Heather Cappello: Runner Interrupted
This Saturday, January 14, 2012, six B.A.A. athletes will take part in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Women's & Men's Marathons. While they have the Trials in common, they are a diverse group, each of whom incorporates competitive running as a part of their very busy life.
Read about each one as we count down to race day.
While she isn't bursting onto the racing scene for the first time, Heather Cappello has had races of late that have reminded those in running circles that the 31- year old Arlington, MA resident is a formidable talent when she is healthy. A former New York State High School Champion and Division I All-American at Providence College, Cappello’s running career has been highlighted with strong performances over the years. Unfortunately, injuries after her sophomore year in college prevented her from taking the next step in her training and racing. “After my sophomore year of college I became injury prone. I had stress fractures and then had to have surgery for compartment syndrome in both legs. I was never able to get consistent training in and was getting frustrated with my training and race results.” As a post-collegian, she had some solid races, but it has been over the last two and a half years that she has seen the most dramatic improvement. With the continued guidance of her college coach, Ray Treacy, she has finally hit her stride, placing fifth at the 2011USATF 20k National Championship and putting herself in the mix in the elite fields at other high-profile competitions.
When she toes the line in Houston on Saturday, she will be racing the distance for only the fourth time in her career. Her debut marathon ended with a DNF, but the lessons learned helped her to a 2:43:58 Olympic Trials Marathon qualifying time and a twenty-first place finish at the 2009 U.S. Women’s Marathon Championships, hosted by the Twin Cities Marathon. With her spot in Houston guaranteed, Cappello focused again on the “shorter” distances of the half-marathon and the 10k. Competing in her first half-marathon as part of the New England’s Finest program at the Hartford Marathon, Cappello took an impressive second, running 1:15:04 behind New Zealand Olympian and fellow Friar, Kim Smith. Her 2011 racing included a string of personal bests and top finishes: Beginning in January at the Houston Marathon, she lowered her marathon PB by exactly three minutes to 2:40:58 placing 7th overall, third American. In June, she ran a personal best of 33:32 to place fourth at the inaugural B.A.A. 10k. She followed that up with a twelfth-place finish at the Falmouth Road Race in August, a fifth-place finish at the US. 20k Championships hosted by the New Haven 20k in September, and a third-place/first American finish at the B.A.A. Half Marathon in October, where she lowered her personal best to 1:13:44. After a low-key Turkey trot in November, she turned her attention to her final preparation for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Women’s Marathon.
Cappello has accomplished all this while working full-time as a Database Assistant in the Office of Resource Development at Harvard Medical School and simultaneously pursing graduate studies in Biomedical Laboratory and Clinical Science. Mindful of the demands on her time, she has intentionally focused more on preparing for shorter races. “I am fortunate enough to work with a phenomenal coach... He knows what works best for me and I have a lot of confidence in his training philosophy. Also, due to the fact that I work full time this approach allows me to race to the best of my ability.” That said, she lists the marathon as her favorite distance “I like the mental and physical challenge of the race itself and the training required”.
The quantity of her training may be considered modest by marathon training standards, but it does not lack in quality. In addition to running each day before work, “I usually have a long run on the weekends and one or two workouts during the week. One of those workouts is usually a tempo run. My training for the most part has stayed the same. Higher weekly mileage and longer tempos have been two significant changes.” And another big factor in her continued success is the fact that she has remained healthy throughout the training cycle. “Staying injury free, being able to get consistent training in [have] been factors with my current running success. I also think having greater confidence in my running ability has also been a factor. I contribute staying healthy and injury free by trying my best to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, eating healthy, and not overtraining.” And she offers this guidance to fellow marathoners, “I am still learning how to race the marathon myself, but tips I would give other runners in regards to training is to listen to your body and not be a slave to your schedule. I think this is an important aspect in staying healthy both mentally and physically.”
And while she may not have many marathons on her resume, lowering her times in the half marathon and 10k have helped her to a three-minute improvement at the distance. She also gleaned valuable experience from being able to race more frequently, something that is not always possible when one is focusing on racing marathons. With her preparation complete, Cappello is looking forward to reaping the results of the past two years of hard and smart training. “After each race this year my confidence in my running ability has increased which has helped me stay motivated in my training. One important thing I have learned is the importance of controlling the first mile. In a few of my races this past year I went out too fast and really felt the effects in the last couple of miles.” The B.A.A. Half Marathon was one of those races, “I am proud of this race because I ran a PB on a tough course after running the first mile way too fast. During the trials I am aiming to control my pace earlier in the race so I can finish strong.”
As for the trials course, the layout suits her as does the fact that the course is primarily flat. “I like that it is a loop course because my parents are making the trip to Houston and will be able to cheer for me at more spots. The marathons I have run so far have been flat, so I am excited that the trials course is also flat. It will be one less thing for me to get nervous about!” She does not yet have a detailed race strategy mapped out, but she knows how she is going to attack the race “My goal is to run 2:35 – 2:36. I plan on staying with a group that is running my goal pace. At the trials I anticipate running in a larger group than I have been in previous races this past year.”
For many, the Marathon Trials will be the culmination of months of training, for Cappello, it is the re-start of a career postponed by injuries. Motivated to continue her streak of healthy, uninterrupted training and continued improvement, Cappello is already looking past the trials to the U.S. 15k Championship in March. What happens from there remains to be seen, but expect it to be impressive.