The most meaningful “Media” ever written about me

The Slowtwitch interview experience was unexpected and undeserved, the Air Force Times attention was pretty dang neat, Seymour-Johnson highlighting my triathlon career before I arrived at work was even more humbling.

However, the most meaningful piece of work about me was handed to me in person today here at work at Fort Meade Army post. 

The fact that he chose to spend his time to write his “Feature” piece on me, of all people and subjects, makes me feel so amazing inside I cant even begin to describe it. Mike is a phenomenal writer, but more importantly an unbelievable person in general. He’s seen me through thick and thin, we’ve gone through things together that God will only know. I can honestly say I think that Michael is the only person in this world who knows truly what I am feeling sometimes and how hard we both work to achieve goals that really never have an end-point. 

This all being said, I really wanted to post what he wrote. 

 

Another sort of sacrifice: Air Force triathlete defies limits

2nd Lt. Michael Trent Harrington

            The step machine holds alternating rows of towels, plastic cups and more towels. Old rags hang from the rails, and the machine is unplugged—it is the stair-jack-of-all-trades, the stair-master of none.

            The doors to the supposedly 24-hour hotel gym lock at 3 a.m. The night clerk apologizes politely; in 12 years of operation, no one has noticed.

            Today the ten-by-ten feet exercise room is crowded, stuffed to overcapacity with a single occupant. Outside in the pre-dawn stillness of blue fluorescent parking lot lights and the droning bustle of D.C. commuters clutching jumbo-sized steel coffee mugs—32 ounces of finely-ground per two hours of long grind and breath mints and talk radio—the air hangs tentatively at the freezing point, heavy and soaked, groggy and dripping more from inertia than any particular desire to rain on this particular Monday.

            Samantha Morrison is a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, the fastest triathlete in the Department of Defense, and this morning, like most all mornings, she’s wired in to a pace of deliberate misery in a place that might surprise you.

            Morrison recently shattered the 18 to 24-year-old age group record at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. She was the fastest military member, the fastest female amateur and one of the top 25 female finishers overall. Later that night she flew to the East Coast for a military training course, dogged by five trailing time zones, a pronounced limp and a nearly burgundy sunburn.

            Her Ironman success has attracted high-level attention from military brass and triathlon polished carbon. The Air Force Times and a handful of Defense-wide media services have run feature-length pieces. She was profiled in Slowtwitch, owner of a cult following in the triathlon community. The Air Force Chief of Staff, a four-star general, featured her in his presentation slides on an international tour.

            Most of those stories have highlighted her Ironman performance: her record time, the full hour she dropped from the same course in 2012, the investments she made in high-end gear and accessories. But for Morrison, that culminating 9 hours and 38 minutes is only an average two days’ worth of training time.

            Pats on the back have never done much for deep muscle aches, she says.

            Her coach, Lt. Col. Scott Poteet, is an Air Force fighter pilot, balancing missions, commitments and Ironman monsters of his own.

            “She can handle it. There aren’t many–there might not be any–others who could take it,” Poteet said.

            Morrison’s success, for many, reflects natural gifts and incredible talent. For Morrison and her coach, success means early mornings.

            “I put so much on her plate, because it’s what she needs to do in order to do the impossible,” Poteet says. “That means two things, and people not in the know lose sight of one or the other all the time: she is incredibly hungry, and she has an incredibly large plate.”

            More than anything, the training means logging hours–hours on the bike, hours on the road, hours in a pool. In military training, with all its daily demands, and in temporary assignments all over the country, those hours can be hard to come by.

            “I wake up around 3:30 a.m. to be able to get in two hours before class,” Morrison says. “And I can get in two to three more hours of training after class until my body has had enough.”

            Then she wakes up, and repeats: in bed at 8 and up at 3. Bed at 8, up at 3. It’s not any one day but the sum of all the days that count. It’s not any one, tough day that matters but stringing all of those days together for months on end.

            Real athletes, Morrison says, might occasionally talk about a brutal workout. But they don’t talk about the filler, the real substance that makes those jaw-dropping performances possible.

            “Athletes in Ironman don’t talk about these 3:30 a.m. wake-ups, they don’t talk about the 20 mile runs on a treadmill, they don’t talk about the six movies they are able to get through on a stationary bike for six hours on a Saturday morning.”

            Whether it means world championship gold or not, it’s commitment, she says, and commitment makes the difference.

She’d train 364 days a year if she could.

            “The goals in my head are more related to me judging myself,” Morrison says. “Every single day, I have a goal of pushing my body to the limit.”

            Many people appreciate the idea of working for something every day. Many of them go to their jobs and do some exercise. Some even train for triathlons or Ironman races of their own. But few can grasp the magnitude of effort in training to be the absolute best. Morrison is her own most trusted workout partner and her own fiercest critic. What might otherwise be cliché is in Morrison gritty truth.

            “I get up in the morning because no one is telling me I have to,” Morrison said. “I love having the freedom to spend my morning hours doing whatever I want.”

            “Sleeping just doesn’t really do anything for me.”

Next year’s world championship is 322 days away.

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Race Day- Kona 2013

Friday night, the night I dread the most out of the whole time in Hawaii. Looking back, there’s no need to be like this so close to a big race. There is literally nothing you can do at this point because you’re either ready or you’re not. My dad and I saw many athletes pounding out some last minute miles on the Queen K. We saw guys sweating their butts off sprinting around the hotel complex we were staying in. This made me wonder if I should be out there! I tend to do absolutely nothing the day before a race. Minus taking a 5 minute jog to decide which shoes I wanted to wear for the marathon, my Friday was completely on my booty.

Terrified on my booty, not to mention. I wasn’t scared of the race itself, I was scared of failing my family who had invested so much to come watch, and the Air Force, who had sent me here with confidence in me that I’d show something. My dad and friends helped by joking around, making fun of my pre race dinner (bananas honey peanut butter and some Honey Stinger goodness) and they made sure all my stuff was ready to go bright and early. We went to bed around 9, and I was so nervous for that alarm to go off.

The alarm didn’t fail, though. I woke up and hopped in the shower to rinse off. I realized I hadn’t had any nightmares like I had on Thursday night. That was a first. It also meant that my body was getting all it could out of those hours of sleep, almost as if it knew what I was about to make it do.

My friends all joined me in the 0430 drive to the pier. They are so amazing, they wanted to get an up front spot for the swim start so they didn’t want to get a couple extra hours of sleep. Nothing that coffee and alcohol couldn’t make up for, they said.

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My dad dropped me off for check in and I got kind of teary eyed knowing I wouldn’t be able to get a big hug until I either finished, or something went wrong.

Either way, it was game time. Body markings, sunscreen(obviously not enough), weigh ins, bike checks, everything flew by. We socialized by the start, took pre race forced smile pictures, and shoved some last minute bananas in our mouths. Before I knew it, the cannon was going off for the pro start.

Last year I got in the water right when they told us to. I was a cadet! Following the scary voice’s orders to GET IN. This was a mistake, I realized, once I was out by the start buoys shivering and treading water for 30min. This year I like to think 22 year old me was “seasoned,” and at least knew what NOT to do.

Coach and I headed out about 10min before our cannon was to go off. I chose a spot right near the middle buoy in the front and planned to sight the tip of the island, which would lead me straight to the turn around. I also planned on trying to hang with the big boys at the start so I could catch on to a solid pack for the swim.

Heinz Ward was not who I was expecting right next to me in the front at the start, but we got to chat it up a bit before the cannon. I think he seemed more scared than me. That made me realize we are all human and it’s normal.

The cannon went off a little early and caught some people mid-conversation. While they were all complaining, I took off, giggling at these old grumpy men who thought a couple seconds was going to make a difference.

As soon as that cannon went off, I realized that all my fears disappear. It’s the lead up to my racing that terrifies me. Now, I was in my favorite place to be. I knew what I was doing without even thinking. My body treats me well in these situations and I can say “auto-pilot” then just day dream while this machine does the rest.

I worked pretty hard in the swim, but I tried to stay relaxed and stick to some of the big men around me. Last year I swam a 1:01 but it was an hour of fighting the other people, myself, and the ocean. Learned the hard way from that. This swim just seemed natural, and fun. I didn’t look at my watch til halfway. I was so relaxed that I swore I was going to be like 35min at the turnaround. I saw 25min and I was like WHAT!

So I decided not to look at it the rest of the way. It either was very wrong, or I was going to die in about 500m.

The back half was tougher because I was alone out there. It got a bit more stressful and I just couldn’t wait to get out. Mostly to see my dad and friends. Well and this saltiness was not so delicious anymore. I finally did make it though. Sprinting out of the water never is easy for me..I’m clumsy and I fall everywhere. Therefore I took my sweet time this year. No point in making a fool of myself. I saw the 55min clock and was pretty confused. I didn’t know it was possible for me to swim that fast. It was at this point in the race that I decided to accept the fact that I had put in the hours for this race, and my body truly was trying to show me something.

I decided I wouldn’t completely change outfits this year from swim to bike to run like I did last year, so my transition was way faster. #amateurmistakes. But hey, I sure was comfy in 2012 in my running shorts and tank top haha.

I didn’t see my dad and friends til I got out of transition and they were yelling at me that I went too fast in the swim and they weren’t expecting me! They were still enjoying their coffee. I waved and laughed. No matter how bad a race is going, I always can laugh and wave if I see my family.

And the bike began. My goal during bikes in triathlon is to let as few people pass me as I can. Positive goal, right? This race seemed to be unfolding differently than I was used to. Right away I passed a girl and was then told I was first for amateur women. My moment of glory and fame!!

Haha just kidding. It did pump me up though. I worked that bike all the way to the turnaround. I wasn’t hurting too bad, and my goal was to make it hurt worse on the back half. By the halfway, I think I was 2nd female, and tons of men had passed me. That was good for me! On the way back along the Queen K those dang headwinds picked up and I was shot. As if miles 70-100 weren’t tough enough.

So I continued to pray my legs would hold out as I hammered through miles and miles at 12mph.

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At mile 90 I wanted to cry, and get off my bike and pout, and eat a pizza, and I wondered why I do these races. But, like we all do, I got through that tough spot. I figured the wind HAD to give me a break soon, and if not there were only 22 miles left!! Anyone can do that. I honestly was talking out loud to Mila, my bike. Telling her she could do it and she had been awesome thus far.

It might be healthy that I just got myself a puppy, so I have something a little more normal to talk to.

Well, little Mila and I eventually made it, even though the winds never stopped and I never stopped hating my life. The best part of every single triathlon for me is hopping off my bike to go run. It means that I didn’t crash, like my very first triathlon, it means a flat tire didn’t ruin the day, and it means I can finally just use the rest of my energy without worrying about an external failure!!

My dad and friends’ faces were priceless when I got off the bike. My dad is always super nervous until I get off the bike, because of that one race where i never came in. He waited and waited, then I came in in the back of a pickup with a totaled bike and blood everywhere. My friends said that as soon as I started the run, my dad said okay NOW we can go get drinks!

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Haha no matter how the race turned out for me would now be a good turnout in his head because I wasn’t hurt.

Right at the start of the run, my coach creeped up alongside me and started exclaiming how amazing I was doing. He was so excited! We ran together for the first 8 miles, and I was hurting pretty bad. I told him I had pushed the bike too hard. And now he was making me work hard to stay next to him. I didn’t think I was even going to make it to the half marathon point.

He told me to make sure I walked up the Palani hill because it would do me more harm than good than to try to run up. At mile 8, he hit a little wall and I pulled away. When I got to Palani, I started walking, but then everyone was like “it’s ok, you can do it!” In my mind I was thinking noooo I can run but I was told not to! Anyways hardheaded Sam decided she couldn’t take the ego-blow by walking up the hill in front of all these people, so she ignored her coach and started sprinting.

That hurt.

I trucked along trying to mentally tell myself just to make it to mile 13. My shoes were water logged and I was just trying to keep moving. At mile 13 I took off my socks on the side of the road and then got going again. All of the ice and water being dumped onto myself to stay cool was not helping the wet shoe situation.

At mile 13 after the whole sock ordeal I got a second wind. My legs were coming back to me and I was able to stay strong until the hill out of the energy lab. In 2012 this hill was brutal. This year wasn’t any different. I forgot how awful it was.

When I finally popped out I looked at my watch and was doing the math in my head to see how slow I could go to make my 10 hour goal time. The fact that I was even in the running for this time was blowing my mind. The fact that I was figuring out 11min mile pace would get me to my goal time was also insane. I must’ve got really fast the rest of the race, I was thinking. Finally, the fact that I was doing the math to see if I could just walk the rest of the way was showing me that I was really hurting.

At mile 18 I didn’t think I’d make it, but it brought me back to the 90min session I was lucky enough to have with my Air Force base’s sports psychologist. I never really believed in the mental side of things and how big of a difference it could make in a race. I remembered some of the things he taught me, and at mile 18 I give all the credit to him for giving me the strength to not walk. I just thought to myself that I had put way too much work into the past year to let this race go. So I started shoving food in my mouth at every aid station, chugging coke and powerade, and told my legs to suck it up so we could go see Dad. It literally was all in my head. Once I got over the mental pain, my legs yelling at me got quieter and quieter, I just had to keep drowning their cries out.

 

I started passing pros at this point! Talk about a strange feeling. I didn’t know that I had the ability to do that. My goal had been to not let any low race numbers pass me on the run, which meant they were probably in my age group, but I seemed to just be running away from them, scared, because i only saw them when we crossed paths going opposite directions.

Running scared really isn’t my favorite thing to do I discovered, having never been in that position before.

Those last 5 miles were the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. The only reason I sprinted the last mile was my coach caught back up to me right at the end. I told him I couldn’t sprint, I wanted to walk, I wasn’t going to make it. He must’ve been hurting even worse than me but he didn’t show it, he just motivated me to keep going and to enjoy every second.

Running down the final stretch, I was getting high fives from everyone. Even little kids were high fiving me so hard that it was spinning my body backwards. It is cool looking back on it but I was wiped out from all the lovin’.

My coach and I finished together and I got a huge hug right at the end. It’s hard to explain the feeling at the finish of the Kona Ironman, but everyone should try to have the experience in their lifetime. I never spend much time enjoying the end because it’s always a mad rush to go find my dad and friends and family. That’s the best part for me.

The 9:38 finish time on the clock still hasn’t hit me.

After the race was a lot of energy trying to drag my dad and friends out of the bar so we could go shower and make it back to the finish line to see the final hours.

This is the best part. Seeing these older bodies cruising to the finish line at midnight made tears come to my eyes! It’s so powerful. The rain was pouring down, we were dancing despite our tired legs, we were making new friends with strangers on the street. (Hey Ashlyn!) 🙂

I hope someday I can still run like they do. 3 Ironmans at age 22 might be kind of stupid, but I’m in love.

The rest of the trip was a blur. I packed my things in preparation for the mad dash from the awards ceremony to the airport, hoping I’d get to stay long enough to go on stage for my award. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d get a chance to stand on the number one spot at Kona. Seriously it’s still not real to me. I did make it up there, along with an award for Brad and I’s record breaking score for the Air Force, and I’ll never forget that night.

Now I don’t know what to do with 3 bowls… Hopefully someday I have a huge Air Force office to display them in hehe, no one will know what they are.

I’ll also never forget SPRINT LIMPING through the Kona airport to try to make our flight. That was a treat in itself.

What an amazing experience. Cannot wait for next year. Until then….back to the treadmill.

2014 has huge news and surprises and challenges in store. Gotta get this body ready.

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