She was the first American finisher at this year’s Beach to Beacon 10K.
Written by: David Monti
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
It was a magical year in 2006 for Sara Slattery. Just out of the University of Colorado, where the year before she had won the NCAA 10,000m title and then landed a sponsorship deal with adidas, Slattery made the USA team for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, ran her still-standing personal bests of 15:08.32 for 5000m and 31:57.94 for 10,000m, finished second at the USA Outdoor Championships at 10,000m, and won the Bolder Boulder 10K.
She was just 24.
Although her next two seasons would have their highlights –like a 2007 Pan Am Games gold medal at 10,000m and a fourth place finish at the 2008 USA Olympic Trials at 5000m– Slattery began to struggle. She barely raced in 2009 and 2010, bothered by injuries. She moved with husband Steve, a steeplechaser, to Mammoth Lakes, Calif., to train with the Mammoth Track Club, but that didn’t work out.
She lost her adidas sponsorship, was picked up by Nike, but lost that deal, too. Running just wasn’t fun anymore.
“Well, I’ve just been, like, on the mend (after) a year, year and a half of injuries,” Slattery told Race Results Weekly after the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K on Aug. 6, in Cape Elizabeth, Me. “So, I’m just building back. I did track, and I wanted to do track this summer. But, after nationals (she finished 13th in the 5000m) we just decided I wasn’t strong. So, this summer I’m doing a lot of base training, and long intervals, and the boring stuff. But, it’s the stuff that makes you strong.”
Looking to go back to what worked before, the Slatterys have returned to Boulder and Sara is being coached again by one of her college coaches, Jason Drake, whom she calls “J.D.”
Just being in Boulder again has lifted her spirits, she said. “There’s always people to run with in Boulder. It’s great to be back there; I love training there. I love the trails. I love Boulder in general.” Slattery’s worst problem, a grade-four stress fracture of her left tibia, hit her in February of 2010. She was unable to run at all for eight months. “I had some posterior tib problems, then I had a stress fracture, like a grade-four,” she explained. “I was having trouble with my right leg. You know, when you have one injury it turns into a couple right after that. I wasn’t able to start running until November. I started racing right away, but I just wasn’t very fit, so I was just training/racing through that. I probably should have just been training.”
At the Beach to Beacon 10K, Slattery showed some of her old form. She ran 33:37, good for sixth place and was the first American finisher. She said she could have even finished higher if she wasn’t so tentative in the final kilometers. She called the race “a step in the right direction.” “Benita (Willis) went by me and I could have been a little bit more aggressive the last mile,” she said, clearly excited to be racing well again. “But, I had been fading in some of my races because I was going out too hard, and I was just a little bit nervous. Now I know for the next race, I can push it a little bit more. It’s fun; I’m excited to run again.” Slattery ran all of her best track times in 2006, and since then the competitive landscape for USA women in the 5000m and 10,000m has changed.
The bar has been raised by athletes like Shalane Flanagan, Kara Goucher and Molly Huddle. But Slattery, 29, said this motivates her. “I think it’s great,” she intoned. “I feel confident that there is no reason. Like, the bar’s been raised but there is no reason; I’ve been there before with those girls. I feel like it’s exciting and that there is no reason I can’t be up there with them, too.”
Can she recapture the magic of 2006? “Yeah, definitely,” she said, leaning forward. “I feel like my workouts are getting back to where they were in 2006 and ’07. I feel like there is no reason why I can’t be better than what I was then.”
Slattery had hoped to run the New Balance Falmouth Road Race on Sunday, but the organizers didn’t accept her into the elite field. Looking ahead, she has planned a fall season where she will follow the USA road running championships at 5K in September, and 10 miles and 10K in October. She sees this as a prelude to getting back on the track again in 2012 with elevated aspirations.
“My vision for 2012 is to get through this winter, just building a strong base,” she reasoned. “And my goal is for the 10K next July for the Olympic Trials. So, I’d just like to get back to where I’m PR’ing on the track next spring. So, the way to do that for me is to just get as strong as I can through this winter.”