Sara Slattery has had a highly decorated (and fascinating) running career. She was two time NCAA champion while at Colorado University (indoor 5k in 2003, outdoor 10k in 2005). After college she was the 2007 Pan Am champ in the 10k, and the alt for the USA Olympic Team in 2008 (finishing 4th in the 5k final). She’s competed for USA at the IAAF Cross Country World Championships and is the 2013 World Champion in ElliptiGO racing. She’s also been a birthday gift for a dude’s 30th birthday http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/23/sports/with-friends-like-these-the-competition-is-on.html (his friends flew her out to race him in a 1k repeats workout).
Some would say she quietly walked away from competition five years ago. Maybe it wasn’t even an intentional retirement, rather a life shift in small steps. Maybe it was a break. I would say she’s been on a very rich and interesting journey. Whatever it was she’s firmly back on the professional track circuit again, Sara is racing the Olympic Trials 10k this July, gunning for a spot on the 2016 Olympic team.
During the five years between her last professional track race and this next chapter on the track she’s lived a lifetime in terms of everything that’s happened off the track. Sara went from 0 to 2 kids, Colorado to Arizona, professional runner to professional coach and full time mom. She spent her dad’s last days with him. Qualified for and then learned she hadn’t qualified for the Olympic Trials Marathon and then just weeks ago punched her ticket to the Olympic Trials 10k on the track.
Time to (attempt to) catch up with Sara Slattery as she gears up for the 2016 Olympic Trials 10k in Eugene!
Looking back at these last five years, a lot has changed! Are you still living in Arizona?
Yes, I am still in Arizona. Steve and I moved here in the Fall of 2012 when I was pregnant with Stevie. Living in Boulder, we weren’t close to either of our families (I grew up in Phoenix and Steve grew up in New Jersey), and we both wanted to raise our children close to one of our families.
In June of 2012 my father was diagnosed with ALS and we felt it was really important to be able to spend as much time as possible with my father and to be there for my Mom. I am so glad we did. My Dad passed in June of 2013 and I got to spend a lot of quality time with my Dad and he was there when Stevie was born. I also love Arizona and think it is a great place to live and train. I am so happy living here.
What’s an average day look like for you these days?
Here is a typical day this spring:
5:30am Wake up/get dressed/coffee and get a small bite to eat /stretch.
6:00am Out the door for Run/Workout
7:15/7:45am Make Breakfast with the kids/Get them dressed/Clean up House
8:15/8:30am CORE/Lift in Garage while Cali and Stevie play in front yard
9:30am Take Kids to Park/Run Errands
11:00am Lunch with Kids
11:30am Nap Time/Work on Recruiting/Catch up on Emails/Coaching
2:00pm Drive to GCU
2:45pm Drop kids off with Chelsea (their sitter on campus)
3:00pm GCU Track Practice/Do 2nd Run with Team
5:30pm Pick Up Kids and Drive Home
6:00pm Dinner with Steve and Kids
6:30pm Go to the Park with Steve, Stevie and Cali
7:15pm Bath Time with Stevie and Cali
8:00pm BedTime for the kiddos
8:30pm Work on Computer/Catch up on Email/Recruiting Calls
10:30pm Bedtime for Mom
Leading up to starting your family, you had a long and hugely successful career. When you got pregnant with Stevie Jr did you always plan to return to competition?
The four years before I got pregnant with Stevie, I was injured frequently and struggled to string consistent seasons together. Running became a grind and mentally I was not enjoying it. I really wanted to get back to being consistently healthy and having fun with running again.
My pregnancy was a blessing. I took the time as a break from running both mentally and physically. I trained during both for the first 4-5months really easy and then just walked and did not stress over training. I stayed fairly active but I wanted to rest and recover my body from the 10 years previous years of training hard.
Once I had the kids I wanted to get back into training and have fun again. I didn’t have a lot of trouble returning to running after the pregnancy. I was unfit but my body felt healthy. I did a lot of core/hip stability exercises on my return but didn’t really have any hiccups and was able to build back pretty quickly. I really enjoyed the process back and each week I made big jumps in fitness. It was really fun. I knew I knew I wanted to return and have fun with it again and do races I had always wanted to run but hadn’t (like the marathon) and find the joy and fun in it again.
Your husband Steve coaches you now, correct? What’s the best and worst part about that? Or more diplomatically the best and “most challenging” part?
Yes, Steve does coach me and has actually coached me to all of my PR’s. Steve and my high school coach Sabrina Robinson coached me to my PR’s in 2006 and 2007, when I first graduated and Steve was still competing as well. Steve understands training really well. We have worked with some of the best coaches in the world (Mark Wetmore, Alberto Salazar, Terrence Mahon, Steve Jones, Ricky Simms and Dan Pfaff ) and learned a lot from their training systems and what works for well for us and what does not. Most importantly he knows me really well. He sees me every day and knows if I didn’t get enough sleep the night before a workout or if I have been sick and he will adjust things.
The most challenging part is separating our personal relationship and coach/athlete relationship. It is stressful at times and that is why we went to Mammoth in 2008 and tried to have a different coaching situation.
After I had Stevie, I asked Steve to coach me again. We are both at different points in our life and don’t stress over the little things as much as we used to. I am much more relaxed in my approach to training. I do what Steve tells me to do and don’t stress over every workout like I did in the past. Like I said before, he understands my schedule with the kids, coaching at GCU and how my body responds to training. He has watched me for the last 15years race and train and understands what does and does not work for me. It has been working really well and I am so grateful to have him as my husband and coach.
You’ve been racing or coaching since the 8th grade. How do you stay in love with the sport?
The sport of running is amazing because it can continue to challenge you for the rest of your life. The way I have stayed in love with the sport is keeping goals and making it fun. Every season since High school, I have sat down and written out my goals for the year. These goals keep me hungry and make training fun. I always need something to target to keep me focused and make my training worthwhile. If I don’t have a goal it makes it difficult for me to get out the door each day. I know running will be a part of my life for rest of my life in some capacity. I know I will continue to make goals each year in running even when I am done competing, the goals will just look a little different.
How does your relationship with running changed? How did it look when you were straight out of college at 22 compared to now, with two kiddos, at age 34?
At 22 I was very strict with my running and somewhat OCD about my training and the sport. Running was everything in my life when I graduated and I wanted to get the most out of myself and the sport. My whole day revolved around my training, recovery and racing. At 34, I still care a lot about my running but it is not my only priority. I am now a Wife, Mom, Coach and Athlete. Running is not my only priority. I still value my running greatly and often it is my time for me and I really take advantage of that time. But I enjoy having balance with the other things in my life as well. I love being a Mom too and a college coach.
You coach the Grand Canyon University cross country and track teams? How did that come about?
The head distance Coach at GCU resigned 2 weeks before the season started in August 2015. The head track coach, Tom Flood reached out to me about the position. At the time Cali was 4 months old and I was a little hesitant to take the job. I wanted to make sure I would have the time to do a good job and be there for my kids. Tom understood my concern and was very supportive of me balancing the position as a new Mom.
I thought about it for a few days and couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I have always wanted to coach and to be able to coach at the Division 1 level in my hometown, I couldn’t turn it down. I love living in Phoenix and I didn’t plan on chasing coaching jobs around the country. GCU is a great small Christian University that is growing rapidly and it is an exciting time to be a part of it. I get to grow my program as the University grows as well. Phoenix is also a great place to live and train. I am looking forward to growing the distance program here. I am so blessed to have a head coach like Tom and be a part of a program like GCU.
Has coaching changed your perspective on your own running career?
Definitely. It has made me realize how quickly time goes by and how important it is to take advantage of every opportunity and enjoy the process. I realized how much I used to stress over things I couldn’t control and that I wasted a lot of time and opportunities on doing this. I am really enjoying my training and racing much more than I ever did in my career.
When did you decide to go for that 10k Standard? Did you know it was a sure shot?
After missing the Olympic Marathon Trials standard in the ½ marathon I was really disappointed. I had set the goal of running the marathon trials 4 years prior and was very disappointed to come up that short. I then sat back and thought about what my goals were with coming back to running. I wanted to have fun again and not stress over these things I needed to move on and set another goal and enjoy the process.
I decided to try again on the track. I had a big base from the marathon training and all I needed to do is get back into track workouts again and see where it took me. I decided to go for the standard at Stanford about a month prior. I decided to run the 5K at Mt. Sac because my team was racing there and I would use it as a rust buster (I hadn’t raced on the track in 5 years). I ran 15:49. My goals was to run between 15:40 and 16 minutes. I was right where I thought I would be and I had a blast racing. I started conservatively and moved up the whole way.
I felt really strong just not super-fast and thought I would have a good shot at the standard at Stanford. If I was in a good race. I was lucky because I was put in the slower heat of the 10K at Stanford. The faster heat probably would have been too fast for me and I would have run on my own most of the race. In the slower heat I was able to run at the front and race. I don’t like focusing on time during races. I enjoy and I am much better at racing and letting the time come. At Stanford there was a pack of 6 for over half of the race right at the standard time. It was great for me to just tuck in and race.
Your Instagram about everything you were juggling around the day you ran the 10k Standard was crazy! I was laughing, like no one should have any excuse why they aren’t chasing big goals after reading that post. How do you manage it all?
I think I do better when I am busy. I am better at managing my time and don’t have time to over think things. I survive on to-do lists. I forget things easily and have to write everything down. I write one before I go to bed each night what I have to do the next day. I also have weekly and monthly to do list that I am always updating. Prioritizing the task at hand is key for me. When I am coaching I have to focus on coaching, when I am with the kids then I am Mom and I focus all my attention on them. The same with my running and training. That’s not to say that I don’t have break downs or wonder how I am going to get things done. That definitely happens.
Follow Sara Slattery on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BE6xjHwS53O/?taken-by=saraslattery
Do you find the chaos and distraction of momming and coaching to be beneficial for your running career? Or are you accomplishing your goals despite the “obstacles”? Or a little of both?
I definitely think momming and coaching has helped my running. It has made me focused and much more efficient with my time. I only have a window of time that I can get my workout done each day and I can’t overthink it or procrastinate. I am lucky because I am able to run with my athletes on non-workout days and it has really motivated me. I see them working hard toward their goals and it makes me want to do it too! I get excited seeing them hit good workouts or huge PR’s in a race and it gives me a lot of confidence in myself and my athletes get a lot of confidence seeing me accomplish my goals. I think a lot of people see it as me accomplishing my goals despite these “obstacles” but I see my momming and coaching being beneficial to my career.
You’re sponsored by Brooks, how long have you been running for them?
I have been running for Brooks since 2013. They have been an awesome sponsor that really tries to connect with and support their athletes. I also work with Powerbar, Native Eyewear, 2XU, Nuun and Soleus Watches. I am very lucky to work with great companies like these that have supported me in my career and return to running.
Okay, walk us through the logistics of the Trials. Is the whole family coming into Eugene? You have an entourage of nannies?
Yes, everyone is traveling to the Trials. Stevie, Cali and Steve will be joining me and cheering me on. Stevie and Cali are used to traveling and it is really important to me to have them there. This may be my last Olympic Trials and I want them to be there with me. They are my motivation and have helped me greatly in my running.
Ha! Yeah, my nanny entourage consists of my husband and coach Steve.
Stevie’s at that age where he’ll totally remember his mom racing the Olympic Trials, that’s so awesome! Is he excited? Does he get “who you are”?
Stevie doesn’t quite get what the Olympic Trials are but understands that Mom likes to run a lot and likes to race. He thinks I am fast but I don’t think he understands that part of my job is to run.
2008 you were 4th, 2012 you were injured, 2016… is the third time the charm? What is the goal beyond the obvious, what does a successful race look like to you?
I actually made the trials in 2004 too when I was in college, but I tore my posterior tibial tendon and was unable to run. So this will be the 4th Olympic Trials I have qualified for.
First, I want to get to the line healthy, confident and ready to race. A successful race for me will be to put myself in a position to go for it and have fun.
It’s a complete honor to catch up with you Sara, I will be cheering my heart out for you!
Interview conducted and writtern by Sarah McKay Robinson for Freeplay magazine.
Featured image by Clutch Photography.
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