Molly is an American athlete who enjoyed a whirlwind athletics career in college. She talks to Sundried about racing, injuries, and what's next for her.
Have you always been into sport?
It has always been a key role in my life. I started playing soccer at the age of 5 and have been doing sport ever since. From soccer it grew to swimming, which was my first love of one part of triathlon. During my childhood swimming career, we had to do a mile time trial for a “dry land” training day, and it was on this day that my running career started. My swimming coach is a triathlete; he saw my potential in running cross country and track and field. I trusted him and that’s when my running career started and my swimming career took a hiatus due to my high school not having a pool. I ended up running in college and was recruited onto the swim team and as an NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division II athlete. This life has never left me, it is only continuing to grow and evolve with my life path.
What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?
My college coach had a hunch about how well I would do with the sport. I always told him I wanted to focus on what was currently at hand, but he never let it go. As funny as it sounds, I was afraid of riding bikes since I was always afraid of falling with every bump I hit on the road, sidewalk, bike path, anything. Once I graduated and started pharmacy school, my coach would send me bikes constantly and one day I caved. That day was July 30th 2018, and it's been an addiction ever since. After 2 days of riding, my coach called me and told me how natural I was on my bike and that I had no idea how much I’d progress so quickly. Right now I am currently focusing on doing an aquabike race once the season kicks off and I couldn’t be more excited.
What’s been your favourite race to date and why?
On January 22nd 2016 I proved myself and my coach wrong. I did what we thought wouldn’t happen for months to come: I beat the only high school PR I had left and it happened to be the hardest one. I had held this PR for 4 years and had every intention in the world to break it. The 5:45 mile wasn’t going to hold me back much longer.
I came to my race on that Friday thinking I could run a sub 6 minute mile since I was just coming back from an injury and cross country and I’d been pretty consistent with my training. I thought running a 5:50 was pushing it but achievable. I ran the whole race thinking I was running 45 per 200.
But I was quickly proven wrong. I’m vigilant about where I’m at with my splits but this race I felt exceptionally smooth and good so I just went by feel. Looking back, I must’ve fed off my team going nuts watching me hold 45, 44, 42, 42, 41, 40, 40, 32 and hit the best time I’ve ran in forever.
I came through the last turn completely kicking to try and win my heat and I saw the clock: 5:30. I instantly found a gear I never knew I had and pulled off a 5:42 mile. I crossed the line crying and was greeted by my coach picking me up and holding me for 5 minutes.
He couldn’t stop saying how he’s never taking me off my current training plan and how surprised and proud he was. Once he finally let me down I was greeted by some of the girls running in the heat after me who overheard my coach and teammates going crazy from my race. We were all shocked. I’m pretty sure my coach shed a tear too. That was one of my proudest moments through the trials of my college career.
And your proudest achievement?
My collegiate career. Over the course of my first summer base training of my NCAA career I changed as an athlete. I crushed my 3200m time by over 2 minutes. I was running better than both Coach Mike (my college coach) and myself ever expected. I was in pure bliss and excited to finally see what I had always dreamed come true. But this isn’t a Cinderella story.
The next 3.5 years (I graduated early) were filled with tears of joy, heartbreak, frustration, and excruciating pain. My collegiate career was nothing I could have anticipated, wanted, or would wish on anybody else. I went through a viscous cycle of injuries. I found myself always making huge progress in my journey and then it would be overcome by whatever injury I endured.
Coincidentally, these injuries occurred every cross country season. This would then make me absolutely HATE the fall season I once loved, and fell in love with what never seemed to hurt me, the track. Coach Mike and I couldn’t ever seem to figure out why this was occurring, but looking back I know exactly why, and still struggle with it everyday.
It is something all of us female athletes go through who would do anything to be faster. Ask any one of us. Putting this realisation I came to recently to the side, we decided to try an innovative training plan that changed my athletic career. Coach Mike and I put hours into researching a way I could train with lessening the hard impact I was putting on my feet.
I became best friends with the elliptical (cross trainer) and aqua running. I spent an innumerable amount of hours training with my new “best friend”. Starting from my injury during my junior cross country season through to my last race being a Mountie. You could always find me on the elliptical up in Decker Gym 4 days out of the week while the other 2-3 days were spent actually putting time on my feet (ex: track workouts or a race). I was always doing some sort of studying while mindlessly working out. I know, I was crazy, but when you spend 45-80 minutes stationary, you find ways to spend that time wisely. I was a Chemistry major, so wasting that time just listening to music or watching Netflix on my iPad wasn’t an option.
This trial of new training ended up being so successful that I broke a PR in every race and even my injuries seemed to go away. I was stronger and faster than ever and actually had a shot at the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) which I had missed in my last track season in the 800m by 7s and the 1500m by 11s. Coach Mike knew that since my freshman year I had set a difficult goal: to run in at least one PSAC. It seemed near impossible until the day I ran a 5:40 mile when we had a race plan to simply run a 6:15 with a negative split since it was my first race back.
I was bear-hugged by my coach the moment I crossed the line. I was crying out of pure bliss and he exclaimed “Balliet I am NEVER taking you off the elliptical!” From that indoor track meet on, I was then able to achieve my one goal we were working towards. It may not have been a track PSAC but it was a cross-country one. With the constant heartbreak that season gave me, it was a perfect way to end what it had done to me.
My final season at Mansfield, I was chosen to be captain. Me of all people, the one who never finished a season, the one who was middle of the pack at best, the one who always told Coach that they’ll never want to run anything over 6 miles again after running quite a few 10-11 mile long runs, the one who was a 1500m/800m girl amongst girls who were way more successful and faster than me. I was shocked at this decision but the reason (which I will not state) was one that was very justified. I still struggled mentally with the longer races but I pushed through, constantly becoming better by my own standards and pulled my girls with me to their own growth as an athlete.
But I had a secret between coach and myself the whole season. During camp week, August 28th 2016 to be exact, while doing calf raises on some stairs after a training session in Decker, I experienced the worst pain of my life. My leg gave out and I knew exactly what I had done. I can be a hypochondriac, Coach knows this VERY well, so when he saw this happen he just said not to worry and that it is probably a tendinitis flare up from the other injuries. I went along getting it kinesio-taped, e-stimmed, and massaged every other day. But it just kept getting worse. I told Coach that I knew it wasn’t that but I’m going to finish the season, no matter what, and just pretend what happened actually didn’t. I was relentless, I wasn’t stopping unless Coach carried me off a course.
I wanted this more than anything. I’ll never forget running up the final hill at Kutztown. I was in so much pain, but knew I was 600m away from it ending, everything ending. The proudest moment of my life was filled with coaches and fellow PSAC runners all cheering for me who knew what I went through. The moment I crossed the line, I found my dad, started crying and couldn’t stop saying “I did it, I finally did it!”
A week later my pain persisted, my tendon was still huge and red, but I wanted the athletic trainers to discover the issue. I could’ve been over-reacting, which happened a lot (sorry Coach). The trainer that finally discovered what happened was the only trainer who wasn’t annoyed by me; she didn’t know my athletic history, she was an athletic training grad student. She hit a divot while giving me treatment to recover from the season. She immediately stopped breaking down my scar tissue, called every trainer over to me, and I got the answer that I had kept to myself the whole season.
I had torn the Achilles Tendon in my left leg. I swear that if I hadn't worn kineso tape on a daily basis, I would have ruptured it. This is where I thought my journey would end.
Even through the following injuries I’ve endured:
- Hallux Limitis that caused a 1st metatarsal stress reaction in my left foot
- Bone Marrow Edema of my 3rd metatarsal in my right foot
- 5th metatarsal stress reaction in my left foot
- Dislocated Navicular bone that triggered a 1st metatarsal stress reaction in my left foot
- Partial Achilles tear in my left leg.
I thought my singlet, spikes, and running shoes were hung up forever; to be nothing but the aspect that made me who I am today. My life dedication to “never settle” and to constantly persist through everything turned me from an injury-prone runner to a determined Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate.
Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?
I have quite a few, but my most recent one was a 20 mile bike race. It was a super tough course and it was two 10 mile loops. It was supposed to be a big circle through back roads next to a state park. Doesn’t sound too difficult, right? Yeah, it was far from that.
I was one of the few females in the racing field and I got separated. I got nervous about missing my turn and the people who were supposed to be directing the race never told me where to turn. I ended up making it to the next town over, a place I was not familiar with at all. Thankfully I had my phone for my Strava and I used my GPS to get back to the park. I actually ended up doing 20 miles and the race coordinators felt so bad that they still gave me an award for my age group. It’s funny looking back at it, but in that moment it was very scary.
How do you overcome setbacks?
I try and focus on the little things and the end goal. Not everything will go exactly how you plan and I believe everything happens for a reason. I try to think of a setback as a speed bump. If you hit it going too fast, you get jostled around for a little bit, but it's not a disaster. Setbacks aren’t an ending, they are just a way to learn and develop in a new way.
What advice do you wish you'd been given before you started competing?
Injuries are inevitable. College athletics are far from perfect. It’s up to you if you let your injuries make or break you
What are your goals for 2019?
Currently, I want to try and get into aquabiking since my feet still need a little more time to get use to impact training. Its been a very slow process, but it’ll come in due time. I’m also hoping to get more open-water swimming training in. I’m a strong swimmer but I let anxiety get into my head. I just need to build more confidence.
Who do you take your inspiration from?
Hands down, Alexi Pappas.
What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?
I love the message and the activism for clean water and a smaller carbon footprint. These are essential for the future health and survival of our planet.