Friday, March 21, 2014

Lance Does A Lot

Lance Elliott's "handle" on Twitter is LanceRunsALot.  He may have to change that to a more inclusive description of his lifestyle, LanceDoesALot.  Last weekend he won the USA Masters Championship in the M40 3K in Boston, then finished second in the M40 mile and fifth in the M40 800.

That was despite the fact that a leg injury limited his training leading up to the race.  In fact, this year Elliott has found that less is more in terms of running training as it seems he's spent more time in the swimming pool and other "cross training" activities than on the track.  All of this and his past history paints a picture of a guy with a Ferrari engine stuck in a Volkswagen body.

He was a high school star in Iowa, winning several State titles and setting records in the process.  But before he got to Iowa State, his body began to let him down.  Elliott thought that to prepare for the longer distances in college he should run the Dam to Dam 20K road race that summer.  Whether it was the longer distance or if it was just then that his knee reached a breaking point, after the race there was pain.  And the pain did not go away.

Though he was still successful at Iowa State, winning conference titles, the knee injury had him spend more time in the training room and less training.  Despite the best efforts of the doctors, trainers, and physical therapists the knee injury kept recurring.  Even knee surgery did not cure the condition, which was a nagging pain below the patella similar to chondromalacia, said Elliott.

"I did leg exercises," he said.  "They followed me around on a golf cart video taping the knee trying to determine if something in my stride was causing the problem."  Nothing worked resulting in no consistency in his training.  That didn't stop him from trying.  He wanted to qualify for NCAAs in the 1500.  He would pay his own way to fly to "last chance" qualifier meets to get that one last shot at a spot.  Closest he came was .3 of a second. He wanted to break four in the mile, but the closest he could come was 3:45 for 1500 meters and 4:04 in the mile.

Tired of having his body letting him down, Elliott retired from competitive sport and spent his time raising a family and working to provide for them.  He and his wife now have five children, which would be enough to keep most parents busy all the time.  But Elliott had a dream that kept Elliott's return to running possible.  Growing up in Iowa, running at the Drake Relays was akin to the Olympics.  Elliott had not only run there in high school, he'd won there.  Thus his hope was that when he became a Masters runner he could return to Des Moines and win again at the Drake Relays.

At age 39 Elliott realized while throwing around the football with his kids that he was out of shape and if that didn't change: "I don't think I'm ever going to be able to run with the boys," or win the Drake Relays. If  he wanted to have any chance at achieving that goal he'd better "get up off the couch" and start shedding his "retirement" weight and hope his knee would allow him to pursue his dream.  Fortunately, the 15 year hiatus from running seemed to relieve him of the knee problem.  He was able to train again and place second in the Masters 800 at Drake his first year back.  The next year he won it.
Lance Elliott(L) and Kelly Mortenson(R) with their USATF MN Masters Awards
"When I got done, that was it," said Elliott, he'd done what he set out to do.  "Everything after that was a bonus."  He had to set new goals, find new challenges.  The knee, knock on wood, has not been a problem.  Elliott discovered that what they thought was the issue in college, an imbalance in his quads and hamstrings, may in fact be an alignment issue starting in the hips.  He's worked on strengthening his gluts, and that has kept him pain free in the knee. 

More importantly, however, he has developed something of a "side business" of being a training partner for Team USA Minnesota women.  Heather Kampf trained a lot with Elliott this winter on her path to making the US team for the World Indoor Championships.  Last Fall Elliott ran with Meghan Peyton, helping her prepare for the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.  In the process, Elliott also ran the marathon. One of his new goals had been to try longer distances and, ultimately do a marathon.

The pairing with Peyton just accelerated achieving that goal.  He discovered that not only could his body handle the increased mileage--up to 100 miles a week for six weeks--but he felt good doing it.  Starting out he had tentatively planned on running the Medtronic TC 10 Mile, but he felt so good, he decided to take it a step further and do the marathon. He finished in 2:36:35.

After the race, he may have returned to training too soon and he developed a pain in his shin.  Not wanting to do more damage, he linked up with Heidi Keller Miler, the MDRA office manager,  and became a swimmer. "I never swam before," said Elliott.  I had to learn the stroke...I'm still horrible."  But in typical Lance Elliott fashion, he was all in.  "It is the hardest cardio work I've ever done in my life," he says.

Primarily off of swimming training six days a week with a few workouts with Kampf, Elliott ran 4:25 for the mile at the Meet of Miles.  Meanwhile he jumped into swimming competitions and has consistently improved his times.  It's not only kept him fit, it seems to have cured a chronic ankle problem and has Elliott thinking about doing a triathlon in the future.  Prior to that, though, is a duathlon.  Elliott discovered that the National Duathlon Championships will be held in St. Paul this summer and has penciled that into his schedule, along with the traditional stops on the running circuit, the Medtronic Twin Cities Mile, Torchlight Run, Drake Relays, and another first, the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in Duluth.

This weekend, body permitting(he picked up some aches and pains from his triple in Boston), he'll do the Irish Run St Paul, not competitively, but as a training run. Like many Masters runners he's used age, not as a handicap, but as an opportunity to explore new frontiers.  You can stay fit, have fun, meet interesting people, and win some championships along the way, Elliott says, and as long as his body will let him he'll continue to find new challenges, new opportunities, new friends and acquaintances.

Postscript:  "My wife actually does more. It is only for her that I can do what I do"--Lance Elliott

1 comment:

Steve Stenzel said...

Congrats Lance!! Nice work!