• Sally Kalksma

Coffee Mugs Make Me Train Smarter, Not Harder

When I was putting away my Christmas decorations I started to think of my racing goals for 2020.  As I replaced the Santa cups with my favorite coffee mugs I thought of my training, and what it takes to achieve goals.  See these mugs are no ordinary drinking cups.  In fact, I don’t even use them. They used to sit on the bottom shelf of my corner glass kitchen cabinet, that is until one morning I walked downstairs and found a house guest drinking from one. After that, I placed my four hard-earned Spring Lake 5 coffee mugs on the top shelf, far from anyone’s reach.  If you have ever run the largest 5-mile race in the Country then chances are you know what a Spring Lake 5 mug is.  It is an award given to the top 100 male & female finishers in a race that attracts over 10,000 participants. I worked my tail off training for those races and gave everything I had to get those mentally useful beverage free mugs.

These mugs help me set a goal every year. In 2017 they motivated me to just finish that very same race. See that February I had an autologous stem cell transplant after 6 months of heavy chemotherapy treatments. As I laid in the hospital I told myself that I would finish the 5-mile race in 3 months and that I did. I was far, very very far, from the top 100 places. But it still felt just as good when I crossed the finish line with my friends and family by my side. It was rewarding to accomplish a goal, not having to place. It was fun training with my daughters who I begged to slow down, just as they did to me years earlier when we went out for family fun runs.

I don’t keep many awards, let alone display them. They must have a special meaning, and not just a gold, silver or bronze finish. Some of my favorite medals are my 6 “finisher” medals from the invite-only Empire State Building Run-Up.  Not only is each one a unique piece of art given to all those lucky enough to gain entry, but it’s a race I have given my all to every time I climbed that beast. And when I say ALL I mean until every muscle, tendon, ligament, and fiber in my body hurt: my arms, my chest, my thighs, everything. My mind even hurt!

Before my first Empire State Building Run-Up, a co-worker asked what my goal was.  Since I never ran up it before, let alone do any stair climb before, I had no idea what to expect.  I replied that I wanted to cross the line knowing I gave everything I had, just like every race I do. Speaking of giving everything I have: is another award I received for participating: a keychain from The 2016 National Stair Climb Championship in Las Vegas. It’s meaning goes far beyond the fact that I was the 9th overall female, but because when I reached the top of the 107-floor Stratosphere I collapsed and needed oxygen. Yes, I gave it everything I had! There was nothing left in my tank. And no, I don’t put keys on that keychain.

Climbing, like running, is an individual sport. It’s not a contact sport either, well those flaying arms in the stairwell are not supposed to be in contact. I can’t control how other people do. Sure my place on the stairs can hinder an opponent trying to pass, or I can help them too: as I did at the 2018 Eiffel Tower Vertical Race for Suzy Walsham, the #1 female stair climber in the world. She needed to pass by me on the narrow metal stairs. I knew a win to her was worth more than 2 seconds lost on my time so I pressed my body flat against the chain-link barrier that kept me from falling off the iconic structure so she could immediately run by me instead of waiting for a wider landing on the turn. She thanked me on the inclinator down, that is before she exited on the “winners” floor. As I kept descending I thought sure I would have loved to exit on that floor too, but I felt good about how I did, and what I did. When I say I felt good, don’t get me wrong, the race hurt, but it was also very rewarding. I may not have placed but I knew how hard I worked that year after my transplant. I gave everything I had brought overseas. I love my La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel ”finishers” jacket!


Unfortunately, there comes a time when your goal switches from getting mentally rewarded from winning to feeling rewarded for just doing well, and/or helping someone else in the race do well. I'm still going to try to win, but as long as I leave everything in the stairwell I'll still be satisfied.

You don't have to be an athlete to know your body can't do some of the things it used to, or at least do it as swiftly. But your mind still can. You just need to train smarter, not harder.

My racing goal for 2020 is to compete in 6 stair climb races (instead of my usual 11 in this short intense 5-month schedule). I will give everything I have like I have had in the past, but not in as many so my body can recover in enough time to kill it again in the next race.

My Spring Lake 5 mugs may not be for drinking, but they sure are good for setting goals.




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