Author Archives: Erika Pietrzak Pierce

About Erika Pietrzak Pierce

At age 3 I started dancing ballet and fell in love with the discipline and beauty that it delivered. At age 13 I became a ballerina that started hurdling and realized I love to fly in the air. At age 25 I competed at the 1996 Olympic Trials in the 400 meter hurdles and thought that was the pinnacle of my athletic career. At age 26, I met my amazing husband, James. At age 37, I became a mother. At age 42, I became the American Record Holder in the USATF W40 Masters Indoor Pentathlon and was relieved that my athletic career was in fact just beginning. I have always been stubborn; I refuse to believe I can't do it all. And all really well. This presents challenges when you are a full-time working parent trying to train and also be a kick-ass mom to Elaina and Juliana and a goddess-like partner to James. This blog will serve as a place I can celebrate the highs and laugh at the lows that life throws at me. For as long as I can remember, my life has always been Running Over Hurdles.

Failing Despite Success

I have a confession to make. I failed. Back in April, I made a goal. And I told lots of people about this goal. And I worked VERY hard to make my goal a reality. My goal? To break the American Record in the 400 hurdles in the W40 age group.

I failed. I didn’t  run 63.9. I ran 65.2.

It was my last chance to do it in this age group since I go up to the W45 age group next outdoor track season. And now my season is over, I have a bad case of achilles tendinitis, and I failed at my goal. Cue pity party.

You see, I am not a “glass is half full” kind of person when it comes to my goals. I don’t look at any silver linings like the fact that I ran the fastest time of any person in my age group in the U.S. THIS YEAR, and the second fastest time IN THE WORLD, and that I won the National Masters Championship in the event by a significant amount. Nope, all I have focused on in the last 24 hours since the event is that I didn’t achieve my goal. I am out of my element. I don’t like how it feels.

I logically know that I am too hard on myself, and if you are reading this, you are most likely thinking the same thing. In fact, if I was reading this, I might also think that I was fishing for compliments because of all the things I DID achieve this track season. But please believe me when I say that each time someone congratulates me, I kind of feel like a fraud. Like I am taking compliments for stuff that I really didn’t care too much about. It’s sort of like if you had a goal of landing a particular dream job, not getting it, and then all of your friends contratulate you on your amazing interviewing skills and your choice of interview outfits. Those things were not THE thing.

I know I am not alone in these feelings. The people I have been lucky to meet through being a part of Oiselle have given me a new persepctive that I need to embrace, so humor me for a second as I get on board the cliche train.

“Failing is part of the journey.” I will never have another chance to get that record. But, not achieving that goal might make me that much more hungry next year to train hard, to rest smart, and to be a better teammate and friend to so many who have reached out to me this past year and encouraged me every step of the way. By celebrating others’ successes and listening to and talking through their disappointments, it just might help me see the absolute humanity in the highs and lows that we all regularly face. I need to stop making excuses as to why it didn’t happen and just realize how fun it was to try. And how fun it was to fail. And to just be proud of myself regardless of the outcome.

When you fail to reach a goal, the initial thing that often happens is that you don’t want to set any other goals that might be unreachable; where failure is a strong possibility. I mean, why would I want everyone to know that I failed again? But you see, I need to learn to be a better failure.FullSizeRender-2

SO, here are my “Failure Resolutions” (1) attend at least ONE race that I am not running in and just cheer. Scream my head off for those who are putting themselves out there and running a race. Stay until the LAST runner goes by. Go up to people I don’t know and tell them what a great race they had. (2) Run less and do other stuff more like riding bikes with my kids and having dance parties in the living room for cardio and (3) Show more emotions to the people I love. These resolutions should probably just be called “being a better person and not selfishly focusing so much on myself.”

In a few weeks I will get the opportunity to meet teammates of mine who I am certain have similar issues with goals and failing. Those who have struggled with the saddness and self-doubt of setting goals that were never achieved. People who might be able to help me understand my own journey by recognizing that my feelings are universal.

I can’t wait for Bird Camp.FullSizeRender(1)

Training…and Habits…

I am a creature of habit. I get up every morning and stretch, whether I need to or not. Habit. Every day when I am cooking dinner for my family, I have one glass of red wine. Habit. I compete in indoor track and field meets, but once outdoor comes, I relax, hang out, and stop the hard core training.

Wait, what? I am still training hard core…

It feels different this year. After competing at the US National Indoor Heptathlon Championships this March and setting the American Record in the W40 age group, I just didn’t want it all to end for the year. I haven’t competed outdoors as a Masters Runner and I thought it might be nice to meet up with my old friends the javelin and the 400 hurdles. So, sometimes habits need to be broken.

I am set to compete in a week at the Hayward Masters Track meet in Eugene and I am pumped up to run on that track. I am also getting to meet up with an old UVA track friend who I have also gotten into Masters track so it will be like old times hanging out, eating lots of carbs, and being silly. (There will be a karaoke night for sure!) I am registered for the 80 hurdles, the 200, the 400 hurdles, the HJ, LJ, Shot and Javelin. We will see once I get there what the order of events is like and how much time I will have to run around and do all the field events while trying to warm up appropriately for the running events.

I do know that I will run the 400 hurdles. The last time I raced that race was in 1996 in Atlanta at the Olympic Trials, so I am certain to have many physical and mental cobwebs. But, a goal of mine is the American Record in the 400 hurdles at the W45 age group (next year!) so it will be good to see where I am and what I will need to do to get it.


Why haven’t I ever pole vaulted until now?

Two weekends ago, I competed at the National Masters Heptathlon Championships in Kenosha, WI. It was my first Indoor Heptathlon ever and I was excited because the Indoor Hep replaces the javelin throw, which is impossible to do indoors, with the pole vault. I have never pole vaulted and I was very excited and scared out of my mind to try this.

The women that I competed with were amazing and one competitor helped me learn how to pole vault. I was able to come in at a really low height and basically get a lot of practice as the heights increased little by little. I ultimately cleared 6 feet and some change before I decided to bow out before getting to a height that I would miss. Here are a few of my thoughts about this awesome event.


2. There is no room for fear when pole vaulting

3. Pole vaulters are without a doubt the kindest and most supportive people in track and field

4. When you get a bend in the pole, you feel like you just won the lottery

5. It will make you more sore than ANY other event. Holy arm pain!

Anyways, after pole vaulting for the first time, all I want to do is get back out there and pole vault again.

My People…

My husband always says that things like “those are your people” when he sees strong, female athletes who are unabashedly competitive, risk-takers, and proud (and vocal) of their accomplishments. Well, this weekend at the Masters Indoor Heptathlon Championships in Kenosha, WI, I was surrounded by “my people.”

Rebecca Connolly (W45) is “my people.” She selflessly taught me how to pole vault and then PR’ed in the event on her way to breaking her own American Age group record. She was tough, inspiring, and graceful in every event in which she competed.

Rita Hanscom (W60) is “my people.” She is perhaps the most focused female track athlete I have ever seen. She is fast. And strong. And she looks like she is 40. There are many 40 years olds I know that probably wish they could run like Rita, but most can’t.

Christel Donley (W80) is “my people.” At this meet, every spectator and competitor was awed for two days by her athletic ability, her generosity, and her ultimate breaking of the W80 WORLD Record in the Indoor Heptathlon. She is funny and sweet and I hope that I have 10% of the chutzpah that she has when I am 60. She is a complete inspiration.

And so now I will be vocal of my accomplishments as I know “my people” are doing after the meet. I PR’d in 4 of the 7 events and I broke the American Record in the W40 Indoor Pentathlon. Needless to say, I am proud of myself.

Who are YOUR people?FullSizeRender

Best Laid Plans

So, I have been gearing up for this National Indoor Heptathlon for 5 months. And now, it’s in 2 days and I feel totally unprepared for it. How the hell did this happen?

Well, for one, I ran 5 events in the Southeast Regional Masters Championships and kind of injured my calf. I say kind of, because I am still in denial that it is an actual injury. But, it hurt. A lot. And made me scratch the Long Jump and the 200 in that meet. So, this has changed the way I have trained the last month. I have not sprinted. Nor hurdled. Nor high or long jumped. This could be a problem this weekend.

But, maybe I WON’T be hurt this weekend because I basically have coddled my calf for the last month. This is what masters runners deal with all the time – not overdoing their training as to not get an injury that is not that easy to recover from. My “injury” was more of an annoyance. But it scared the shit out of me and I didn’t want to do something stupid. So I did nothing.

And now in two days I need to do 7 events over 2 days. I need to sprint, and jump high and long, and hurdle, and pole vault, and throw an 8.5 lb. shot, and run a damn 800 at the end of the whole thing. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe it is good that I have abandoned all expectations of my performances. In fact, I am already thinking of “Plan B’s” – such as high jumping off my OTHER leg (I did it in high school – how hard can it be).

However, with all my self-doubt and sadness about not being able to perform what I think I could do if I was where I wanted to be in my training at this point, I have to remember that it is still so cool that I am doing it, regardless of my place, heights, times, and distances. How many other soon to be 44 year olds are doing this? Whatever happens, I at least will have done it. And that makes me smile.

Yep, I’m doing it. I’m blogging.

I know. It is so self-indulgent. I hate people who blog.

But I have stuff to say. First post: my inspirations.

First, let me tell you about me. I was a scholarship track and field athlete at UVA. I was a professional runner for a while. I qualified for and ran in the 1996 Olympic Trials in the 400 meter hurdles. I am currently the American Record Holder in the USATF Masters W40 Indoor Pentathlon. I have a bunch of Masters National Titles. At 43 years old, I truly feel like I am in the best shape of my life and, on top of all that, I just got an injection of “wowza” by becoming part of the Oiselle Flock. Being able to say (loosely) I am “teammates” with Kara Goucher, Lauren Fleshman, and Kate Grace totally inspires me and my workouts daily.

BUT, what really inspires me? Here is my top 5 list.

1. A soft bathrobe in the morning after a hot shower. Better yet, if it is a shower after a killer workout.

2. Watching my mother play with my daughters. I will treasure these memories forever.

3. A hill. Any hill. I want to sprint up EVERY hill I see.

4. Watching my husband “work a room” – he is the head of a large non-profit and could become President of the U.S. if he decided to run.

5. Watching other women achieve their dreams. I love being around confident, accomplished, powerful women.

So, this blog will be about me — my workouts, races, my job (I’m a middle school history teacher), my kids (Elaina, 6 and Juliana, 4), my hopes and dreams and probably a little of my fears and failures. You will probably hate me. I would hate me as a blogger because this will definitely be self-indulgent.