Posted by: Susan Loken | October 20, 2014

His Number One Fan

Friday night was Taylor’s final soccer game at ASU. My middle son has been playing sports for all his life, but this particular chapter will come to a close as he graduates in May. Taylor was a standout baseball player throughout high school, until his senior year when he took up golf. He quickly became an exceptional golfer and played the sport for two years at a junior college. When he began at ASU, he tried out for the soccer team and proved himself to be a valuable team member. This year–his final year at ASU–he was named team captain and given a new opportunity to shine.

Taylor’s biggest fan, through each and every sport, has been his Grandpa. Grandpa never, and I mean NEVER, misses a game. There was one time when my father was in the hospital and begged the doctors to be released early, simply so he would not miss his grandson’s game. Truly, this man is Taylor’s Number One Fan.

Friday night was an emotional night for Taylor. College will soon become a fond and distant memory. Real world responsibilities will replace the camaraderie and fun of team sports. As this journey ends and another prepares to unfold, it only seems fit that Grandpa would be on the sidelines cheering for his favorite athlete.

Taylor, recognizing and appreciative of his biggest supporter, runs over to his Grandpa after every goal he scores. He does this at ALL games, during each season. It has become their special ritual. IMG_0177 Taylor’s final soccer game at ASU field ended with a win. When the game ended, he ran over to hug his Grandpa and celebrate the victory.

Soon, the entire team and coach followed. Rather than simply exchanging hellos and high fives, everyone gathered around Grandfather and Grandson. They had come over to present Grandpa with a ASU Soccer jersey, signed by the entire team.

Taylor had signed the jersey earlier, not realizing that the team would, hours later, offer this special gift to his number one fan… Grandpa.

As the team presented the jersey to Grandpa, tears of joy fell from his eyes. It was one of the most touching moments of his life. In 51 years, I’ve only seen my Dad cry twice. Last night was one of those times.

This thoughtful act of kindness not only touched my dad’s soul; it also touched his grandson’s. My son views his team as an extended family and last night they sure acted like family. The ASU Soccer team cares enough about their teammates to not only support one another, but to extend that graciousness to loved ones and supporters.

To see them present my father with that symbolic jersey was one of the most beautiful acts of kindness I have ever witnessed. Pure happiness filled the faces of two people that I absolutely love–my father and my son.

As I watched a Grandson and his Number One Fan embrace, my soul swelled with an inexplicable joy. It was one of the best moments of my life.

We all have that one fan, supporter or loved one cheering us on. Perhaps, take a moment this week to acknowledge that special person who has always been there for you. Say thank you in a small, but memorable way. IMG_0180

Posted by: Susan Loken | August 27, 2014

Together We Achieve More: The Many Benefits of Teamwork

My running career began alongside a small and diverse group of novice athletes, organized through the YMCA. When I showed up on my first day, I didn’t even know what a 400 meter repeat was. With the help of an experienced coach ( Heidi Wildy) and supportive group members, I was able to jump start my running. As a matter of fact, that very coach was at the first marathon I ever won (Tucson, 2002).To this day; I vividly recall her jumping up and down screaming, “You are a world class athlete!” I didn’t even know what that meant, but her energy and excitement has stayed with me far longer than the thrill of winning.

Over the years, I have learned that success is not a solo journey. Teamwork is all about individuals coming together to achieve a common goal. Members arrive with a clear (or not so clear) personal goal, but quickly adopt the team’s vision. The synergistic energy of the team encourages every member to aim higher, achieve more and support their teammates in doing the same. I have learned, with experience, that it is beneficial to train with runners who have similar goals or who are just slightly faster than you. This can help bring out your personal best.

I soon outgrew the YMCA group and began running with a team called the Bandidos. I credit that team and my great coach (Brett Schumacher) with helping me believe in myself and achieve some of my biggest dreams. Seeing someone at their worst, helping them up and then watching them press through until the finish line creates a bond you won’t find elsewhere. To this day, some of my best friends are from those early running groups.

As I developed as a runner, I realized that I could begin coaching a team and offer other runners the opportunity to develop the support, accountability and friendship that I gained from my teams. BTB allows me to watch these amazing women (and men) nourish one another’s’ goals and celebrate each other’s victories. We have an awesome team!

 

Team BTB 2014

Team BTB (missing a few )

When you are part of a cohesive team with a shared vision, people notice and want to get involved. Team BTB continues to attract stellar women (yes, a few guys too!) of all backgrounds and experiences. Our mission as a team is to achieve our personal goals, to support one another, and to inspire other women to pursue their dreams, no matter what!

A perfect example is Michelle. During a difficult divorce, Michelle was able to draw strength from our running group. Being lovingly pushed toward her goals helped her to gain confidence and reclaim her happiness, both on and off the track. She has rediscovered her wings and is now flying on her own. She met a new man, has a new home and loves her life. Like Michelle, members may come and go. Sometimes they just need us for a short time to prepare other dreams, while some work and grow alongside one another for years.

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Together we…Believe in ourselves, Train to succeed & Become our dream!

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Our BTB Butterfly Wings represent transformation!

When I joined my first running group, I could not have imagined how many incredible teammates and friends I would come to know. If you had told me I would become a running coach, I would have thought you were crazy! The BTB Believe Train Become running team is so amazing that businesses have taken note and offered to team with a group that truly personifies the word TEAM.

Oiselle understands the meaning of team, as well as the benefits. The BTB team just received our Oiselle team shirts and they are awesome! Their feminine yet practical athletic wear makes all of us feel strong and beautiful, but the matching shirts also helps unite us even more. Team BTB is so proud to team up with Oiselle!

I also love Sole Sports because they understand the importance of community, whether in a tight-knit running group or in support of a local cause. Just as running groups offer personalized support to every member, Sole Sport believes in offering each store visitor and community member with the same level of care. BTB is honored to team up with Sole Sports!

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Thumbs up to Oiselle & Sole Sports!

With Oiselle and Sole Sports on our team, we no long only run for ourselves. We now run for a cause and a vision. As we represent the best running store in the USA and a women’s clothing line that supports and nourishes women across the country, we serve as an inspiration and as role models to women hoping to reach their goals. Together we can achieve more.

To reach my personal running goals, I am currently training with a local group of Elite Women runners, called the Sonoran Distance Project. Most of the women on the team are faster than me and want to accomplish what I already have. I hope to inspire them, because I know they inspire me! Speaking of inspiration, we had two BTB runners–Natalie Como and Carrie Weldy–join this Elite running group of women with the shared goal of qualifying for the 2016 USA Marathon Olympic Trials. It was with great honor and pride that these girls left Team BTB to pursue even higher goals.

Flagstaff Run Camp

Coach John Reich and the Sonoran Distance Project in Flagstaff at Running Camp

If you want to accomplish big things, become a part of a great group. I’m not kidding! Though you may not remember the races you win or the PR’s you set, you will ALWAYS remember your teams.

My teammates, old and new, are forever in my heart and with me every mile.

Keep on Believing, Keep on Running & Smile,

SL

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SMILE & BE GOOFY!

Posted by: Susan Loken | June 14, 2014

26.2 Mantras to Get You Through Your Next Marathon

Anyone who I’ve coached for a marathon has heard me say that there will be a moment (sometimes a 40-minute moment) during the marathon where you will ask yourself, “Can I really do this?”

There will inevitably be a moment when you begin to consider slowing down, or even walking. In this moment, you may question whether you can dig any deeper. It doesn’t matter if you are an Elite runner or a five-hour marathoner; we all have this defining moment during a marathon.

Should I give up or can I muster up the strength to keep going?

How you answer this question–how you respond in you DEFINING MOMENT–can make all the difference in the outcome of your race. During these challenging moments, I repeat mantras to myself. This gives me something positive to focus on. It offers a distraction from any pain or discomfort.

Mantras can be your favorite saying, a short prayer, a powerful word, or anything else that helps keep a smile on your face and a song in your heart.

I have trained many runners over the years and I always enjoy hearing their special mantras and learning what helps them persevere. Thus, I decided to team up with my awesome Team BTB runners and compiled a list of their favorite mantras. Without further ado, here are 26.2 running mantras to help fuel you through every mile!

  1. “Don’t ever take running for granted again! There was a time when you weren’t able…” ~Stacey Hollen
  2. “Trust the training. I find this to be very effective for pre-race planning and nerve-calming. I remind myself of how hard I worked, the sacrifices I made and I remind myself that I didn’t sign up for easy.” ~Tracie Rogers
  3. “You gotta keep your shit together. Just freaking run! Suck it up, Buttercup!” ~Kimi Sherrill
  4. I can and will find a way. I am stronger than I think I am.” ~Heather Betsko
  5. “Failure is not an option.” ~Daradee Murray
  6. I’ve done this training and the time, and today is just the icing on the cake. Tomorrow I get to sleep in! Thousands of people have done this, and I can do it too.” ~Janet Chafey
  7. “I believe that…[fill in the blank] Sometimes I finish it with ‘I can,’ ‘I will,’ or ‘I did.’ I still use this for any difficult run. ~Lil Ashton
  8. You don’t have to be fast, but you better be fearless!~Jenna Williams
  9. The words of wisdom that keep my kicks from staying clean: “If is was easy, everyone would be doing it. Even in the runners world, we all stand out.” ~Holly Tice
  10. I’m going to make the REST of this run the BEST of this run!~Cindy Rash
  11. “This isn’t exactly a mantra, but when these moments happen, I visualize a DOOR. I tell myself that this is the door of opportunity. I can either choose to open the door (keep pressing on) or just stand there looking at the door (give up). If I open the door, I will see what it really on the other side (possibly a new personal record). However, if I stand there, afraid to open the door, I will never know what’s on the other side. I haven’t always opened the door, but when I have, great things are always on the other side!” I credit Jerry Lynch for inspiring this visualization though his books. ~Kelly LeCours
  12. Your mind is the athlete. Your legs are fine. Don’t give in.” ~Tracie Rogers
  13. “Hills, hill, hills are my friend. I love hills!” ~Michele Propps
  14. “It’s only pain. Just put it in perspective: it’s not going to kill me or stop me in my tracks. I can run through it.” ~Tammy Hines
  15. When I start questioning myself during a race or a tough run, I tell myself: “Just keep going.” As lame as it sounds, it reminds me to STOP THINKING and carry out my plan–to run and perform at my personal best. ~John Meuser
  16. “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” ~Jenna Williams
  17. I have many mantras, but I really like one that I had printed on a shirt: “I don’t stop when I’m tired, I stop when I’m done.~Kristi Petrosky
  18. “Susan’s going to post my time, Susan’s going to post my time.” ~Alan Fuller
  19. “Today is my day, this is my race!” ~Maria Arana
  20. “Keep your pace and relax.” I use a visualization of Mercury wings on my feet, which helped me qualify for Boston on my first marathon (NY) and come ahead of my dear running friends who were all much faster than me. It works! ~Mickie Berry
  21. I talk to my legs when I race. I tell them: You have got to be kidding me! Legs, you have trained and ran many miles, and NOW you want to give up?! Suck it up, buttercup, and kick ass! You’re going to get me through this race no matter what!” ~Carmen Mena
  22. “You can do anything.” Most of my life, I never believed I was capable of any of the things I’ve accomplished over the last few years. ~Ari Ziskin
  23. “I don’t know if it’s a mantra, but I think about my brother, a cancer survivor, and all the pain he endured during treatments and how his spirit NEVER faltered. I think to myself: If he can endure months of radiation and pain, than I can do this! If Greg can do that, then I can certainly do this!!” ~Kim Lambert
  24. “Focus on what doesn’t hurt: my eyelashes feel GREAT!” ~Cindy Rash
  25. The other things that helps keep my morale up is seeing friends and exchanging words with a fellow runner. When I look around, it sinks in that everyone around me is in just as much pain as me, and we’re all fighting through it together. ~John Meuser
  26. “The moment you’re ready to quit is usually the moment right before the miracle happens. Don’t give up!” ~Kristi Petrosky

I bet you’re wondering about that final stretch, those final 0.2 miles of marathon. What can you tell yourself to press through the pain and finish strong? Here are two of my favorite mantras, two powerful phrases that have carried me through many races.

26.1.  “If it stops hurting, you’re going to slow down. Don’t let the pain lessen!~Susan Loken
26.2.  “Champions don’t quit, they find a way. Be a champion today!~Susan Loken

Repeating mantras to yourself as you run is a great to tool to self-motivate and stay strong when the going gets tough. Which of these mantras resonate with you? I know that you have some GREAT mantras of your own!

What inspires you? Please share some of your most powerful running mantras in the comments below.

A BIG thank you to Team BTB for sharing their inspiring words of encouragement!

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Posted by: Susan Loken | May 28, 2014

Bittersweet Recap of Boston

Perhaps my expectations were too high.

I have had a successful running career. I’ve been granted so many experiences that many only dream of. I am so grateful for every race I’ve competed in and every friend I’ve made along the way. However, all of the highlights and wins have set a high standard that I can’t always live up to.

Since my return from Boston, I’ve been consumed with my BTB Runners, our BTB Santa Barbara Half group and patiently working with my injured ankle. Finally, I’m taking the time to sit down and write about my 2014 Boston Marathon experience.

If you want the one line summation, it was a magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you’re interested in all the juicy and exciting details, keep on reading!

At the Boston Marathon this year, my mind was ready but my body failed me. And this isn’t the first time. I usually bounce back from disappointments quickly, but this loss has taken some effort to overcome. I’m getting emotional just writing this because I wanted so badly to do my best. I wanted to live up to the high bar I’ve set for myself. I wanted to serve as living proof that when you believe in yourself, dreams come true!

Perhaps my disappointment has to do with the fact that I’ve run my last 3 marathons with injuries beyond my control. In the 2012 Olympic Trials, it was my hamstring. With the 2013 PF Chang’s Marathon, I hurt my calf a week before the race. Most recently, I hurt my ankle 3 weeks before the 2014 Boston Marathon. I did my best in each race, and that was all I could ask of myself.

Arrival and Preparation

The 2014 Boston Marathon was everything you could imagine and more! The city was filled with positive energy, smiling runners and kind Bostonians welcoming us to their beautiful city.

On the Saturday before the race, I held a BTB Team Lunch to discuss race day, take pictures and share our excitement. I was one proud coach as I watched Kelly LeCours, Cindy Scott, Carrie Weldy, Kaylee Barton, Cris Caccavale and Daradee Murray talk about how eager they were to run Boston and take part in this historical event.

Shortly before venturing to Boston, Team BTB began a beautiful relationship with Oiselle athletic wear. Not only would be performing a huge feat of physical endurance, but we would look fantastically cute while doing so!  Thank you Oiselle!!

Race Morning

It has been over 10 years since I started a marathon in the corrals, rather than up with the Elite and front runners. In that sense, Boston was very humbling reminder of my early running days.  I met Carrie Weldy at the buses so we could ride together and share the experience. Having endured many hard training sessions together in preparation for Boston, it made sense for us to ride together toward the start line.

The Athlete’s Village was full of excited runners, loud announcements and an incredible energy that you could feel with every cell of your body. As exciting as all the commotion was, it was a bit nerve wracking for me because I prefer to stay quiet and calm before a race. I also like to spend about 20-30 minutes warming up before a race, as it takes my body a little longer to go from zero to pace these days. However, with the extra security and limited area, there was no opportunity to warm-up. Instead, I used some self-talk and told my body and mind that it would warm-up during the first mile before going to race pace.

TIP: Having a pre-race routine will help calm your nerves and prepare you for a good race. However, on race day you must be flexible. If something doesn’t go as planned, don’t waste energy worrying about it. Instead, adjust accordingly and keep your mind in the moment and as positive as possible.

I began the race in Wave 1/Corral 3. We left the Athlete’s Village around 9am for a 10am start time. When I arrived at my Corral, I was thrilled to see Joel McCleary (Dr. J!), my old running partner and good friend. Sharing that special hour leading up to the race with Joel felt fitting, and very calming.

Participating in the 2014 Boston Marathon was the perfect opportunity for me to reflect back on my running journey. Over the years, I’ve built myself a village of supporters and overcome many challenging hurdles. I’ve experienced many successes and have gathered enough memories to last a lifetime. I’ve pushed myself and I’ve done my absolute best. Hopefully I have also inspired others to BELIEVE in themselves, TRAIN hard and BECOME all they can be!

Ready, Set, Go!

The race started and the track was pretty crowded. I tell my runner not to zigzag around the other runners at the start of the race. Instead, be patient and use this opportunity to keep your pace controlled so you can unleash your race pace when the crowds simmer down. My first few miles were slower than my planned pace due to the multitudes, but this was a good thing because it allowed my body to warm up at the start.

After about 4 miles, there was room to run my race with a comfortable effort. There was no doubt in my mind that I would run a sub 2:50 and be the new 50+ course record holder.

However, by mile 8 I knew that my ankle was going to be an issue. An overwhelming disappointment flooded my body as I weighed whether or not I should press on. I thought of dropping out to avoid further injuring myself, because you can’t run your best if you aren’t physically at your best. However, a small part of me thought maybe, just maybe, I could still pull off a sub 2:50 and break the course record. It took some serious self-talk, but I finally made the decision to push as hard as I could, take it one mile at a time and NEVER GIVE UP.

Finding a Way

When running Boston, my mind never felt fully in race mode. During this race, I was not racing against anyone else, but rather I was racing against the clock and against the record-holder. I’ve always enjoyed running alongside other women in order to feed off of their incredible energy and give myself the boost I need to press through. This race was different. The pain in my ankle distracted me, at times, from the joy and excitement of doing what I love. The last 10k is usually where I dig deep and finish strong, but for Boston I had to dig deep and simply hang on.

Despite the many challenges, that day was exceptional. The crowds lining the street were unbelievable and the cheering was impossible to ignore. Running down Boylston was absolutely electrifying.

Though my run was fueled by big dreams and passion, the marathon wasn’t about me. It is about the runners I coach, those who have traveled from around the world to compete, the enthusiastic spectators and the communities that have come together following last years tragedy. The Boston Marathon has come to symbolize the strength and support of a country, a community and a sport. It’s about keeping Boston Strong.

As I ran the best race I could, I thought about my runners and last years survivors. I ran to honor the hard work and perseverance of others.

Crossing the Finish Line

Considering that I thought about succumbing to the pain and dropping, completing the race in 2:55:03 and finishing 1st in my age group was great! The fact that I crossed the finish line at all is worth celebrating. This was not my original goal, but I’ll take it. My dream for the 2014 Boston Marathon was to break the Women’s Veterans (ages 50-59) course record, which is currently held by running legend and Olympic Gold Medalist, Joan Samuelson. I will back in Boston this time next year to achieve that goal!

Though I fell short of my goal, I consider myself lucky. Not only did I have the privilege to run in the Boston Marathon, but I also got to share the excitement of finishing the race with 6 amazing women that I coach. Each of them made me proud.

Bouncing Back After Boston

Upon my return from Boston, I had an MRI taken of my right ankle. There are a few things going on that will NOT be a quick fix. These include posterior tibialis tendinosis and a partial tear, as well as a medial talar dome osteochondral lesion that may be a lingering past injury. There is no quick and easy fix. To start, I’m getting orthotics to take some pressure off of my tendon and taking a little time off running.

Even with my ankle injury, I am able to walk, stand on my toes and run a little. However, my top priority is to be a forever runner. For this reason, I need to be gentle with my body and cautious with my training. My next goal is to discover my true potential as a 50 year old runner. I have already accomplished so much, but I know that there is so much more in store for me! These are my most important dreams and I am going to achieve both.

I have dealt with injuries in the past. In 2012, when my hamstring injury came back, I was told that my running days may be behind me. With faith, dedication and a lot of hard work, my hamstrings are doing great and now a non-issue.

I have learned that, as long as I’m diligent about my strength exercises and mindful of keeping an efficient running form, I can overcome the toughest obstacles and perform at my personal best.

Along with having a regular personal practice, I’ve found that teamwork and accountability also help me achieve my goals. I am currently a proud member of the Sonoran Distance Project–a running team composed of US Olympic hopeful distance runners, led by coach John Reich (who coached me for the 2008 trials). You had better believe that I am giving 200% to get back into prime condition and make this team proud!

Reflecting Back and Looking Ahead

I can’t tie up the post with a nice little bow and say that I’m proud of myself for sucking it up and giving the race my all. To say so would be a lie.

I finished with an overwhelming disappointment. I had hoped to discover my true potential as a 50 year old. I wanted to prove to myself that I still have it in me, and that I am still a fighter. My performance this time around was far from what I’m capable of, even at my age and 10 years into my running career.

You may be asking why I don’t just hang up my running shoes and accept that my body is done. Sometimes I can’t help but ask myself the same question. Is my body telling me to slow down? Should I stop running altogether? Why am I passionate about discovering my running potential during this decade?

I know in my heart that I can dig deeper and achieve more. I have the drive. I have the talent. I have the self-belief. I can succeed, and I will. Running and discovering my potential during this decade makes me feel alive and happy. As long as my heart and soul have the passion (and they do!) I absolutely refuse to give up.

I may be 50, but I know that there is a fire deep inside of me that can’t be stomped out or ignored. I’ve thought long and hard about giving up long-distance running and taking up a new hobby. Maybe I could compete in triathlons or venture into ElliptiGO challenges…

Yet, somewhere deep in my soul, there is a voice that speaks to me. When doubts arises, a small voice whispers, “Don’t give up.” As the challenge intensifies, the cry builds to a roar, screaming, “Keep going! The best is yet to come!”

The best is yet to come. I know in my heart that this is true.

I think this is why so many people, regardless of age or pace, are so passionate about running. The sport offers a sense of true self-satisfaction because, when you finish a race, you know that you trained hard and ran your best race. Running helps people discover their full potential, then continually expands their limits to help them achieve even more. Doing your absolute best is one of the greatest feelings in the world.

Then, on top of that, there is the feeling deep in your soul that keeps you coming back for more, year after year. When you finish a race and you KNOW there is more potential within you, waiting to be awakened. This is what gives us the drive and the motivation to keep training hard, day after day. Once we taste victory, we can’t help but strive for more!

Post-Race Recovery: Workout Schedule

This has been my schedule for the last five weeks to stay in shape, challenging myself but also being gentle with my body. I’m hoping this will allow me to return to running sooner than later.

Weekly Recovery Workout Schedule:

MONDAY: 1 hour strength training + 1 hour spin class

TUESDAY: 60-90 minute Steady State ElliptiGo Ride

WEDNESDAY: 1 hour strength training + 1 hour spin class

THURSDAY: 45-90 minute aerobic ElliptiGo Ride

FRIDAY: 30 minute elliptical + 1 hour strength train

SATURDAY: 40-60 minute easy ElliptiGo Ride during BTB group long run

SUNDAY: 60-120 minute Endurance ElliptiGo Ride

The Silver Lining

This post has taken me some time to write. I was truly hoping to share some good news and positivity. I wish I could say that my ankle is healed and I’m training as hard as ever, but the truth is,  I’ve been injured and doing what I can. It’s been necessary for me to take some time off running, care for my body and then I will start over.

The runner in me–the true warrior–is willing to do whatever it takes to live with passion every day and achieve ultimate success. I have faith, I have the patience and determination to uncover the fullest potential in this 50 year young body.

My performance in Boston was bittersweet, but I am proud because I worked hard and I persevered. Looking ahead, I am excited because I truly believe that the best is yet to come!

Keep on Running, Keep on Believing & Find a Way,

Susan Loken

 

 

 

Posted by: Susan Loken | May 5, 2014

How I Prepared for the 2014 Boston Marathon

I always tell my runners to begin with a goal and work backwards.

My goal for the 2014 Boston Marathon was to break the Women’s Veterans (ages 50-59) course record, which is currently held by running legend and Olympic Gold Medalist, Joan Samuelson.

TIP: Goals are a MUST. Set a challenging, yet achievable goal.

I set my goal, but knew that I also needed support. It’s true what they say: It takes a village to raise a child or, in my case, run a strong race. In the 2008 Olympic Trials, I worked with the brilliant running coach Jeff Messer and ran a 2:42! With another big goal before me, I asked my trustworthy and respectable coach to train me for Boston.

In order to achieve any marathon goal, you must stay healthy and injury-free. With age, the importance of PRE-HAB has drastically increased. Two important neighbors in my “village” are Nicole Armbrust (Bio Mechanical Specialist & Physical Therapist) at JS Running and Watus Cooper (Strength Coach) at No Excuses Training.

I began working with my physical therapist, Nicole, after the 2012 USA Olympic Trials. I ran the Trials with hamstrings that were almost completely pulled from the bone and I feared that might never run fast again. Nicole worked tirelessly to strengthen my biomechanical weaknesses. She took time to understand  the injury and prescribe the best strength exercises for my issue, and now my hamstrings are a non-issue, as long as I continue my exercises. By focusing energy on improvement, my weaknesses have become my strengths.

My strength coach, Watus Cooper, keeps my aging body strong and agile. With his expertise and guidance, I am able to keep my 50-year-young body in top shape to run every mile and achieve every goal.

When you find something that works for your body, you make it a habit. I have been visiting Dr. Michael Akerson at his Sports and Family Care Clinic since I began running 15 years ago. He has been there assisting me through every injury, answering all of my questions and celebrating my accomplishments.

TIP: Build your Village of Support. Pre-Hab is so much better than Re-Hab!

If you’re not sure where to begin, ask for referrals. Talk to friends, family and fellow runners and join existing networks of support. If you find a doctor or coach who is 100% supportive of your goals and dreams, keep them close!

Once you’ve found your team, it’s time to begin training. Wondering what it takes to run the Boston Marathon?

Here’s an overview of my regimen:

  • Average Weekly Miles: 65-75
  • Strength Training: Twice per week
  • Biomechanic Check: Once per week (Nicole and I call it my weekly “pit stop”)
  • Physical exam and blood panel: At least once per year (I recently completed a full blood panel with shocking results, which I’ll share soon.)
  • Allergy Testing: Once, with possible follow-up (Following my test, I have eliminated several foods from my diet and feel better than ever!)

TIP: Have a PLAN. Care for you body and take steps to enhance your physical and mental well-being.

Along with my team of supporters and healthy lifestyle, I also believe that it’s important to run training races. This will get you into the proper mindset, offer long-distance competitive running practice and help you estimate your full marathon time.

My Training Races leading up to Boston:

  • 2013 November 3rd, won the Women’s Half Marathon in 1:22:07
  • 2014 January 19th, placed 7th overall at the PF Chang’s Half Marathon in 1:22:36
  • 2014 March 1st, placed 4th overall at the Phoenix Half Marathon in 1:22:36

Fun fact: Based on a pattern from my past race results, I can calculate my full marathon time by doubling my half marathon time and then adding 3-4 minutes. According this formula, a realistic marathon goal for me would be 2:48-2:49. This was PERFECT for my goal of sub-2:50!

TIP: Training Races are extremely important for tracking progress and for helping you set a realistic marathon goal.

Life is full of beauty and success, but the victories are also sprinkled with challenges. The key is to view the challenging circumstances as opportunities to learn and grow.

Challenges leading up to the race:

  • In early April, I tweaked my right ankle and caused a some damage while doing a single leg balance exercise.
  • On April 6th, I was enjoying a beautiful day boating with my family and friends when we hit a big wave. The impact tossed me into the air and dropped me back down, causing terrible tailbone and rib pain.
  • Due to these injuries, I had to cut back on training and instead receive treatment for my foot and tailbone. Perhaps most importantly, I had to find a way to stay positive and avoid stress in those weeks leading up to the marathon.

Life is full of challenges, but they can help us if we view them as lessons rather than disasters. My lessons were to stick to balancing exercises on the floor (not the Bosu Ball) and to stay off boats in the weeks leading up to a BIG marathon. The most important lesson of all was to work from where I am and always do my best!

TIP: Behind every great marathon is a story of the ups and downs during training. When you step on that starting line you have to believe in yourself, believe in your training, not make excuses, keep your thoughts positive and make yourself a promise that you will BE YOUR VERY BEST & NEVER GIVE UP!

Keep on Believing,
SL

PS…Race Day Recap Next!!

Posted by: Susan Loken | April 20, 2014

Why Am I Running the 2014 Boston Marathon?

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The Boston Marathon has always held a special place in my heart. In 2000, I ran my first and only Boston Marathon. I was new to running and didn’t know much about the sport. However, I did know that qualifying for the most prestigious marathon in the world was a huge accomplishment. When I told friends and family that I was training for Boston, they were deeply inspired. When I qualified and ran the Boston Marathon, I felt like a world class runner!

Boston is a difficult and demanding goal that requires disciplined training and constant motivation. The challenge is certainly not a task for the faint of heart, and the race marks a pinnacle for most runners. It is an achievement that truly makes you feel like you can do anything! I believe that the Boston Marathon should be renamed “The Marathon of Dreams Come True,” or perhaps “The Marathon that Will Change Your Life Forever.” For me, it was both.

When I crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon 14 years ago, I knew that my life would never be the same. I know that I am not the first person to experience this. Millions of other runners have crossed the finish line and crossed a huge item off their bucket list. The hard work, dedication and passion always pays off. Succeeding at such an incredible goal tends to inspire runners to dream bigger and aim higher.

In many regards, The race is about hard work and earning recognition for your efforts. There’s a quote by Chris Kearns, Boston qualifier, that rings true.

“You can’t win. But, that same internal fire that leads us to do a marathon in the first place glows brighter when we meet a goal beyond just finishing. Qualifying for Boston has become that universal goal—it’s not just finishing, but finishing above a serious, and seriously hard, standard that’s there for all to see.”

Completing that Boston Marathon over a decade ago transformed running from a hobby into my true passion. The race helped me believe in myself and believe that, just maybe, I could become a world class runner too. I pursued distance running with all of my heart and I started to see the running community as my family. I’ve come to realize that there is a running community in every town, made up of like-minded people. The members often come from different backgrounds and have little in common, yet all inevitably share a passion for running, healthy lifestyle choices and the satisfaction of accomplishing big goals.

When you go running with someone, the small talk generally ends pretty quickly. Runners connect on a deep level. When everyone is pushing their personal limit, it’s easy to be real and raw with one another. Like any community, we understand that each member is striving to do their best and become a champion, whatever that may mean to them. No matter their speed or endurance, every runner expends the same passion, energy and excitement when calling upon their inner hero. Though our specific goals vary, we all aim to outperform the runner we were just yesterday. We are all aiming to be better, on the track and off.

Eight years after running the Boston Marathon, I ran the 2008 Olympic Trials in Boston. The Trials were held the day before the Boston Marathon, so I had the pleasure of experiencing the track, the city and the energy once again. The Olympic Trials were held on a four-loop course that crossed the Boston Finish Line with each loop, concluding at the same location where Boston Marathoners would raise their arms in victory the next day.

I felt the charm of the city wash over me with every mile I ran. The cheering spectators gave me chills that lasted the entire race and intensified every time I crossed the Boston Finish Line. The city is alive with a sense of magic and incredible energy that is utterly contagious!

The same year I ran the Olympic Trials in Boston, I coached seven friends to qualify for the Boston Marathon. The day after running my electrifying Olympic Trials race, I experienced the thrill of being a spectator at one of the world’s biggest marathons. Sharing my friends’ journey and watching their dreams come true was priceless!

Hearing about the Boston Marathon Bombing last April sent chills down my spine. I was in complete shock. Who would do something so terrible? How could someone attack such a tight-knit community, as well as the friends and family that support us?

To me, as a runner, it felt like a personal attack. It was an attack on my running family, their loved ones, their supporters and fans. I didn’t understand how someone could viciously harm others at the very line where Dreams Come True and Lives are Changed Forever. I still don’t understand.

This was personal for me; this was personal for all runners. Shortly after hearing the news, I decided that I must run the 2014 Boston Marathon. From across the country, I watched the strength of the Boston community and witnessed runners from all over the world gather to show their support for Boston and its victims. Though the bombing was a terrible tragedy, the aftermath served as a beautiful reminder of the strength and camaraderie that running offers. I have never been more proud to be a runner.

We are dreamers, fighters and champions. We fall, endure pain and get back up again. We support one another, cheer each other on and, most importantly, we never give up! We are runners and we understand the power of uniting around a shared cause. Boston is still “The Marathon of Dreams Come True” and “The Marathon that Will Change Your Life Forever,” and we still own this race.

From this year forward, Boston will hold another title: “Boston Strong!” These two simple words remind us that running is about community, that strength is not only physical and that nothing can stand in the way of our biggest dreams.

The tragic bombing offered many runners the motivation they need to keep moving forward and embrace their running community. Within hours of the news being released, several runners I was coaching called to say, “I am going to run Boston next year!” I am proud to be in Boston with six BTB (believe-train-become) runners: Carrie Weldy, Dardee Murray, Kaylee Barton, Cris Caccavale and Cindy Scott. We are also joined by one runner that I coach from the Boston area, Kelly LeCours. Along with my team, there are many, many others from Arizona running this marathon. Our beautiful state will be there in full force showing our support for Boston and runners everywhere!

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As a coach, there is nothing better than seeing someone you’ve worked with achieve their dream of running Boston. The race is a true badge of honor. This year holds extra meaning and significance. The race is not a high-competition solo sport this year, but a team sport with thousands of players all dreaming the same dream. We are all here to promote unity and to celebrate triumph!

The Boston Marathon will always be a prestigious race and a token to be worn with pride. However, the event now also represents the joining of hands and hearts. We are all here to do what we love, to the best of our ability. We are here to support one another–to laugh and cry and understand. We are here to show the world that we are not afraid.

There will be 36,000 Boston Strong runners this year. Each of us will show up with our own personal goals–some are here to win, others aim to run a person best and some (like me) are determined to break an age group course record. Every single person running has a different goal, but we all share one intention. We have all showed up here to run BOSTON STRONG!

Keep Believing, Keep Running & Find a Way,

SL

Posted by: Susan Loken | August 21, 2013

A 50th Birthday For the Record Books

Motivated by Passion

Thinking about the rapid approach of my 50th birthday scared me. I didn’t want to feel old and watch my athletic abilities slip away. However, I soon forced myself to snap out of my funk. I decided that I was going to tackle my fifth decade with more fervor and passion than ever before. I was going to WIN a marathon ON my 50th Birthday!

I found two marathons on July 28, 2013–my big day. My options were the Nova Scotia Marathon and the Madison Marathon. I wanted to push my limits and prove to myself that age is just a number. I signed up for the highest road marathon in America (and possibly the world!) and began preparing for my run through the hilly dirt roads of Ennis, Montana. With its high elevations (8,550-9,578 feet) and spectacular views along Gravelly Range of Southwestern Montana, I KNEW this was my race.

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Find Your Happy Pace.

My heart was filled with passion and energy as I read about the challenges and began believing that I was going to WIN. As I looked over the winning times, a competitive drive coursed through my body. Victory seemed very possible. I had never run a hilly track at such a high altitude, but I was up for the challenge and excited to train for such an incredible new feat.

Along with the geographic challenges, I also read about the grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, wolves, bald eagles, deer, mountain goats, and dozens of other wild animals, all of which had offered some added excitement in past years. On top of wild creatures, runners were also warned by the US Forest Service to watch out for the Great Pyrenees Sheep Dogs that might show up and begin chasing us. If that happened, we were told to STOP, let them sniff us, and then tell them “Go to the sheep!” My mind was made up. I had to go.

Find a goal that brings you to life and excites you from the inside out. Once you’ve set your heart on a personal challenge, pursue it with all that you are!

My marathon training didn’t go exactly as planned. My hamstring acted up from time to time, I came down with pneumonia, and life continued to throw small daily obstacles in my way. I overcame them all, cross-training when I couldn’t run and resting when I was sick. I kept my hopes high and my eyes on the prize.

There are a dozen ways to move from Point A to Point B, so don’t despair if your original plan doesn’t fall into place. Just move forward and OWN your challenges, because they are stepping stones toward your future success.  

Focused Energy

A few years ago, I sat on the panel of experts at the PF Chang’s Marathon. There, I explained to the audience the importance of setting three goals–a dream goal, a realistic goal, and a suck it up and finish goal–so that they will be prepared for anything. The premise is to train and race for your realistic goal, but to be prepared to exceed your own expectations and also respect the marathon for what it is: a grueling endurance event.

Since I always request 3 goals from the runners I coach before a “key” race, I decided to share my own goals with them in my weekly newsletter.

  1. Dream Goal: Break the women’s course record of 3:53:33 as the first female finisher! (This was a very lofty goal, but I BELIEVE that dreams come true!)
  2. Realistic Goal: Measure my success by effort, not time, and finish feeling strong, healthy, happy, and blessed to have run 26.2 beautiful miles in such a heavenly place on my 50th birthday. (Since I had no prior experience running 26.2 hilly miles at high altitude alongside wild animals, finishing strong sounded like an awesome and realistic goal to me!)
  3. Suck It Up and Finish Goal: Need I say more? Run, walk, or crawl, I will finish this marathon and enjoy the journey! (Regardless of where I place, I will gain “hilly marathon at altitude” experience and be able to apply what I learn to my coaching. It’s a win-win!)

On our way to the airport, my husband and I spotted a few of my runners standing on the street corner with inspiring birthday and encouragement signs! The support made my day and brought me to tears. I felt so loved and humbled in that moment. I love coaching and I love watching these runners believe in themselves and succeed. After seeing them, I was even more determined to win this marathon, not only for myself, but to inspire others to chase their wildest dreams.

When my husband and I arrived in Bozeman, Montana, we were picked up and driven to an adorable world-class fishing town, Ennis. We stayed at the charming family-owned Rainbow Valley Lodge, a lodge with a wonderfully memorable western atmosphere. Our good friends, Joann and David, joined us and I was so happy that simply couldn’t stop smiling. We enjoyed a lovely outdoor dining experience behind the lodge with a Chef straight from the TV reality show, Top Chef. The vibe was just right and I knew my 50th birthday weekend would be one for the records.

Whatever your passion is, whether running a race or running a lodge in Montana, focus your energy into that passionate pursuit. Your focused and joyful efforts will help you build a meaningful life and inspire those around you. Whatever your passion: find it, chase it, live it, breathe it, and radiate that positive energy.  

On Saturday, we went to “packet pick-up” in a local park and had the pleasure of meeting Sam, the charming race director, as well as a very diverse crowd of runners from all over the  country. There was a group from the 50 States Marathon Club and runners from the Marathon Maniacs club. Everyone was bubbling with enthusiasm and passion. I learned why people ran, I picked up tips from other runners, and I met a man who was running his 268th marathon! I was fully inspired before I even had a chance to lace up my sneakers.

getting tips at packet pick-up from last years marathoner

Picking up some tips at the Madison Marathon Packet Pick-Up

My Birthday Race

The morning of 50th birthday, I did not wake up and sulk about getting old. Instead, I watched the sunrise with my husband and best friends as we drove up up to 9,500 feet elevation on a narrow mountain road. When we reached the top, we took a bus with the other runners from the finish to the start line. I would be running the full marathon, my husband and best friend would be running the half, and David would be our ever-so-important support team.

All runners (half and full) start the race at the same place, at the same time. For the half marathon, runners follow a straight 13.1 mile path from the Black Butte Mountain to Clover Meadows, ending there. The full marathons then continue past Clover Meadows, running 6.5 miles out and then running back 6.5 to meet the half-marathoners back at Clover Meadows. I LOVED this because I always break up the marathon into smaller segments anyways! That way, I don’t have to think of it as a full 26.2 miles. Yikes!

Break your marathons into smaller, more manageable segments. If you stand at the start line and think about all 26.2 miles, you WILL get overwhelmed. Plan in advance how you will run each segment, and focus only on the segment at hand as you go.

When the bus dropped us off, everyone hit the bushes to pee. There are no porta potties in the middle of nowhere. It was hysterical, and I wish I’d taken pictures. After a few pre-race pictures, I parted ways with my husband and Joann. I had my game face on and needed to focus.

As I stood at the starting line, I chatted with a very fit looking runner who had done a few training runs on the course. There I was, a veteran marathon runner, asking this woman whether she would be running or walking up the first steep hill! I wasn’t sure how to attack the race, so my plan was to give it my best effort and pay attention to how my body responded to the altitude and pace. Sam, our wonderful race director, stood in the bed of his pickup truck, said a few words, and sent us on our way. 3-2-1-GO!

Race Start Madison Marathon

Getting ready to start running.

Segment One

I divided the race into three segments. Segment one was the first half of the race, from mile 1 to 13.1. The marathon began with a steep uphill climb at an elevation of 9,190 feet. Within minutes, I was panting like a fat dog, and I’m sure that even if I had walked up that hill, my breathing would have still been labored. When we reached the top, we were running straight towards Black Butte Mountain (elevation 10,546), with its the peaks and ridges dominating the skyline.

The female that was running alongside me seemed to be breathing just as hard. I slowed and let her pass. My pace was 9:07, but it felt more taxing than my normal marathon pace. I knew that I had to get my breathing under control. Thankfully, Mile 2 was slightly downhill, so I was able to catch my breath and turnover on my legs. Though I wasn’t racing that early in the race, my marathon pace effort allowed me to pass the only female in front of me.

By the time I reached the next steep hill, I felt in control. I was running at marathon effort with controlled breathing. By Mile 3, I had found my groove. My breaths were measured, I felt calm, and I had hit my perfect stride.

Next, we hit a long uphill portion to Monument Ridge. Expending a lot of energy on steep hills can be detrimental to you race, so it is important to run smart. Knowing this, I focused on driving my arms to quicken my tempo. If you increase the turnover rate of the arms, the turnover rate of the legs will naturally follow, in turn shortening your uphill stride.

When running uphill, relax and focus on strong arm drive with high cadence. The arm drive will help to propel your body forward; the quicker cadence will speed up your stride.

By Mile 4, I was focused and feeling great. The steep and daunting climb wasn’t an issue anymore because I was running by effort. It didn’t hurt to see the breathtaking Monument Ridge (the highest point in the course, at 9.600 ft)–it felt like running in heaven. Well, heaven with a lot of hills.

Soon, a young male half-marathoner began running with me and offering tips for running uphill. He had participated last year, running too fast and exhausting himself by the end of the marathon. I was grateful for his insights and camaraderie, but when the pace started getting too easy I had to say goodbye and press on. By this time, I was feeling marvelous and reflective. I felt so fortunate to be running in a stunning natural landscape.

Every once in awhile, I would think to myself: This is my 50th Birthday, and look what I get to do! I had a ridiculous case of runner’s high for the remainder of the the segment. My body, mind, and soul were in sync and every step felt effortless and invigorating. I felt on top of the world, both literally and figuratively.

The woman who ended up placing first in the half-marathon passed me around Mile 6. My initial reaction was to run with her, and I did for a little while, but I had to remind myself that she was stopping at 13.1 and I was not. By the time I reached the half marathon finish line, there was still a pep in my step and a song in my heart. I felt amazing, I was having tons of fun, and I knew that I still had a great chance of winning!

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Monument Ridge. Elevation 9,587.

Segment Two

The first 13 miles were challenging and involved several of uphill segments, but I felt great. I knew that I had to stick to my effort-based plan and focus on the next 6.55 miles. I mentally prepared for the long uphill stretch of the upcoming segment, because I thought the reward would be a final 6.55 miles of primarily downhill running.

The song in my heart began to taper off around Mile 15. The long uphill sections were feeling harder, but I realized that I was still maintaining the same pace as the first half. I knew that I had to dig deeper. I knew that I needed to focus on my DREAM goal. I wasn’t sure how close the next female runner was behind me, and at that point I didn’t care. I started doing the math in my head and decided that I was going to WIN the race and break the course record. It was time to put my game face on.

There is a time for singing in your head, reflecting on this amazing life, and expressing gratitude for an incredible body and an incredible challenge. This was not it. I was a runner on a mission, and I was going for gold, baby! Like I tell my runners: Plan for your realistic goals, but if everything else lines up perfectly, go for the Dream!

During this segment, I focused on my running form, my breathing, and my pace. Nothing was going to stop me! As I neared the turnaround point, several men approach and ran past me as they headed back towards the finish line. I passed the early-start runners that needed extra time and I offered them my encouragement and support. I could tell by the looks on their faces that they were working hard, and it felt great to cheer them on and make them smile.

At the top of a really steep hill, I ran into  the male winner from last year as he was on his way back down. He told me that the hardest part was yet to come. Really? Dang! I was expecting it to get easier once we turned around. I was initially discouraged, but the new knowledge allowed me to reframe the situation in my mind. Knowing that the next segment would be harder, I mentally prepared myself. The mind usually gives up before the body wears out, so it’s important to train your brain as much as you train your body. 90% of doing anything is simply believing you can.

Succeeding at a marathon involves just as much mental preparation as physical. It’s important to train your brain to keep your body moving when it’s begging you to slow down. You must train your brain to stay positive and steer away from negative thoughts. Thoughts and self-beliefs can often mean the difference between reaching your goals and missing the target.

There was a steep downhill to the turnaround checkpoint, so I grabbed a cup of water, thanked the volunteers as they wrote down my bib number, and then I set off on the final leg of the race.

Segment 3

As I turned around and face the last stretch of the marathon, I smiled, knowing that I had just one segment left. Only 6.55 miles to go. I was hoping that the final stretch would be easy, but I was immediately faced with a long, steep hill. In response to the challenge, I gave myself permission to walk uphill with purpose, but only if I swore to push extra hard on the downhill. I had NEVER walked during a marathon and as I walked up this enormous hill, it felt like I was giving up. My energy began to shift in a negative direction, so I started running again.

When I reached the top of that first steep hill after the turnaround point, I turned it up a notch. I passed other runners, walkers, and shufflers as they approached the turning point and we offered each other positive energy and word of encouragement. The woman that I had asked questions about the course was on her way to the turnaround point and yelled to me, “I knew you were in this to win it!” That made me chuckle. Was it that obvious? I hadn’t mentioned it to anyone that I wanted to win a marathon my my 50th birthday…except everyone in the state of AZ.

running towards the finish

Running to the song in my head.

I’m not sure what I looked like, but it felt like I was running fast. As I was running, I kept thinking that the easy parts were coming up, and then, out of nowhere, another hill would appear! I swear it felt like the race was all uphill going to the turnaround point and all uphill returning. Just when I needed an extra kick, I saw David on the side of the road at one of the aid stations. He handed me a water bottle and yelled motivating words, like “You’re in first place!” I threw him two big thumbs up and savored the extra motivation. That is, until I reached the next monster hill. Monster may be a slight exaggeration but, by that point, all of those hills felt like mountain–mountains upon mountains, even.

I stared up at the hill and began to calculate how fast I would need to run downhill if I walked up the hill. I hate walking, but since I had already done it once, my body remembered how good it felt. I forced myself to dig deep and say to myself, “Don’t let the pain lessen.” Once you get comfortable, it’s mentally harder to get back into “uncomfortable” mode, and walking was definitely more comfortable that running! It’s kind of like a potato chip, where once you have one you can’t help yourself but eat just one more, and another, and another. Walking was my bag of potato chips. Once I walked a bit up that last hill, I wanted to do it again. But I didn’t let myself. I had a course record to break!

Finally, I got back into my “Controlled Hard Zone” and BOOM, the song in my head began playing again. I was in the home stretch and back on top of the world. I was in first place and on track to set a course record on my 50th Birthday.

I kept running faster and faster. Well, that was until a herd of wild cows completely covered the road in front of me. I was NOT going to walk and I didn’t want to risk be trampled by cows. I yelled out, “I am safe,” and all of the sudden, a voice from behind me screamed “YA YA!” (I think it was David on his bike) and the cows stampeded off. Thankfully, I didn’t have to run between the cattle. Phew!

This must be the wildlife I was promised!

The last couple of miles were awesome! There was a song in my heart, a bounce in my step, and the amazing–almost magical– sense of “flow” that comes with challenging yourself to put a full effort toward accomplishing your goal. It’s a feeling we can all tap into. You don’t have to win a marathon to feel it; you just have to win YOUR personal race.

My final mile was my fastest, at a 6:58 pace. I let myself go for it! My breathing was labored, my legs were turning, and my lungs were burning, but I also felt incredibly alive, confident in myself, and excited to start my next decade with such a bang!

As I ran that final 400 meters, I could see my husband and best friend yelling and cheering, their faces lit up by smiles as big as the mountain. Conquering 26.2 miles in hilly altitude and winning with a course record was incredible, but nothing could beat seeing the joy on my loved ones’ faces. We all knew that my win could inspire other women, of all ages and backgrounds, to reach for their goals and do more than they ever dreamt possible. That was PRICELESS!

award

A reminder that this next decade is the new beginning of something even greater!

I’ve won other marathons and even participated in a few Olympic Trials, but this experience was especially significant to me. I view my crossing the finish line and winning the race as a symbol that tomorrow will be better than today. If you get started today, tomorrow you will be able to achieve great things, no matter your age!

A few months ago, I was terrified of getting older. I had to learn to accept the changes that come with aging and reframe my expectations. In order to get of out of my nasty funk, I had to run my heart out and prove to myself that I still could. Winning the marathon was a wonderful experience, but my most important takeaway was choosing to embrace my age and do all the I can to inspire by example.

You can live life to the fullest at any age, so never let age, old habits, or other obstacles block off the path towards your big goals. Detours are a part of life.

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, because one day you’ll look ahead and see your biggest fans cheering at the finish line with the biggest smiles you’ve ever seen. “You did it!,” they’ll shout, “You did it!” And you’ll smile because you know that they’re right. You did it!

Madison Marathon

Celebrating an incredible day with my loved ones and new friends!

Posted by: Susan Loken | August 3, 2013

How I Transformed Fear of 50 into Motivation to Win

Madison Marathon

As my 50th birthday began its rapid approach, I started to panic. The milestone offered me the perfect opportunity to look at my past, present and future, and acknowledge how far I have come. In spite of all the goodness in my life and all my incredible achievements, I couldn’t help wondering whether my best running days were behind me.

I spent most of my 20’s balancing motherhood and my corporate career. I became a mother for the first time at age 22, and then again at age 28, both times to a beautiful little boy. I then spent my days climbing the corporate ladder at Nordstrom, and then Easy Spirit Shoes, continually striving for advancement and working to earn top sales.

By my late-20’s, the demands of my job made it difficult to be both successful at work and the best mother I could be, so I choose to stay at home with my children. We moved to Phoenix, where I gave birth to my third son. I spent the wonderful decade of my 30’s focused on raising my children. In my late-30’s, eager for a little “me” time, I took up running.

I quickly developed a passion for the sport and dedicated my 40’s to testing my limits and developing my skills. I could easily balance running around my role as a mom (I ran before they woke up!) and I continually challenged myself to improve. Striving toward advancement paid off. Along with feeling great, I earned the honor of competing in three Olympic Trials (at age 40, 44, and 48), won the USA Masters Marathon Championship four times, and took first place in several other marathons. This was also the decade in which I discovered that your purpose is directly related to your passion.

I knew that my passion was running and I realized that my purpose was to inspire other women to improve their lives through running. The everyday progress I saw on the track and in the mirror gave me more confidence and helped me to believe in myself and believe in the power of my dreams. Realizing that I could do absolutely anything was an amazing feeling and I wanted to share that message and empower other women through my example (If a mom in her 40’s can do it, so can you!) I became a marathon fundraising coach and began my own coaching business, BTB (Believe Train Become) so I could share my knowledge, spread my passion, and explore my calling.

So, why was the thought of turning 50 freaking me out? How could a silly number make this overly confident woman feel so insecure? I think panic crept in because I have always believed the notion that “tomorrow will be better than today.” Regardless of my age and role, I have continually strived to live life to the fullest by becoming better–advancing at my job, being more involved with my kids, and improving as a runner. Looking back on my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, I now realize that in order to offer your best self to others, you must first be the best and truest version of you.

 Science tells us that our physical health declines with age, and turning “50” looked like the start of my final race. I could just imagine the walker and knitting supplies at the finish line. While I have the experience, knowledge, and passion to help others through coaching, I still want to inspire others through my example.

To pull myself out of this “OMG, I’m turning 50 and my life is over!” funk, I decided to set a new goal. I was going to WIN a marathon ON my 50th birthday. Luck had it that my 50th fell on a Sunday–there had to be a marathon somewhere in the country, right? Well, I found one. The Madison Marathon takes place in Ennis, Montana and is the highest road marathon in America, topping out at 9,587 feet and following the spectacular ridgeline of the Gravelly Range in Southwestern Montana.

So what if my skin is becoming a little wrinkled? So what if it takes me longer to recover? So what if that extra serving of brownies that used to give me power now goes straight to my ass? So what of science says that you slow down as you age and can’t be as active in your 50’s? SO WHAT?! I want to practice what I preach by living life to the fullest, achieving big goals, and setting a positive example for other women.

Coaching runners and watching them succeed brings me true joy. Thus, I’ve been thinking about how I can expand my influence and help even more women discover the life-changing power of running. Alongside sprinting my heart out and reaching for new records, I will be building an inspirational running blog for women. I’ll be teaming up with my editor, Erin McNaughton (an amazing writer and my best friend’s niece), to share helpful information, motivational real-life stories, and the inspiration you need to live life to its fullest, regardless of your age!

Posted by: Susan Loken | October 17, 2012

Back to Blogging!!

Last time I wrote was in January after the 2012 USA Olympic Marathon Trials.

Quick update…

January: Finished the 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon, stopped running and started working with Nicole Armbrust at Spooner PT to fix my hamstring injury.

February: Still not running, going to PT 2 x per week, strength training and riding the ElliptiGo. Launched my new business and passion…BTB Coaching (www.believetrainbecome.com)

March: Still not running, still working with the amazing Nicole Armbrust and Michael Akerson to fix my hamstring, have 20 BTB clients and loving the new challenge of helping runners BECOME their dream!

April: Still not running, started YOGA (every runner needs to do yoga!) still going to PT 2 x per week, riding the ElliptiGO and strength training. Recruited 30 members for Team Chances New York City!! I’m now coaching  Team BTB and Team Chances NYC!!

May: Got the green light to SLOWLY ease back into running!! Coaching is a blessing each day! I get to share the running journey with amazing, amazing people each day!! Now that I can run a little…I truly understand and BELIEVE that running is a GIFT no matter what pace you’re running! RUNNING IS A GIFT!! I will enjoy every mile of every day!!

June: Coaching, PT, Strength training, Yoga, Running & lot’s of Lacrosse (my son’s on a lacrosse travel team) trips this month.

July: Coaching, PT, Strength training, Yoga, Running, Family Vacation and one year older (49!!)

August: I was asked to be the Lululemon Run Ambassador!!! WHAT AN HONOR!! Lululemon running clothes are the BEST EVER!!! Ran two half marathons this month. Lululemon Half in Vancouver BC in 1:26 (4th overall) and AFC Half in San Diego (1:26) 3rd Master!! Yes, Yes, Yes, I am thrilled with running a 1:26 and most of all, I am blessed that running is now pain free and I feel GREAT!! Note to self…continue PT, Strength training and yoga…DO NOT JUST RUN!!!

September: Added speed/tempo to my running!! LOVE the challenge!! I feel alive and happy when each day I’m trying to improve. My goals are different and my miles are “less” than before, but I feel balanced, happy and full of purpose!! TEAM BTB and TC NYC are all better, fitter and stronger today than they were yesterday!! I feel like a PROUD MOM!! It’s funny, when they hurt, I hurt, when they are HAPPY, I’m happy (just how I feel about my boys!)!! LOVE MY RUNNERS!!!

October: Ran the “Girlfriends” half marathon in Vancouver Wash in 1:22!!! Yes, it felt good to run strong and feel healthy again!! My GIRLFRIEND, Amy O’hara sponsored this race. I ran to support her and her awesome shoe store (see shirt logo)!! Team BTB members have been rocking at races and TC NYC are in taper mode!!

My Goals: #1 Coaching  #2 Find a level of running that challenges me, yet allows me to stay injury free AND be the best coach possible. #3 I signed up for the 2013 PF Chang’s Marathon #4 Signing up for the 2013 AZ Ironman

Feeling happy at the finish of the Girlfriends Half Marathon in Vancouver Wash!

Posted by: Susan Loken | January 20, 2012

2012 USA Olympic Marathon Trials

Gosh, where do I begin?

I just completed my third — and best — USA Olympic Marathon Trials! Not the best because I ran so fast and placed well against the fastest women in the USA, but the “best” because I earned a spot to participate in the OLYMPIC TRIALS. And despite lack of training due to injury, I completely and utterly absorbed and enjoyed every single “moment” before, during and after the race! So here is my Olympic Trials journey!!

 
2004 – St. Louis, MO. At the age of 40 I had two boys in grade school and one in high school. I was beginning my competitive running journey and I was consistently achieving new personal records. It was a thrilling, exciting and motivating time for me! I went into the Trials feeling a little intimidated running with all these amazing women that I had only read about in Runners World. I knew it was special running in the Olympic Trials, but since I was new to everything – I hadn’t ran in college and never dreamed of being a Olympian — I truly didn’t understand the dedication and commitment these women had made to get here. I ran a very respectable race and placed 31st with a time of 2:44:23. I also began making new friends in group of incredible athletes.

2004 USA Olympic Marathon Trials

2008 – Boston, MA. Now 44, I have been running as an Elite for 4 years. I understood and respected the hard work, dedication and sacrifice that it took to train at this level because I had now been doing it while working full time and raising my three boys (one in grade school, one high school and one out in the world). I had gained confidence in my ability and felt I could still improve as a runner. Now I have many friends in this group of athletes and coaches so this Trials was part competition and part reunion. Plus, the Trials were the day before the Boston Marathon and tons of my friends from Phoenix were here to run or watch that race so it was so special to share the day with friends, family and my fellow competitors. I worked hard, was dedicated and injury free on race day and believed I belonged on that starting line; I was ready to race! I had an awesome marathon and placed 40th with a time of 2:42:55.

2008 USA Olympic Marathon Trials

2012 – Houston, TX. I headed to these Trials at the age of 48. One son is now married with a daughter (my Granddaughter), my second in college and my ‘baby’ in high school and I’m also married now and have one step-daughter and one step-son! I’ve been racing now over a decade. I understand what a blessing it is to have a healthy body and be able to train as hard as it takes to run at the competitive level. I retired in 2009 because I was mentally and physically worn out but the spark came back and I started to train hard again. This training paid off as I won my 4th USA Master’s Championship in 2010 with a time of 2:44:43; this time qualified me for my third Olympic Trials. Knowing this would be my last opportunity to compete in the Olympic Trials, I was excited to experience all the Trials had to offer and to savor every moment of this amazing event; fully understanding how special is to be an Olympic Trials qualifier. My running expectations in this race, however, were very different from my previous two experiences. I came to Houston with the most challenging training cycle of my career and with the most stubborn injury I’ve had running. Yet, despite the training setbacks, I raced the best I could that day and finished with the biggest smile imaginable. While I was most definitely not heading to London as a top three finisher (placed 150th in a time of 3:05:45), I had the race of my life and fully enjoyed every single step of the way! Life is about the moments and this moment — this race — was priceless.

2012 USA Olympic Marathon Trials

 My Road to Houston:

My Training. Training for my third Olympic Trails was probably the greatest mental and physical challenge of my running career. I injured my hamstring sometime in the late summer and continued training hard because I had a fall marathon, however, this injury caused me to pass on the Twin Cities Marathon – a marathon I LOVE and had run six times before. I even had to take over 4 weeks off from any running. Gone were my speed workouts; tempo workouts were out the door; and I was physically incapable of coming close to the normal mileage needed to run a competitive race. I spent every week in Dr. John Ball’s office so he could at least keep me patched together enough to toe the line of the Olympic Trials. I also had weekly visits to Jon Lempke for fascia stretching. My injury was such that the treatment goal was not to get me better—as that was not realistic – but rather was to prevent me from getting worse! Ugh!!

Six weeks before the trials I had a particular bad week of training. Each run had ended with me either limping home short of the scheduled mileage, having a friend pick me up because the pain was too great to even limp home or skipping the workout altogether. Needing to somehow maintain my conditioning despite my inability to run, I discovered what I thought might be a way to keep my fitness level up (and my spirits for that matter) while dealing with this frustrating injury. My answer was to try using an ElliptiGO. I was able to get one of these awesome ‘bikes’ the very next day and was able to talk directly with Brian, co-president of the company, about my particular injury and how the bike may best be used to meet my fitness and sanity goals! The ElliptiGO was truly a gift from heaven for me! This was exactly what I needed for both my body and mind. I spent a good deal of time cross-training on the ElliptiGo along with some slow running. I work out with the ElliptiGO without aggravating my injury and the bike was just fun! It kept me outside in the Arizona sun and gave me the aerobic workout I desperately needed. I wasn’t able to train as I would normally for a race as important as the Olympic Trials Qualifier but I did all that I could do until the pain stopped me in my tracks.

I'm in the U.S.A Olympic Marathon Trials!!

 The Trials are here! After months of challenge I was boarding the plane to compete in the Olympic Trials. My goal was to finish in less than 3 hours, but no matter what my time would be I was determined to enjoy every moment of this incredible journey. It was just a blessing to be able to run and participate. Life sometime throws you lemons and making lemonade out of them is the only acceptable way to fully enjoy life. Losing Sally Meyerhoff last spring really kept things in perspective for me too. She was on my mind a lot during my days in Houston. Each day is a gift. Live life, do your best and feel blessed.

 
 Coming to the Host Hotel was magical and exciting. Picking up my Elite Credentials, catching up with old friends, bumping into and chatting with the fastest runners in America (Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, Desiree Davila, Kara and Adam Goucher, Shalane Flanagan, Deana Kastor, Abdi Abdirahman), absorbing the positive energy all around and seeing the Olympic Trials signs everywhere were unbelievable. I was so happy that I was here and thanked my husband for suggesting that I try to qualify for a third Trials (never thought at 48 I’d be doing this again!). While I have great memories of the ‘04 and ‘08 trials, I had no souvenirs! This time the plastic came out and we purchased all the cool stuff the event had to offer!! This place became my own personal runners’ Disneyland; I was so excited that I could hardly keep my skin on!!

Race Morning! I woke up before the alarm feeling rested, excited and ready to experience this race. Usually I have butterflies and a strong level of seriousness (game face) because I’m preparing my mind and body to run uncomfortably hard and be competitive. Today, however, I was just excited and happy to be here.

Before the race with the adorable and fast Arianna and Coach John!!

My husband and I walked to the convention center to the Elite staging area. The Houston organizers were top notch and the pre-race stage area was fantastic. Here I was surrounded by the best marathoners in the country! The mood in the staging area is always low-key as each athlete does their last minute preparation. Bill knows this drill well and keeps off to the side yet is available when I or one of my running friends needs a little assistance with safety pins, fluids or a few pre-race photos. We dream of telling our zillion Grandkids that Grandma was in the Olympic Trials! Our 5 year old Granddaughter just thinks all Grandmas run every day and wear workout clothes 90% of the time. Ha!!

Race time is here! It’s time to leave the comfort of the convention center as the race officials walk us all outside to a holding pen close to the start line. The excitement at this point is over the top. The men are next to us doing their pre-race warm up and our race is minutes behind theirs so we begin our final warm ups as well. People are all around the holding pen watching us warm-up and taking pictures. I notice my dear friend and training partner Kerry Camberg and walk over to give her a big hug. I really had to hold back the tears because Kerry gave 200% trying to qualify for this day and fell short due to injury. Words were not needed as we hugged because we knew exactly what the other was thinking. My Bandidos teammate Arianna Hilborn was in the pen warming up with me, but I kept my distance so she could mentally prepare as I knew she was in the shape of her life and ready to ROCK this race. It really felt awesome to look around and see so many Bandidos there to support us like Derek, Allison, George, Eve, J.T., Donovan and of course Coach John!!

Ruth and I are all smiles before the race!!

It was almost race time. I began to look around for Ruth Perkins who was running today but not planning to finish due to a stress fracture. If you read my Twin Cities Marathon Blog, Ruth was the ring leader of the group of young women I ran with. She was instrumental in my win that day and it bonded us forever. Ruth and I spotted each other, hugged and she then asked if we could say a prayer together; chills came over me because that is exactly what I needed at that moment. There we were in the middle of the warm-up pen at the 2012 USA Olympic trials hugging and praying together before the race. It was a moment of clarity and calmness. God is in charge and my life purpose is to honor Him by doing the best I can, having faith in His plan, helping others and to be thankful for my family, friends, health and deeply satisfying life.

It’s now race time and we are all called to the starting line. I’m now frantically looking around for my other friend Jaymee Marty who is also injured but running. She shared the same goal as me . . . a 6:50 pace and finish no matter what! Jaymee and I met through the famous Dr. Ball who was treating each of our injuries for the past few months.

  

The three of us lined up in the back of the pack because no one at the Olympic Trials has a goal of running the slow pace of 6:50 per mile. Next thing you know, BOOM, the race begins. The three of us start running and within the first half mile the pack is putting distance on us. Let me tell you this…it took every ounce of self control I had to not run faster and keep up with the pack. In most marathons the last two miles are the most challenging, for me, at this race, the first two miles were the biggest challenge. The reality of really, truly having to run in the back of the pack was here and really happening to me!! It took me a few minutes to collect myself, accept my situation, be thankful again and get myself back into the present moment. At one point I instinctively started to pick up the pace and tried to catch the pack, but my hamstring quickly reminded me to back off. I had not run anything even close to a 6:50 pace for the last 3 months, but the competitor inside of me desperately wanted to run fast and be in the mix. However the goal was to finish and I simply could not risk worsening my injury or flaming out completely. I was going to finish this race and enjoy it. Besides, I had Ruth and Jaymee to keep me company; they were my gifts from God. We stuck to our plan of running a 6:50 pace. Ruth was keeping the crowd going by yelling “We’re at the Olympic Trials!” “Injury will not stop us!” her energy and excitement was contagious and thrilling! Jaymee and I were a bit more conservative as we knew that we needed every ounce of energy to complete the 26.2 mile journey. However, after I got over the initial shock of really running in the back of the pack, I started having the time of my life and my smile was so big that my face hurt almost as much as my hamstring.

As we ran in last place my thoughts kept going to a few of the amazing ladies that I coach that are back of the pack runners. They often share their insecurities with me about how it is embarrassing to be in the back, their fear of being last and their hope that the sweeper truck doesn’t pick them up. I always comfort and reassure them that they are amazing for accepting the challenge, training and doing their best. There are millions – zillions — of folks on the couch who haven’t accepted the challenge of running a half or full marathon. I tell them to hold their heads high and don’t worry about everyone else because running is about challenging yourself and being the very best that you can be. Heck, the reason marathons are so popular is the simple fact that it gives people a goal that takes them and only them to achieve. You can constantly challenge yourself and you can be successful every freakin day of your life!! Anyway, maybe the purpose/reason for my injury is to make me a better coach. I feel my strength as a coach is that I’ve been there and done that. However, I have never raced in the back of the pack and I’ve never worried about possibly finishing last in a race. So this was a new and humbling experience for me for sure. I thanked God for this opportunity and I wanted to call up Amber, Christine, Glenda and many others and say…I GET IT, I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND how you feel!! CARRY ON LADIES!! The journey is soooo worth the reward!!

I have to say that I enjoyed every single mile of this race and was almost in tears when I thought of how special it was to share this with Ruth and Jaymee! My new sole sisters!!

Ruth stopped around the half way point and that left Jaymee and I to solider on. When I compete I am always in the zone…big time! I don’t fully appreciate the crowds, scenery or runners around me. I am focused, determined and out to complete a task! Not this race however; I waved, smiled, blew kisses and thanked my friends for being out there. I needed their support more than ever and they were out there in full force screaming and cheering for me. Heck, even people I didn’t recognize were yelling my first name (only my last name was on the bib!) Almost felt like we were in first place and bringing up the rear.

Around 20 miles or so Jaymee kept getting behind. I would run up a little and look behind me to make sure she was there. However, every time I twisted my body to look that darn hammy would scream with pain. I found a comfortable stride — any slower hurt and any faster hurt more — so I decided I had to run my pace and wait for Jaymee at the finish.

When I rounded the final corners I almost thought that it was a different street because it sure looked and felt different without all the spectators. Most had left. Hmmm, crowd support does make a difference!! BIG TIME!!

Pure Joy!!

During the final mile tears started to fall because in my mind this was the end of a very magical chapter in my life. I’m ready to move forward and start something completely new, yet it’s so hard to let go of something that has been so intertwined in your body, mind and soul; something that is as much a part of me as breathing and eating. But change is growth and growth is moving forward and moving forward is living life to the fullest! One chapter of my live has ended and an entirely new – and unwritten – chapter now begins. I am ready!!

After months of struggle and hard work — physically, mentally and emotionally — I crossed the finish line of my third USA Olympic Trials. I did so feeling happy, content and full of purpose.

As soon as I crossed I looked up and there was my adorable husband and two of our best friends waving, yelling and cheering. Really, could this end any better?

Running gives you so much, like a new lifelong friend named Jaymee!!

I talked the race officials into letting me wait a couple minutes for Jaymee. As she crossed the finish line those darn tears came back. I was so happy for her and so happy that we had each other and our angel Ruth!

Experiences make life rich. I feel richer than Oprah Winfrey!!

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