Endurance Project athlete of the month, Sarah Clark

So, yes it’s technically the 2nd of November and October has come and gone but, I have been uber busy this past month and am finally sitting down with a bit of free time to update the Athlete Of The Month for October.

The athlete chosen for the month of October was, Sarah Clark. Sarah has made some serious progress the past several months, particularly over the past two.

Sarah came to me in late spring and asked if I could work with her and get her back on the right track. After a less than ideal marathon and an injury later, she was lacking motivation and direction. My recommendation was to start from the bottom and rebuild her. We would take where she was at and reconstruct, redesign and restructure everything she had been doing and would reshape her both physically and mentally. I conveyed to her that it would be a more gradual progression and that the biggest thing she would need, patience. I let her know that it would take about 3 months to really start seeing improvements and that the first 6-12 months would be a big push to work on her foundation and get her stronger before we pushed her harder. So far, it has paid off quite well.

Sarah started coming out to the DWEP track workouts, the hill workouts and immediately started working hard. At times, she would get a bit discouraged when she wasn’t able to hang with some of those who had been in the program a bit longer. These moments were when I had to remind her of patience and steady progression. Rather than get down for long, she just kept putting in the work, progressing gradually week by week.

During this time, Sarah expressed that she wanted to train with the rest of our Spartan group, for the upcoming Spartan Super on the Wintergreen ski resort..she also had signed up to do her first triathlon and was planning to parlay that into her first Half Ironman in August.

Then, in June, a little misstep and and a fall later, Sarah ends up with a broken arm..UGH! So, how does one train for an obstacle race and a triathlon, with limited use of their arm? This was certainly a training setback, but not the end of the world.

We made adjustments to her training so that she wouldn’t lose any fitness but, her technique and form for the obstacles and the handling on the bike might suffer. As would the swim.

Fast forward to August and the Spartan Super, on the slopes of the Wintergreen Ski resort! Everyone else in the world goes DOWN black diamond slopes but, Spartans go UP them! Having done several Spartans myself, I knew they were tough, after Wintergreen, the others paled in comparison. This was Sarah’s FIRST! I knew she had her work cut out for her. As her coach, I wanted to ensure that Sarah had the best experience as possible and I wanted to ensure that her nutrition was taken care of, without leaving it up to her to remember it. So, I recruited Chad Shroy (another DWEP member) to join me in pacing and crewing for Sarah. We went with her and kept her going the entire day.
Needless to say, she KILLED IT! I don’t think she really knows how proud we were of her. I had no doubt she would finish but, I had no clue she would perform quite so well, especially having just gotten her cast of the arm two weeks prior. No matter how tired she was getting, she kept on going and kept on pushing. Even with a few burpee penalties, she finished in well under 4 hours!! Very impressive for anyone, but especially someone running their first Spartan and on such a brutal course. Did I mention that she had to climb a black diamond on 3 occasions??

So, what next? Well, after a week or so of going “easy”, Sarah was back to the grind. She had only about 3 weeks preparation time to get ready for the OBX Half Ironman! For you that do not understand that lingo, its 70.3 miles worth of human locomotion! 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride and a 13.1 mile run.

Due to the broken arm setback, Sarah had less than ideal bike and swim training time but, she had been staying conditioned and was certainly capable of putting together a great race. It was just a matter of convincing her that she could. She was nervous and stressed leading up to the race. She texted me frantically on various occasions and of course my advice was “It’s just a race” or “You can only do the best you can do”. These responses were in no way to make light of her race but, she needed to know that she was ready and that she was going to do great. Was this going to be her best 70.3 EVER? Hell no! But, it was going to be her best debut 70.3 and she was going to go hard, finish strong and learn from it.

So on race day, yet again, she surprised me a bit. I knew she would do well but, I was quite impressed with her resolve and toughness on the run. September in OBX is not exactly the ideal month for doing an endurance event because, IT’S HOT!! Running a half marathon for any reason in the month of September is tough enough, doing it after 1.2 miles of swimming and another 56 miles of cycling, the suck factor goes up about 50. With all of that stacked against her, she still pushed hard and ran a rather impressive half marathon split and put together a pretty damned good debut 70.3. I have no doubt that with more training and race specific training in particular, she will take an hour plus off of her next attempt at 70.3

Now with two of the hardest races of her life thus far behind her, it’s time to back off a bit, right? Wrong! With two weeks until the Crawling Crab half marathon, there is no rest for the weary 🙂

Going into Crawling Crab, I had not had Sarah on a half marathon specific training plan. Could she finish the race and run a good time? Of course! Hell, in comparison to being on the mountains of Wintergreen for 3 hours and 45 minutes and being out on the OBX 70.3 course for 6 hours and 48 minutes….less than 2 hours at Crawling Crab should be a cake walk!

Though Sarah had not been putting in the best half specific training, I knew she had a PR in her for this race. Going in, her PR was a 1:54 from two years ago. So the plan for Crawling Crab was for her to go out at 1:52 pace for the first 10k or so and then, if she was feeling good, drop the pace and go for broke. At the very least, I knew she could hold a 1:52 pace and still stumble to a new PR of over 2 minutes. Well, she did not disappoint!

With a fellow DWEP athlete pacing her, she managed to shave 4 minutes from her PR, finishing in 1:50:24! What’s even more impressive, she did this after having done her first 70.3 just two weeks before.

So now what? Well, as of today, Sarah is somewhat “taking it easy”. Of course this only means that she has no A races until the Shamrock marathon in March. In the meantime, she will be training and racing some “gauging and tuneup” races. In fact, she will be doing her first Spartan Beast (12+ miles) this next week, down in South Carolina. After that, Sarah is planning to run the Surf n Santa 10 miler with Team Hoyt, the Seashore 50k, VIFL 14k and perhaps a few other tune-up races for Shamrock.

Oh and did I forget to mention that aside from all her personal athletic achievements and pursuits, Sarah is also a New Energy POWER coach, a member of Team Hoyt Virginia Beach and is pursuing her degree as a Physical Therapist (already has completed her B.A in Exercise Science).

At the baby age of 23 ;), Sarah has her head on her shoulders and has big dreams and goals. With the vigor and aggressiveness in which she pursues her goals, there really isn’t much she can’t accomplish, if she so chooses.

If you want to continue following Sarah and her journey, checkout her blog, where she talks about training, racing and other life endeavors.

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