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. :)