Olympic Trials Preview: Susan Loken

Susan Loken blazing through the 2008 Trials.

Heading into her third Olympic Trials is the amazing Susan Loken, a 48-year-old mother of five and grandmother (!) of one. I feel a little kinship with her because her hamstring isn't cooperating either these days. She's been super smart about training so that she can cross the finish line in Houston. "It such an honor to participate and such an accomplishment to make to the Trials," she says, "Life is about experiences and running with all the fastest women in the USA is an experience not to be missed!" Susan, who leads training runs and coaches around her home of Tempe, Arizona, qualified with a 2:44:43 at the 2010 Twin Cities Marathon, where she also won the USA Master's Marathon Championship.

Hamstrung: Back in September when I was training for the 2011 USA Master’s Marathon Championship at the Twin Cities Marathon, my left hamstring started to become a big problem. The Sunday before Twin Cities I went out for my last taper long run and realized I couldn’t run at the level needed to be competitive and wasn’t sure I could even finish the marathon with the pain I was experiencing. I made the difficult decision to pull out of the race.

I started working with Dr. John Ball to heal my hamstring so I could train for the Olympic Trials. The first MRI came back as an 80% tear. When he told me this, the tears just started to flow. I knew if this were the case, running in my third  Trials would not happen. Worse than that, it could end my running career. Running is my lifestyle and to have that taken away would be a big heartbreak.

Fortunately, my symptoms did not match up with the initial diagnosis. He had my MRI read again and this radiologist concluded I had tendinosis. I’ve dealt with this nagging injury before; it’s not a career ender, but it can take months to get under control.

My goal became to run minimally, cross-train to maintain my fitness, keep my hamstring from getting worse, and finish the Trials. After Saturday I will do whatever it takes to heal it.

Susan: the matriarch in a family of 3 sons, 1 step-son, 1 step-daughter, and 1 daughter-in-law.

Seven letters in her mantra--and success: Believe is the one word that I try to live my life by.
Believe in myself.
Believe in my training.
Believe that all challenges have a purpose, benefit or lesson.
Believe that obstacles make me stronger.
Believe that tough competition makes me faster, stronger and better.
Believe that tough miles during a marathon will happen and I will make it.
Believe that my thoughts create my outcome so keep my thoughts positive.
Believe that my life is God’s plan, not mine.

 {Ed. note: One guess as to what word is tattooed on her foot.}

Susan, making lemonade out of yellow ElliptiGO.

On the go: Six weeks ago I was introduced to cross-training on the ElliptiGO, an elliptical bike you ride outside. One of the reasons I love to run is the glory of being outside with the wind at my face, working out my body, soul and mind at the same time. When I’m injured, I miss that terribly. After a session on the ElliptiGO, I always come back feeling more positive and optimistic about my fitness.

Pre-race ritual: After an early dinner of pasta, chicken, a roll, salad and water, I go back to my hotel room, set out race day items and pack my after race bag. Put on my snuggly PJ’s and then I jump into bed with a bag of plain M&M’s and watch an inspirational movie that get me into the believe mindset. A few of my faves are The Fighter; Rudy; Spirit of the Marathon; Cinderella Man; Remember the Titans; The Blind Side; and Soul Surfer.

Brief time out: If I have a bad race I allow myself 30 minutes to feel the disappointment. Then I begin listing in my mind the lessons learned and all the blessings in my life, and I move on.

She can (some advice): We can all find excuses why we can’t do something; that’s easy. Stop wasting energy on why you can’t and spend all your energy on ways you can. For example: I can stay in shape for the Trials by cross-training, sticking to my treatment plan, eating a balanced diet and setting a realistic goal for my situation. Nope, not always easy to do, but necessary for success.

And she gets to (a little more advice): Live by the words I get to, instead of I have to. I get to run! I get to meet my friends and do speed work! {Ed note: I would change her ! to a . and keep most of the get-to spirit, but that's me.} I get to eat healthy meals and drink plenty of water. I get to wake up before all my family and start my day with a positive run. I get to become everything I ever wanted. I get to go to bed early so I can wake up and complete a run that will get me one step closer to my goal.

Oh, and one granddaughter.

Goals for the Trials: I set three goals for every marathon.
The first one is a dream goal: the weather is sunny, the wind is at my back, I feel amazing.
Second one is a realistic goal: based on my training, training races, and the normal marathon challenges, I will be able to accomplish this with hard work.
The third one is a suck-it-up-and-finish goal: nothing seems to go according to plan and the day is just off, but I will finish.

So for the Trials:
Dream Goal: Sub-2:50 and I finish without my hamstring getting worse and enjoy the journey.
Realistic Goal: 2:58. I will give it everything I have, I won’t back down and I will be a three-time Olympic Trials finisher.
Suck-it-up-and-finish Goal: Need I say more? I will accept my medal with a huge smile on my face and be very happy!

p.s. I always start a race aiming for my realistic goal; if by the halfway point, I’m rocking, I kick it into to a higher gear and aim for the dream goal. The suck-it-up-and-finish goal is there because the marathon must be respected and a challenging day can happen to anyone.

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  18. I love this. What a great mantra. Fits right into anyone’s mission in life. As another 48 year old — how could you not but be inspired. And I LOVE that elliptical bike. As I age, I’m trying to cross train more and I enjoy the elliptical…but inside at the gym? Not so much. Will be cheering for Susan!

  19. I love the “get to” concept! Such a simple change in words for such a huge change in meaning and mentality. Many great words of wisdom in this post – thank you! 🙂

  20. Four years ago Susan was one of the women I was cheering loudest for in Boston because she was a master’s runner. Seeing her again in 2012 and with such an extraordinary outlook is akin to being twice blessed. As a Runner of a Certain Age, her attitude and training methods resonate with me. Here’s hoping you “get to” run your dream goal on Saturday, Susan!

  21. This has me in tears..tears of joy for a woman who has accomplished so much in her lifetime, and still gives to all those around her!! I am hoping you reach your Dream Goal this weekend Susan!!!

  22. Absolutely inspiring!! I am fully adopting the “I get to . . . ” mentality, and fully supporting Susan this weekend–RLAM!!!

  23. This posting came just in time! Needing some mojo for winter running, self-confidence and motivation for career-change. Thanks ladies!

  24. LOVE her story! LOVE all the Olympic Trial stories! BELIEVE……my favorite one word mantra. You can use it in so many positive ways! What an inspiration! I’ve learned so much on being positive and going forward in my running after reading these posts! I won’t let an injury take me down and it has taken me down in the past. I will try to hold my head up high and learn from my experiences. Wishing these amazing ladies all the skill during their Olympic trials……BELIEVE!

  25. I love this series, these ladies are so inspiring! She offers such great goal setting advice, I need to remember that. I love how she doesn’t go for her dream goal until the halfway point. I tend to start a race with the dream goal, which is probably why I end up with the ‘just finish it’ one!

  26. I loved this! SO well written and so many notable quotes to pass on to my WOOP Running Group here in Okinawa. Certainly an eye opening post when I realized the age of this woman! I can only hope that I am half as resilient and positive about my health, running, and physical fitness at her age.

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