When I first met Thea Fleming, 3 or 4 years ago, she was transitioning from swimming at the U of M to running and triathlons. I can remember doing a hill workout where it felt like I was pulling her along the whole way. I thought I was pulling her along at last year's Boston Marathon too. That was until the 25-year-old Minneapolis resident easily pulled away from me during the second half of the race to record her first sub-3 hour marathon. This spring we've seen even more fast times from her. At the Human Race 8K she placed 3rd in 28:51 and followed that up with a 5th place performance at the Get in Gear 10K in 37:00 - all while juggling the training demands of her first Ironman. (Photo courtesy of Paul Phillips of Competitive Image.)
You swam at the U of M, but when and how did you first get involved with running?
I ran with my dad in high school during the off-season for swimming. The off-season wasn’t much time but it was enough to get me hooked on running. My dad does the Get in Gear and TCM every year so I guess watching him race caught my interest and then I joined him, my first running race was Get in Gear.
Coming from a swimming background and being a strong runner, it’s only natural to do some triathlons. What is your history with tris and what are your future plans?
I started tris right out of my swimming eligibility. My swim coach Kelly Kremer knew I had some running talent from the conditioning training I did as a distance swimmer. The distance swimmers would run or bike instead of the lifting training that the middle distance and sprinters would do. I did my first tri at the U of M they had an indoor tri the Tri U mah. Kelly was there to cheer me on and he decided to really help me get on track to train for tris. Kelly introduced me to Matt Haugen and I began training with Matt and P2 in March 2005. For the future I would like to keep improving, I’m doing Ironman Wisconsin this fall. I love the training and the people, so as long as I’m having fun I’m going to keep with the sport.
Biking is your, as Coach Matt would say, “third best sport”. Yet it basically makes up half the time of a triathlon. Does that worry you as you train for Ironman Wisconsin?
Biking is my “3rd best” but I have gotten stronger and more confident on the bike due to more training and time on the bike and my strong biking teammates and training partners. I have confidence that I can put in enough time on the bike this summer to build enough strength and endurance to take on the 112-mile bike in Madison.
Even as you balance the 3 different disciplines, you’ve been able to run some great times over 8K and 10K this spring. What do you attribute that to?
I think a lot comes from how much I love to run. I have fun at races, the gathering of other great runners and the cheering of my family and friends creates an environment that I love and feel so comfortable in. I do run more than the average triathlete too; I add more runs and don’t swim as much.
You’ve mentioned eventually focusing on qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials. Did watching the 2008 Trials and the fact that you train with one of the qualifiers from that race, Jenna Boren, help make that a goal of yours?
Of course, being able to stay with Jenna at the Trials in Boston as well as being able to train with her and hear of her many amazing accomplishments is very inspiring. I really didn’t ever imagine I could have the potential of reaching such a goal as competing in the Olympic Trials. I remember the conversation I had with Matt after my win at the Wells Fargo Half Marathon in 2007. He told me I might have a chance and I was so taken a back and excited. Since then I have had so many great friends encourage me and they have really boosted my confidence and belief in myself to do well. It’s been great.
What are your PRs?
8k - 28:51
10k - 36:42
1/2 marathon - 1:24:35
Marathon - 2:57
Half Ironman - 4:58
What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
Strengths are that I enjoy running, training and love trying new things, experiences and challenges. And that I have a wonderful family and so many great friends. My weaknesses are my tendency to potentially over work and over think everything. I haven’t quite been able to feel that I’m pushing myself to threshold on the bike, but I’m working on it.
What is your fondest memory from running, swimming or tris?
There are so many great memories; hearing my dad cheering for me from the bleachers at swim meets, tris, and running races is definitely one of them. Seeing the face coach Matt after my Wells Fargo win and the hug he gave me. The hug my dad gave me after my Run for Oromia prize win. Seeing my mom at the finish line of TCM. All the great training runs, the great cheering and encouragement from teammates. Seeing and being part of such a great community of athletes and friends.
Do you have a favorite local and/or national race?
Turtleman is on the top of the list for local tris. Wild Flower is a favorite nationally. I have a lot of favorite races; I love Trail Mix and Afton trail run. I loved TCM and my favorite national race so far is the Boston Marathon.
If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
To continue running with all the great friends I have been and the new friends to come.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
Cotton should not be worn while running.