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!!