The Running Path to Atlanta
Q and A with Marisa Hird and Kate Deprosperis
Marisa Hird (far left)
Kate Deprosperis (centered)
175 male and 390 female athletes competed this past February at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Atlanta Georgia. These runners battled through a brutally hilly course with over 20mph winds and chilly temps. Two local Chicago area athletes Marisa Hird and Kate Deprosperis battled through more than just qualifying. Their running path merged to Atlanta, but getting there took an altered course.
So you had the tremendous opportunity to compete at the US Olympic Trials this past February, but let us backtrack a bit to how you first got started in long distance running?
Marisa: I started running when I was in 7th or 8th grade. My mom has always been a runner and I knew I wanted to be too so I started "running" some local races with her - meaning I would run/walk/complain until I got to the finish line. I didn't really know how to train or what that even meant. I started competing officially when I got to high school and was hooked. I loved cross country and ran middle distance events in track. It wasn't until college I started running longer races - 5K and 10K. Then when I graduated college, their really wasn’t much of an opportunity for post collegiate competitions other than on the roads, so I started training for half and full marathons.
Kate: I ran track and field and cross country in college while at the University of Notre Dame. After I was done competing I decided the next challenge would be to try a marathon. I ran my first marathon while in college and have been hooked ever since.
What do you do on a regular basis for injury prevention i.e. stretching, foam rolling, cross training?
Marisa: Recovery and injury prevention has been one of the little things (but it's actually very big) that I tend to not make the time for, especially now with a little one at home. Before I had my son, I would try to foam roll a few times a week (even though I know every day is better!) and practice yoga on a weekly basis. I also got monthly deep tissue massages and strength trained twice a week (mostly body weight exercises, squats, hip mobility, etc).
Kate: I have never been a good cross trainer but have been really good at self care, foam rolling, stretching, and regular massage.
How has physical therapy played a role in your training journey?
Marisa: I have been EXTREMELY fortunate to stay relatively healthy during my running career. In my 20 years of running competitively, I've dealt with small bouts of Achilles issues, plantar fasciitis pain, and IT band tightness - nothing that any other runner hasn't experienced and fortunately not for very long. However, I attribute most of this to the incredible village of people I am surrounded by. Mostly great coaches growing up, physical therapists and athletic trainers that truly know what they're talking about and I work at Naperville Running Company - I have access to all the shoes, all the recovery products, and all the nutrition I could ever need! I am fortunate to have learned from incredible medical professionals and athletes that have kept me healthy along the way.
Kate: I suffered through a calf tear and tendonitis in late 2019. PT was my only way to get to the starting line for the Olympic Trials. When I started working with Achieve, I wasn't running, could barely walk at times and really worked for 5 months through the process to get healthy enough to toe the line at the race.
What type of running shoes do you wear?
Marisa: This is a loaded question because I work at Naperville Running Company.
Everyday training shoes: New Balance, Mizuno, Saucony
Racing shoes: Nike, New Balance
Workout shoes: New Balance
Long run shoes: Nike, New Balance
Kate: I am a brand ambassador for On Running and wear several different styles for training.
How did you qualify for the 2020 US Olympic Trials?
Marisa: I ran 2:43 at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November 2019. The women's qualifying time was 2:45. My training was much different than years past. I had a baby in October 2018 so I had a year to get in shape. It sounded crazy... and it still sounds crazy when I look back on it. I had been trying to qualify for a very long time, 11 years. Even though I just had a baby, I wasn't ready to give up this dream yet. I wanted to try one more time. This was my 10th marathon - I've had some really good ones and some really bad ones. I knew what I was getting myself into. I just needed to go for it. I had a friend pace me and we ran with a 2:45 pace group for a while as well - that was THE BEST. I didn't look at my watch, I didn't look at the clocks. I followed my friend Dan, didn't overthink, and just held on.
Kate: I qualified at both the 2017 and 2018 California International Marathon.
What did qualifying mean to you and your family?
Marisa: If I'm being totally honest, training for something like this is a little selfish, especially with a family at home. But my husband (who is also my coach) knew how much this meant to me and always put my schedule ahead of his. My family and friends would help watch Jack when I needed to run a hard workout - all so I could try to run fast one more time. So to achieve my goal was not only something I have been trying to accomplish for 11 years, but I think it was a huge sigh of relief for those closest to me "phew, she finally did it!" I think I made my mama proud.
Kate: Qualifying for the 2020 OT was a huge accomplishment. I have previously qualified for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials, before having kids. While qualifying for that first trials was the most unbelievable and surreal experience, the second time around was just as wonderful! I had missed the 2016 OT as I had just spent those four years having my two children and recovering from my pregnancies. So to be able to come back 8 years later and do it again with two kids really made it a testament to hard work and determination and really wanting it. I firmly believed just because I was a mother I didn't have to give up on my dreams, I just had to be flexible and laser focused.
Alright, so you arrived at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta Georgia, the centerpiece of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, what was it like being there and competing?
Marisa: Indescribable. The energy was like nothing I've ever felt. We all deserved to be there, we all worked our butts off. I approached this race like it was my victory lap. I was going to leave everything I had out on the course, race amongst the best women in the country and enjoy every step - and that's exactly what I did. It was the hardest, I mean the HARDEST, most incredible race experience of my life. The hills were relentless, the wind was blowing at 20mph, and I couldn't help but smile. The crowds even made me choke up a few times. Seeing my family and friends going crazy on the sidelines was something I will never forget! Getting choked up just trying to describe it again now!
Kate: It was amazing being there, especially given the rich history of the space. It had particular meaning for me as my coach, Jenny Spangler ran in the Olympic Marathon in 1996 - so it was particularly special to have her there with me to share this moment.
After finishing the US Olympic Trials what is next for you?
Marisa: It's funny. After I qualified, before I ran the Trials, I said I would retire from competing after Atlanta. I was tired of constantly thinking and chasing and failing and chasing and picking myself up again and over and over again. I reached the highest level I physically will ever be able to get to in running. Then I crossed the finish line and was ready to start training for 2024.
Kate: Because of my injury I was just happy to get to the finish line healthy enough to finish the race. Now I want to focus on recovering properly from my injury and focusing on time with my family. I also am older than the average qualifier and have been running at such a high level for such a long time I want to step back a bit from racing at the elite level and just enjoy running again.
What are your thoughts about the postponement of the 2020 Olympics?
Marisa: I think it should have been a no brainer! The health and safety of our entire world is more important than sports - no matter what level you're at.
Kate: Obviously it is the right move given the spread of the corona virus. I feel bad for those athletes who were at their prime prepping for track trials and having to train through these hard times and deal with the unknown of the schedule but at the end of the day we have to remember it is just sport and healthy and humanity means more than any sporting achievement.
For any current or prospective long distance runners out there, what advice would you offer them?
Marisa: Stay consistent - mentally and physically. You can't rush it. Stay consistent in your training, believe in what you're doing and stick to it. And when it really comes down to it, do it, what do you have to lose?
Kate: Keep plugging away! I am not the fastest person out there...in fact my first marathon was a 3:48 -- 1 hour and 6 minutes slower than my PR! I slowly plugged away at the marathon dropping small increments of time each race until I got close to 3:00. Then my advice is -- get a coach or a training group! I found so much value in having someone to give me advice and be a sounding board for racing tips and encouragement. I owe most of my success to the support of my coach Jenny Spangler and my team. I have been a run coach for nearly 8 years as a way to try to give back and pass along my knowledge and passion for running to others – it has been great to be along each runners’ journey and have a small part of their success.