Tuesday, April 10, 2012


No matter how closely I follow this sport, new names always seem to pop up near the top of the results. One of the latest such names is Kelly Brinkman. In the span of four months, the 30-year-old Bloomington resident went from hoping to break 3 hours at TCM to running in the Olympic Trials Marathon. Of course, it helps when your background includes being a national qualifier for a division 1 college. Read on to find out where Kelly has been, why she prefers running on the treadmill and what sport she enjoys almost as much as running.

You started running at a pretty young age. What age did you start and how did you first get involved with the sport?
I grew up in a very active family so I was always running around just playing as kids do. When I first thought of running as its own sport though was probably in 2nd or 3rd grade. I had to run the 600m dash for physical education class, and I can remember wanting to be the fastest at it. And not just the fastest girl, the fastest period.

I found your results for the state cross-country meet from 7th - 10th grades where you placed 30th, 18th, 10th and 14th, respectively. What happened your junior and senior years?
Let me first just say that in high school I considered myself a basketball player. I only went out for cross-country to get in shape for basketball. But I’m a very competitive person, so as long as I was going to be competing, I wanted to do my best.

Having said that, my junior season of cross-country I contracted mono and was sick and/or just plain run-down for several months. My senior season was a bust due to stress fractures suffered during the spring of my junior track season. I basically smashed most of the tiny little bones in the ball of your foot during my junior track season. Therefore I spent the entire summer preceding my senior cross-country season, and most of that fall, either in a walking boot or doing very limited physical activity.

You must have bounced back because you ran for Iowa State in college. What are some of your college accolades?
I did bounce back and had a great spring track season in high school. And in fact, track is probably what I was being most heavily recruited for. Iowa State signed me thinking that I would be an 800m runner in college. But similar to my high school experience, my coach suggested I train with the cross-country team to get in shape for track and I ended up being converted into a longer distance runner for the remainder of my college career.

Some of my accolades include (I think this is correct):

Big 12 All-Conference in both cross-country and track (1000m)

All-Region (cross-country)

National Qualifier (cross-country)

Academic All-American (cross-country)

Locally, your name doesn’t appear in the race results very often. Do you tend not to race competitively very much anymore?
Yes and no. I didn’t race for a while because I wasn’t living in the state, and/or near the Twin Cities. As an athlete who is not sponsored or a part of a team, I didn’t want to bother with the expenses of traveling to races, so I didn’t. Now that I’m living in the Cities, I’m racing more, but I have also become involved in other activities that keep me from racing purely running events as often as other athletes. And I think an additional factor for my lack of racing is that I just like to run. A lot of people who race, sign up for races to motivate them to run; in other words, they need a reason to get up and run each day. I don’t; I truly enjoy my daily runs, regardless of whether or not there’s an upcoming event.

You are involved in adventure racing and it looks like you’ve done some triathlons in the past. Do you prefer the variety of those events over running or what draws you to them?
I love running. It is by far and away my favorite activity, and it is the one I invest the most time and energy in. My boyfriend is the one who got me involved in adventure racing (biking, trekking/running, and paddling a course using map and compass based navigation) and I enjoy it almost as much. I like the team aspect of adventure racing, and the challenge of stepping outside of my comfort zone. Biking is a challenge for me; paddling is a challenge for me; racing for 24-hours straight through the wilderness (which is a common scenario for adventure races) is a challenge for me. I think it’s been good to mix it up and do challenging things, even though it does take away some of my focus on running. I’m not the most elite runner in the world, so I’m able to indulge in some other sports outside of running. Having said all of that, I will always consider myself a runner first.

Last year you were able to focus on the marathon and eventually achieve the Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier at the California International Marathon (CIM). Did you try to qualify at any other marathons?
It’s probably going to sound crazy, but I didn’t actually make the Trials my goal until October (2011). It just wasn’t on my radar. I had only done three other marathons prior this past fall, and still didn’t really know what I was capable of. I was registered for the Twin Cities Marathon because it’s an awesome “hometown” race, and my goal was to break the 3:00 barrier. I had a rough day (leg cramps), but I still finished around 2:53. It was after that race that I became aware of the Trials standard and decided to make it my goal. The trials were in January, so I only had about 3 months to figure out where and how I was going to run a 2:46 (the B-standard for women). I began doing research and found the California International Marathon. It is known for being a flat (in fact almost downhill) and fast course, and California in December would hopefully mean nice running weather, so I decided to give it a shot.

Given that CIM is in December and the Trials were in January, how were you able to recover and train for the Trials?
That’s a great question! According to most of the other athletes and coaches I spoke with at the Trials in Houston, one month (which is about how much time I had) really isn’t enough time to recover from racing at full effort. So it was a guessing game. I wanted to give my legs enough time following CIM to feel recovered, but at the same time I struggled with feeling like I needed to get some decent mileage in before I had to taper again for the Trials. Looking back, I probably should have rested more and been less worried about maintaining fitness. My legs were tired and heavy from the start at the Trials.

What were your goals heading into the Trials and how did the race go for you?
Honestly, I was thrilled just to be there. My goal all along was just to make the 2:46 standard and race at the Trials. So even though I was hoping for another PR once I got there, I tried to maintain perspective and realize that it was a big accomplishment (for me) just to be there. And given the fact that the Trials Marathon was my third full-effort marathon in about 13 weeks, I wasn’t completely surprised that the race was a struggle for me. My legs were fatigued from the get-go and I knew it was going to be a day to just enjoy the spectacle of it all, rather than worry about a PR.

What are your goals for 2012?
I think this will be a year of shorter and faster races, and by that I mean half marathons. Half marathon races were how I reconnected with running after a brief break from the sport following college. Even though it would seem easier, because it’s only half the distance, the fact that you have to push a faster pace makes it challenging in a completely different way. I will probably do one or two full marathons, but nothing too crazy. And I definitely plan on adventure racing as much as I can.

I read that you do 90% of your training on the treadmill. Is that all year round? If so, why don’t you run outside more?
Yes, I am a strange creature in the world of running. I actually PREFER running on a treadmill regardless of weather conditions. There’s a certain ease to running on a treadmill. I don’t have to think about maintaining pace, I can just program it in. I don’t have to plan routes (which can be difficult if you’re trying to reach specific mileage). I don’t have to deal with stoplights and traffic. And I do a lot of early morning running when it’s dark outside; so even though I don’t think it’s particularly dangerous on the streets of Bloomington, where I live, it’s certainly safer running in the comfort of my own home. The little running I do outside is usually either: social running with friends (when pace and distances aren’t important), orienteering (a different sport that involves running through the wilderness using a map and compass to navigate), or the occasional track workout. I’m not saying that I refuse to run outside, I do enjoy it every now and then, but for the reasons I pointed out, I prefer my handy Lifetime Fitness treadmill. By the way, I’m not sponsored, but I would love to be! Hint, hint.

What are your PRs?

Sorry, but I don’t remember any of my collegiate times. Here are the PRs I can remember;

5k – 17:48 (indoor track, I haven’t run an outdoor 5k in a long time)
10k – 37:15 (I have only done one of these in the past 5 years)
Half marathon – 1:21:28
Marathon – 2:45:15
50k – 3:45:08 (only 50k I’ve ever done, but I’d like to do more!)

What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
Is being stubborn a strength? I’m definitely stubborn, but more so, I’m very competitive, and I think these things help my running. If someone tells me they don’t think I can do something (run a certain time, finish a certain place, etc.), I become focused on proving that person wrong. Or in the heat-of-the-moment of a race if I’m trying to outlast a competitor to the finish line, there’s just something about me that refuses to give up/let up.

My biggest weakness is probably my lack of confidence, and/or my nervousness/anxiety before races. I always get really nervous before I race. I honestly don’t know why. I mean, just recently I got nervous for a race where I was the only woman competitor! Regardless of the reason, I often times come to the starting line with doubt…but that’s also where my stubbornness kicks in. When I doubt myself, I think I work harder during a race to prove that I’m capable.

What is your fondest memory from running or adventure racing?
Oh man, there are so many fun memories. The Olympic Trials is definitely at the top of the list. That was an experience that not many people get to enjoy. I know that and I’m thankful for being able to participate. But with adventure racing, I’ve had some great memories too. Last spring I took a trip with my team down to West Virginia and we did an amazing 24-hour race through the wilds of the Appalachian Mountains. We went whitewater rafting, we biked up and down huge hills through the countryside, and we trekked through some beautiful forests complete with babbling brooks and sparkling waterfalls. The fact that I get to share the adventure racing experiences with teammates makes it a bit more special than my running events.

Do you have a favorite local and/or national race?
As you pointed out earlier, I haven’t been really active on the racing scene, but from what I’ve done, I enjoy the Twin Cities Marathon. It’s a beautiful course, the crowd support is great, and the race organization is top-notch.

If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
I have to stick with the ladies, and it’s a toss-up between Carrie Tollefson and Kara Goucher. I competed against both of these fantastic women in high school, and then Kara in college too (we were both at Big 12 schools). Not only do I admire their running talents, which are phenomenal, but they are genuine and kind people. I would love to go for a nice, long run to just hear about their lives and experiences in the sport and in general. I think they’d both be a blast to hang out with.

Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
My high school cross-country coach (Jeff Hoeft) actually told me this, but I didn’t believe him; he said: running will be a life-long sport. In high school I was really interested in pursuing basketball as a sport and only reluctantly got involved with running. My coach tried to keep me interested and excited about running by explaining how I would be able to enjoy it forever (unlike team sports which become more difficult to keep up as you become older). I dismissed his comment at the time, but now I see the light! He was absolutely right. I feel very lucky to have started running at such a young age. I’ve been able to enjoy all of the benefits that come with being a life-long runner (college scholarship; experiences like the Olympic Trials; and good health).

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