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Trinidadian conquers running mental block

April 29, 2013 at 9:02 p.m.
Updated April 28, 2013 at 11:29 p.m.


It's ironic that I sat at our area Starbucks interviewing Denise Tomanek.

It was at this very place five years ago that we sat down - she a prospective client, and myself her soon-to-be coach. That day in 2008, we discussed her previous athletic experiences as well as her goals to improve her marathon time.



Her journey to the United States

Tomanek grew up on the island of Trinidad, the southernmost island in the Caribbean. She moved to the United States in 1996 to attend college at the Franciscan University of Steubenville where she obtained her Bachelors of Science in Mental Health and Human Services.

That is also when she met her husband, Jared, a native Victorian. Tomanek ran some in high school but ended up quitting after a few years.

She also did some running in college and competed in her first marathon, but she didn't formally train and crossed the line in a time of around the four-and-a-half-hour mark.

After college, the Tomaneks moved back to Victoria where Denise returned to school and obtained her nursing degree from Victoria College. She ran during this time as well but never competed in road races.



Her return to racing

Shortly after her second child was born in 2005, Tomanek's high school coach was diagnosed with brain cancer, and Denise decided to race again in his honor. She chose the Helotes Half Marathon, where she ran a time of 2 hours 15 minutes in 2007.

She loved the challenge of the longer distance and decided to try the marathon again. She had her third child, Anthony, in 2008 but was able to train and run the San Antonio Marathon that year in a time of 4 hours, 30 minutes.



The start of an athlete and coach relationship

I first met Tomanek at our area road runners group weekly run and remember her eagerness to become running partners.

She had this to say about our initial meeting: "I remember meeting you at the road runners group, and I had heard about you through my friend, Kathryn. I asked you if you wanted to be running partners, and I can remember back then I had trouble keeping up with your pace."

Of course, pacing off me is no longer an issue for Tomanek, who has improved dramatically over the past four years.

We began running together in the spring of 2009 and would meet weekly at the track to do interval work as well as meeting a few other times per week for longer runs.

"I remember telling you that I often times struggled with the mental aspect of racing and oftentimes gave up during the course of a race," Tomanek recalled.

Unfortunately, in the fall of 2009, I would suffer a ruptured disk in my back and was told to never run again by my neurosurgeon. However, our coach-athlete relationship was just getting started.



Her road racing journey

That first year I coached Tomanek, we saw some big strides in times dropping for various distances, but we were still on shaky "sports psychology" ground.

She clocked a time of 1 hour, 41 minutes in the half-marathon that next year (a 35-minute personal best), and in the 10K, she posted a time of 46 minutes, but she struggled with confidence issues while racing and oftentimes dreaded racing.

In 2011, she had signed up for the Big "D" Dallas Marathon.

Training had been going extremely well, and I expected a good race out of Denise - if she held it together in her head.

The morning of the race, I received a phone call from Tomanek. She was at Mile 6 and ready to call it quits because her pacing wasn't what she thought it should be. I told her to take off her timing device and go ahead and finish. I knew she would be disappointed if she quit, but without her timing chip on, she didn't have to worry about anyone knowing her time.

After that race, we had a long talk. I told her I wanted her to find the fun in running again and recommended she take a month off from training with a watch. I wanted her to really decide if she wanted to race.

She came back that next month more determined than ever. At my recommendation, she began cross-training with swimming and cycling.

I talked her into competing in her first triathlon that year - the Austin AVIA sprint triathlon - where she finished in 1:59 and averaged 15 mph on the bike and 9:33 per mile on the run. That following January, she clocked a 3:41 at the Houston Marathon and barely missed the qualifying mark for the Boston Marathon for her age group (3:40).



From good to greatness

Tomanek has been on a roll in 2013.

She ran a 3:39:54 at the Houston Marathon, securing her coveted Boston Marathon qualifying time. In April, she demolished her previous personal best in the 10K, running a 41:18 at the Chick-fil-A 10K.

Then there is the sport of triathlon.

Last weekend, Tomanek competed in the Kemah Triathlon where she not only won her age group but also finished only five seconds out of the top three overall women. She raced amazingly well, averaging 1:55/100 meters on the swim, 19.7 mph on the bike and an incredible 6:42 per mile pace for the 3.1-mile run. She also qualified for Age Group Sprint Nationals.

Future goals include a half-ironman race in the fall and the Boston Marathon and Ironman Texas in 2014.

Other Results for Kemah Triathlon:

Sprint (500m swim; 12.5 mile bike; 3.1 mile run): Denise Tomanek, 1st 35-39 age group, 1:16:43; Crystal Cantu, 3rd 30-34 age group, 1:21:42; Shayne Bollmann, 4th 55-59 age group, 1:21:43; Natalie Bayarena, 12th 30-34 age group; David Bayarena, 27th 35-39 age group, 1:31:22; Jessica Helms, 29th 30-34 age group, 1:46:12; Alan Elliott, 8th 40+ Clydesdale, 1:50:50.

Olympic, shortened to Aquathon due to weather (1500m swim; 10K run): Leana Elliott, 4th 35-39 age group, 1:24:48.

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