I have followed Tara Welling for several years now. Her alma mater, Loyola Marymount, was in my conference in my college days (Santa Clara), and I have enjoyed her racing and her focus. When she returned to the sport, after her injuries, it was great to see her back. Now racing under the watchful eyel of Jonathan Marcus, I am even happier for her. This is a wonderful piece by Cait Chock on Tara following her dream.
A Dream Restored: Tara Welling on overcoming injuries and getting back to the sport she loves
By: Cait Chock
Tara Welling is right back chasing her Olympic Dream. Distance runners are often accustomed to forcing their mind to supersede what the body is saying, but last spring Welling could no longer ignore the physical. After a torn hamstring, Welling was at peace with veering from one dream and set out on a search for another.
Until, the itch came back. Living in Portland, Oregon and married to a competitive runner, many of Welling's friends were runners and after a three month layoff, her hamstring fully healed, she partook in what had been her passion for so many years. She went for a run.
Tentatively at first, she went in with no expectations, no definitive plan, nothing more than being out doing something she loved with people she loved being around. Keeping up with fast friends and with an inborn goal-oriented drive, Welling found herself curious. Could she get back in racing shape? How fast could she be? Had she really, truly, given up her dream or had she just needed a reminder that injuries don't last forever? Yes, very, and a reminder is all it takes.
Welling started hitting the workouts from Scott Guerro, her Loyola Marymount College coach, and in time caught the eye of Jonathon Marcus. Marcus was now living his dream, spearheading a highly competitive racing team unlike any other. The concept for which was something he had been working towards for years: a means to unite the incredible amount of unsponsored talent across the greater Portland area. Talent that came from individuals balancing training between school, work, and family. He dreamt of a set-up that saw their 'outside life' parameters not as obstacles, but rather, as assets. Marcus's highly individualized training plans work around each of his athletes' other commitments and spins the traditional training-focused grind to this: creating a life outside of the track makes you better on the track. From balance comes better performance. A 'simple theory' often preached but effectively pulling it off is a far cry from easy.
Marcus had, High Performance West, and Welling's renewed drive to race couldn't have come at a more perfect time. Even still in its infancy stages, HPW had already raised eyebrows and anyone in the 'know' knew it would be something big. Welling joined instantly recognizable names like Nicole Blood, Julia Webb, McKayla Fricker, and Jen Bergman among others.
"HPW and Marcus have helped me come back to the sport because it is a low stress environment and there isn't much emphasis on every single workout," shares Welling. "We always keep the big picture in mind and don't let one workout define the shape we are in." In addition to running, Welling works part time as a real estate broker's assistant and is currently working on her real estate license.
Thanks to the perspective brought from injuries, Welling also has learned there are times when you need to quiet the mind's urge to grind and tune into the body. "Since coming back, Marcus has been great in letting me have a voice in my training and listening to the feedback I give him on a daily basis. When writing a workout it is sometimes a back-and-forth process between him and I." In the end, Marcus has the final ruling, but both coach and athlete take each workout with a high degree of flexibility, which could mean breaking up the intervals or using progressive runs.
Stepping to that first starting line came with some nerves and a necessary degree of rust-busting. "The first few races after coming back to the sport were pretty hard for me, but it was also a time when I was truly enjoying what I was doing, so it was bittersweet." Competitive by nature, and knowing she wasn't at the fitness level she had been accustomed to racing at, it took both courage and the support of her team to put herself out there. "I remember a few times after races calling Marcus and saying I was never going to be able to run fast again or set PR's, but he has unending faith that he is able to instill in athletes. I don't know how he does it, but it works and I think my teammates would agree."
As races and times progressed, rightfully so did her confidence, PR's have a way of doing that. Welling was back chasing that Olympic Dream at full force, "My only goal for the Trials is to make the team." A goal that she, Coach Marcus, and all her teammates firmly stand behind.
As we approach the Trials, Welling has dropped her mileage down to 85 from the usual 100 miles per week, "I have backed off the miles a bit now because we are more focused on running fast." Placing 10th at the Bolder Boulder this past Memorial Day, Welling had come directly from a month of altitude training camp in Flagstaff. "I love putting in the high mileage and feeling exhausted from training everyday, but I always have sub-par workouts at altitude and find myself eager to race."
Welling admits she craves the anticipation and excitement of a race atmosphere between large blocks of training. "I know that a race will give me a better workout then doing what is assigned on paper because I will have the extra endorphins from a race atmosphere. I had higher expectations at Bolder, but overall I wasn't too displeased." The race was made even more special having grown up an 'Air Force Kid'; Welling's father, grandfather, uncles, and aunts all serve. "To run into the stadium with everyone chanting USA just gives you chills. I loved the camaraderie amongst the girls and being able to race for something greater than yourself."
With those Marcus prescribed Wednesday and Saturday workouts, Welling does her long run on Sunday (15-18 miles) and a mid-week medium long run of 14 miles. She doesn't have a staple workout for the simple reason that Marcus doesn't want his athletes to get overly focused on looking back and comparing their times. Instead, Marcus is a master of ingenuity and some of Welling's favorite workouts are mile repeats and long runs with the last 7-10 miles progressively faster.
With all eyes on the Trials, "I will have done all the preparation needed, so I am not worried about what the finishing time is. After the Trials, and hopefully Olympics, I will turn my focus back to the roads and hopefully run another half marathon with the goal of getting under 1:10:25."
Back chasing her dream, she's enjoying every step.
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004 and previously ran for Nike. A freelance writer and artist, you can see more of her work on her website and Instagram @caitchock.