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.