Pro Triathlete Haley Chura Turns Marathon Olympic Trials Qualifier

We chat with pro triathlete Haley Chura who achieved a massive 2019 goal to qualify for the 2020 US Marathon Olympic Trials. She shares what it's been like putting swimming and cycling on the back burner while adding a lot more running miles to her training plan.

 

Get inspired to make your own out-of-the-box goal in 2020!

 

Zealios: In early 2019 you set an incredible goal to qualify for the U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials and you did just that!
You qualified for the 2020 Atlanta Marathon Olympic Trials at the California International Marathon (CIM) race in December 2019 with a finishing time of 2:43:19. How does it feel to have reached your big goal?

 

Haley Chura: Crossing the finish line at CIM felt really good and a little surprising. I feel like it’s rare in life to set a really big outcome-oriented goal like that and then actually achieve it. I’ve also spent so much of my life and even my triathlon career being known as a swimmer, so qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials is something I’m still wrapping my head around. Qualifying was a celebration of setting a big outside-the-box goal and then having everything come together almost perfectly on a single day. It’s a very special feeling and I am definitely savoring it.

Haley Chura, pro triathlete finishes California International Marathon (CIM)

Haley qualifies for the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials at CIM

Z: Finishing with 1:51 to spare (just under the 2:45 trial qualifying time), what was going through your head in the last mile? Did you know you’d make it to the finish line under 2:45? 

 

HC: In most triathlons my goal might be to finish in a certain place, so the final miles I’m thinking about catching one of my competitors or trying to maintain a lead and my focus is rarely on my pace. In the marathon, my goal was obviously a very specific time, and a time that I knew would be very challenging for me. My small margin for error made the race very mentally stressful and I was definitely more focused on my pace and the total time than I’ve ever been in a run off the bike.

The course at CIM is fairly consistent and the weather was nearly perfect, which made it a really good day to aim to run even or negative splits. My goal was to hold 6:15/mile pace, and I’m really proud of how I stuck with that plan through the early miles of the race. At mile 19 I felt really good and attempted to push the pace a little, but by mile 21 I had brought it back to a 6:15 pace, reminding myself the big goal was sub-2:45 and I didn’t want to risk blowing up and failing to qualify.

With about a mile to go I knew I had about 8 minutes to finish under the qualification time, and I knew rationally, I could do it, but coming from Ironman, a sport that has quite the history of last mile meltdowns, I didn’t really celebrate until I was completely across the line! It was a big relief to cross the line and see 2:43 on the clock, and then to hear the name of former pro triathlete and a good friend of mine, Ruth Brennan Morrey, called right after me was just icing on the cake.

Ruth and I had many close finishes while she was racing triathlon, so it was extra special to share another close finish line moment with her. And this time we both really felt like winners!

 Haley Chura professional triathlete crosses the finish line at California International Marathon (CIM)

Haley approaching the finish line of the 2019 California International Marathon (CIM)

 

Z: How has the transition been focusing on one sport (running) and removing the swimming and biking for a bit? Are you excited to get back to tri training?

HC: I’ve still been incorporating some swim and bike into my marathon training since it’s fantastic active recovery and I do intend to return to triathlon after the Trials, but most of my workout intensity has been running focused and my run volume is much higher than it ever has been while training for Ironman or 70.3 races.

The biggest surprise has been how tired I am, even with fewer total training hours. I have a newfound respect for elite runners and how hard running is. I also have a better understanding of how easy it is for even experienced athletes to overdo the volume and/or intensity on the run and end up injured.

Luckily I’ve been healthy during this whole project, and I think I’ve found a good rhythm with my training, although I’m a little surprised by how much I miss long bike rides! I live in Montana so this time of year I’m usually spending hours on the trainer so I’m very behind on movies, podcasts, and the latest music!

Z: You’re already hanging out in Atlanta now and we’ve seen that you’re out and about doing some appearances. How is the build up to the trials going? What’s the vibe like in Atlanta?

 

HC: I graduated from the University of Georgia in 2007 and lived in Atlanta for nearly a decade after college. Atlanta is where I started endurance sports and where my coach, Matthew Rose, and many of my Dynamo Multisport teammates and athletes live. The city is very special to me, and it being the location of the Marathon Trials was a big reason for why I wanted to qualify.

I did spend the past week in Atlanta, primarily to visit friends, but I also got a chance to run a loop of the Marathon Trials course, run a local 5k, be a guest on a live taping of the RUNATL podcast, and visit the venue for our upcoming Ironwomen Podcast Live Event.

The Atlanta endurance sport community is incredible and the city truly lives up to it’s name as Running City U.S.A. Everyone I talked to is excited about the Trials. The three loop course through the heart of the city makes the race very spectator friendly and there is also a community marathon and half marathon the next day. The Atlanta Track Club is doing an amazing job with support and communication for all qualified athletes. I am confident it will be an amazing race experience that none of the competitors or fans will soon forget! I feel so lucky I get to be a part of it all.

Haley Chura, pro triathlete runs a loop of the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials course in Atlanta, GA

Haley running a loop of the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials course in Atlanta, GA

Z: Come race day, what’s your game plan? Are you looking to run a similar pace and strategy as your successful CIM race? 

 

HC: The course in Atlanta is very different from the course at CIM. I believe it features around 1,400 feet of climbing and the weather in Atlanta in February is unpredictable.

Running a loop of the course gave me some good perspective on the challenges of the hills, and I do think I will likely target a more conservative pace than what I ran at CIM. However, this time, there’s no need to play it safe after mile 21, so maybe I’ll take a few more risks in those final miles. 

My real game plan is to soak up the experience. My first U.S. Olympic Trials happened in 2004 and I swam the 200 backstroke, an event that took me just over two minutes. Eighteen-year-old me never would have imagined that 16 years later I would again be racing at the Olympic Trials, but this time in a completely different sport, in one of my favorite cities, surrounded by some of my favorite people for a significantly longer duration of time!

The uniqueness of this opportunity is not lost on me, and on February 29th I plan to enjoy every step!

Z: You definitely deserve to enjoy every minute! We'll be cheering from the west coast and looking forward to the Ironwomen podcast's live event on February 26th leading up to the race.

Have a great race and more importantly, have fun!

 

Check the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on February 29, 2020 in Atlanta, GA at 12pm EST. NBC is broadcasting the event live and on demand.