Predawn Profile – Laura Gorjanc Pizmoht (The Salty One)

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A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from someone with the subject line, “Cleveland. Running Blogs. Towpath Marathon Champions.”  I was obviously intrigued.  And to borrow a phrase Laura used in her second sentence, we both must have been living under a rock.  If you enjoy this blog (and I hope you do), then please check out Laura’s blog, Salty Running.  She has put a lot of time and effort into establishing a solid source of good information on running, and it shows.  Plus, her background as a lawyer makes her a fluent writer. And now, meet Laura (and follow her on Twitter or dailymile).

Laura Gorjanc Pizmoht winning the 2009 Towpath MarathonPredawn Runner: You mention in your recent post on your five proudest running moments that you started with a run/walk program and eventually worked your way to being able to run 30 straight minutes.  How did you maintain motivation early, when you were still uncertain as to whether you’d stick with it?

The Salty One: By the time I started up after the bar exam I had tried to “become a runner” (whatever that meant to me at the time) several times and I’d always end up injured or life would get in the way. I suffered from debilitating shin splints, patellar tendonitis, IT band problems, etc. The longest stretch of consistent running between high school and the bar exam was 3 months in 2000. I ran about 20 miles a week and ran a 10k at the end of that stretch in 49:3x. Shortly after the race I started summer classes as I tried to hurry up and (finally) graduate from college and I had to give up running. 20 summer credits is no joke! Plus I had really bad shin splints so it wasn’t hard to back off. I never really managed to start back up after that.

Looking back I had somewhat of a victim mentality: life, injuries, etc. always prevented me from running. I turned 29 a couple of months before the bar exam and perhaps the big 3-0 looming on the horizon inspired me to take charge of my life. But whatever it was I was determined to “become a runner” and this time I didn’t care how long it took me and how slow I needed to start to get there. I think all the previous setbacks along with the tiny glimpses of the effects of aging motivated me to be realistic and persistent. I felt like it was now or never and never just wasn’t an option!

PR: Your first half-marathon results are impressive given it was your debut at the distance. What types of training techniques did your first coach (your husband) use to get you ready?

TSO: My husband slowed me down on my easy runs. I think this was the single best thing he did for me. I went from always trying to run under 8:00 pace (which was about as fast as I could go) to relaxing and really enjoying myself. This made it easier to run longer. And I learned patience, which is super important when it comes to marathon training. It also taught me to accept the truth about my fitness even if it’s not what I where I want to be. I wanted to be a “fast” runner, but I wasn’t there yet. He told me about the 10 long years it took him to get to his PRs and I realized running well is not an overnight process.

If you want specifics though, he had me run 5 days a week and I peaked at 45 miles. I did one workout each week and then one long run.  The workouts ranged from short track workouts that I did on a track in the Lower East Side of Manhattan to 1000 meter repeats that I did on the Central Park reservoir path since it was measured there. I now know these were pulled straight out of [amazon_link id=”0736054928″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Jack Daniel’s Running Formula[/amazon_link]. All my paces were laughably slow now. I think I ran 1:40 400’s and 4:30 1k’s. My long runs ranged from 12 to 16 and I always ran by time. I assumed 9:00 pace and just ran 2:24 and called it 16. He had me do one tougher long run were I did 4 x 1k at the beginning of the long run and then 3 x 1k at the end, but all the rest were easy pace.

PR: How did your training evolve as you moved up to the marathon distance?

TSO:  He kept me on the one workout, one long run plan, which I think is great for a beginner. Two hard days (including the long run) is plenty for someone of my level at the time, especially when running 50-60 miles per week. I stayed with the 9:00 pace for all easy runs. He had me alternate 1k’s on the track with tempos, which were usually 2 x 2 miles at half-marathon pace.  The big difference is that he had me doing faster paces in my long runs, such as marathon pace for my last 2 miles to 10k of the workout. I did a 20.2 with the last 10k at goal pace and this was the BEST workout. I felt really confident in the actual race that once I hit 20 I could nail that last 10k just like I did in that training run. My longest run was 22 miles and for that one I just ran easy the whole time.

PR: Well, your 3:25 and “easy” Boston Qualifier your first time out shows the plan certainly works!  Did you make any modifications to the approach in the seasons between that and your Towpath Marathon win in 2009?

TSO:  A lot happened between my debut marathon and my Towpath win. I ran Boston in 2007 and whittled my PR down to 3:18:09. For Boston my training stayed more or less the same as it was before my first marathon. After Boston I decided to hire a coach to try something new. My husband still hasn’t forgiven me! But I really felt like I wanted to explore some new aspects of running that my husband was hesitant to introduce me to.

The big thing was mileage. For the next few seasons I ramped my mileage way up from the 60’s to the 70’s, 80’s and even a brief flirt with the 90’s. I did a lot of long marathon and half marathon paced running. I was in great shape. I significantly PR’d in all distances and some of those PRs still stand. I ended up running another PR marathon at Columbus in 2007 (3:10:15), but that was the stitchy one. I ended up getting married and then getting pregnant shortly afterwards. When I came back from that pregnancy in 2009 it didn’t take me long to get back to PR shape for the short races. I did my own training: bumped myself up to the mid-70’s over six months or so with one track workout, one tempo and a long run.

I’m not sure what happened but in September 2009 I attempted the Akron Marathon and I felt awful! Three weeks before the race I ran 13.1 by myself on the Towpath in 1:31 and felt great! I figured I would at least run a 3:09 and PR. But by mile 5 the 3:10 pace group caught me and I latched on but after the pacer dropped a 6:47 down into the Towpath I knew I was doomed. I saw my family at 15 and dropped out. My only DNF.

I really didn’t want to wreck myself to finish that day. It was early in the season and I figured I could bounce back and run another one. Towpath was 2 weeks later so I decided to jump in and do it. I knew I probably wouldn’t PR, but I just wanted to finish out the year with a solid marathon and move on from the DNF. I thought there could be a chance I could win depending on who showed up and based on my workout there a few weeks earlier I thought I could do fairly well. I truly was shocked at how slow my overall time ended up being, but I was thrilled to win! It’s a tough course in that the surface itself is a bit slow, it’s really monotonous and the hairpin turn around mile 21 is brutal to navigate. If I knew I was going to target the Towpath Marathon that year I would have made an effort to get down there and do as many workouts and long runs as I could and not just one!

PR: You have had your own battles with injuries through the years.  How have you managed to bounce back and keep up the motivation each time, and have you gained anything through dealing with these issues?

TSO: Honestly I’ve only been sidelined by injury twice: back in 2005 with IT band problems and then this past winter with the strained piriformis, etc. I’ve had all kinds of other “injuries” (I call them “injuries” because they were something that hurt, but didn’t stop me from training). I would say my threshold for “injuries” is much higher than most people. I only alter my training if something is seriously messed up. My philosophy is that training is supposed to stress the body so it will rebuild stronger and that means sometimes things will hurt. I’m OK with that.

I guess the point is that I don’t really have a lot of experience in dealing with injury setbacks. But what has brought me through is thinking about how hard I’ve worked and how much my supporters have invested in me – my husband, my coach, my teammates and even my kids. I owe it to myself and them to get back out there and prove they were right to support this crazy dream of mine. Also I think there is an inherent time pressure in running: I’m almost 37 so my window for doing something with running is a lot smaller than someone who’s 27 (although there is Barb Broad who sort of throws this theory out the window!). If I don’t get back out there now I’ll never know what I’m actually capable of.

PR: I remember reading about Barb in the November edition of Running Times.  I love the “Age Group Ace” profiles, always an inspiration. Can you tell us a little bit about your current team and coach?

TSO: While I was pregnant with my second child, a few of my good friends were training with a coach named Glenn Andrews and he really whipped them into some serious shape. One of my best friends on the entire planet, Elizabeth Hiser was one of them. Under Glenn’s training she went from a 3:16 marathoner to a 2:49 marathoner in 1.5 years. Barb Broad is another member of the team. She’s setting lifetime PRs at the age of 61–she’s a sub 3:20 marathoner and wins her age group in NY and Boston. Her marathon times age grade to 2:25. And another is Nicole Camp who qualified for the US Olympic Trials and ran a 2:39:10 at the trials in January. Anyway, just as I was getting back into shape after having my second child in March of 2011, Glenn was looking to add a couple of runners to his roster. I jumped at the chance!

Over the course of 2011 a few other people joined up with Glenn and by the fall we knew we had the makings of a phenomenal team, so we decided to all forgo our individual sponsorships and partnered with Fleet Feet Cleveland. Glenn coaches all ten members. One of the coolest things about our team is that we’re 80% women! Usually it’s the other way around. The other cool thing is that we’re really all friends, so it’s like a second family. When I was injured everyone was so great about keeping me up to date with what was going on and trying to include me in team events. I feel so lucky to be a part of such a great group!

As for Glenn, he was a college running stud at Kent State a few years ago. He was an 800-meter guy. After college he was one of the early members of the Southeast Runners Club and ran a couple of impressively fast marathons. He is incredibly passionate about running, coming out to time our track workouts or cheer for us at our races no matter what the weather.  Plus he’s an all around great guy. I feel incredibly fortunate to have him as my coach and friend!

His training philosophy is very different from anything I have ever done. We do higher intensity, moderate mileage training. We only have 2 truly easy days most weeks. The rest of the runs are: one easy day plus strides; a track workout; a tempo; a faster-paced medium long run; and a more traditional long run. His plan is pretty unique, but well studied and he believes in it passionately. And given the examples I sited above, he gets results!

PR: Well that leads to the next question, what are your short- and long-term running goals?

TSO: Last year was a tough year in that I was training WAY faster than ever before, but some injury struggles and probably my stressful life as a mom to two under 3 left me feeling that I underperformed. The one exception would be my 34 second 5k PR. I think I should have been sub-3 for the marathon, under 1:25 in the half, under 1:04 for 10 miles and under 30:40 for 5 miles. For whatever reason I wasn’t able to capitalize on the training, so I am really eager to get healthy and really prove that I have indeed made significant improvements in my fitness.

As for concrete goals, I want to break 18 for a 5k and 30 for a 5 miler. I’m really close in the 5k, running 18:15 last June. I’m pretty close in the 5 mile too. Then once I do some damage to my short PRs I want to focus on the half marathon, hopefully in the fall. I would like to keep trying the half and see if I can get my time down close to 1:20. If I can do that then I’ll consider another full marathon, with the intent of getting an OTQ (Olympic Trials Qualifier). If that seems impossible because of my shorter distance times or time conflicts then I won’t. When it comes to the marathon I am either going big or not going at all. It’s just too much of a commitment otherwise. I get plenty of satisfaction from logging shorter race PRs, so going for a little marathon PR isn’t enough. When my kids (and I) are a little older I’m sure my philosophy will change because OTQ or no OTQ I want to master the marathon!

PR: How do you manage to fit in your training around your family commitments?  I mean, I honestly had to give up running for a while when my sons were the age of your children.

TSO: If you’re my friend on Daily Mile you’ll see I run with my kids in the double jogging stroller a lot (Go BOB Ironman!) When I don’t run with my kids I run at our local Y which has a babysitting service, although unless I’m doing a harder run I’d prefer to take them with me. I also have an awesome treadmill in my basement on which I’ve done my fair share of predawn and naptime runs. During the warmer months we hire a babysitter to come so I can go to track workouts with my friends and teammates while my husband works his mini farm in our backyard after he gets home from work. I support his hobby and he supports mine. Having a great partner who understands how important training is to me is essential.  My husband Mike helps me fit in my weekend runs so I can usually meet up with friends. I can’t always line things up so I do a lot of my longer runs super early by myself, but I don’t mind that one bit.  Basically my running is my exercise, stress relief, me-time, social time, etc. I don’t really do anything else necessitating anyone else watch my children other than run so when I want to head out for an hour or three I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it!

PR: I know you have put a lot of effort of late into Salty Running – can you tell us about your goals for the site?

TSO: Salty Running has been an idea in my head for years now and after quitting my gig as the running columnist in a local fitness magazine decided now was as good a time as any! Back when I was wedding planning in 2007 I followed a great website called Wedding Bee. It was a collaborative blog featuring posts from a variety of women about their wedding planning experience. They shared tips and ideas and I really loved the one stop wedding planning blog shop.

When I was pregnant with my first child there was a real lack of information about running during pregnancy. And the same can be said for returning to training after having the baby. One day when I was trying to find information it dawned on me how nice it would be to have a Wedding Bee for running: a collaborative blog of women runners all sharing their training experiences, tips, tricks and insights. How cool would it be to go to that site and read the posts of several different women about their experiences running while pregnant, running and maintaining a career, returning to running after a long break, using running to cope with a major life event like a divorce etc. This is how I envision Salty Running down the road. I have a couple of great bloggers sharing their experiences and insights on the site now and a couple of others due to start soon. I see myself playing a large role and writing several substantial posts a week for a while, but at some point I can see the site filled mainly by other voices.

That being said, while it is definitely a women-centered site, men are more than welcome to participate and even write for Salty Running! But it will be heavy with issues that tend to appeal more to women, like pregnancy, relationships, style, etc.

Finally, I want Salty Running to provide a bridge from having that courage to start (for which there are plenty of websites already) to having the courage to go for more. To improve. To self-actualize through running. To blow people’s minds with how fast one can be with a little patience, hard work and consistency. Anyone can go from that lonely person hiding on the trail to faster than they ever imagined. Salty Running is for those people.

PR: It sounds like you have big ambitions for both your training and your website, and I look forward to following along!  Though now I’m a bit scared to actually meet your team at our local track for a workout…

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