Back On Track: Exclusive Interview With Lauren Fleshman

Let’s take a step back to 2008. You set your PR of 14:58 in the 5K, but suffered a stress fracture right before the Olympic trials, missed the team by one spot and then needed to have season-ending, possibly even career-ending, surgery on your foot. How did the highs and lows of that year change your perspective as an athlete?

The injury, originally, was sort of like experiencing a loss partly because of the timing right before the Olympic Trials. I raced injured and just came so close to making that team, and so all that kind of crumbled away. In this sport, the way it works is you just have this one big shot every four years and you just better hope you’re not injured or sick or having an off-day that day or else one could say it was all for nothing. That’s not really what it is, but that’s what it feels like at the time. So after that loss, I guess you could call it that, I couldn’t even take out my frustrations by going on a mountain run or something. I couldn’t do the one thing I love the most which is go out for a run. I was in a boot, I had crutches, I was even in a wheelchair for a while and I just had to kind of sit there and fester with my thoughts and my disappointment until I got over it. What I realized was that I was much more upset over the fact that I couldn’t run, period, than I was about missing the Olympics. The more time went by, the more I missed running and the less I cared about missing the Olympics. Because the injury was one of those types where you may or may not be able to return to running – the statistics aren’t great for navicular level 2 fractures – all my focus just became, “Man, all I want to do is be able to run. Even if all I could do is go for a 5-mile run, five days a week for the rest of my life I would be so happy. I don’t even care about this professional running thing, I don’t care about any of that stuff.”

I guess that’s what I learned more than anything is just how deep my love for running really runs, and all of the other stuff – all the competing, all the goal setting – that just compliments it. You can fail at trying to reach your biggest goal and you’ll still be OK. It’s still worth making goals, it’s still going out in trying. Nothing horrendous happened. I came up short at the most absolute worst moment to come up short as a track and field athlete, at the Olympic Trials by one spot. It’s the kind of crap they write movies about – it sucks, but it’s totally fine at the same time. I still have a great husband, and wonderful parents and family and friends. None of the really important stuff changed. I guess you just realize that none of that other stuff really matters. I just think I have a better perspective and a better balance. That loss is really what inspired me to do the website. I felt like I indentified more than ever with your average runner, and I looked up to runners all over this community. I’d be out on trails and see 60-year-old ladies running and I was like, “I wanna do that. That’s my goal.” When people ask me, “What’s your goal?” the answer is I want to be able to run the rest of my life more than anything. I’ve just really developed a deep respect for that. All these people have a wealth of knowledge and I felt it was just time to get a resource up where we can share that stuff with each other in a fun way. Runners are a community of communal knowledge, but most of the advice that’s out there today isn’t from people who are still currently in the sport. I saw the site as an opportunity to provide information that’s current, so I thought, “Why not just share that?”

In 2008 you moved to Eugene and reconnected with your college coach, Vin Lannana. In the last year or so, Mark Rowland has taken the day-to-day reigns of working with the Oregon Track Club athletes. How have those two men been instrumental in helping you get back to running a world-class level?

Vin’s always been great. He’s seen me through some really good and really bad times. He helped me get through my first stress fracture in the 2004 Olympic Trials. I’ll always have the deepest respect for Vin. He’s incredible. I’ve been transitioned over to working with Mark as far as coaches go for the last year but Vin has always made himself available to me as an advisor and just someone to run things by anytime I need him. And I’ve been lucky, I haven’t needed to lean on him too much but there have been a couple times when I needed to go by his place and have a chat. There’s still nobody that knows me as well as he does as an athlete, so I’m just really grateful.

Mark, as a coach, has been very patient and attentive. When he first came here I was not looking good. Every time I went out to do a workout, I’m surprised he didn’t kick me off the track. It was pretty pathetic compared to any kind of standard for a professional athlete, and that lasted for a good year. He just stood by me and always believed that I could come around. I think that the biggest single mistake that coaches make in situations like mine is that they push you too hard. They get kind of frustrated too, and really you just have to let things come around at their own pace and he knew that more than anybody. I believed him and just sort of let things fall into place.

Last question. The next Olympic Trials are two years away now, right there in your backyard of Eugene. Based on what you’ve gone through last two years, where would you like to see yourself two years from now?

My goals for 2012 are very modest. I’ve learned that all I can do is focus on what I can control. Every time an Olympic Trials has come up I’ve had this image in my head of, “When that comes around I’m gonna be in the best shape of my life and I wanna have done everything right and I really want to have things figured out by then and just be unstoppable.” Of course, that’s what you want to happen, but the reality is there’s a 99.9 percent chance that’s not going to be the situation I’m in on that day. Maybe I’m nursing some injury, I may have a cold, or I might just be the same athlete I am right now and that will just have to be good enough. I’m trying not develop any expectations for 2012 and instead just want to keep plugging away meet by meet and just try to develop habits that involve racing to the best of my ability on the day, getting the most out of whatever my body naturally has and if I can do those things the result will just happen and it will have to be OK with me.

I’ve learned you can’t reach for some superhuman powers the last minute – they don’t exist. I’m naturally very competitive so I never have to psyche myself up or force myself to summon some inner power. That’s always going to show up. I am a competitor. Sometimes it’s about toning that stuff down so I can just get to the line relaxed.[sig:MarioFraioli]

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