This week I got the chance to catch up with Heather Lieberg after she flew home to Helena, MT from Beijing. Unfortunately, her marathon at the World Championship ended before the 10k mark due to a nagging foot pain that she felt all week. What I have learned from Heather over the years is that she has a competitive spirit that is unmatched. When she knows that she can win, she will! Her first World Championship may not have played out how she would have liked, but we have no doubt there are many great races ahead for her. Hear more from Heather about her experience in Beijing!
Take us through how you were feeling the week before your race and then during your race:
A week before the race I was in Japan at training camp. I was having a hard time because I knew something wasn’t right with my heel. The past month of training I had pain in my heel, but during hard workouts it seemed to go away. The second I got off the plane at my first stop in Denver I couldn’t even walk on it. It pretty much was downhill from there. I completed all my workouts in Japan but I was in so much pain I didn’t know what to do. I spent a lot of time with the medical team trying different methods to help relieve the pain. I couldn’t enjoy myself because I knew what kind of shape I was in and was devastated to think I wouldn’t be able to compete. When I got to China and met my coach we did a Thursday workout which ended again in tears. Friday and Saturday I didn’t run at all and it felt a little better so I thought there was hope that I would be able to get through the race.
On the day of the race for the warm up the pain slowly came back. I believed that I could run through the pain. The race started and we were off! I felt absolutely nothing in my heel. I have never felt so strong in my life. I couldn’t help from smiling because I thought this was going to be my race. My coach told me to stay towards the middle or back of the lead group and not to work hard during the beginning stages of the race. Then, around mile 4 or 5 something happened. The pain started out gradual in my heel then it got so severe I thought I was going to be sick. I tried running on different parts of my foot to get the pain to go away and nothing worked. I slowly slipped to around 6:00 pace and I knew unless a miracle happened this would not be good. The medical team created a little donut thing to stick in my shoe to try and reduce some impact and I thought maybe that was making the pain so severe. I stepped to the side, ripped my shoe off and threw the cushion out and put my shoe back on.. I think it took me less than 5 seconds to do all of this. Then I took off running and the amount of pain I experienced dropped me to the ground dead in my tracks. It was so awful.
Your fans might not know that you didn't spend all of your time in Beijing. Where were you before Beijing?
I spent the first two weeks before the marathon in Narita, Japan to train and get acclimated. I was so excited for such an amazing experience in both of these places, but because of my current condition I was so worried and stressed the entire time.
Looking back on World's, what was something that you didn't expect going into this experience?
I realized through this whole experience that all these high profiled athletes are just normal people like me. Everyone has their own story and lives outside of their running profession. I really enjoyed getting to meet many of them and learning about their lives on a more personal level.
You have a great sense of humor so I am confident that something funny happened to you on your trip...funniest moment?
Esther Erb and I decided to dye a strip of our hair blue to show our American pride. I thought this would be something fun to do and brighten up my day a little. It was very comical first off trying to explain to the Japanese hairdressers who spoke no English what we wanted done exactly. An hour later we were all on the same page as what we wanted done. We had a great time during this whole process. Then next day I showered and got ready for dinner with Esther. When I walked down to meet her we both about died when we realized my whole head of hair had turned a shade of green from the dye bleeding into the rest of my hair when I shampooed it. I noticed it in the bathroom before I went down but I just thought it was the weird lighting in the bathroom. Long story short, I spent two hours that night washing my hair to get rid of the green. I went on U-tube to find home remedies to help strip color out of hair. Who knew that Vitamin C crushed up and mixed with cheap hotel shampoo would help get my hair back to normal. This was one of many signs that my stars weren’t aligned at all for this trip! I giggle now thinking about it but at the time I didn’t see the humor.
Leaving World Champs, what are you now looking forward to the most in the months to come?
Even though I wasn’t able to showcase all my hard work at Worlds, I gained a whole new level of confidence in my running. The way I felt the first part of the race is not like anything I have ever felt before. I know my training is working and that I will be a contender at the Trials! My injury has added so much fuel to my fire. Right now I am going to rest, recover and regain my energy and keep my sights on LA.
What was your favorite tourist activity that you took part in while in Japan or Beijing?
I spent the majority of my time in both places off of my feet or with the medical team to get my injury under control and rested so I wasn’t able to do a lot. However, I did have so much fun downtown Narita with some really great people! I enjoyed getting to visit, relax a little and laugh with Shalane Flanagan and Alysia Montano. Alysia is an absolute kick!
photo credit: How Lao photography
What was something that you ate that was new and exciting?
I am not an adventurous person at all when it comes to trying new foods. However, one night I almost got peer pressured into eating Foie gras which I guess is duck liver? I finally stood my ground and said “nope, not going to do it.” I did see many interesting foods in the Narita market. I’m not even quite sure what it all was! A few places were big into serving fresh eel. They would slap a live eel onto the table, chop off its head and fillet it!
Who was most inspirational person or people to you on your trip?
Absolutely everyone on the trip was inspirational to me! From the doctors, to the athletes, to the coaches, to the nutritionist etc…Everyone had such a wealth of knowledge and expertise in their area it was absolutely amazing. Listening to people talk about their lives and careers fascinated me!