Road to The Trials

Local runner and mom Sara Ibbetson is striving for the Olympic trials qualifing standard with a fascinating story. We sat down with Sara to ask a few questions about her training.
Q: How did you get started running and can you tell us a little about your running career?
I grew up watching my father and sister (older by 14 years) run competitively, so it wasn't until I was a teenager that I realized that perhaps running wasn't actually normal!  I began running half mile kids' races in elementary school when my dad was competing in road races. I quickly learned that if I paced myself instead of sprinting out with the other kids, I could win - and of course I was in it for the awards!  I started running consistently when I was in 6th grade, and competed in AAU Junior Olympic programs in cross-country and track, along with road races and school sports, throughout junior high and high school.  As a young runner, I had success mostly off talent (I won 3 Kansas state high school titles and one national AAU title running about 20 miles a week).
I was recruited to run in college but had a disappointing experience; I had several stress fractures and decided to stop running on the team because running healthy for life was more important to me.  In hindsight, I know it was because my college coach tried to take me from my 20 mpw in high school right up to 40-50 mpw, and although I wish I had experienced proper development as a runner throughout my life, I also know that everything happened for a reason.  I never stopped running for leisure, but I have had several periods during which I didn't run competitively, and for many, many years I thought my body couldn't handle running more than about 30 mpw.
I ran my first marathon with a running friend when I was in graduate school, thinking it would be a one-time thing - I also worried about getting injured training for a marathon, but I stayed healthy.  When I finished, I thought, "Well, I can do that much faster", and things spiraled from there (although I didn't do a proper marathon build until 2015).  After every marathon I run, I think I have a faster one in me, and I keep chasing that dream!  However, most importantly I love the daily process:  the training, the running community, the endorphins, the challenges, the peaceful miles, the passion, and the lifestyle.
Q: What motivates you to run marathons?
I simply love it.  While I sure enjoy race day, all of the days leading up to it are even better.  God gave me a passion for running for a reason, so I'm pursuing it in the best way I can, and it brings me joy every day!  The people I've met through running have enhanced my life in countless ways, and I can't imagine ever not running.
Q: Many of us in the community know you are trying for the Olympic Trials qualifying standard. Can you tell us a little more about what it takes to qualify for such a high standard and how close you have come?
Well, I haven't qualified for the marathon Trials yet so I'm not sure I can tell you what it takes, haha!  I think the most important component in getting the best out of yourself in running - whether it's an OTQ, a BQ, a PR, or to complete a marathon - is consistency.  Nothing is more important than getting out there day after day, week after week, month after month.  Nothing will get you farther with the marathon than consistent mileage over time.  If you have two runners of the same ability, and one is running some very flashy workouts but shows up inconsistently, while the other plugs away every day, my money is on the second runner every time.
Q: What were you thinking during your marathon when you ran just 2 minutes off of the qualifying time?
I've run 2:47 twice, and those marathons were two different experiences, although both times I "lost" it in the final 4 miles.  The first time at CIM, I knew running the 2:45 would be a stretch, but after I started feeling the endorphins about an hour into the race I decided to take my husband's advice of "you'll never get it [the OTQ] if you don't try" and dropped my pace from 6:20-6:25 to 6:15.  I prayed for God to make me brave and strong, and gave it my all, even though I'm not sure I ever thought I would actually do it.  I suffered pretty hard at the end, but I was glad I tried.  My build for that marathon was the first time I'd run higher mileage (70+ mpw), so it was a great building block for me.
The second time at Grandma's, I'd had a shorter-than-ideal training cycle coming off of an injury.  I thought I was in shape to run about 6:20 pace (a 2:46), but no one wants to run a 2:46 when the standard is 2:45, so I went for it.  I felt a lot more confident during that race than during CIM; I kept telling myself, "You're qualifying today".  However, optimism only gets your so far, and I suffered pretty hard at the end...maybe the two races weren't so different after all! 
In both marathons, I wanted to get the best out of myself, and I was proud of my performances.  It's just hard to be content with 2:47s when the standard is 2:45. In addition, I fully believe that anyone will get their best marathon time by running a slight negative split, so if I had started slightly more conservatively in these races I'd have probably run 2:46s, but I still wouldn't have gotten the standard...
Q: Knowing you've come within 2 minutes of the standard, what does your training look like and have you changed your training since coming so close?
I've been building my mileage gradually since 2015, and will continue to build a little higher.  I really wish I'd learned about proper training and development earlier in my life, because I really never did anything correctly until 2015!  I am scheduled to run my first 100 mile week ever during this training cycle, and have been consistently running between 75-95 miles a week.  In 2019 my training has changed to include new stimuli, and I did a speed work block over the summer because my speed and power were pretty lacking.  I'm now transitioning to more tempos and marathon specific work as I get closer to my goal race.  While I do some challenging workouts I also do a lot of easy running!  Here is what my biggest training week so far looked like (96 miles):
AM run:  9.2 miles easy effort
PM run:  4.2 miles, heart rate < 132
Extra: core work after AM run
AM run:  track workout of 3 x (600 m, 30 sec., 600 m, 30 sec., 600 m) with 3 min. between sets (10.5 miles total with warm-up and cool-down)
PM run:  5.2 miles, heart rate < 132
Extra: strength workout after PM run
AM run:  9.3 miles on gravel, heart rate < 132
Extra:  yoga for glutes following run
AM run:  12.4 miles total with an 8 mile workout, alternating 0.5 at tempo and 0.5 at marathon pace
PM run:  4.3 miles, heart rate < 132
Extra:  core work at lunch
AM run:  7.2 miles easy effort
Lunch run:  4.2 miles, heart rate < 132
Extra:  strength workout after AM run
AM:  20.3 miles easy effort
Extra:  yoga for tight hamstrings following run
AM:  9.1 miles easy effort
Extra:  Can I count going to Silver Dollar City?

Q: What do you think allows you to train at such a high level and how do you do it while holding a full-time job? 
The only secret is 4:30-5:00 a.m. alarms!  I simply know that I'm going to train every morning and I get up and do it.  I have many amazing running buddies who have no problem meeting at 5:00-5:30 a.m., which has been a huge blessing.  When I run 2-a-days, I run my second run on my lunch break when I can so that I can have evenings with my family.  My husband is very supportive of my running, which is also key.  I do the best I can with lifestyle habits that support training (healthy diet, adequate sleep, foam rolling, yoga, hydration, core work, strength training, etc.), but no one can do it all, so I also try to give myself grace when I can't.
Q: What is up next for you on your racing schedule?
I ran the Plaza 10K on September 8, and will run the Indy Women's Half on September 28 before my goal marathon, Indy Monumental, on November 9.
You can follow Sara's running journey at:

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