Last weekend, on a crisp summer morning in Duluth, Minn., more than 6,000 runners toed a start line at the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, an annual event that tracks 13+ miles along the shore of Lake Superior. Near the head of the pack, outdoor athlete and Team GearJunkie adventure racer Kelly Brinkman was assessing the field, getting ready to blast off in an event she’d trained for all year. “My goal was a 1:17,” she said, referring to a one hour, 17-minute race time that she knew would be her personal best. By the end, Brinkman, age 31, missed that mark by a few seconds, but instead she managed to break away from the pack and win the overall women’s victory on the course. We caught up with Brinkman after the race for a chat. —Stephen Regenold
Gear Junkie: Big congrats! Put the victory this past weekend in perspective for us.
Brinkman: Thanks, it was quite the scene. A hardcore road-running crowd and people from everywhere. The pack was highly competitive. The last mile I was running on fear and adrenaline — I did not want to look back to see where the [second place runner] was behind me.
What did it feel like to break the ribbon, to win?
I turned the final corner, saw the tape, and I thought ‘I get to do this? This is happening?” — the whole thing ranks really high for me in all the events I’ve done over the years.
You’re an adventure racer on Team GearJunkie and a distance runner most recently. Why the switch to half-marathons this year?
The wear and tear is so much less during training. I am also wrecked after a marathon, where on a half-marathon you sprint and you blow up anaerobically, but you can recover quicker. Halfs are a new challenge, faster and more intense. A different thing.
You’ve won or placed high in other events this year, too. How has your race mentality changed?
I guess I am more confident now. Instead of being nervous, I try and be like “let’s go, let’s do this race!”
How do you train?
I trail run, orienteer, and adventure race. But, perhaps embaraasing to admit, most of my training is inside on a treadmill at my house. It just works for me. I run 8 to 15 miles most days, do either a shorter tempo run with 6:00 or 6:10 miles or a slightly slower pace when I run longer.
What do you eat and drink on a race like the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon?
You know I am something of a freak here. I don’t eat really anything when I race. But the morning of the half I had two Luna Bars a few hours before start time. No food during this race, and amazingly I drank no water even during the run.
You’re age 31. Is that typical of distance runners? Who are you running against, people of the same age or younger?
I think age 26 to 36 or so is the fastest women’s age group. I am in the best running shape ever. I have learned to run better, plus I train harder than before.
Advice for people looking to up their game or push limits in running?
Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable. The more uncomfortable your training is, the easier it will be on a hard race. It’s all about mental confidence and knowing these feelings, knowing what to expect.
What shoes and apparel do you run in?
I train in Columbia Ravenous shoes and race in Brooks Green Silence model. For clothing, I haven’t found anything that I consider my “must have” racing kit. I usually wear a mish-mash of brands. My last few races have been run in a Nike running tank and Nike Dri-Fit socks. I find that my InSport briefs might look like underwear, but that’s what makes them so aerodynamic!
Other gear to talk about?
The one thing that I have recently realized is a great tool is my Garmin Forerunner 110. I’ve worn it a bunch of times without ever looking at it during a race; I simply like to be able to review the data after a race. This past weekend, however, I actually looked at it on course and it saved me. My A-goal was to break into the 1:17s for a finish time. I went out with the lead pack of women, but after mile 4 when I looked down at my watch, our pace was hovering around 6:10-6:15/mile which was not going to get me to my goal, so off I went!
—Kelly Brinkman is scheduled to race with Team GearJunkie/WEDALI later this month in the 30-Hour Stubborn Mule Adventure Race.