About Samantha

United States Air Force Academy cadet, oldest of 7 kids, triathlete, outdoor-enthusiast, crossfit, and nutrition-lover.

Ironman World Championships…and then some

I have been meaning to write a race report for Kona for a while. About a month to be exact. However the words just weren’t coming to me as to how I felt about the race; before, during and after. It seems that even though I did well in others’ eyes at Kona, I feel that I still need to do better. I raced my hardest, dipped to my lowest of lows, gave it everything I had, but at the finish line I was immediately hungry for the next chance at showing myself what I can do.

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What I AM ecstatic about are the 3 months that led into the Ironman World Championships. Three of the hardest but best months of my life that showed me what hard training truly was and that I could actually succeed at it.

So that is what I will write about now that my amateur career in triathlon in over.

I started my life in the World Class Athlete Program for the Air Force at the beginning of this summer, and my coach and I took full advantage of each and every day to get the best quality and quantity of training in. We decided I should race a couple of tune-up 70.3’s to get ready for Kona, and I figured what would be cooler than to race in the 70.3 World Championships in Mont-Tremblant.

With eyes on that, we set out on a hard block of training through June to gear up for Racine 70.3. I went into it slightly untapered but with my head on straight knowing that I had trained harder than ever and I was ready to let loose a little bit.  I wasn’t banking on getting the 70.3 worlds slot without a little bit of a fight and I knew I was ready for that. Swimming with the USAFA swim team led to a smooth speedy swim, Hillary’s crazy bike sessions equaled a strong ride, and our consistent run training resulted in an easy 13 miles. Overall amateur title…wasn’t expecting that at all, but 70.3 worlds was quickly able to be added to the calendar.

Immediately following that race we got right back into it. I had a positive mindset throughout and was excited to train seeing that I could train hard through a race and still do well. Great learning experience #1.

For the 70.3 world championships in September I let my head get the best of me. I was not as tapered as these other girls, I was tired…grumpy.  My 5th place performance wasn’t what I wanted of course, but I blame that entirely on myself. The whole race I was thinking too much, making excuses, just upset that I hadn’t gone into it ready to smash it. Enough about that, I dwelled on it way too long and I have moved on : )

Learning experience #2: my head can, and will, get in the way.

Coach and I decided it was best that I spend the next month leading into Kona at her house in Tucson under her watchful eye for some serious training, Tucson heat, and low-altitude.

I don’t think I was ready for what she could throw at me.

–Coachie has been in charge of me since March of this year. I have no doubts in her and I working as a team after she brought me to an overall amateur win at Wildflower, armed forces national champion and Racine overall amateur—

…but the month at her house had me doubting her beliefs in what my body could do.

We got after it, every single day. From 140 mile rides, to 18-mile race pace runs, I was completely shot. The day we woke up to do 21x800s on the track I didn’t think I could get out of bed.

But I did.

I am so grateful that I got this opportunity because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t of learned what it meant to train “like a pro.” I also would not have learned what my body was capable of without my mind getting in the way. By having Hillary as a training partner as well as her crew of Ironman Champions running alongside us for most workouts, I literally had to shove my thoughts out of the way and just “do the damn thing.”

I would have never been able to do any of this if I was training on my own, but now I know I can…it is just a matter of doing it.

At the Ironman World Championships I knew my body was ready.  I honestly believed that anything Kona had to throw at us that day I could just think back to Tucson and know that I had trained harder than those winds, hotter than the blazing pavement, and stronger than the ocean current. This mindset got me through the race, until about mile 22.

But low and behold GUESS who showed up at mile 22 on her bike just chatty as ever acting like nothing was wrong? Yep, Coachie.

Once again, if it wasn’t for her at that point in the race I would’ve walked for sure. I have never been so low in a point of a race where I couldn’t look to one side or the other or I knew I would fall over. My legs were done, even my pinky finger had no energy left. But the Smashfest Queen was right there and cheered me on til she had to pull off and gave me that last smile and bit of energy that I needed.

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I am happy to end my amateur career with another sub-10 hour Ironman and the defending of my age group title, but those things really don’t matter to me. I know I can be better, and I want to find out how much better.

It is the experiences that keep me going in this sport. The infinite amount of different things I can do to make myself a better athlete and a better person.

As I head into my first season as a professional triathlete, I cannot wait to find out what experiences lay ahead. Hopefully they are painful, challenging, and make me grow.

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As always, I couldn’t do it without the help of my biggest supporters: Dad, Mom, USMES, Boeing, Scott, Snapple, Rudy Project, Osmo, Quarq, and all of you who keep having faith in me and get excited to track races for hours on a little tiny screen.

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World Class Athlete Program Blog …

Follow my Olympic-track-hopeful roommate and I as we go through the next two years in the AF World Class Athlete Program  at our new joint-blog site. It will make you laugh, you can see what workouts we do each day, and what we eat/do on a daily basis. 🙂

She is attempting to make the Olympics in the 1500m run…pretty amazing girl if I must say so myself.

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http://www.momoandsammo.com

Wildflower 70.3 (swim, run, bike, run)

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As I type this race report, or whatever you’d like to call it, I’m on a plane back to North Carolina so I can get back to work tomorrow. The difference about this trip is I get to go back to work to begin the process of moving to Colorado. The Air Force has given me the golden opportunity to live there and train under the military’s world class athlete program to see how far I can go in the triathlon world, and have a shot at recovery, healthy cooking, and strength training. All of which fall to the wayside with my 7-5 job as a Public Affairs Officer. I cannot wait to get started. But first, I’d like to recap the past two months that I have not had time to blog, and then tell my Wildflower half-ironman story. After our huge military cycling camp in March in Tucson, I decided to make the jump into Team HPB under the coaching of the one and only Hillary Biscay. I had the opportunity of getting dinner with her in Tucson that week, and we clicked. She not only intimidates me enough to where I want to impress her in training, but we also just click as people. She cares about my daily life, not just triathlon. She is the first person who I’ve seen continually try to learn about my military lifestyle even though I know I can ramble at times. A week after camp,I did the Clermont challenge in Florida. Saturday was a half-ironman, and Sunday was an Olympic. Let’s just say–never again. Talk about some leg work. All in all it was a great training weekend, and we put some hard work in da bank. Throughout April, Hillary had me cranking wattage on my new Quarq power meter. It was the first month I’ve been on power, and it has made all the difference. I’ve never felt as shot as I do after her workouts. Literally…like someone shot me. However, at the end of April on the way to San Francisco for the hilly wildflower course, I realized that all the low cadence high wattage workouts were for a reason. We arrived in Sanfran on Wednesday and started prepping for our Saturday race. I’ll save you the boring details of the three days of swimming, biking, and running leading up to that day, but let’s just say there was a lot of freezing water and the biggest hills I’ve ever attempted to run/bike up. The best part about the trip was our house on the lake!Image I have never stayed somewhere more beautiful. We got to be coffee snobs and sit on the porch with views like this: ImageRace day came quick. I was here with my elite team, all of which are pros, so I went with them for their 8am race start, and waited for my 9:15am start patiently. I cannot wait to someday be in the mix with all these elite athletes, get that early start, and some amazing competition. Just spotting 3x Wildflower champion heather Jackson with her blonde Mohawk getting ready to race pumped me up.

Well, 9:15 finally came. Not without the temperature raising another 10 degrees. I knew it was going to be a hot one, 90+ degrees! but I decided to take the day as it came. Here comes the fun part! As hundreds of girls 29 and under tried to cram onto the edge of a dock, I tried to find a place on the corner so I wouldn’t get smashed. I ended up being right next to a 6ft tall girl who looked like someone who just got done being a distance swimmer for some NCAA school. Got that Michael phelps body type. I decided I should try to keep up with her, if I could.

Gun goes off…things don’t go as planned. It was a complete madhouse trying to find some water to pull that was free of limbs. This race start ended up being rougher than it was last year at Kona! Girls are vicious hahaha!! The tall girl and I had a little tiff at the beginning trying to pull ahead. Not to mention, the sun at that point in the day was directly on top of the first sighting buoy, so no one could see it. I learned a lot from this swim-ALWAYS have a backup place to search for to keep you in line with the swim course. Buoys aren’t always reliable. I realized this when some paddle boarder started yelling at me that I was headed to the wrong buoy, whoops!

The rest of the swim I had a little fire lit under my butt to make up for lost time. Luckily, coach has been having me swim more than I had been doing, so the swim didn’t take too much out of me. Oh yeah, with all the men’s heats leaving before us, it was kind of awkward dodging older men and trying not to completely seem as if I was rubbing all over them trying to get through packs. The great thing about the swim is no one can tell who you are. We all have our nerd caps, and black wetsuits. Bunch of baby seals out there.

Alright…swim was over, now for the interesting part. The triathlon had to be moved for this race because of water levels. Therefore, we had a quarter mile of boat ramp to run up, grab our shoes, and take off for a 2-mile run towards our bikes, It gave me a little taste of the dirt hills that were to come later in the day on the 11-mile run after the bike portion. But I felt so good! Maybe I should enter duathlons. Running fast after a fast swim is so much fun because your legs aren’t dead yet. Once again, we were dodging all the men who had started earlier. I might have been wasting time but I thought it was so fun zig zagging through people and hopping all over the place dodging rocks and sand on the run-course. We got to our bikes a couple miles later, and I was prepared for some big climbs, and the infamous “nasty grade” that everyone talks about around mile 40. As I was getting on my bike, some referee was snapping pics of me. I yelled at him and told him I swear I hadn’t been drafting, I hadn’t even started the bike. He laughed and just told me I was first female at that point . That motivated me.

It was the first race I have been on power as well, so my goal was to push the wattage the whole time. If I died on the run,I would just have to suck it up. I have never worked the downhills like I did at this race, in order to keep my wattage output high. I realized earlier that this race was going to be me racing against my power meter and the clock,because I couldn’t find anyone to compare myself to or chase. I kept waiting to blowup on the bike because I knew I was pushing my limits, but luckily it never happened. I think i was also distracted from the pain because I was worried about dodging men riding their bikes 3-wide and chatting. There were some huge hills for sure, but nothing I hadn’t seen in Colorado when I lived there.

It was the run I was not expecting. I knew I had pushed a little too hard on the bike and was going to have to suck it up on the run but that was okay. What was not okay was the HILLS!!!! Gosh, I had no idea hills this steep existed. The first couple miles were just rediculous. I realized that the goal for this run was quickly turning into just to “not walk” instead of “run fast.” At one point I decided to trust my quads and knees to hold out on a very steep downhill while I sprinted, bad idea. Haha there was an aid station and a turn at the bottom of the hill, and I could not slow down in time to make the turn. I ended up flying off course into the brush. The volunteers got a good laugh out of me.

I got the next laugh, though. Around mile 7 the men around me started chatting about “nude aid station” and that they “should run faster to get to the boobies.” I could not stop laughing even though we were all hurting pretty bad. The rumors were true; at the very top of the next huge hill we all saw the topless women! I told the guys they better hurry up the hill. After that, I definitely was playing big mental games with myself. Make it to the next mile marker. Make it to the next group of people cheering. Sing to myself. Think of ice cold water. At each aid station there were college kids with water hoses and cold water buckets. I made sure to challenge them to see how soaked they could get me at each one. Fun for them—great for me, especially with the 90+ degree sun beating down on us out there. Eventually, I made it to the last mile.

You would think that a mile all downhill would be amazing, but at that point all of our quads and knees were so done-zo that a steep downhill was the last thing we wanted. I told my knees to shush for a little while longer so we could go get some food and fluids and finally be done with this crazy day.

The finish line was incredible, Tri-Cal put on an amazing event and finish line setup, grandstands and all!! I sprinted in for a 5:01 finish time and overall amateur female. Pretty excited about that.

10 minutes after the race, Kevin (one of my great friends from college who came to race) wanted to walk everywhere to get slushies and massages and blah blah blah and I am pretty sure a 10 meter walk seemed like 5 miles to me, so I just sat on a curb and refused to do anything. Hahahahah…sorry Kev!

The rest of the weekend was relaxing and amazing. I got to meet Heather Jackson, the pro-female winner for the 3rd year in a row. This was so cool, I have idolized her for FOREVER.Image Then on Sunday we had a nice ice-bath swim in Lake Naciemento by our house we were staying in, and got to watch our USMES teammate Nicholas race the olympic race on Sunday. I love cheering on the sidelines! Now I am back at work after a full day of flying from west coast to east coast, and preparing for my big move to Colorado. More to come on that…but expect an epic blog from my new roommate, Olympic track hopeful Morgan, and our 2 dogs, on our lives for the next 2 years. Peace out A-town.Image

The freaky athletic Morrison Family

I get a lot of comments on my family. For one, yes there are a lot of us Morrisons. Nine to be exact. Secondly, most of us do hit the gym every once in a while. Or twice a day. Or five. I guess I will agree with the “cover of body building family,” or “freak triathlon family,” or “it’s just the gene pool” comments.

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However it wasn’t always like this in my family. On my run today I got to thinking about how much my family has to do with my triathlon obsession because of their never ending support and enthusiasm for my crazy habits. I owe everything to them, and then some. I wanted to put down on paper, well put it out in the infinite interweb for the NSA to read, so I could lay out how my family grew into this super-athletic-motivated group of people.

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My parents both attended the University of Florida. My mom was a cheerleader, my dad an avid cyclist/triathlete throughout their college life. To this day my mom will tell you she hates running and working out, she was always the girly girl J Neither of them took their sports too seriously; my dad attempted the 2nd Annual Great Clermont Triathlon back in the day and ended up walking half of the run.

They both got married right after college, and stuck with the working life. My mom, a civil engineer, started staying at home with myself and my first brother for most of our childhood while my dad stayed a workin-man. Kid, after kid, after kid…well you may know the story. In short, there are 7 of us now and the tides have turned. My dad stays at home while my mom is back in the engineering business doing her thang.

Back to athletics. My dad required all of his kids to stay on the local year-round club swim team until they were at least 14. I was one of the few who continued swimming into high school. By college, I was burned out and so I actually was recruited to the Air Force Academy for cross country. Even then, I felt like something was missing. I joined the tri club team on the side, and fell in love.

I still was not that good, maybe average at best, and my family didn’t really do anything crazy in the workout world either.  My junior year of college after Ironman Wisconsin was when things started to finally click in my mind and in my body. I had somehow qualified for Kona on very little training or experience at the Ironman distance. It was this moment that I knew that I had to work my butt off for almost year so I could show myself something while racing at Kona. I began training more than ever. I used to think running twice per day was a lot—I discovered that it was not even close. I was swimming, biking, running in all my free time. I was doubling workouts that I used to think were hard. I was doing higher intensity and I started eating better.   I literally went from about 150lbs to 122ish in less than a year. Not lying!

All of this paid off at March 2012 Collegiate Nationals where I managed a podium finish. It showed me that hard work truly can pay off, you just have to be honest with yourself in the deciding whether you actually ARE working hard or not.

This snowballed into the summer with more and more and more hard work. This is when my family started catching the bug.

One of my sisters, Heidi, came home one day and said “Sam, I just ran 2 miles without stopping! What should I eat now?”

The same weekend, my brother came home and made a protein shake, instead of his usual bowl of ice cream.

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They were subtle changes, but they were there.

My sister Erin, who had never ran a day in her life, looked up the “Couch to 5k” plan on the internet and began it on her own. I was not coaxing any of this! I just talked about triathlon, I told my family I couldn’t eat their fried chicken and wings on Friday nights, and my family started to catch on.

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Things really started changing after I placed 3rd at Kona in 2012.  My dad had come to the race, and fell in love.  He got back to the states and bought a brand new Trek Speed Concept, an even nicer version than I had! What the heck.

My sister Heidi had joined cross country and was number one on the team in her first season. She now was running solid 9 mile training runs at 7 minute pace. Pretty amazing for a 10th grader.

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My Couch to 5k sis was solid in her 3 mile runs now. She would run before her 3 hour club-swimming practices, and all she could talk about was running.

Even my mom was running daily in the local trails. It was all she could talk about!

Throughout 2013, I worked even harder. It was easier when I went home to keep up my training regime because my family had even begun cooking healthier for themselves along with working out more. My dad got hooked on the Paleo craze and my mom also started cooking all natural foods.  Every time I turned around half my family was out of the house at the gym or by my side on runs and bikes.

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Leading up to 2013 Kona I was lucky enough to have family who could beat me in the individual triathlon sports.  My 14 year old sister Erin, the swimmer, would come swim with me at the local YMCA and remind me how out-of-shape I was in the water compared to a national level swimmer.  My 16 year old sister Heidi (the one who, last summer, was ecstatic about running 2 miles) had asked me to sign her up for the VA Rock n Roll Half Marathon for her birthday. I ran it with her as some Kona training and she kicked my butt with around a 1hour 30min finish time and first in her age group. My dad had gotten very quick on his new triathlon bike, and I would come home from work in North Carolina on the weekends only to have him completely tear my legs up by killing me on 100-mile rides around Virginia.

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Not only did my family prep me physically for Kona in 2013, but mentally as well.  Having this support system who accepted my long training hours and also made sure that I was provided with the things needed to do it means so much to me.  It is hard to sit on a bike for 5 hours; with family support it is almost as if I didn’t have to try.

As the countdown to Kona grew shorter, my dad and I got more and more bummed that the flight costs were skyrocketing. It looked as if he wasn’t going to be able to come out to watch like he did in 2012.  I decided that family was way more important than money, and I begged him to come if I bought the ticket. SO WORTH IT! Had to give up some clothes and shoe purchases for the next couple months, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

SO, my dad came to Kona. I attribute my success at the race to having my dad to look forward to seeing at all the hot spots on the course. When my legs would hurt, I would just think “Go faster so you can see Dad again.”

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It ain’t over yet.

Ever since Kona 2013, it is as if I lit another match under my family’s butts. My dad signed up for 2014 Great Clermont Triathlon so he could try to redeem himself. He also asked me to race it! I cannot wait for that race weekend. He has huge goals for this race, and every time I talk to him he tells me about his daily workout. It makes me really happy.

My brother David started lifting and running even harder. He is the top of his class at the University of Florida on a full scholarship, and headed to med school in the near future.

My brother Robby is trying to one-up David; he is at the University of Alabama on a full academic scholarship in computer engineering. He is set to graduate with not only his bachelor’s degree, but his master’s within the 4-year college plan.

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Heidi is deep in her Air Force Academy application process, and it is her dream to run cross-country there. I believe she can do it, and I will be there every step (probably quick, bounding steps) along the way.

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The rest of the kids—Erin, Adam, and Kelly—continue winning their swim meets and rackin’ up the medals.   I hope that they continue to dream big and work hard, because it is the sole reason that I continue to work hard. Setting a good example and seeing it take effect for my 6 younger siblings is the most rewarding part of this whole thing we call life.

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You may think I forgot about my beautiful mother. Well, she is still doing her thing- better than ever. She is a hard working engineer-mother of 7- runner-swimmer-superhero-who never stops.

She makes sure that all her 7 kids (9 including my dad and dog) are well-fed, clean, and rested for their countless hours of studies and sports.  None of us would be where we are today with her positive attitude and never ending selflessness.

Well, I know I didn’t do my family the justice they deserve in the effect they have on my training and daily lifestyle, but I hope that I began to show a little of how much they mean to me.

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First race report of 2014

This past weekend was the first race of the year. It was meant to be a really tough training weekend moreso than a “racing” weekend, but if you stick me in a tough spot and on a starting line and a gunshot, I definitely get a little competitive. However, it truly did turn into solid 2-days of hardpacked training sessions.

I find myself glazing over most race reports that I read, so I will keep this one short and simple. I drove the 4 hours down to Charleston and met up with some other Academy people. It was definitely good to see familiar faces.  I miss everyone from USAFA so much!! Brett cooked us a delicious salmon/brusselsprout/sweetpotatofries pre-race dinner, we made sure the puppy was prepped for her big social raceday, and we got a solid 9 hours of sleep. More than I have gotten in quite some time so I was feeling relatively good Saturday morning.

For the half-marathon, it was a chilly 30 degrees and quite windy, so I decided on running tights, dri-fit long sleeve t-shirt, and gloves. Cant forget the slick new red white and blue Rudy Project glasses that I was all too excited to test out. I ate a little of this new amazing granola from Whole Foods and I chugged some Osmo Nutrition pre-race before we set out to the start. Image

The race had about 6000 marathoners and half marathoners, so it was a lot of fun. I took it out a little too fast for the first 5k (18:30) and knew that I had just fallen into a painful hole that I was going to have to just suck it up and deal with for the next 10 miles. I was able to steady my heart rate and crank out the miles, but it definitely hurt. I managed to stay in a pack of 3 to help with the headwind for a bit. I got passed by two girls with 5 miles to go, and couldnt quite get back up to them.  I tried something new this race- instead of waiting until the last mile or two to book it to the finish, I gave it a little kick with 5k to go. I was able to stay strong and finish in 1:25 not too far behind the 3rd and 4th women. This put me 5 overall and 1st in my age group.

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We headed back home and hopped on the bike for an hour to get some of that race residue out of our legs.

We made another trip to Whole Foods, and then grabbed sashimi and sushi to eat while seeing the new movie Lone Survivor that afternoon. We decided on a 4:20pm showing because us old triathlete people need our early bedtime!

The next morning was a 60-mile bike through all of Charleston.  I must say it was very windy and cold, but it was beautiful. There were a lot of neat people we met on the ride, including some older USAFA graduates and Academy military trainers. We managed to turn the bike into an almost 5 hour ride with all the wind and some extra sight-seeing riding.  Ouch.The aid stations were great–bananas, peanut better, jelly, and energy bars were lifesavers. I also used Osmo active hydration throughout the ride and I really could feel a difference in my body. It felt SO good to be done, and by then we were starving. Image

I am not usually a gear-junkie, but the new Windmax Rudy Project helmet I received on Thursday was amazing. I havent used a helmet with better airflow before.Image

I pounded some more food into my belly before we headed out on a run to complete the super long brick session.

That concluded the weekend of training/racing. Commence gorging at the Whole Foods hot bar. Cant forget the entire package of mini M&Ms.

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First Race of 2014–pre post

My trusty golden doodle puppy Blair and I are headed to Charleston to knock out our first two races of the season. I am doing the half marathon on Saturday, and then a 60 mile bike race/ride on Sunday.  It is going to be a tough weekend on the legs especially after a couple long workouts tomorrow to kick off the holiday weekend.  I dont really know what to expect, but my coach and I have a plan, and hopefully this weekend helps get me back in the strict triathlon mindset. 

 

Recently I have been slacking for sure on diet and sleep. I can feel it in my bones but we all need a mental break from the constant go-go-go of triathlon, the lifestyle. I am going to use this weekend to get back on track with the aforementioned, and then it is full speed ahead into the spring racing season. 

 

Coach and I’s plan for the weekend events has gotten me excited! For the half marathon it’s no watch, 1.5 mile ease into it, then I can give my legs permission to let loose. What let loose means at this point in the season—not really sure. But I will definitely make it hurt. 

After the race we have a swim planned, possible a short bike. 

 

Sunday for the 60 mile ride, I will turn it into a brick and go make Brett do his track workout while Blair and I tag along. 

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The weakness I hope to conquer in 2014.

This weekend was full of deep thoughts due to a total of 30 miles of running, and 4 hours of biking. On a trainer, nonetheless. Luckily the weather was perfect for running outside or else I might have died trying to knock out some hard distance on a treadmill.  I tend to go through mood swings throughout these workouts.  I dig deep into this little brain of mine and pull out all of the things I wish I could be better at. 

By the end of the miles I have gone back to a positive (mostly) mindset. 

Looking back on 2013 actually depresses me because I have such a high standard I have set myself up to. It is hard to think about actually working harder and beating the accomplishments I was lucky enough to achieve. SO I am putting out my weaknesses to maybe make it easier to get better. 

1) I am never happy with my results. I always want to improve, make myself hurt more, make my parents more proud, make myself proud. This is a flaw, yet I think I can turn it into a strength. I am afraid to reach my full potential, but I want to reach my full potential. What do you do when you finally get to the top? I dont know, and I think I am scared to find out. 

2) That being said, I am running out of ways to change my lifestyle in order to get better. Or am I ? I think about eating better, I think about putting in MORE hours, I think about stretching, yoga, recovery, I think about gaining a social support group, or a workout-support group, I think about new equipment, I think about being a better Air Force officer. 

3) Then I think about how I am going to do ALL of these things. I get overwhelmed, then I  am back at square one. 

In conclusion, 2014 is going to have to be a big “mental” year for me in order to improve ALL of these things. It has always been my biggest weakness, and I know that it is the key to unlocking the physical potential of anyone. 

More to come, but I am going to hit the “post” button on this blurb before I chicken out. 

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.

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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Race Week! Kona ’13

It’s taken me a while to get to writing about Kona. For one, I have been swamped with this temporary duty that the Air Force sent me to in order to get me all trained up to be the best public affairs officer that I can be. I forgot how tiring school is! Sitting in a chair for 8 hours a day tires me out more than running around the office back at work all day. Then there’s homework…yuck..who likes homework. Just let me go run a marathon instead. But seriously. I’m sure some of you agree.

Secondly I think I have still just been in shock from the whole experience and the result. It’s still not real life.

Flashback to the 4 days I got to spend in Kona leading up to the race-it was a huge blur of mood swings, friends, dad, underwear, free schwag, coffee, tanning, more coffee, starburst candy corn, Liz, more mood swings, dad, alcohol, and maybe a little training in there.

Obviously I had a strong firm grip on my race prep and life in general that week.

In all seriousness though it was the greatest week of my life. Pretty sure I said that in 2012 Kona as well. It’s just an amazing experience and the energies around you during the week are indescribable. You wonder if walking around in the heat literally all day at the expo is going to tire you out for the race…but you do it anyways because it’s just SO COOL. I got to meet Chrissie Wellington, my hero, she signed my shoes! I got to look at all the beautiful new technology that has come into the world of triathlon (those sunglasses that display a bike computer while you ride are crazy looking.) And finally I got to hear some pretty impressive athletes speak at some of their sponsors tents. It’s nice to know that they are normal people like us. Just way faster. 😉

I know that most athletes blog about their pre race prep, their nutrition, what they do down to the littlest thing to prepare during race week. I could do that, but it would greatly disappoint most of you. It would also lower my image of seeming to know what I’m doing.

In short, my dad is my lifeline during race week. I will do a separate post with my personal pre race prep, but just know that my dad is the mechanic and the brains behind me.

My prep that I prefer to talk about, the prep that I’ll never forget, are the people who prepped me. My amazing friend Liz planned for almost 8 months how she was going to make this whole trip work so that she could help me out. She flew to Hawaii with me, booked the same flight, used her own leave days from the Air Force, dealt with my moodiness all week, fed me healthy food, made sure I stretched and rolled and got sleep, and in general just was more than I could ever dream of or ask for. Without her, I would’ve been tripping over my bike box and struggling to check into hotels and rent cars all on my own, like 2012 Kona had been.

My friends from the Academy, Kayla and Alexa, flew over from Hickam Air Force base to see me as well. I’ve never seen better fans. They made the funniest Miley Cyrus spoof signs to cheer with they followed me around the expo, they were eager to learn every little thing about triathlon in 2 short days that they could. They understood that I had to go to bed early and didn’t make fun of my old-lady-habits.

I have found that the friends I made at the Academy are the best people I will ever meet in my life.

All of the great people around me just made race week fly by and a lot less stressful. Heck, I sometimes forgot I had an ironman on Saturday because I was having so much fun. But, Friday night did come. And all too quickly!

Can’t wait to post my actual race experience, I’m going to make sure I fill it with lots of gruesome details :0