Jeanne Hackett interviewed Sheri Piers and Kristin Barry this evening at Peak Performance Multisport as part of her “A Running Conversation” lecture series.

The talk went for about 50 minutes, with a little better than half of that time devoted to Kristin and Sheri answering Jeanne’s questions and the rest of the time devoted to answering audience questions. The topics centered mostly around the Olympic Marathon Trials this past April in Boston, including the training and discipline that it took to get there.

This year’s Olympic Marathon Trials was the 7th running for the women, and was the second time that 4 women from Maine competed. (For the trivia buffs, the other time was in 1996.) The evening began with a quick background on all 4 ladies and the stories that they brought with them to the Trials.

The Stories

Emily LeVan was the top Maine qualifier, having run extremely well in Boston in 2005 and 2006. She had the 12th fastest qualifying time for any of the competitors who ran. She was also dealt a large emotional blow last November when she discovered that her 4 year old daughter had Leukemia. Emily and her daughter Maddie started the Two Trials website in order to raise money for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program, and they far exceeded their goals to raise a total of over $77,000 to date. (Click here to listen to an interview with Emily.)

Joan Benoit Samuelson won the first women’s Olympic Marathon in 1984, and has qualified for every Trials since then. She has competed in all but 2 of them. She was the oldest runner in the field at 1 week shy of 51 years old, and set an age group record for the marathon on her way to beating her goal of running a sub-2:50. She has a long and storied history with the Boston Marathon, and she wanted to finish her competitive marathon career in the city where it all began.

Kristin and Sheri’s stories are intertwined, because the two of them train and race together constantly. After months of training, they both went to run in the Philadelphia Marathon and crossed the line together with Trials qualifying times. Both women are in their mid-30s, both women work, and both of them managed to fit in their training around caring for their children.
Kristin Barry and Sheri Piers


Jeanne finished her introduction of Kristin and Sheri by sharing a bit of their history. Both women were raised in Maine, but came into the sport a little differently.

Kristin began running with short races in the 100 to 200 yard range, but got thrown into the mile race as a freshman in high school. She really liked the distance and discovered a passion for the longer races. Her personal slogan is very simple, and it is to just relax! She recognizes that there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to injury prevention. Her role model is Christine Snow Reaser, an experienced and very tenacious runner who competed in the 1996 marathon trials.

Sheri was a basketball player and only began racing relatively recently. Her slogan is to “Never tell me that I can’t do anything, with hard work anything is possible.” Her primary means of injury prevention is to say a prayer every night to keep herself whole, and it seems to have worked out pretty well for her. Her role model is Kristin, who has helped Sheri develop as a runner in the same way that she was helped by Christine.


The first question for the ladies was about how they manage competition, especially amongst one another. Both of them held the same opinion; they are stronger working together than against each other. Kristin believes that 2nd place is okay as long as they push each other, and Sheri concentrates on time rather than place when they race.

They train and race together around 75% to 80% of the time, with both bringing different strengths to the table. Kristin is better about making sure that they get their track work in, while Sheri is more outdoorsy and loves the longer runs.

The Trials Experience

The conversation then moved on to how they felt about their experiences down in Boston for the Trials. Everything was really well run, and they were treated very well, but they were both out of sorts. They were not immune from the prospect of meeting (and being treated similarly as) the stars in the sport such as Deena Kastor. Once they got to the starting line, they looked as though they were a couple of scared kids that didn’t quite belong. Both women were a bit nervous and shy, and mostly kept to themselves and the DC and BAA runners that they knew going into the race.

Neither of them were really influenced or interfered with by the media. The Runner’s World correspondant that was handling the press conference for the New England Runners seemed to know who all of the other New England qualifiers were, but kept asking, “Who are these people?” for Kristin and Sheri.

The race itself was a mixed bag of emotions for both women. The marathon is a difficult race, where you put all of your eggs in one basket and hope that everything goes well. Philadelphia was a dream race where almost everything seemed to click. At the Trials, there were no specific plans to run the race together but it almost seemed strange when Sheri and Kristin found themselves apart during the race. It felt very strange for Sheri to finish the marathon and not know where Kristin was. She had to be told repeatedly to leave the finish area while she waited to find out whether Kristin was okay and worried that she might have been pulled from the course for some reason. Sheri would most like to forget the time that she had to wait and worry about Kristin. Kristin’s worst moments in the race that she would most like to forget were very simply the last 5 miles.

They both have some great memories that they hope to hold onto, though. Kristin most remembers finally getting to the starting line, and scanning the bleachers for her children and her husband. Sheri also remembers the starting line fondly and thought that she might cry before the gun went off. She really enjoyed the entire race, though, with family and friends spread throughout the entire course so that she could look forward to seeing each person at each point throughout the race as she completed the loops.

In the days leading up to the race, they hated the idea of running loops and thought that it was going to be a miserable experience. They did hate the hairpin turns, but both of them wound up loving the criterium course. They knew exactly where each mile marker was going to be, and they got to see the front runners ahead of them.


Kristin Barry and Sheri PiersThe conversation then moved on to post-marathon recovery, or at least the lack thereof. It has been only 3 weeks since the Trials, and both women ran a very tight race to win the Sea Dogs Mother’s Day 5k a few days ago. Sheri took the lack of rest to an extreme, jumping into the Boston Marathon around mile 21 to run in with her husband, Wayne. “It felt horrible,” she said.

Sheri is superhuman and breaks all of the rules.” – Kristin Barry

Both women have trouble resting after their marathons. You have all of this build up to get ready for the race, you compete, and then all of a sudden it is just over. You have to ask yourself, “What do I do now?” So they just keep going.

2012 Aspirations

Now that the Trials are over, what are their aspirations for the 2012 Olympics?

Kristin’s response was, “Talk to her, do I even want to do another marathon?” Kristin really wants to return to running the 3k, 5k and 10k races, and even to get back onto the track for some nice fast running.

Sheri has different plans though. She wants to break 3 hours in the Boston Marathon, despite not really liking the course. She hasn’t managed to do it yet and wants to get that monkey off of her back.

Sheri will need Kristin’s help to do it, though, so they have made a deal. Sheri will run at least 10 shorter races of 5k to 10k, and then maybe Kristin will join her for Boston next year. Sheri has run 3 of her 8 marathons in Boston, along with Philadelphia, the Trials, and 3 marathons in Maine. Kristin ran Boston twice, and has also run in Maine and DC for a total of 6 marathons so far.

Food and Fueling

The audience began asking questions at this point, beginning with what the ladies ate while they trained and raced and whether they had strict diets or just ate whatever. Sheri has been very disciplined since the start of the year, measuring her food and being very careful about what she ate from January 1st through the Trials. During training, Sheri had to add some late night carbs, especially the nights before early morning long runs. Otherwise, she would just not have the energy or stamina to safely get the miles in. Now that the Trials are over, she is right back to her normal diet.

Kristin just ate everything.

They both ate a lot the morning of the Trials (including 3 pancakes each), and they had gels early and regularly throughout the entire race.

During training, they tended to get dehydrated because neither of them ever carried water with them. The only times that they had fuel or water while they were working out was when they ran by somewhere with water or when they had their husbands running with them and acting as their pack mules.

Training Methods

Kristin did not do any cross training, although she knows that she should. Sheri spent 3 nights a week with the weights, building up some upper body strength and strengthening her core. Having a strong upper body helps Sheri maintain her “bouncy” running style as she moves throughout the race, since she doesn’t have the ultra-efficient stride that Kristin has. Come the end of the race, though, the core strength comes through as Sheri can maintain a good form while Kristin’s begins to break down and she starts swinging her arms across her body.

For running, they worked their way up to about 3 weeks of 120 miles per week. As a comparison, before Philadelphia they had only worked up to 3 weeks at 80 miles and a peak week at 90 miles. A typical week consisted of 4 key workouts, and was filled out with 1 or 2 easy runs per day the rest of the week. The first was the midweek semi-long run of 14 to 15 miles, and the second was the weekend long run of 20 to 22 miles. The other two key runs involved a track workout and/or a tempo run. The tempo runs were either 2 sets of 10 minutes or 1 set of 20 minutes at about 10 mile to half marathon race pace. The track work consisted of 800m, 1000m or mile repeats at 5k race pace.

Neither women had their VO2 Max tested in a laboratory, but estimated them using Jack Daniel’s running formula. In fact, that book was the first gift that Kristin ever gave Sheri when she recognized the potential that Sheri had and wanted to help her in the same way that Christine helped Kristin.

Before the marathon, the women took a 2 week taper. The first week they dropped down to about 60 miles, and the second week involved about 30 miles of running before the marathon. The focus in the last week before the race was to carbo load, and they kept some good quality runs in to keep themselves from getting stale before the race.

They even did a dress rehearsal before the Trials, where they went out to the track for a 2 mile run at marathon race pace wearing the clothes that they planned to race in. They even had a water station set up with cups. Unfortunately, it was only 26 degrees out, and Kristin managed to spray Sheri with water when she grabbed the first cup on their way by the table.

Amateurs vs Professionals

It is amazing that these women were able to run competitively with professional runners despite all of the obstacles that they had to overcome. Training for any marathon is time consuming and exhausting, but to be competitive is to take up yet another notch.

Both women maintained their careers while training for the Trials. They also did their best not to neglect their children or their husbands while training, and had to make do on at most 5 to 6 hours of sleep per day. A professional runner will sleep 9 to 10 hours per day; taking a nap after workouts is part of their job.

Kristin and Sheri do not run for a living, nor would either of them want to. If Sheri had an opportunity to play in the WNBA then she would jump at that, but she would have trouble giving up basketball for any longer than she already has to train for the Trials. Kristin is more concerned about how serious professional running is and how likely she would be to lose her passion for the sport.