The Magic of Mammoth Diaries: Lauren Kleppin - The Running Gypsy Found Her Home
By: Cait Chock
One can hardly miss Lauren Kleppin running, she'll be out front, golden tresses stretched behind her with a hint of teal, her lithe form in flight a picturesque free spirit. One both being chased and chasing. Always on the move.
A self-described running gypsy, it may have taken awhile for Kleppin to ultimately find a place to settle in and a coach to hand the reins over to, but once she did, her running leapt multiple levels.
After graduating from Western State College of Colorado, Kleppin had no desire to live the 'normal', get a 'real job' life. She never had a taste for normal and a diploma would never change that. Running was her passion, it fit with her take on life: that it should be spent pushing the bounds of your own capabilities, relishing the moment, filled with color, and seeking the thrill that comes from endorphins. That's not to say she didn't realize taking this running thing more seriously wouldn't come with sacrifices. Taking jobs with the intent to just pay the bills, ones that would fit around her running schedule, meant they were hardly glamorous and required as much fortitude putting up with bosses as does the closing miles of a marathon. But you do whatcha gotta do.
Kleppin's training during this time was far from what most elite runners were doing. She devised her own loose structure, namely not much, some snowshoeing thrown in there, and she jumped into her first marathon not on a whim but also not too far from it. Yet she won the 2013 Carlsbad Marathon in 2:42:17. It's not that she didn't want the guidance of a coach, the support of a team, but in a day when there are far more runners than contracts and financial resources it was difficult to find that support.
Until Mammoth. Andrew Kastor saw the talent in this gypsy, he delighted in the fact she ran a 2:42 balancing a helter-skelter workout schedule and pulling a string of odd jobs with odd hours. Add his wealth of experience and this runner would fly.
She did. 2014 saw Kleppin's major breakthrough; she slashed 13-minutes off of her marathon PR in placing 3rd at the 2014 LA Marathon. After a 2nd place showing at the USA Half-Marathon Championships she traveled to Copenhagen for the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships, placing 14th with another huge PR of 1:10:16. Mammoth and its unique wilderness and training situation provided everything the runner craved. Where freedom and structure unite, the results speak for themselves. Kleppin realizes how lucky she is and is incredibly grateful, "I would never be where I am today if I wasn't given the opportunity to begin. I would never be where I am today if I didn't have role models to aspire to. I would never be where I am today if I didn't have caring coaches to put me on the starting line. I would never be where I am today if I didn't have passionate runners to share the road with and chase."
She also takes that gratitude into each of her runs, and uses it as motivation when the pain of racing reaches that unbearable point, "Just like a track, I believe the running community is a huge circle. I have friends from many different points in my life that are still running around it at their own pace and in their own style. No matter where I am in my own race, I think it is important to support others when I get the chance to do so. Goals, and the motive to pursue them is what can make our world go round. If I can have any role in turning visions into motion, I think that is a great way to utilize this track I am running on, and I am thankful for ASICS MTC to have given me a chance to do so in the running community."
It took finally finding a place where her body and spirit are allowed to feel settled, for her running to truly thrive. "Adding people to my support network [coaches, teammates, doctors, physical therapists, massage therapists, A.R.T. specialists, agents, family and friends, friends outside of running] that I can comfortably and regularly talk to has also kept me healthy in numerous ways. As my training level has increased, these various outlets have helped me realize I don't need to carry the whole load myself. There are amazing people out there, willing and able to run alongside me towards my goals, and also maintain my sanity and happiness. Happy equals healthy!"
Kleppin is a marathoner after all, and with the amount of required abuse her body must absorb it's crucial she's doing just as much work to repair that damage. Destroy, repair, come back stronger so you can do it again. With the support of ASICS Mammoth Track Club and the consistent massages, Kleppin has seen herself not only nearly injury-free but has also learned to be more in tune with herself, "Additionally it seems I have become more aware of my body and its signals. With regular massage and communication with my massage therapist, I am able to take care of or tweak something seemingly minor to avoid a larger problem later on."
In a sport where so many of the lines to tread are razor thin, the ability to tune in to personal cues and communicate with your team can mean the difference between an American Record and six weeks in a boot.
The structure of her training and workouts did come as a bit of a shock to the harrier who craves endorphins in all shapes and forms. The quest to be the best runner she can be means keeping everything she does along that vein. While she misses snowboarding, mountain biking, and kayaking, "Hey, I'm faster now!...I have learned that you have to devote the bulk of your training to the bulk of your desired performance. In some other life, I can be the ultimate mountain woman with muscles everywhere to conquer mountain terrain everywhere... But for now, I need to be efficient at covering 26.2 miles in the quickest way possible, and that requires focus."
And that focus is laser sharp. While beautiful in stride, seemingly effortless bounce in time with that free flowing hair, make-up and jewelry accents making it impossible to not stare, don't let the beauty fool you. The driving force behind Kleppin is deathly serious, she's tougher than sh*t. She once finished the last 8 miles of a run with blood rolling down her leg after a fall that saw her knee mangled to the point of seeing bone.
The confidence needed to push when your body wants to relent is the ongoing battle for every runner. The confidence to rally on race day comes from grueling it out all the other days. Kleppin recounts the 2-mile repeats at 10,000 feet done early in her marathon build-ups as giving her the most confidence, "Although these workouts are not always the fastest, they are the toughest. When I can taste a little iron in my mouth, I know I am putting in the effort that will take me the ultimate distance- both in the progression of my training for the long haul, and in the later and toughest stages of a marathon distance race."
It's only been a year since making Mammoth her home, but time is a strange beast. It can feel like an eternity amidst a closing 400 but it can pass in the blink of an eye in knowing you're where you need to be. Kleppin's grown close with her new MTC family and the "electric energy" of the group. "It is rare to be in a place with so many surrounding individuals that actually understand the method behind the marathoning madness, and the madness behind the method."
Things will only keep speeding up, this year's breakout success leaves her poised for her first Olympic berth. Staying healthy, gaining strength, Kleppin will make every decision going forward with eyes on Rio and beyond.
The next step on that road is the TCS New York City Marathon. As one of the top Americans in what has become the deepest American field ever assembled, "I cannot wait to participate in an event of this caliber! This is definitely the sort of challenge I thrive for. To be lined up next to some of the best athletes the marathon has to offer Nationally and Internationally, along a 26.2 mile course through the streets of New York which truly manifests and embodies the American spirit, is an experience I feel I need under my feet as I continue to dream and push for a spot on Team USA in Rio 2016."
A free spirit may ultimately find a home, but as for its wont to chase higher goals, it will never settle.
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.