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Hometown Hero Hoping For A Smash Hit On Sunday

Photo: Victah Sailer @PhotoRun.
Photo: Victah Sailer @PhotoRun.

Illinois native Tera Moody aims to succeed Kara Goucher as the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon Champion.

Interview by: Matt Fitzgerald

Tera Moody, 29, an Illinois native now living in Colorado Springs, Colo., is the runaway favorite to win Sunday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon benefiting the American Cancer Society. Moody has a half marathon personal best of 1:12:52 and a marathon PR of 2:32:59 set in Chicago last year. A graduate of the University of Colorado now working part-time as a real estate agent, Moody placed fifth in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Women’s Marathon. She spoke to us shortly before making the trip “home” for Sunday’s race, which she is approaching as an early tune-up for the Chicago Marathon in October. You grew up in Illinois, you’ve raced in Chicago before, and in previous interviews you’ve said you love racing in Chicago. What’s the appeal for you?

I love going to visit the city. It’s such a contrast from living in Colorado in the mountains. Denver doesn’t really feel like it has the big-city feel to me, and Chicago really does. It’s very easy. My dad lives right downtown. So it’s a really easy trip. I don’t have to worry about renting a car or trying to find a hotel. I can stay at home instead of rooming with some other runner. It’s very comfortable.

I always see a ton of people I know. Sometimes my high school coach will come out to the race. It’s just a lot of fun.

And I’ve always wanted to do a Rock ‘n’ Roll race. I’ve never been able to do one. The timing just never worked out. I’ve heard a lot of really good things about them. I thought about Philly, but it’s a little too close [to the Chicago Marathon] for me. I’ve never raced a half three weeks before a marathon. So I jumped at the chance to do it in Chicago.

What’s your goal for the race?

I started my marathon training two weeks ago. I ran a race on the fourth of July [the Alliant Energy Fifth Season Race in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which Moody won in 27:08] and then took a week off. Then I jumped right back in and I’ve really been hitting it. So I’m not going to back off too much. I’m not going to really taper down for this one. I’m going to do the 20K [the USA 20K National Championship in New Haven, Conn., on September 6] about a month out and that one will definitely be a little more intense. But I’m looking to put out a solid effort and see what I have. I’m confident about this weekend.

So this is a stepping stone toward the Chicago Marathon. What’s your goal for that race?

I want to run under 2:30. I know that’s kind of a big jump–my PR is 2:32:59. But I didn’t even think I was going to run the Chicago Marathon last year. It was seven weeks after the World Championships [Marathon]. I was dissatisfied with my performance there so I kind of jumped in at the last minute and I think I still had a little fatigue left in my legs from the World Championships. So, even though it’s kind of a big jump, I think it’s something that I’ll be ready for.

You’ve been working with coach Brad Hudson for a while now. I know he’s big on taking an adaptive approach with his runners, where training is constantly fine-tuned based on its effects. How has your training evolved under him?

I absolutely love that about Brad, that he’s very flexible and we’ve kind of learned as we’ve gone along—different things that have worked and haven’t worked. I train probably a lot differently than the people I race against. I tend to run a lot of my workouts probably more conservatively than others do. Part of that is because I tend to do more mileage and a lot of it has to do with my sleeping problem. Brad’s been great about dealing with that.

I like that he gives me input into things, because I feel that with the sleeping stuff I have to say when I’m feeling really tired and when we have to switch things up a little but. There are days when we’ve scheduled a workout and I say, “There’s no way. We’re going to have to move it to a different day.” I try not to do that a lot but I’d have to say I’m probably a lot more flexible in my training than other runners that I know.

Every runner has his or her individual challenges. The two that always come up in your interviews are your insomnia and your past eating disorder. I think a lot of runners are able to work through their challenges in ways that ultimately make them better runners, and I’m curious to know if you feel that’s been your experience. For example, you’ve become a more flexible and conservative runner out of necessity because of your sleeping troubles, but has that actually helped your running overall?

That’s a great point, and I really do try to focus on the more positive things about it. I run my easy days so slow sometimes. I think people would probably laugh if they saw me out there jogging with my iPod at nine-minute-mile pace. And I think you’re right—I think that can be a huge advantage because then maybe I do recover better. Because I don’t go to the well in a lot of my workouts maybe I have a little more in the tank on race day, as opposed to somebody who sleeps better and feels a little better day to day.

Everybody has their challenges. Some runners get stress fractures. I’ve never had a stress fracture. I had my first major injury this past year—I had an Achilles issue, but really nothing up until that point. And for a marathoner that’s pretty unusual. So I try to look at the positive. So people get hurt a lot. Some people get a sick a lot. I don’t.

Would you say that you’ve also turned your relationship with food into something positive? A lot of runners who have never had clinical eating disorders are so worried about their body weight that they’re chronically slightly under-fueled. I would imagine that, having overcome an eating disorder, you make sure that your body is always well nourished for the training you do.

I think that’s one thing, especially with the marathon, that you have to be very careful with, is making sure you have the right food. I keep food in my car; I keep a box of PowerBars, and some almonds, and when it’s not too hot even a little bread, just so that after a run I can get some nutrition right away. That’s not something that I really thought about before I started training for a marathon—eating right after a long run. It’s certainly not something I ever did in college. I think it would be really hard to be a marathoner and not fuel yourself properly.

You’ve worked your way up to—and forgive me for putting it this way—the second tier of American marathon runners. If Kara Goucher and Deena Kastor represent the first tier, you’re right behind them. I suppose that’s a difficult position to be in. You may already be better than you ever thought you could be, but now you’re so close to being the best that it’s probably hard to be satisfied until you are the best. Can you say a word or two about what that’s like?

It’s funny, because a few years ago my biggest goal in running was to make it to the Olympic trials. I thought, if I could qualify for the Olympic trials it would be the coolest thing. But every time you meet a goal, it raises the bar a little higher. So, logically, after getting fifth at the trials, my next goal is to make the Olympic team. Now, I know that in 2012 it’s going to be a lot more competitive than it was in 2008, but along with that I feel I have improved a lot from where I was in 2008.

The biggest thing is that you can’t get caught up in comparing yourself to other athletes. Basically, I want to run the fastest marathon that’s possible for me. Whether or not that’s good enough to make it to the Olympics is something I’ll find out. It’s definitely a huge goal of mine, but the biggest thing is getting the absolute most out of myself.

What do you see as being the key to achieving that last little bit of improvement? Is it a matter of continuing to do what you’ve been doing, and building on your foundation incrementally, or is it more about tweaking and refining your training in search of that magic formula that unleashes your full potential?

I think it’s more of the tweaking and refining. There are always different things you can do. We found out a lot just in my buildup to World Championships and in my short buildup to Chicago—different things that work and don’t. I’ve never really had experience in doing drills, and maybe if I can improve my form a little, that might help me. There are always things you can try. You can try a little more miles, or maybe less miles with speed. That process of tweaking and refining is the process I’ve been through since I’ve been working with Brad.

Finally, as someone who divides his time between running and triathlon, I was intrigued to learn that you have considered doing an Ironman. I assume you’ve put that dream on the back burner for now, but is it still something you might do someday?

Yeah, I’ve always had completing an Ironman on my goal list. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time. I love pushing further and further. Although ultrarunning doesn’t appeal to me much. But Ironman does because it mixes things up. I don’t know if it’s something I want to try and be competitive in, but it’s definitely something I’d like to experience at some point.

I listen to a lot of triathlon podcasts and stuff—partly for the foreign accents! But I am definitely interested in the sport.

I think we just learned something new about you, Tera!


Learn about how Tera Moody has improved her running through yoga in Chapter 11 of Matt’s book, RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel.