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Early Riser: 5 Questions With Tera Moody

We caught up with elite marathoner Tera Moody.

Since her breakthrough race at the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Boston in 2008 (where she placed fifth in 2:33:54), Tera Moody has twice represented the U.S. at the world championships (28th in 2009 in 2:36:39; 17th in 2011 in 2:32:04). But the 31-year-old former University of Colorado runner has also battled with insomnia for a long time and, in recent years, numerous injuries. She returns to racing on Nov. 4 at the Hot Chocolate 15K in Chicago, an event that will be a tune-up for the California International Marathon on Dec. 2 in Sacramento. [Moody, who lives and trains in Boulder, Colo., graces the cover of the November issue of Competitor.]

You were in the shape of your life last winter, but then you got hurt again and couldn’t run in the Olympic Trials. What happened?

I was cruising in the final half mile at Rock ’n’ Roll San Antonio Half Marathon last November when my hamstring got tight and pulled. Everyone said I could take two weeks off and I’d be fine. I had trained through some injuries before and gotten away with it. I ran my PR on a torn plantar plate in Chicago in 2010. With the hamstring, I still had pain after two weeks, but my workouts were better than ever—even on one leg. Then I was doing a 15-mile run in Florida on Jan. 1 at close to marathon pace and at mile 11, there was a sharp pain from a bad tear in the same hamstring. It was the very best workout I had ever done, but I couldn’t run anymore. It was really, really frustrating. It wasn’t like I was just injured and not in shape. I was like, “I’m ready to go.” It’s a fine line, though. It’s the biggest race of your life and you want to do everything you can, but I definitely pushed it too hard. It’s brutal to think about even now.

So you had to stop running for several months and did loads of physical therapy to recover. What was that process like?

It was really tough. I did tons of PT, Active Release Therapy, shockwave treatments and mobility exercises. More than just being so disappointed about not being able to run the Olympic Trials—I had been looking forward to running that race for several years—the hardest thing was not being able to run at all. It’s just a huge part of my life and something that makes me really, really happy. I think I kind of had to learn how to live without it because it was so long that I couldn’t really train. It taught me a good lesson in that I can be happy without running. I’d much prefer to be able to train and race, but it’s not the end-all, be-all. Aside from rehab, I took the time away to do things I never really had the chance to do. I visited a friend in Toronto. I went camping. I visited some towns in Colorado that I’d never been to before. Normally when I travel to a city for a race, I barely leave the hotel. So it was nice to have that kind of break from that point of view.

Your battles with insomnia have been legendary. How have to adjusted your lifestyle to get enough rest to continue training at a high level?

I get up super early, usually by 4 AM every day. I think I’m on a different rhythm than most people, and that’s just what I have to do. I don’t use caffeine except for races and hard workouts. I’m very caffeine sensitive. I could definitely do better about sugar, but I feel like you can only do so much and I do really well on the other things. I try to have a consistent routine and don’t use my computer at night or any electronics before I go to bed.

What do you do at 4 AM?

Yes, but it depends on whether or not I’m meeting Brad [Hudson, her coach] or a group for a hard workout or not. But even days where I’m having practice at 7:30, I might do a little shake-out run on the treadmill at 3:30 a.m. at 24-Hour Fitness. Believe it or not, I’m never the only one there. There’s a regular crowd at that hour. Or if I don’t do that, I’ll often run again at 11:00 a.m. or noon. I don’t double every day, but when I do I don’t want the workout to be later in the day because it will affect my ability to sleep. It’s kinda funny because most people have to set their alarm to get to practice at 7:30, but by then I’ve been wide awake for hours and doing things for hours. I’ve tried to reset my clock, but it’s just my rhythm. I’ve tried staying up later and later, but then I wind up just getting less sleep.

You’ve done well at implementing cross-training into your training. What kind of mileage and other training have you been doing this fall?

I haven’t been necessarily adding up my miles. I’m doing a lot more time-based stuff. I might only run 12 miles, but then I might get in a 30-minute cross-training workout, too. I also upwards of 30 to 40 percent of my running on a treadmill while reading magazines. Before Worlds in 2011, I was running about 80 miles a week and also cross-training a lot and that’s what I’m doing now, too. I know some people say you can’t cross-train and train for a marathon, but I’ve done it and it works for me. Everybody is so different. I don’t do many double sessions. I don’t do a lot of speed. I never touch the track. When I ran my 5K road PR and the shortest workout I did was 5 x 2 miles. I’ve never really trained by the book. I just try to listen to my own body and find out what works for me.