Today is Sally Brent's birthday. The first women's champion of the Twin Cities Marathon had thought of trying celebrate the occasion this year by running the race with her granddaughter, Ashlyn, who is a freshman at Colorado Mesa. Ashlyn finished 139th in the Maroon DII race at the Roy Griak Invitational two weeks ago.
The effects of an auto accident that ended her competitive running career and the family business, a real estate company in Colorado that includes her husband, Rick, and several of their kids, postponed that idea for another time. "I'm just too busy(with the real estate business)," Brent said. She also calls her running these days "jiggling," a sort of jogging that she does when she can, a far cry from the appetite for training that she had during her elite career.
Running still retains a special place in her life and her Twin Cities triumph is the best of her memories of her short time as a professional runner. She went to High School in Iowa pre Title IX where there were no sports for girls. The only activity that resembled athletics was cheerleading, so she did that. "I had no opportunity to compete in a sport," Brent chuckles when she recalls her habits in those days, which hardly predicted that she would ever run, let alone a marathon. "I was the one who drove three blocks to school," she says.
She became a "stay at home mom" with three kids and had no thoughts of any athletic pursuits. Her transformation began in 1979 when her husband and his cousin urged her to run with them. Brent, who was 29 when she began running, finally agreed to try it to lose a little weight and "get me out of that funk," a low point in her life as a result of a miscarriage. "I didn't even know how far a 10K was," she said.
"It felt so good to be in a sport," Brent said of her new lifestyle. She met new friends, felt better about herself both physically and mentally, and in the race in Kansas City she was running with Rick and pushing the pace Rick told her: "If you feel that good, go run by yourself." . She did and passed a lot of people. When she finished she had no idea where she placed, just that it felt so good. Not long after the race she got a letter in the mail that she thought was a solicitation from one of the race sponsors. It was a note informing her that she had won her age group.
She not only loved the running, she was good at it. Brent moved up in distance to a half marathon where a guy she passed told her: "You better slow down or you're not going to finish." She left him in her wake. She continued to improve and moved to the marathon. "I couldn't believe that different world," Brent said of the racing, the people she met, the things she began to learn about herself and her talent.
"I didn't have a coach," so training was self experimentation. Rick advised her to split up her workouts, do a run in the morning and another in the evening, but she liked doing the long runs, a pattern that she followed in racing. If I'm going to train for a marathon why not run them to prepare for the next race. Instead of doing short events, she kept running marathons, feeling that this was how you trained to improve. As she placed better and better she finally got a coach, Rob Kinnunen, who told her she should break up her training: "Run five in the morning and five at night."
As her successes continued, Kinnunen asked her: "Would you like to run a race where you could win prize money?" "I had no idea that you could do that, run and earn prize money," Brent said. By the time she ran Twin Cities she had run 12 marathons. She had placed well enough to get invitations to races with her expenses paid. It was both seductive and rewarding. For Twin Cities, Kinnunen told her she could probably place as high as fifth and earn $500. "I know he was trying to keep my expectations low, but felt I had potential," Brent said of the fifth place prediction. "He had some great tactics with coaching."
Kinnunen advised her "to run easy the first half, so I could run the second half faster. It was a great strategy that I had never done before. It felt so good to start passing people the second half, where I ended up running negative splits... At 17.5 miles, I passed Sissel Gottenberg, from Sweden, who was supposed to win the race. That is when my husband first saw me on his bike and couldn't believe I was in first place. That, too, boosted my confidence and I knew nothing could stop me. I honestly never thought about the money at all until the race was over and my coach was jumping up and down."
She won the race by three minutes over runner up Kersti Jacobson of Denmark . Her 2:43.50 was the fastest she would ever run the distance. In a 12 month period in 1982-83, she ran nine marathons. It was a stress level that ultimately her body couldn't handle. She had a stress fracture and had to give up running while it healed. "I realized that my best friend was taken away," she said of not being able to run. Brent didn't stop training. She started swimming instead. Not just a few laps a session, but rather two hour "marathon" training sessions in the pool.
When she got healthy, her goal was to run a qualifying time for the 1984 Olympic Trials. She needed a 2:50 to qualify but ran 2:51:50 in the Boston Marathon to miss the Trials. She ran 2:50s and 2:48s in the marathon. Won the Masters title in the Chicago Marathon, but soon realized that all her marathons were hard on her body. She began to do more shorter distance races as she didn't want a recurrence of the stress fracture. She was "very cautious as it was like losing a best friend when I couldn't run. I didn't want to risk that again as running was so important to me."
It was not a running injury that ended her competitive running career. In 1990 she was riding with her son in their car when another driver ran a red light and "T-Boned" the car. Brent had to have surgery on her jaw and later began to have issues with her back. Running competitively was no longer an option. "It changed my life," said Brent of her running. It gave her the discipline and confidence to know if she worked hard and dedicated herself to something, she could be successful. She credits the lessons she learned in her short running career for allowing her to be successful.
"It taught me to set goals and enabled me to gain a confidence I never had' She said. "Training taught me a great work ethic- the harder I worked the more success I experienced. I later tried to instill that in our children, and encouraged them to follow their passions. I know it is the main reason I have a prosperous career in real estate now." And then there's that run she wants to have with her daughter. It didn't happen this year, but don't be surprised when she and Ashlyn show up sometime soon on the starting line in Minneapolis.