This week, Kevin had the opportunity to catch up with one of Minnesota’s most humble and gifted triathletes, Ruth Brennan Morrey. Like most weekend competitors, Ruth plays a juggling game between all of life’s more important aspects while maintaining a fiercely competitive spirit. What sets Ruth apart is that this mother of three, soon to be psychologist and UK resident, has taken running, soccer, and now triathlon to a level that most people can’t achieve just once. Although prying into Ruth’s accomplishments is close to breaking into the Pentagon (because she is so humble and soft-spoken about her athletic abilities), we were able to learn a little more about her everyday life. Read what she had to say during the interview.
Q: So you have a name that I, amongst others, have mispronounced. Ruth Brennan-Morrey. How do you pronounce Morrey? (Is it French?)
Most all studly athletes like you have a nickname. What is your ‘racing name’? Ruthie?
Ruth Brennan Morrey has no hyphen, and Morrey rhymes with ‘STORY’, with no fancy french accent. My parents are from Dublin, Ireland so when I got married, I kept Brennan, otherwise I would be a pure European mutt. As for race names, I’ve never really had a nickname before, but Ruth, Ruthie, Ruther, RBM, whatever you choose is fine…I will answer!
Q: What can you share about your family and personal history? (where are you from, do you have kids, married, how long have you been in Rochester, etc.???)
I grew up in Rochester, MN in a pretty atypical household. My mother was a total stud field hockey player in Ireland but she later developed Multiple Sclerosis making her mobility severely restricted before passing away when I was seventeen. When I am training and racing, I often think about how fortunate and blessed I am to have been given her athletic genes, and the ability to compete and train hard when so many people don’t have this luxury.
I recently finished a post-doctoral position in psychology and I am studying for my licensure exam to become a full-fledged licensed psychologist…(yes, 95% of the triathlon community meets the full criteria for obsessive-compulsive disorder :).
I’ve been married for 10 years to my husband, Mark, who is the most phenomenal fan and supporter I could have ever imagined. He is the one who tells me how freakin’ far I am out of the water at T1, how much I may be inching up at T2, and who never stops believing in me during races. Mark just finished his orthopedic surgery residency at the Mayo Clinic, and will return to the Mayo after his shoulder/elbow fellowship overseas in Europe. We will be in Oxford, England from end of August to June 2013. I will not be working and I have connected with a tri group over there already. I also have three kids ages 7, 5, and 2 who are magnificent little people who I adore more than anything.
Q: As an athlete what is your background? And yes we want to hear some bragging from you. All of us who know you realize that you are sincerely humble so here is your chance to let us know what you have accomplished as an athlete before turning to triathlon.
Most people assume I was a college track and field/cross-country runner, but are surprised to hear that I grew up on soccer fields as a center midfield/forward–mostly as a goal scorer. I played for the MN Olympic development team throughout childhood, then traveled overseas on the Midwest Regional team. I was recruited to play Division I soccer at University of Wisconsin-Madison, played all four years, and was captain my senior year. My claim to fame at Wisconsin may be scoring two goals to win the Big 10 championship (against the Gophers!) as a freshman. My old teammates will tell you that I was fiercely competitive, and had the same work ethic, intensity, and relentless ‘never give up’ attitude as I do now. I didn’t care if we were down by two goals with 1 minute to go in the game, if there was still time on the clock, we could still win. During the summer months in college, I played semi-professional soccer for the Chicago Cobras.
After my soccer eligibility ended, I wanted to stay in shape so I took a marathon training class offered at Wisconsin. In order to pass the class, you had to finish a marathon. I ran my first marathon at the Madison Marathon and finished third overall female in 3:15, and because two days later I easily played a 90 minute soccer game with the Cobras, I knew I could run a faster marathon. The next year (1999), my goal was to break 3 hours at Grandmas marathon, but ran much faster than that, and mistakenly qualified for the 2000 Olympic Trials Marathon in 2:48:20. My brother, Mike, who was a 2:32 Boston marathoner was pacing me at Grandmas and was crunching the numbers while we ran. At mile 10 he told me that if I kept my pace (6:25) that I would qualify for the Trials-I had no idea what the trials were at that point. Anyway, I ran 2:48:17 in extreme hot/humid conditions in Columbia, South Carolina and finished 33rd/210 qualifiers. I was running 70-100 miles/week at the time, had a running coach (Charlie Mahler) / team (Runner’s Edge). With triathlon’s cross training, my running is much stronger now with only 20-25 miles per week. During my 3 year distance running career, I was plagued with injuries, the enjoyment of competing was lost, and I was running for the wrong reasons. From 2002-2011, I didn’t run in a single race.
Q: You started triathlon at the same age as so many people, but not often does someone enter the sport and start at the top of the ranks. How did you get started and did you feel the same nerves as the rest of us when we started?
In Dec 2010, our family was in Florida for one of Mark’s residency rotations when the idea was introduced to me by a consultant (Eric Loveless) who was an avid triathlete. He invited me to run with his triathlon group for a long run and I somehow kept up with the fast guys who were holding 6 minute pace for the entire long run. I knew after this run that I still had a competitive fire within me. So, three kids, a doctorate, and 11 years later, I decided it was time to go after a lofty goal of finishing a half ironman (Chisago Lakes). My focus/goals shifted dramatically from my distance running days–I no longer run for myself, for my own glory, or because I think I need to prove something. I compete and train out of genuine gratitude for the gifts God has given me, and when I am competing, my strength and determination come from this source. This focus keeps me grounded and allows me to push myself further than I ever have in the past. As much as it hurts sometimes, I feel the most at peace when competing. I do get nervous before races, but mostly worrying if I have forgotten something, not about the competition, or task at hand. The more competitors, the better.
Q: You have already proven that there are simply no ladies in the country that you cannot compete with in Duathlon, pro or amateur. Are you spending serious time on swimming to raise your position coming out of the water on race day?
I like how you try to build me up with the first part of the question, knowing you will slam me with the second part. Nice! 🙂 ! The answer, YES! After Trinona, being 8 minutes behind HKM/Tami Richie, and then winning by just seconds, it was the pivotal race that I realized I needed to fully commit myself to the swim. I have the ultimate dream team working with me (Alex Hooke and Kris Koepp) on my swim in various capacities. Kris is on deck every morning with a local master’s group while also coaching wicked fast high schoolers. It has helped tremendously to have someone with a keen critical eye work to push me to my limits and encourage me along the way.
Q: What goals do you have in Triathlon? Do you have a dream of winning age group nationals or top amateur in Kona?
My #1 goal is to improve my swim by many, many minutes. When I do this, my goals may shift from what they are now. As for racing, I would like to qualify for and compete at IM 70.3 worlds next year; the qualifier race will depend on our family travels, but likely either Spain (Nov) or France 70.3 (Sept) this year. Unfortunately, I had to forego AG nationals due to our UK travel this year. An Ironman does not sound appealing to me at this point of my career.
Q: How ‘serious’ are you taking your racing? You are so relaxed on race day, but like Claire Bootsma’s smile, you’re results don’t seem to show a passive attitude once the gun goes off. Do you turn on the competitive attitude when the gun starts or are you sincerely out on the course just to have fun?
“Just to have fun” has different meanings for people. For some, it means wearing funny outfits/wigs, scoring on yourself in soccer, but “just for fun” for me is competing as hard as I possibly can while trying to gauge my maximum potential on any given day. To me, that’s fun.
Q: Is it lonely up front when you can only compare your splits to the very fastest guys?
It is more lonely in the back of the swim pack! Since I was a young kid, I have always loved to compete against the boys. Even when I know that I might win a race during the run portion, there is always another guy to chase down.
Q: I know how it feels to get “chicked” by you out on the run course(not that I am a very high standard). The list of guys whom have NOT been outrun by you is getting quite short. If I have this correct you have outrun every guy you have raced against including the studs Matt Payne, Alex Hooke, Dan Arlandson, Brett Lovaas, Ryan Guiliano, and David Thompson. It looks like only Patrick Parish and Dan Hedgecock are left for you to outrun. Do you have a timeline until this happens?
Wow, you look closely at results. This never even crossed my mind! DKT is probably hating you for including him in the “out run” mix, but I guess race results don’t include logical explanations. When Dan or Patrick stop for coffee during a competition, that’s when I’ll make my move.
Q: The level of pride all of the Tri Rochester athletes have to be simply associated with you is impressive. Do you get to train with your teammates or do you train on your own?
The first statement in this question is simply inaccurate and ridiculous! I train primarily on my own because of life and family demands. However, our club has regular group events (e.g. track workouts, time trials) that I try to make whenever possible. I enjoy workouts that include club members from multiple ability levels because it reminds me that fellow teammates work their tails off too no matter where they may finish in their AG or overall. The moment that I begin to think that I am better than, not faster than, anyone else in their triathlon journey, whether first place or last place, is when I lose… big time. Just finishing takes a ton of heart and hard work.
Q: What races do you have left this season?
Rev 3 Dells half will be my last race before heading overseas, however, I plan to continue racing this season in the UK.