Jordan Hasay Aims for the Race She Was Born to Run

July 11, 2018

Elite runner Jordan Hasay had a goal of winning this year’s Boston Marathon. And she had a good shot—in her first marathon, in Boston last year, Hasay finished third and ran a faster first marathon than any other woman in U.S. history by almost a full three minutes (her 2:23:00 bettered Kara Goucher’s record of 2:25:53, set in 2008).

Last fall at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, she once again finished third, and improved her time to 2:20:57. Magazine profiles were written about her chances.

But this past April 16 was not her day—and not, in her case, because of the epically bad race conditions that knocked out so many other athletes. As Hasay explains on this week’s episode of #WeGotGoals, a stress fracture sidelined her the day before the race.

“You put so much into the preparation and then I got so close to being able to race,” she tells me. “When you do set a goal and then you're not able to achieve it or even—I mean, not even being able to toe the start line, that's really tough.”

Hasay took about a week to wallow (which, research shows, is actually good for you, in moderation). Then, she refocused and moved ahead. She set new goals for improving her weaknesses. She worked on strength in the weight room, flexibility on the yoga mat. She called her dad proudly when she did a 30-second handstand.

Eventually, those small goals added up to an emerging comeback. A mile became a mile and a half became 55 per week. That sounds like a lot to us mere mortals, but to someone like Hasay who typically puts in 100-plus when building up for a marathon, it's still far from her normal.

But she’s getting there, and feeling good about her prospects. When Hasay started doing faster workouts again, she and her coach Alberto Salazar noticed improvements. “He goes, it's the yoga! Your stride looks so good!” she says.

Those of us in Chicago will get a chance to see that stride in action gain this fall, when she’ll be back here with her sights set on placing higher than third and beating the American record of 2:19:36 (set in 2006 in London by Deena Kastor).

This injury wasn’t the first time Hasay has overcome obstacles. In fact, her current successes were made possible, in part, by challenges. “You can find the positive in anything,” she says. “I try not to see anything as a negative.”

She’s been running since she was 12. In high school and college, she was a legitimate star on the track—at 16, she ran the 1500 meters in the Olympic Trials. But when she graduated and turned pro, in her words, “I wasn’t having the success that I wanted.”

Like most elite athletes, she revels in the process, enjoying even the tough days. Still, as much as she loved running, she began to realize she needed to refocus to achieve her long-term goals of winning medals on an international level, at the Olympics or a world championship. “You have to see some outcomes in order to keep staying motivated,” she says.

Moving from the track to the roads, and from shorter distances up to the full 26.2-mile marathon, was something she’d always planned on eventually. Actually making the leap was scary. After all, if she hadn’t been any good at it, she would’ve had to refocus entirely.

In October 2016, she ran her first longer road race—the USATF 10 Mile Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota—and won. That gave her a glimmer of renewed hope. Now that she has two successful marathons under her belt, she feels confident she’s on the right path.

“Sometimes when you are setting a goal that helps,” she says. “If you keep trying to go back to the same thing like I was on the track—I have all these memories where I was trying to hit a certain time or pace and I just kind of failed. So maybe just change it up. It’s still running, but it was just totally different kind of vibe for me."

“It’s nice that I found the distance I was really born for,” she says.

All this came in the midst of yet another significant setback. In a sad story I’m grateful she was willing to open up about, Hasay’s mother—her best friend—passed away in 2016, after the 10-mile race but a few months before that first Boston Marathon.

Though she was devastated, Hasay channeled her grief into greatness in her marathon debut. She visualized her mother there with her, drawing strength from her memories and the foundation her family and faith had given her. In an interview afterward, she cried, saying she knew her mom would be proud.

A journal in which she wrote letters to her mother, intertwined with her running log, helped Hasay in the tough weeks and months after. So did spending time with her family—she, her father, and her brother remain extremely tight-knit. “We’re all doing really well, which I’m just thankful for and that kind of propels me forward,” she says.

Listen to her on the full episode of #WeGotGoals on Apple Podcasts here. You’ll hear more about the value she places on rest and recovery, what she cooks for dinner, and how much she can deadlift (hint: WAY more than you’d think for a marathon runner—she’s posted her strength-training routines on Instagram to prove it).

If you like the show as much as we do, be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and leave it a rating and a review — it really does help. And stick around until the end of the episode, where you’ll hear a goal from one of you, our listeners. (Want to be featured on a future episode? Send a voice memo with a goal you’ve crushed, a goal you’re eyeing, or your best goal-getting tip to cindy@asweatlife.com.)


JAC: 00:16 Welcome to #WeGotGoals, a podcast by aSweatLife.com. I'm Jeana Anderson Cohen, and with me I have Maggie Umberger and Cindy Kuzma.

CK: 00:16 Good morning Jeana.

MU: 00:21 Hey Jeana. How's it going?

JAC: 00:24 I'm doing great and I'm very excited for this week's episode. Cindy, you talk to an incredible athlete, someone who had the fastest U.S. marathon debut, Jordan Hasay.

CK: 00:36 I did. I spoke to Jordan, who, as you mentioned, had an amazing debut in the Boston Marathon last year. She also ran the Chicago Marathon last year where she came in third with an even better time of two hours, 20 minutes and 57 seconds, which is blistering fast and she's coming back to run Chicago again this fall, so she was in town and I had a chance to sit down with her and it was wonderful.

JAC: 00:58 And Jordan hasn't always had the smoothest sort of training record. There was a moment where she encountered injury, right?

CK: 01:05 Yes. She in fact was supposed to run the Boston Marathon again this year and was injured right beforehand. She had a stress fracture in her foot. I mean literally, I think it was maybe two days or even a day before the race, she ended up dropping out, which was really difficult for her. But she-- we talked--you know, how I have a special affinity for injured athletes, it's something that I work out a lot, I'm working on a book about it. And she did something that I think is really common among successful athletes and people who successfully navigate injury, which was she set new goals related to recovering from her injury. So she was of course upset that she couldn't run the race and also disappointed to put a break in her training and found it difficult. But she said, OK, well what can I work on instead. She started trying to address her weaknesses. She worked more on strength and flexibility. She started doing a lot more yoga and then when she started running again, she could really see some of the benefits to that. And you know, we kind of talked a little bit about how she wasn't entirely sure how much of the benefit of the yoga was physical and how much of it was mental. But if it gives you the confidence to continue on toward your bigger goals, like it honestly ultimately doesn't even matter and it's certainly a lot better than sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. So I thought it was really incredible the way she was able to kind of navigate that.

MU: 02:17 We hear a lot about her, her resilience across this entire episode, which is really an inspiration to hear, to listen to. She has a few other moments of difficulty and sadness and disappointment in her past, but she uses them to fuel her, to inspire herself into inspire others. Can you talk a little bit about that?

CK: 02:39 Yeah. So in addition to just the, the kind of immense pressure that's on someone who's an athlete at this level, um, she had a really sad personal moment right before the Boston Marathon, the first one that she ran, her mother suddenly passed away in November. And I was grateful to, to Jordan for being open and talking with us about this. She really, as sad as she was, and as hard as it was, I mean her mom was her best friend and they used to run together, and her mom was the reason that she got into running in the first place. She really channeled her mom. I mean, during that race she talked about running for her mom so she could be her mom's shining star. She wears her mom's engagement ring on her left hand and she realized she had been practicing, grabbing her water bottles.

CK: 03:18 When you're an elite runner, you don't get water from the water table like everyone else says you have like a special bottle with your own special mix prepared in it and so you can reach out and grab it. But she had only practiced with her right hand and the bottles were on the left. So she kind of was like, hey mom, I need your help. Like with these bottles. So even down to like that really small level, she envisioned her mom there with her. And when she finished and had this amazing race, she thanked her mom and, and you know, said that that performance was for her. And that really gave her, you know, I think it gave her not only a way to help cope with her grief, but it gave her goals and her life a new meaning because now she was doing it for someone who, who she had lost.

CK: 03:55 So you know, that I know has been really--her ability to talk openly about it too, has been really, I think, helpful for other people who have been in that situation. And I know she hears from other people who have gone through losses and we all go through difficult moments. We might not all lose someone as as close as she was to her mom at such a pivotal stage. But, but I think other people definitely have really gravitated toward that moment of resilience and really taken inspiration from how she's able to still be sad and still be a human being, but also elevate herself to even newer heights and in the midst of these difficult challenges.

JAC: 04:31 What a story of grit and resilience. I can't wait to hear your full talk with Jordan and I'm sure everyone at home will love it too. Here's Cindy with Jordan. And be sure to stick around until the end of the episode when we'll be hearing from a listener just like you who's out there achieving big, big goals.

CK: 04:58 This is Cindy Kuzma and I am here with Jordan Hasay on the #WeGotGoals podcast. Jordan, thank you so much for being here with us today. Really appreciate it.

JH: 05:05 Oh, thanks Cindy. It's great being here.

CK: 05:07 So, Jordan, for those listeners who don't know you, tell us a little bit about who you are and how you spend your days.

JH: 05:14 So I'm a professional runner for Nike. I run the marathon. I've run two marathons so far. Boston and Chicago and I'll be running Chicago in 2018 again, and that's why we're here in Chicago. Basically my day is run eat sleep. I have the best job ever. I feel really blessed to be able to do what I love as living. So I'm just waking up, eating, do my first run and then maybe doing something in the gym and then uh, having some lunch, taking a nap and then doing another run. Having dinner and going to sleep, so it's pretty simple, but it's definitely a lot of hard work and training and preparation, but I just love the process of it and just, I just enjoy the routine. I enjoy every day. It might get boring for some people, but I just love doing the same thing day in.

CK: 06:09 Well, I'm definitely going to be interested in hearing how that factors into your goals because I know, um, it's one thing to have those big goals, right? But it's another thing to be really invested in the process along the way. So we do talk to a lot of, a lot of elite athletes here on #WeGotGoals and that does seem to be something that they have in common. You know, they have big goals but they break it down into step by step and they enjoy the process. So is, is that kind of how you approach those big goals that you have too.

JH: 06:35 Yeah, I think that's super, super important. Obviously you want to have your kind of long-term goals that you're looking at. Just to have that, I guess that end motivation, but it's really just about the day to day successes and I, I've been going through an injury. I had to pull out of Boston this past year because I had a stress fracture unfortunately. So it's really just been about the little wins for me right now. Just starting back. I started back with one mile and then a mile and a half the next day and said since didn't really slow slow process. So I just try to focus on, okay, what did I do well today? And uh, seeing seeing that as a win and not getting intimidated by how far you have to go to to get back to the level that I was at in order to reach the goals that I want to achieve.

JH: 07:22 So I think just just doing that, breaking it down and then having a routine is really helpful too, so you don't even have to think about it. That's--yeah, I'd say that's my number one thing. Just routine because sometimes you just--yeah, I get tired too, like everyone else. I have--my workouts are hard and the easy days are still really hard, I'm doing a lot of miles so having the routine helps just because it's like a checklist, just making sure you get it done and then you look back and say, okay, yeah, I did all this and that will hopefully just set you up for your goal.

CK: 08:00 Yeah. I'm sorry about your injury. First of all, I was in Boston this year too and um, yeah, I know how disappointing that must have been. Um, but yeah, I also write a lot about injury and athletes and I've been talking to athletes who've been injured and that does seem like something that people have in common when they get through injury is they kind of set new goals just like you're talking about. And I've seen you post that, you know, you were kind of focusing on some of your weaknesses while you were injured too and kind of setting goals in that regard. So can you talk a little bit about how that helped you as you were going through that recovery process?

JH: 08:33 Yeah, you know, it's been super fun. Uh, I just, I kind of took a week where I was super bummed out just because I put you put so much into the preparation and then I got so close to being able to race and it was my goal to win Boston this year. So that was, that was tough because when you do set a goal and then you're, you're not able to achieve it or even, I mean not even being able to toe the start line, that's really tough. So then take a couple, give yourself time to take a breather. But then yeah, I've been doing a lot of strengthening, flexibility work. I'm big into the yoga right now. So yeah, just like little goals. I would come home. I was in California for my break and tell my dad I did a handstand for 30 seconds today!

JH: 09:20 And then just just like mastering the different poses and said it's been kind of a good outlet for me and I think we're seeing it--my coach, I did my first interval workout two days ago and I did the first one and he goes, it's the Yoga! Your stride look so good! So it's really nice if you just kind of stick with it that it does, it does seem like it pays off. You know, it was really, I was so happy that day just because it's, it is frustrating. It's like, Oh, I'm driving to yoga class, JI would much rather be out running but just doing this, I don't know if it's gonna work, but just got to trust it and yeah, I keep saying trust the process, but it really is true. You just got to, got to go through it and you know, sometimes things you try stuff and it doesn't work out but you just just keep trying.

JH: 10:10 I guess that's the beauty of it is that--and also I think that you can, you can create, you can find the positive in anything. So I never really see anything as, as I try not to see anything as a negative, you know, so I think half of the battle is mental. So both my coach and I had to that example of the year say, OK, yeah, she did--this is working. Maybe my stride looks exactly the same as it did, but we're just, you know, in our minds we're saying OK, yeah, I do feel better. I feel like I'm getting more movement. So I think you can sort of not trick yourself, but if you're putting in the, like I said, if you're putting in the work then you've got that foundation. So mentally you can have that whether or not it's actually making a 100 percent difference or 50 percent,I think just having that knowing that you did something, you were trying, is important.

CK: 11:06 Yeah, absolutely. Because if you take that time when you're injured to kind of build on build on that foundation, like you said, like whether it is truly a physical change in your body or a psychological change that then you're able to kind of view that to tell yourself a story about that time that you spend it the best way you can, right? And that gives you that confidence.

JH: 11:25 Right, yeah. It's not like I, it's better than toeing the line thinking, oh gosh, the past seven weeks I've been just sitting on my couch moping around doing nothing. It's like, well, I've nothing else to do in the day, so I'm just going to stretch. It's like, yeah, I just basically telling him that like, yeah, I've been nothing to do all day, so I've just been stretching and apparently it paid off!

CK: 11:47 Awesome, well, we look forward to seeing that beautiful, even more beautiful stride here in Chicago in October.

JH: 11:47 Thank you.

CK: 11:56 So Jordan, on the #WeGotGoals podcast. We ask one big question, or we ask two big questions, but the first big question is what is the big goal that you've achieved? Why was it important to you and how did you get there? And you have so many accomplishments to choose from, but if you had to highlight one, what would you say?

JH: 12:12 Yeah, so I guess my biggest goal recently has been moving up to the marathon distance. So I've been running since I was 12 years old and mainly did the track. I was in the Olympic Trials when I was 16 years old in the 1500 meters, so far cry from the marathon. And then ran the 5K and 10K in college and then when I turned professional I just wasn't having the success that I wanted on the track. I finished ninth in the 10 k at the Olympic trials, or maybe it was 13th, I don't remember. It was far back there and I just eventually--one of my goals, I'd like to get an Olympic medal or a world championship medals, so it just didn't seem realistic if I'm not even making national teams. So my coach and I sat down and said, why don't we try the longer distances?

JH: 13:03 So I started to train for more of the half marathon type stuff and ran a 10 miler that October and won and that went really well, and then debuted in the half in January in 1:09, 1:08 something. And then, and so that went well and then yeah, just really had to work again, it's all about the process. So I increased my miles, did some longer long runs, some 25 milers--and it was tough. It's definitely different training. And then yeah, just going into Boston though, I felt super prepared. My coach one Boston himself, so he kind of knows what he's doing in terms of coaching the marathon, which is nice and I just had to mentally be really tough and not be intimidated by the distance. But for some reason on the start line I just felt super calm and super ready and I think that going into any marathon you just have to be super confident in your preparation.

JH: 13:59 And again I keep saying it but yeah, if you just go through the process then that kind of gives you the confidence that you can at least have the best shot to go after your goal even if it's just all about trying but just putting in the work to give yourself the best chance. So I felt toeing the line in Boston, I felt like that's what I had done. And so I was able to go out with the lead pack because they were going at 2:25 pace, which was kind of what we thought I could run, which was great because if they're going to run any faster, I was planning on kind of hanging back just because it's my first one and I wanted to have a positive experience. And thankfully I did. And was there, uh, the lead pack kept getting smaller and smaller and then there were five of us and um, Edna Kipligat made a big move about mile 18, which I couldn't handle but held on for third and was two minutes ahead of my goal time, 2:23.

JH: 14:55 So that's kinda what I also like about the marathon is that you can have a certain time goal. But at least for myself, I've always kind of surpassed it maybe because I just go into the race with like, I don't think you can have like a super specific time goal. You just got to put in all the prep and every buildups different and just be, be as prepared as you can. But it's such a long race that so much can change and the weather can impact it. So it's just really about having your best performance in whatever the time is going to be or the place that's what it's going to be. Well, you can--yeah, I guess everyone has to deal with the same conditions so you can kind of factor in the place more so. I guess that was more my goal and my second one was I got third in Boston.

JH: 15:40 Ok, Jordan now, no, no lower than third. So that's kind of the same for, you know, this year I want to keep moving up placewise as well as timewise. But I think that's what was nice for me is that in the marathon I just really had no expectations. So sometimes when you are setting a goal that helps. If you keep trying to go back to the same thing--like I was on the track and I have all these memories where I was trying to hit a certain time or pace and I just kind of failed. So maybe just change it up and it's still running, but it was just totally different kind of vibe for me being on the road and then just having that longer distance. So I think that really helped for me. Just having that change of pace.

CK: 16:20 Yeah. What was it hard for you at all? I mean, did you sort of feel sad about leaving the track behind or how did you kind of adjust your mindset and your goals?

JH: 16:28 Uh, I. Well, yeah, I mean like I said, I had been doing it for so long that it is, it's kind of refreshing. It's like a different sport. Uh, that's what my coach said after my first half you said we just needed to enter you in a different sport of road racing. So it's just--the track was a lot of pressure and when you've been doing it for so long and then I was so good in high school that people do put a lot of expectations on you and I put a lot of expectations on myself as well. So when you're at the top, there's really no leeway. Like you can go down a little bit bit that you just, it's, it's a lot to be able to stay, stay there for so many years. So it was just nice to sort of have that weight off my shoulders of the track and not have to keep doing the same thing.

JH: 17:16 I think we just kept going back to my training and trying different things and it just wasn't working so it's just nice that I can go and I can train for the marathon and I know it works and I know that it translates to a successful race. So you do have to, in terms of goals I think have to have. You have to do see some outcomes in order to keep staying motivated. I mean I love running. I would have. I mean I would keep running. My mom, when I finished the further back in the Olympic trials, she's like, well you know, at least you're out there and someone's got to finish in the back places, and it's fine, like you can keep doing that. And I'm like yeah mom. But like, I dunno if I, I don't really want to keep doing that. Like I would, I enjoy the day to day, but it is nice to finish a little bit higher up if you're more gifted in a certain distance. So I think that it was nice. So they found the distance that I'm really born for.

CK: 18:18 Wow, that's got to be an incredible feeling to feel like you've found that for sure.

JH: 18:22 Yeah. It was definitely kind of a like excitement and relief at the same time because we had always said again, when I didn't have success at the track, oh, you're going to be great at the marathon one day the marathon is going to be your distance. And that can sort of be like good and bad because it's like kind of a fallback. So one day if I do try the marathon it takes courage to actually try it. And then if I didn't do well at it, that would have been tough. Now it's really nice to say that I, I did do well at it and especially I think my second marathon I was, I was pretty nervous because I was like, oh, you know what, if that was just a one off, whatnot, you never know. So I think that it's only gotten, the third one's kind of nice because I know I've already had two good ones, so it's two I think is enough to say, okay, yeah, I can have a reasonably successful one no matter what, as long as I just go in and try and the preparation goes well. Again, it's all about staying healthy as I learned from Boston and just not overdoing it, so I got to just be really smart in this buildup. But other than that, I'm just thankful that that. Yeah, it seems like that's my, that's my race.

CK: 19:36 Yeah. It seems to be working for you.

JH: 19:36 Thanks.

CK: 19:40 Well, you mentioned your mom and if you're comfortable talking about it a little bit, I know you lost her a couple of years ago before that, that first race and I can't even imagine how hard that was for you, but I know that just like we were talking about with injury, you, you really have used that to inspire you and feel you end. Um, you know, you've talked about how you run to be her shining star and I think it's really incredible, like kind of how you've, you've dealt with that and I wondered if you could talk about that a little bit, if you're comfortable, how that has maybe even given some of your goals that are different and a new meaning.

JH: 20:16 Yeah, thanks. I think it's definitely been a super tough. She was my best friend and she's the reason that I started out running. She would run her six-mile route every day and when I started junior high track, not the first couple of years, but once I started to get more serious into it she'd let me run a four mile loop with her. And then Christmas, I got to run the six mile loop one year, so she was really the reason that I gotten into it and you know, why I am as good as I am because talking about goals, um, she taught me everything about that routine. And it's funny because when she passed people would say, well, let's talk about what, what did you guys enjoy doing? Like, what would you do, can you go do that? And I'm like, well, what I do every day is what we would do.

JH: 21:04 It just miss having her with me while I'm doing it. So, so I'm just thankful for that. Like it all the foundations that she instilled in me. So in a way it's like just continuing on our, our passion together. So I felt like she's obviously still, still was always with me in, um, it was really, it was in November before and I was stay being in Boston that year. So she had known about the, that I was moving to the marathon. I had just won that 10 mile race a couple of weeks before she passed away. So, you know, we had it written on the calendar to run Boston and everything, so I think in a way that kind of helped me through the loss because I was just so inspired to uh, keep training hard and that just just, yeah, it helped me through it and, but a lot of people I've seen kind of the, the finish of Boston and I was so emotional and I didn't really plan it that way but I just, I felt like in that race she was just really with me and I were her engagement ring on my left hand and I was super nervous about grabbing the bottles and my first marathon ever.

JH: 22:14 And so the tables were actually on the left side and we'd only been practicing with my right hand, so I was just thinking, "Oh mom help me." And I didn't miss a single bottles so that was cool. And then just, yeah, just having her in my head and then my dad was there, my aunt. So it's nice to have my family as well who have been just an incredible support as is my brother. Yeah, I just crossed the line and just started her and I knew she'd be knew she'd be proud of me and yeah, for just keeping going and uh, felt felt her spirit. So it was, yeah, it's just super emotional and it's still, you still definitely have your ups and downs, but I think it's important and it's helped me to be able to kind of have this platform people have reached out and makes me realize I'm not the only one.

JH: 23:05 Everyone has losses and like I said in Boston, so many people lost loved ones on the day of the bombing, so just really puts it into perspective. So I was kind of running for everyone out there that had lost loved ones and still want to go back and win Boston one day for that reason. Uh, so thankfully I'm young and have several years to try to go back, but yeah, I just, it's tough not having her here and seeing the success, but I know that she's, she would be just super, super proud. I mean everyone around me is just so supportive and has, I mean my dad's great and we've become best friends, snow and no one can ever replace her, but we're all just so close and my brother's, he's two years younger too and he's, he started training for the marathon now, so we're all, we're all doing really well, which I'm just thankful for and that kind of propels me forward.

CK: 24:03 Yeah, yeah, yeah. I saw that. He just ran his first half.

JH: 24:06 Yes. Yeah. And I, I feel so bad this--so week so I'm coaching him kind of and he, his knee is bugging him so I feel like I gave him too much, or what did I do? It's so funny to like be from that perspective. Yeah, I guess this is kind of, yeah, in terms of goal setting too, it's you are invested in that in your athlete and now it gives me a different yeah, a different perspective from why my coaches are saying, oh, how'd you feel on this run and this and that. And sometimes I feel like it's redundant, but then I realized, well you're not the one out there, so you didn't know how you're feeling. And then when he said he kind of had a pain this week, I thought, oh no, I've injured him. I've really cut back on everything. So it just, it's been fun.

CK: 24:54 Probably gives you a whole new perspective on what Alberto does.

JH: 24:54 Yeah.

CK: 24:58 Oh my gosh. So the second big question we have here on, on #WeGotGoals is about the future, about a big goal you have for the future and how you plan to get there. And you've mentioned some things here and there and obviously you knew you were coming back to Chicago and you have maybe Tokyo in, in your sights, but I don't know if you, if you had to sort of name one specific goal and how you plan to get there. Um, what would you say?