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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Responses

  1. Beautiful write up Susan! Thank you for sharing – priceless :) Love you!

  2. Awesome tale. Simply awesome. A particularly good one for those who have turned around in a race and seen, uhhhh, no one. (yes, that has been me!) BUT WE KEPT ON GOING!!!! They are every bit the hero the winner is! LOVE YOU!

  3. We were cheering for you all the way! Your story is inspiring, insightful, eloquent and it brought me to tears! Thanks for sharing it. You were an amazing coach before this experience, and if it is possible, you will be an even better coach for it. I never dreamed I could complete a marathon until I met you and now I’m signed up for my third Iron Man!

  4. I took some of my runners to the race to cheer for you, Jaymee, and Janet. You guys ran a great race. Congrats. I as well as other dedicated runners can only dream of such an opportunity.

  5. i’ve been waiting to read this blog! congratulations, susan! you insipre so many new runners like myself! you ought to write a book….so when is the book signing :-)

  6. [...] (whom I had so hoped to meet up with in Houston) finished last, and she ran most of the way with Susan Loken, who had also been hobbled by injuries (and for awhile with Ruth Perkins, who was running with a [...]

  7. Hi Susan. My name is Schuyler, and I work for the advertising agency that does work for ASICS shoes. We’d like to use an image of your for ASICS’ upcoming New York City Marathon campaign. Just have a couple questions:

    1.) Are you interested?
    2.) Are you currently under contract with another sponsor?

    If you’re interested, shoot me an email at schuylerv@vitroagency.com.

    All the best,
    Schuyler


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