of setting goals and believing in themselves, I was overwhelmed with a sense of understanding of the 'bigger picture'. Looking out into the sea of their young bright faces, I could see a little bit of myself as a kid in all of them. And just like at the camp, I had a speech all planned out in detail, but had to take a detour just to share how cool this realization was. I told them, "You guys, when I was your age, I had NO CLUE that someday, I would be a professional athlete, getting the honor to come speak to you today," just like how I never dreamed in a million years that I could put MY OWN NAME on a youth running camp, and that kids would actually show up!

Reflecting on the whole thing, I'm sure some athletes measure their success in medal counts, prize money, and international fame, but standing in front of that group of kids, all I could think of was, 'I made it', plain and simple.

THIS is how I define success- to be respected enough and successful enough that adults would invite ME to be an influential part of their kids' lives (I don't have kids yet, but I'm wise enough to know that this a a BIG deal!). I've always hoped this sport would give me the opportunity to inspire and help others, but ironically it feels that running is the gift that keeps giving- because I always walk away feeling a little more inspired and motivated every time I get to share my story.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Operation #PRlegs (aka, Euro Conquest 2013)

When I ran 2:01.05 in the 2007 Outdoor NCAA Championships as a sophomore for the University of Minnesota, I thought it would be a year, two tops, before I broke 2 minutes in the half mile.

As most of you know, that 1-2 year plan has turned into a much longer journey than I originally expected. At first, it was discouraging to be running at or near my personal best for so long. I began to question whether I was physically capable, or if I was ever ‘meant’ to break through this seemingly unsurpassable barrier. Of course, that doubt seeped in, and forced me to question whether or not I should even continue along the path of professional running if I couldn’t even run a time that would put me ‘in the mix’ for winning world-class competitions.

Time went by. I ended my college track career with a disappointing final 800m race at the NCAA Championship, but knew in my heart that I had more. I bounced back and had my best ever season in cross country to finish out my eligibility with the Gophers, and went pro immediately following graduation. I joined Team USA Minnesota, and soon after signed with ASICS America, and thought surely now, as a professional athlete, I will break 2:00 in the 800m.

I didn’t.

I chalked that first year up to experience, and decided 2011 would be the year (because logically, I knew it would take some time for me to adjust to a new training regimen with a new coach). That second year training under Coach Dennis Barker, things starting happening.

I WON a race for the first time since becoming a professional in Kortrijk, Belgium.
I won AGAIN at an 800m race in Italy about a week later.
I ran a new PR in the 1500m a couple days later, I was on a roll.

And then, at my final European race in Lignano, Italy, I ran 2:00.41. I was pumped to FINALLY have a sub-2:01 PR after so many years, but also slightly devastated that I still didn’t break through 2 minutes.

It certainly humbled me to realize that 2:01.05 sounds like just a hair over one second away from breaking 2:00 but I forgot how long a second really is when you’re right on the precipice of something so rare and so great. I gained an appreciation for what breaking 2 minutes actually means, and what it will mean to me (more on this later). I also gained perspective, and even created my own ‘math’ metaphor about this journey I’m on.

I call it the “Asymptote” Theory. For those of you who recently completed high school math, you may know what an asymptote is, for those of you who don’t know here’s a visual: (thank you Wikipedia!)

The Hyperbola y=1/x:

So basically, an asymptote of a curve is a line that infinitely approaches closer and closer to zero without ever reaching absolute zero.

For the purposes of running, pay attention only to the upper right quadrant of this graph. Lets make the x axis the passage of time (the years you put in training and competing). The y axis is your performance axis (the closer to zero the faster, imagining that “absolute zero” is your absolute best possible performance in your event.

**Note-I would argue that none of us ever actually reach that ‘absolute best’. I say that not as a pessimist, but as an optimist. Tell me if you disagree- whenever you cross the finish line and see you’ve ran a personal best, the first thing you think is, “I can do it faster!” right?

Sooo, back to the theory. In the beginning of your running career, you drop time crazy fast, because you totally don’t know what you’re doing (or at least that was true of me!) Then as the years go by that you invest in this sport, and you inch closer and closer to your absolute best potential, the drops in time get smaller, or you may simply hang out near a PR for several years.

BUT- what I love about this visual is that it is INFINITELY approaching absolute zero in some way or another. So as time passes, and you may not always see the drop in race performances that you’d like, but you’re gaining experience, you’re building training cycles on top of one another, you’re getting stronger, learning from your mistakes, trying new strategies, and most all, mounting up this burning DESIRE to make that next drop.

Ultimately, you’re still MOVING FORWARD, and that’s key.

Some people might argue when you don’t run a new PR for years that you’re stagnant, or ‘plateauing’. I personally hate this metaphor because it gives me the mental imagery of climbing up a bell curve towards greatness, and then leveling off at the top, knowing the only place to go from here is the same dang thing, or worse, back downwards.(Insert disappointing sound effect here: wuah-wuaah).

I think this metaphor can work for more than just running, so I encourage you to apply the asymptote theory whenever you might feel a little stuck. It certainly has given me a better outlook on life, that’s for sure!


WHERE WAS I? Ah yes, Europe...

I decided before I even left for this 2013 Europe trip, that it was going to be a conquest.

I was coming off back-to-back near-PR performances in the 800m at the US Championships, and knew I was ready to drop a chunk of time off my 1500m best as well. In the past I’ve made excuses about bad weather conditions, sparse competition, etc. for not achieving what I believe by the grace of God I am capable of doing.

But there’s no crying on a conquest.

I felt fully prepared and equipped to come out here, and run faster than I ever have. Period.

My final Tweet on the way to the airport before I flew over here was this:

Always worry I'm forgetting something when I travel. But as long as I've got my #PRlegs, I'm good to go!

So with this mentality, I boarded the plane for my first destination, Cork, Ireland.

Not including an emergency landing for a man who was really sick on my flight (poor guy!), travel went smoothly. It always feels like an accomplishment in and of itself, just to arrive, see your checked bag slide through the flap at baggage claim, and then find the guy holding the sign with your name on it by the door.

I technically left on June 30th, arrived on July 1st, and raced in the Cork City Sports 800m on the night of the 2nd. Other than nearly tipping over when I attempted to toe that line (haha, the first thing my mom said to me after she watched the race online was I needed to work on my starts! I blame jet lag?), the race went surprisingly well. I tucked into the pack which moved well through 350 meters or so, and then started getting antsy when the pace seemed to be slowing. Re-surging on the backstretch I was moving well with the front crew, until with about 100m to go, all I could see was one runner in front of me, and all I knew was Phoebe Wright, my friend/a studly 800m woman in her own right, had to be coming close behind. I drove hard to the finish with all I had, and managed to eek out the win, running 2:01.57.

Great start. Onward we go.

While in Ireland, I caught wind that a meet was looking for a 1500m pacer in Oordegem, Belgium on July 6th. How convenient, I thought, because I was looking to be confirmed in a 1500m race! I offered to take the job on the condition that after I took the field through the prescribed distance/pace, I was allowed to stay in and finish the race.

At first I was told I’d be expected to pace the field to a 4:10, but learned after arriving in Oordegem that Cori McGee was there chasing the B Standard for the World Championships (sub 4:09). So, the plan then became to run 66 second laps, which equates to about 4:07-4:08 for total race time. We ran pretty dang close to that, 66-67 first lap, 2:12 at 800m.

At about 1000m in, Cori started a long drive for the finish. I did all I could to keep the pressure on from behind, staying right on her heels until about 150m to go when I heard that familiar whisper in my mind, “you have more to give...”. I made one final blitz for the finish, and came away with another win and new 4 second PR of 4:08.37. Cori just missed the standard there (in her defense, this was her first race off the plane!), but of course as we all know now, she killed the standard in Heusden to punch her ticket to Moscow!

I’m not sure if it was because I was pacing and had the ‘option’ to drop out at any moment, but I felt pretty dang awesome in that 1500m, and was pumped about my future in that event.

My ‘future’ in that event came the following Wednesday, in Liege, Belgium.

In hindsight, this was one of those races that I probably should have forgone. Originally, we were expecting a least a couple faster professionals to be in the field, but when we checked in, I was definitely in the minority for my age and fitness level. I thought maybe all I needed was a track and a clock, and I could shave a little more time off my race, but as it turns out this wasn’t the case. I still ran a respectable 4:11 in a solo effort, which was my second fastest time ever, but felt a little bit bad about stealing the show from some of the younger local competitors in the field!

I chalked that one up as experience and a solid workout, and set my eyes towards the next thing: an 800m in Kortijk, Belgium on Sunday the 14th.

Race day in Kortijk was calm, warm, just a tad bit humid, but nearly ideal for racing. Again, some of the ‘bigger dogs’ in the field ended up getting into other races, so I was the only person in the field that was at least willing to admit I was shooting for sub-2. The nice thing about this situation was I got to tell the rabbit exactly what I wanted, and she executed perfectly. We went through 200m in 28ish, 400m in 58ish, and we were still sub 1:15 at 500m when she stepped off the track. At that point, I knew the stage was set, I felt pretty good, and started that long solo drive with 300m to go. I was sub 1:30 through 600m (a very good indicator for success in an 800m), and had decent turnover around the curve. With maybe 80m to go, I could see the clock ticking from 1:51 on up.. I tried not to focus on the clock, pretended like there was someone right in front of me that I needed to beat, and made my best effort to prevent my form from deteriorating.

As I crossed the line, I saw the minutes tick from 1 to 2. My time was 2:00.12. A new PR, a 4th win in Europe, and one minuscule step closer to the dream...

Two days later I found myself in Lignano, Italy, for my final race of this trip, and by far the best field of 800m women to race. I was feeling just a little bit ragged from racing so much and traveling a lot to get to Italy the day before, but a lot of times this year I had come to the track thinking I felt tired, and then ran some awesome workouts, so I expected things to happen like that for just one more race.

Given the history of Lignano women’s 800m races, I was all but certain if I ran for the win, I would have the bigger prize, a 1:5anything personal record in the half mile. I went out there, and competed well with the group. I had a minor misstep where I had to dodge a runner in front of me that was tripping up a bit at about 300m into the race, but we still were through the quarter in a great 57high-58low pace. I thought about maintaining speed and relaxation on the backstretch like my coach always tells me to do in practice, and when the race really started to pick up (largely led by Lea Wallace who made an awesome surge just before 600m), I went with it. Coming down the homestretch, I looked up and saw the clock was well below 2 minutes, and then looked away so as not to get distracted. I fought to be the first to cross the finishline, and turned around to look at the clock...


I didn’t know whether to laugh or drop a string of F bomb’s. I still felt good when I finished, too good of course, and wanted the race to start over again so I could give it even more right then and there. I didn’t want to be the jerk that is angry with a 5th win in a very competitive field with a new lifetime PR, but that wasn’t what I wanted out of that race! What I wanted was 5 hundredths of a second away. A blink of an eye. You can’t even start and stop you watch fast enough to get .05 to come up on your stopwatch. (Trust me, I’ve tried.)

That night, I realized I needed to have some perspective. I should be overjoyed that I am legitimately pissed off when I run 2:00.04. Just looking back at how far I’ve come, to be at a place where I am THAT CERTAIN I can break 2 minutes that I can beat myself up over a new personal best is phenomenal. Beyond that even, I am healthy, I got to travel to some pretty incredible places and spend time with some pretty incredible people. That is a blessing. It’s also an incredible blessing to have the support that I have back home while I go on all these adventures.

Since my times were still coming down, I wish I had had one more race lined up before I came back to the states, but the next day I took my flight home. I’ve been looking into getting a couple more track racing opportunities after the World Championships in Moscow, but have not gotten confirmation from any meet directors yet. Granted, I only asked to get in the really big meets, but I am at a point where I know I need to compete with the best in order to bring out my best- and I truly believe I deserve it.

The irony in this sport lies in the order of operations. It seems that in order to get in a really big meet like a Diamond League, you need to have already placed in a Diamond League, and how do you place in one until someone gives you the opportunity to race one? A similar pattern exists for a lot of funding and resources allotted through the USATF. The best athletes, the ones who have already proven themselves by making Olympic/World Teams, get the most resources such as performance workshops, health insurance, medical support, and all kinds of funding at their disposal. While I do understand and agree with rewarding those who have been successful in representing the US, I would argue that those athletes are probably already well taken care of by their sponsors, and the funding they receive may just be money in their pocket rather than that essential extra bit of money that might allow another athlete to travel to a big racing opportunity, or work one less job and focus more on their training.

I don’t want to sound petty or ungrateful, and I would never condemn the athletes that are receiving more help than me because they have earned it and certainly deserve compensation and continued support to keep them at the level they have achieved.

All I am trying to get at is how incredibly difficult it can be to prove yourself without someone believing and investing in you prior to your success. I can only imagine the incredible DEPTH in athletics that we could have in this country if the ‘extra’ resources were allocated to the “up and comings” rather than the “been there-done that” athletes. It’s a dream I have that our organizing body will evolve over time to be investors in potential, not only just for resources but also for competitive opportunities.

It may be old news now, but it was quite a big deal when the Men’s 5K at the USA Championship in Des Moines this summer had just 9 athletes in it, and there were people there ready and willing to race that were denied the opportunity to compete. Those athletes that weren’t allowed in may or may not have made any difference in the final outcome of the race, but getting that experience to race at the national level could have made a huge difference for their own development as an athlete, and maybe change the outcome of future events.

Again, I can see it both ways- of course you need to have established rules or this sport would be chaos. Obviously you can’t just go adding anyone to national championship fields without some guidelines for how this should look. But if it were me making the call, I would have saw an opportunity for change that clearly needs to be made, allowed the athletes that were present to compete, and used that situation as a springboard to iron out all the details of new legislation in these matters moving forward. Just like the old adage used by many a salesperson, “The customer is always right”, or our country’s legal system, “Innocent until proven guilty”- I feel that our sport should first and foremost be in the business of allowing opportunities and supporting the ATHLETES, not the rule book.

This blog is running way off course, but the reason I am discussing some of these things is so I can bring it all back to what I mentioned earlier- what it will mean for me to break 2:00 in the 800. It’s like a two-sided mirror in many ways-

In my mind, I’ve told myself that I will be content in my retirement from running if I break 2:00, but at the same time, breaking 2:00 would open the door to so many new opportunities. When you post a time like that even just once, it seems like you are a more marketable athlete who gets into bigger competitions which ultimately means running as fast, or faster, again! I would see breaking 2 as the closing of one door (like, I could quit anytime and be happy), and the opening of so many new doors (like, I’m only getting started!)

Breaking 2 has been a goal of mine for a very long time now (a good 6 years at least), so to finally achieve it will be incredibly gratifying. In a way it will ‘prove’ that I was never crazy for thinking I could do it, that this journey has been ‘worth’ it, and be a lasting reminder that hard work, faith, and dedication really do pay off. Simultaneously, it will mean nothing, because I know I’m not crazy for setting my sights on this goal, this journey has been worth it every step of the way, and I’m not going to start believing that hard work, faith, and dedication is worthless if I don’t break 2.

If I’ve run 2:00.04 or 1:59.96, is it really going to change who I am? Am I any more or less of a ‘worthy’ human being either way? Will I drastically change the way I live my life, see myself, or treat others? No, no, and no.

A couple times this season, I have tried to visualize what I’ll do, the first time I turn around and look at the clock and see that I’ve finally done it. Will I throw up my arms in jubilation? Will I fall to my knees with gratitude? I guess I won’t know the details, but ultimately, I simply see a huge, genuine smile on my face, and a wonderful sense of accomplishment as I look back on all the attempts that have led me to that place.

So while I think I’ve prepared myself enough to know that breaking 2 isn’t the be-all, end-all, I am still chasing just as intently, to smile that smile, and feel that way for the simple and pure joy of knowing I traveled through the space of a half mile faster than I ever have before. That’s pretty dang cool all in itself isn’t it?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

USA's Recap

As usual, I’m long overdue to knock out a blog update!

So first order of business, let’s talk about USA’s:


I don’t know what it is, but the week leading up to any Outdoor US Championship is always a roller coaster for me. I think it must be that I’m on the edge, knowing I put a year’s worth of time, energy, and hard work into something that will ultimately come and go in a few shorts days’ time, and when it’s over, that’s it. Done. Finito.

This is a concept that is hard to grasp for me especially, because I believe I have been one of the most consistent runners in the ‘middle-to-upper’ echelon of US Middle Distance running, but have failed to put it all together when it ‘really counts’ just yet.

This year was no exception, I found myself blowing off steam at my husband (sorry Ben!) one day, over some strawberries he left in the sink, and crying over just about anything.

In the past, leading into the US Championships or the Trials, I’ve had a slight sense of impending doom, because I felt I wasn’t quite ready yet. Maybe I didn’t run a standard that I wanted to hit before coming in, or maybe I’m thinking back to the days that I could have worked harder, but didn’t. It’s scary to toe the line when you know you aren’t 100% ready, because usually in this country, it takes your 100%, plus a little extra somethin-somethin, to get you on a World Champs team.

This year I thankfully felt ready. It was a whole different kind of pressure and excitement leading into USA’s, because I believed I had a legitimate shot at making the team. I was in the best shape I’ve ever been in, hands down. Even without having run the A-standard yet, I felt confident I could run it given some good competition. I still was riding that range of emotions, but this year the underlying factor behind it was “what if I DO?” rather than “what if I don’t?” Either way, it’s always a question mark, especially when there are 3 rounds of the women’s 800m where anything could happen.

“Anything” did happen in the 2010 US Outdoor Championships the last time it was held at Drake University. I got tripped from behind with 200m to go in the prelim round. Officials called it ‘incidental’ and refused to reinstate me into the semi-final race despite the fact that I was leading the field when I got clipped down. Coming back to Drake for USA’s this year was a little bit of a grudge match for me, though I tried to think of it more as a redemption round instead.

Here's a couple throwback photo's from my 'incidental' fall-


The trip down to Des Moines was great. I got to drive down with my teammates and wonderful friends, Jamie Cheever (steeplechase stud), and Meghan Peyton (10K extraordinaire). ADDED BONUS, I got to bring my dog, Ricky, along for the adventure!

Here's Ricky living it up on the car ride down, and lounging at our hotel:

I think I honestly had the most nerves going into the first round of the 800m, not because I wasn’t confident, but you have the most to lose, so to speak, if something goes wrong there. I got out mid-pack, made a move to get into a better ‘striking position’ on the home stretch before 400m, and then worked the last lap, battling to the line and finishing 4th, by a heartbeat. Technically top 3 make it automatically, but I tied for the first fastest qualifier by time, and lived to see another day in Des Moines!

Photos from Prelims:

If prelims are where you have the most to lose, semi-finals are where you have the most to gain in my opinion. Do well in the semi-final, and you punch your ticket to the final, and thus have an opportunity to make the team. Once you MAKE the final, anything can happen, and you have the right to put it all out on the track and walk off content no matter what.

Before the semi-final, my prayer was simply for God to invest in me. He certainly has invested a lot in me already, I’m fully aware, but I asked for Him to fill me with His strength, his courage, and freedom, so that I might be able to act as a mirror, reflecting His good work through my performance, and glorifying His name. And as with every gift He provides, I prayed that He would give me the courage and the motivation to offer it all up to Him, rather than absorbing all the credit as my own.

The semi-finals presented a different set of challenges, because there were no time qualifiers. To make it to the final, you must be top 4, period. After the first round, the take-away I got was that I didn’t like having to do extra work to get around people, so I asked my coach, “would it be ok with you if I got out harder?” He replied, “as long as you’re ok with the possibility that you will be leading, yes.” He turned out to be exactly right, I got out to a better start, and found myself confidently running in the lead position, and kept it, for nearly all the race. I held everyone off except Brenda Martinez (total stud) to the line, and just to show how close these qualifying rounds are, I was 2nd in 2:00.51, Geena Gall was 3rd in 2:00.53, and Laura Roesler was 4th in 2:00.54. This was one of the best races of my life, and I’m so thankful that God showed up in such a big way for me.

After semi’s, there was a day of rest, and then comes the final. The cool/frustrating thing about a final, is that what you did to get there doesn’t matter. I was ranked 3rd overall coming out of the semi’s, but it would take a top three finish to make the team. Given my strategy of running from the front and holding off competitors worked so well in semi’s, this was the plan going in to finals. I executed, as planned, well through 500m, but then unfortunately didn’t feel as good as I did the last time around, and was unable to drive home the last 300m like I would need. Brenda Martinez started to make her move there, and actually said “Come on Heather, let’s go!” IN THE RACE (amazing!), and I tried so hard to move with her, but ended up finishing 6th, running 2:00.68. I’d like to think if I had another opportunity to run that exact same race, maybe with a slightly different strategy, I would have made the team...but at least I know I made myself open to possibilities and vulnerabilities, and the outcome was a mix of them both.


It’s always disappointing to miss making the time by a little over a second, but coming away from this meet, I am thankful. This year was by far my best performance at an outdoor championship, all around. Especially running 2:00.51 and 2:00.68 two days apart (knowing I’ve only broken through 2:01 once in my life before for my PR of 2:00.41), is a signal to me that I am ready to dip under 2:00, a conquest I have been on for quite some time now. I am grateful because I did receive SO much support from friends, family, and fans, and feel I made my presence known, displaying the potential I’ve always believed I had.

I walked away happy, healthy, humbled, and hungry for more, and that is a blessing.