Houston in January: Let’s put the “social” back in “social media”

It’s come to my attention that a lot of people whom I kind of — but don’t really, but would like to — know are going to be descending upon Houston over Olympic Marathon Trials weekend. Since I just got turned down for a media credential, plus I’m only racing the 5K (although I will have my semi-hysterial pre-marathon SO in tow, which means gettng there early to minimize travel stress), I’ll have free time on my hands.

Chances are good that I’ll arrive late Thursday and leave early in the day on Monday. Unless I decide to skulk around outside of the press events, which means I’ll probably be arrested for harrassment and/or loitering and thrown into jail, I should be fairly footloose and fancy free. I can’t get drunk, though. At least not after Friday night.

I would like to meet you if I can. Maybe even assemble in a group to watch the Trials with — I will be cheering for several actual people I sort of know. Or for the full/half marathon, if you’re not running those — after I race the 5K I’ll be out cheering for lots of people in those races too. Or have someone to say “Hi” to at the finish of the 5K — or perhaps even at the start. Dinner, drinks, brunch. Pom-poms. Making fun of Houston. The possibilities are truly endless.

If you’re going to be there and want to try to arrange a meetup or two, please let me know with a comment and/or email. I can’t keep track of who’s going and who’s running what when. I think I need to start building a spreadsheet or something.

A few minutes with Jenny Simpson

Jenny (Barringer) Simpson’s running résumé is so impressive that it’s difficult to choose among the highlights. A 2008 Olympian in the 3000m steeplechase, breaker of numerous collegiate records and one American record, and, most recently, gold medalist in the 1500m at worlds — the first American woman to win gold in that event since Mary Decker-Slaney won it in 1983. Needless to say, I was thrilled to get a chance to sit down with her. Incidentally, Simpson won the Fifth Avenue Mile this year.

When you win a gold medal and walk down the street in the event’s home city, do people recognize you?
That was one of the strangest things. I left the stadium to go to dinner that night. Even on the way to dinner there were people stopping us on the street for pictures. It wasn’t just Koreans, it was people visiting, all kinds of people.

Was that odd for you?
It was very strange. Of course, I’m very flattered and want to be accomodating  and take pictures with people. But it’s just so strange to be walking down the street and having people say, “Oh, my gosh! You won the gold medal. Can we have a picture?” Two or three days later, my husband and I were supposed to meet each other at a train station. We couldn’t find each other and once we finally did find each other we needed some help in order to make our train on time. The security guard was more than happy to accomodate us because he knew that I’d won a gold medal. It’s just so strange to have a security guard working in the train station know who we were.

When you watch a race, everyone’s wearing Nike kits. But you went with New Balance. How come? What did they offer you that someone like Nike didn’t?
I had the beautiful luxury of being in a situation where I had several different companies that I could visit and ultimately choose from. It ended up being a scenario very similar to college. If you’re good in high school and you get five full scholarship offers, at that point you’re deciding what the best fit is for you. I felt like I had full scholarships from all of these places and at the end of the day I was able to decide who was the best fit for who I am and what I want to try to accomplish.

What I found in New Balance was an incredible family. From the moment I met these people I felt that they genuinely wanted to be a part of making my career as great as it could be. I wasn’t necessarily simply a vehicle for their product. They were able to communicate that to me the best. I know that they have a lot of resources, but they keep their team relatively small. All those things were really attractive to me.

They seem to reward loyalty with loyalty. When you look at someone like Khalid Khannouchi, who’s been with them since the mid-nineties — they’ve supported him through eight years of injury. It’s really kind of amazing.
One of the main things I considered when I was looking for a college was how many people went on to compete professionally after going to there. What’s the success, the longevity of their runners? So when it came time to choose a sponsor, I wanted to compare the relative size of the company to the number of people that they sponsor. New Balance is impressive in that they are incredibly loyal to the people they sign. Through the good years and bad years they take ownership of the people they signed and who’ve been with them for years. I just think that’s a really honorable thing to do.

If you run for a shoe company like New Balance, but you can’t quite find a pair of shoes that works for you, will they customize shoes for you?
Absolutely. And with New Balance it’s even easier because their factory is in the US. It’s not like you go get fitted and then they send it out to China. You can walk to the factory in Lawrence, just outside of Boston, and they make your shoes for you there. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to walk to the factory and see the people working on your shoes and on your products. That’s a whole other inspiring side of the company. They’re true to their message in that they employ US workers and keep it US made. That meant a lot to me.

I’m interested in the fact that you moved down in distance. That’s unusual. You were an outstanding steeplechaser and then moved down to the 1500. What drove that decision?
I’ve always wondered if anyone else leaving college has ever moved down. I can’t think of anyone.

Well, there’s you and Anna Pierce.
That’s true. When I was racing in 2009, everyone remembers when I went to Prefontaine and broke four minutes in the 1500. That was really a game changer for me. In that moment we realized that there was a whole other part of middle distance racing that I had an aptitude for. I went on and finished my track and cross country seasons, just as we’d planned to do.

But I always knew in the back of my mind that I had this great ability in the middle distances. So when I no longer had the opportunity to stay in Boulder, I was looking for a coach. I know how to train for a steeplechase and for a 5k. What I really don’t know is the highly specialized skills for the 800 and 1500. I looked for a coach specifically for middle distances and found an incredible match in Juli (Benson) Henner at the Air Force Academy. She’s done exactly that: taken the things I’m already good at and made me so much better.

Do you miss the steeplechase?
I do miss it. I miss it because I was so familiar with it. I miss it because I had a lot of success in it. The 1500 can be a little bit of a crapshoot. You go out and know you have a certain ability, but tactics are so important in that race. A great example is Brussels. I ran 4:03 and that’s a really great time. But I was in back, near last. So it can be really trying in that sense. You can have a great time, but a poor performance. Or you can win, but people will accuse you of racing a slow time. So in that sense you have to hold your own, and just own that you’re good at this event and that you’re going to keep getting better.

The steeple is more consistent as far as running similar times, and the event itself is definitely not as deep as the 1500. So if you’re running around seventh in the world you’re always going to place somewhere between fifth and tenth in the world.at the world championships. It’s a very different dynamic in that sense. More predictable.

All I know is that every time I watch the steeplechase, I’m always afraid for the runners. It looks so hazardous, especially when you go over the water jump.
I know! It is. I used to say that the steeplechase is the NASCAR of track and field because everyone comes to watch the crashes.

Have you raced any road miles?
I’ve never run a road mile. This is my first one. I’m very excited.

How do you think it will differ for you from a tactical standpoint?
Everyone is going to be missing that comfort of knowing exactly where you are every step of the race. When you’re on the track, you know in every moment, “I have 520 meters to go, I have 150 meters to go.” We’re so comfortable running those curves and knowing where we are. So I think it’s going to miss that level of comfort. Given how deep the field is, how good the field is, this year, I think it’s going to turn into a really exciting race.

How will you warm up for this race?
I do the same warmup for every single race and workout. I start with a short run and some dynamic stretches. Then I’ll run really easy for 15 or 20 minutes and then start my drills and my strides. All of that is really standard and set in stone. The one thing that isn’t set in stone is when you put on your spikes. That’s determined by the event. If it’s something like the world championships, where we have to go through a lot of call rooms, I’ll wait until we get into the call rooms to put on my shoes. If it’s a really relaxed race like Rieti, I’ll put on my spikes while I’m still doing my warmup.

Is that a mental transition you’re making as well, when you put on your spikes?
Absolutely. You put on your spikes and everything from that moment on is faster, a little bit more explosive, more intense.

Here’s a fly on the wall question. Those of us who are amateur runners don’t know what happens in a championship race. Beforehand, are you all herded into the same room together? What’s actually happening before we see you all out on the track?
I’m kind of a nerd, probably. But I always thought it would be interesting to write a short story just on that process, going from the warmup area to the track.

We don’t know what happens. We see you come out…
Yeah, it’s kind of a black box thing.

Are you thrown together, or are you given some space?
It depends on the venue. I’ll use the last world championships as an example. We go into the call room around 45 minutes before we go to the start line. At a typical race, that’s usually not long after you would start your warmup. So we have a 50 minute warmup and then we have 45 minutes in these call rooms.

You have to sit around for 45 minutes?
Yeah. We go into the first call room and they have to check everything. They check your bibs on the front and on the back. They have to make sure that all your logos are in compliance. They have to make sure you don’t have anything in your bag that you can pull out that’s noncompliant. Then they check your spikes, they check your uniform. They go through all of this for every single person in the field. They divide all those jobs between call room one and call room two. When you’re in call room two, there’s typically a place for you to do some strides, run around, do some drills. Call room two is where we all put our spikes on.

But while you’re in the first call room, you’re literally sitting in a small room with all the people you’re going to be racing. It’s usually really quiet. It’s kind of tense. By the time you get to call room two people are kind of shaken out again, they’re doing their strides, putting their shoes on. At that point — this what you all see — in our warmups, with our backpacks, we all walk out onto the track. At the point we usually have about five minutes, just enough time to put in one or two strides before we have to take all of our clothes off and step to the line.

Well, you don’t take all of your clothes off.
I should say all of our warmups off.

If you took all of your clothes off it might increase track and field viewership.
[Laughs] That’s true!

I want to ask you about the 2009 race in which you broke the NCAA 5k indoor record*. It was the most bizarre video, because it looked like you were running the race alone. I remember wondering how you kept up that effort while running solo. How do you run like that when there’s no one else around you to push you?
That was such an unusual situation for two reasons. For one, I was racing by myself. The other other funny thing about that video is that no one knows that anything’s going on.

Right! There are guys wandering out on the track. No one knows what’s happening.
Exactly. Something else that was unusual about that race was the track. It was something like 308 meters. A really strange distance. So the splits are in different places all around the track. There’s no way for an athlete by themselves to know the splits for a 5k going around that track. They designate someone to run around the track and give splits. I’d separated myself from the group and so the guy giving splits had to decide, “Do I give splits to the girl that’s winning or to the rest of the group that’s racing?” He made the decision — and I applaud him for this — to give splits to the majority of the group and let me go and do my thing. But at this point I’m at 2k, not even halfway into the race, and I have no information about how I’m running.

The absence of knowing where I was in the race or how fast I was going actually made me run better. It made me run so much better. I think it was a combination of no knowing — the bliss of not knowing — and the fact that I had this little bit of fear. I set out that day wanting to run 15:20. I knew that was going to be difficult to do. So I had this feeling, “If I slow down I don’t know if I’m going to be on pace anymore.” So that drove me to keep picking it up every lap. It was funny, too — my coaches are very calm, collected people. But they started looking more and more frantic each time I came around. And I was thinking, “Oh, my gosh. Is this not going as well as I thought it was?” I felt really under control, really good.

Did they think you were running too fast?
No. They were so excited. They thought, “Man, she looks so good! She’s running every single lap better and better and better.” So I just misinterpreted their reaction. They were all excited about what was going on. So it was for reasons of ignorance that I kept running harder and harder and better and better. When I crossed the line and saw 15:01 I didn’t think that was right. When you’re racing out there by yourself, I think it’s so important — and I said this about the 1500 in Daegu — to focus on yourself and how you feel. People ask me all the time, “What are you thinking about?” I’m thinking about running, what I’m doing, how I’m feeling. If you focus on yourself and forget about the time or the people around you, you’ll get the most out of yourself. That’s how I run solo races.

*I can’t find the video for this race. If anyone out there has a link, please share it!

A few (more) minutes with Shannon Rowbury

I interviewed Shannon Rowbury at last year’s Fifth Avenue Mile. This year she was as gracious and candid as she was a year ago. Rowbury was on the comeback trail for virtually all of 2011 after struggling with injuries, which were a central topic in our conversation last year. Rowbury finished seventh in the 2011 edition of the run down Fifth Avenue. She looked a little disappointed coming in, but was all smiles afterwards. Fun fact: my brother-in-law was close friends with Rowbury’s dad when they were little kids. Here’s last year’s interview.

You recently did a commercial for Dick’s Sporting Goods. I know you studied film in graduate school. What was it like for you to perform in front of the camera?
It was really fun, seeing how the professionals do it. I studied film in college and had I not gone the running route I would have tried to get involved in film production. I did some lower level things in college, but to really be a fly on the wall, watching how the pros get it done, was really cool. It gives you an appreciation for how much work goes into a 30 second spot. There was an all-day session with me. They’d been filming for the day or two before. Then they filmed the day afterwards. All of that just to go into a short commercial. Everyone was really friendly and it was cool to talk to them and learn from them. I’d love to be able to do more stuff like that, either on camera or off – both sides were really fun and exciting to me. I always wonder, when I finish with running, what I’ll do with myself. I want to have a family, but I also have too much energy to not have a career. It’s cool to observe something like that and it makes you feel like, “Okay, I’ll find something.”

You seem comfortable when you speak in front of people. Were you also comfortable in front of the camera?
I was. You know, it helps when you’re working with friendly people. They’re positive, they give you corrections, you try to adjust accordingly. Something like running in front of the camera, running is so natural, so it’s pretty easy. With my dance background, figuring out timing wasn’t too bad. I had fun with it. Compared to standing on the starting line at the Olympics or something, I thought, “This is easy, I’m not nervous at all.”

You’re defending two wins here. Do you feel like there’s more pressure on you this year since you’ve won the last two years?
Not too much. I want to win again because I love this race and it’s such a fun way to end the season. I feel like I’m a good road racer and have a good track record with road miles. This year, with all my injuries, I wasn’t sure if I’d even make the world team. To even have been able to race was exciting for me. I was very disappointed with how worlds turned out. But as I try and process everything and take in the bigger picture, I’m just excited and happy to go out and step on the starting line tomorrow, back in the US finally. And try and defend my title, try and get three in a row. It’s a great field of women and I know they’re all competitive. So they’ll all be fighting for it as well. I’m just going to do my best to be the best out there on Saturday.

You’ve always won by doing a last minute surge in the last 20 meters. Is that your strategy again this year?
Well, I don’t want to give anything away. But I think what’s neat about the road mile is that because there’s no turns, it’s not as tactical. You can be literally eight, nine, ten women across and you’re not in any sort of disadvantage. I like that about the race. I’m a tough competitor. I’ll grit it out if I have to and keep myself right in it. In every race, if you can’t hold it together the last 50 meters, you’re not going to do well. And that’s something I’ve sort of struggled with in track races. So I’ll keep working on that. Even though this is the road verses the track, it’s still a great place to practice.

I had a question about 1500 track racing. Oftentimes, when you watch them there’s almost a pattern, where in the third lap there’s this almost perceivable pause during which everyone seems to be gathering themselves for the last lap. Does the equivalent happen in a road mile?
Here it’s interesting because with the road mile it is sort of affected by the terrain. So here we have the first half mile that’s down, then up. Then you hit the half mile mark and you start pretty much going down. I remember my first year racing here, they said over and over again, “Make sure you don’t go too early. You’re going to hit the half mile mark and it’s going to look like you’re finishing. But you’ve still got 800 meters.” So I think it’s different. When you can see the finish line, straight in front of you, I think people get antsy and excited. With the 1500, because it’s laps, it can get almost predictable, because everybody has the same strategy going into it. “Lap one, I do this. Lap two, I do that. Lap three, I prepare. And lap four, I go.” When you’re on the road and you kind of have markers, but it’s harder to tell, it takes a little bit more finesse, maybe. Each person’s going to have a slightly different plan.

Can you comment on how strong and deep the field is this year?
I looked at the starting list and I was pretty impressed by it. In previous years we’ve had some international athletes, but it’s been largely US and Great Britain. This year we’ve got the top US women, the top Brit, a Norwegian athlete, German athletes. We’ve got a bunch of women, which I think is fun. For me, it hasn’t been the best year because I was injured early on but I’m still excited to go out there and race the best in the world, whether it’s on the track or on the road. Just test myself and see how I can do. So I think it’s going to be a really good race out there. We have 5K runners, we have 800m runners, so it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. You’re going to have both ends of the spectrum: people who want it to be slow with a kick, and people who want it fast from the gun, and then the milers inbetween, who aren’t really sure what we want. So, yeah, I think it’ll be an exciting race.

Can you talk about your injuries this year? What happened?
I had a series of Achilles injuries. First I hurt my right Achilles in October [2010] and struggled with that for a few months. Right as that was recovering my left Achilles started hurting. I think maybe from overcompensation, I’m not sure. But basically it was 6-8 months of struggling with that. The Achilles is a hard animal to tame because it’s different from other things. My last major injury was in 2007, when I had a stress fracture in my hip, and that I thought was challenging because you’re hip is the main joint of the body. But it’s also protected by a lot of muscles and tendons. So as long as you can be strong in other places, you can kind of get by. With the Achilles, it’s just the Achilles. So if it’s in a bad mood, it dominates everything. So I had to learn patience. I had to learn how to deal with a tendon injury, which was something I’d never had before. And manage my own crazy, wanting to train and feeling like time was slipping by. But you can’t will yourself to be healthy. You have to just give it the time that it needs.

Last year you told that your 2007 injury was ultimately a positive event because it made you reexamine your training. So did you have a different perspective this time around on being an “injured runner”?
Yes, it was different for me this year because in 2007 I was finishing college. I ended up transitioning from my college coach to my new coach. The injury was basically season ending. So I was able to let the expectations that I’d had for that year go and really focus on a long term plan for the next year. This year, I got injured at the beginning of training, so it was easy to be patient early on. But then as things weren’t progressing as quickly as I’d wanted, I was thinking, at first, “Okay, I’ve got eight months.” Then it was, “I’ve got five months.” Then, “Oh, my gosh, I have three months.” And then, “A month  and a half until USAs. What do I do?”

So that was the first experience I’ve ever had trying to train through an injury. It was kind of a gut check moment for me, figuring out why I was doing this, finding new ways to stay motivated. I still think I learned a lot of things. Competing now this past three months, over the summer, without as much of a base – we had to alter training a little bit – I’m proud of myself for still being able to do decently well, given that I missed so much. To be able to even hang in there with the best in the world off of first a month and a half of training and then three months of training. I think it gave me some pride. I was able to learn some stuff about myself when things aren’t going perfectly: what can I get? What are my strengths and weaknesses. I’m hopeful that that’ll inform my training next year and motivate me to be smart but also have that drive to be the best in the world, which I know I can be if things go well.

How do you warm up for a road mile?
My warmup doesn’t really change that much from the track. I’m a really big believer in consistency. So when I’m doing a hard workout on the track, my warmup for that is very similar to my warmup for a race. The difference with a road mile vs. a track race is that I get to run outside. When I’m doing these track races in Europe, it’s usually lap after lap on the infield because you have just the warmup area, which can be kind of boring. But for the road mile, yeah, it’s just a jog. I do my little run, 15-20 minutes. I do form drills, dynamic flexibility, active stretching. Leg swings, that sort of stuff. Strides. It’s pretty basic. I usually start my warmup about an hour beforehand. It’s fun, too, with a road mile, because you kind of get a bit of adrenaline that’s different from the track because the people are right there – it’s so much more up close and personal. So I always love that as well.

Why you should be disturbed by the IAAF ruling on women’s world records

A few weeks ago the IAAF came out with a new ruling that limits the distinction of “world record time” in women’s races to races that only contain women. Read that again. Do you have a problem with it? I do.

I will not bother going into the ruling’s details (primarily because it’s so simply stated already) or the ensuing controversy. You can do you own research and read about those things with a simple search of Google news. If you haven’t already done that, go off and do it for 10 minutes. Then come back here.

Are you back? Good.

Unfortunately, the heart of what’s wrong with this ruling has gotten obscured by aspects that, while important (especially to record holders who are affected by the ruling’s retroactive application), do not constitute its essential wrongness. The ruling is not about the sport of running, or pacers, nor is it even about women’s inequality. Insofar as it attacks one of modern-day feminism’s foundational elements — namely, that there should not be a single “male-normative” standard that renders females as “the other” — it certainly touches on that area. But, again, for me this dimension does not fully capture its unfairness.

The IAAF’s ruling is about discrimination, pure and simple. It is the embodiment of the blindness that comes from being privileged and, when that blindness is combined with power, the institutionalized discrimination that inevitably results. Perhaps what amazes me most about the ruling is that, even considering how insidious and subtle its origins, its harmful effects are glaringly obvious. While I’m tempted to use certain aspects of Southern legal history to help throw light on why it’s so wrong, racial comparisons are a veritable tinderbox in any context. So instead I’ll look to the same “different but, you know, sort of equal” mechanisms currently being offered to gay people in lieu of real marriage equality:

“If a man is in the race — anywhere in the race — we’ll call her time a ‘world best.’ It’s a different distinction, but everyone knows it’s just as good as a ‘world record.'”

“If the people are of the same gender, we’ll call it a ‘civil union.’ It’s a different distinction, but everyone knows it’s just as good as marriage.'”

If you need a separate distinction to cover a different class of person, well then guess what? You’re not offering equality. You’re discriminating.

This problem is easily fixed, of course, via a choice of two remedies: either get rid of all pacers (in every race, at every distance, for every gender — all, every, none, pacers go away totally) or get rid of the “world record” distinction and just call everyone’s time a “world best.”

Or there is a third remedy, which is to ensure that of all the races recognized by the IAAF as venues for setting a world record, 50% of them are women’s only races. Until there is an equal opportunity for women to pursue world records, this ruling is discriminatory.

I’ve already gotten into one good-natured argument about this on Facebook. It’s a proposed topic on a podcast I cohost. But you know what? I don’t want to discuss its “drawbacks vs. merits,” pick apart the IAAF’s logic, talk about Paula Radcliffe running with a guy in London, or otherwise debate this with anyone. We live in a world now where everything is up for debate and in cases like this it is bullshit and it’s largely the reason behind why I no longer watch television news.

This is not up for debate because it is so obviously wrong. And if you are unable to recognize why it’s wrong, then I’m afraid that I cannot help you.

A few minutes with Sally Kipyego

Sally Kipyego, 26, originally from Kapsowar, Kenya, established herself as a standout runner at Texas Tech, becoming the first runner to win three consecutive women’s titles in the NCAA Division 1 championships, among other collegiate distinctions. But you probably recognize her more recently as having won Silver in the 10K at Daegu. She’s something of a rarity in that she races well from the 1500 up to the 10K, and seems able to move up or down in distance effortlessly. Kipyego is also beautiful to watch, always running with a relaxed form and an oftentimes almost serene expression.

I’m curious to know why you’re running a mile and what it’s like to go from 10K on the track to a mile on the road.
I love the 1500. I do them, just for speed at the beginning of the year, just to get my legs going. But this is a great race that I’ve known about for a few years now. But I haven’t had a chance to participate. I’ve always thought it was a fantastic race and a great way to end the season. But every year, at the end of the year, I’m exhausted and don’t want to do any more racing at the end of the season. It’s a wonderful way of finishing the season, in New York City, on Fifth Avenue. It’s a really well-known, good meet.

A track 10K is 25 laps. I’ve always wondered, when you race that, do you ever lose count?
No. Well, for 2010 I made a conscious decision to not wear a watch on the track. In 2009 my watch was affecting every race, because all I was doing was looking at my watch on every lap, trying to get the splits. It really took the fun out of running. So I made that decision, not wearing a watch. So now I don’t look at the lap count, I don’t look at my watch and I don’t look at the time. I don’t look at the lap count until probably the last five laps. I just totally zone out and get into a rhythm. At the end of it, maybe around five or six laps to go, I start paying attention because that’s when the race actually begins. In the first 5, 6, 7k, I’m pretty low key and I just need to get into a rhythm.

So you’re finding that you’re racing better without a watch?
Absolutely. It’s made a huge difference. Because I’m not paying attention to the splits now. I’m competing. I compete. I race against people, not a clock. It’s difficult on your mind, when you’re trying to get specific splits. Maybe you’re one second off, but it messes when your mentality. “Oh, I’m off. I’m not running well. Or I’m running too fast.” If you’re just rolling with it, it’s not about the clock. It’s about how you feel. It’s a lot smoother and a lot easier on your mind. At least that’s what I find.

What are you thinking about when you’re zoning out for the first three-quarters of the race?
I go to my happy place. I have a mental picture. When I’m doing my easy runs, I go to a place where it’s really calm and quiet. It’s strange, but I always think of water. A fountain. Or a waterfall. It’s really calm, really quiet. Just breathing. I try to bring that picture to my mind and zone out and get in that place. When I do that I don’t even feel the laps going by. I just get really relaxed and feel really light on my feet. I’m just really calm. And when I’m calm, I do better.

Have you always done this?
No. I read this book about visualization and relaxation to do before races. I started to, for 30 minutes before going to bed, laying there and trying to calm myself down, trying to get a mental picture of a really quiet, calm place. The more I did that, the more I got relaxed. I started doing that in my easy runs. It’s a skill. Why not try it? Give it a shot and see. I found out that when I’m relaxed in a race, I perform so much better than I do when I’m tense. So if I can get into that relaxed state, it’s just easier on my body.

Do you do any other kind of mental training? Do you, for example, simulate races?
I will go through my races ten times, so many times before I run. When I’m getting to a race I’ve got a plan A and I’ll mentally play that in my head many times during my runs. During my long runs I’ll go through a race and think about how that’s going to play out. I guess that’s what you do when you’re doing 80-90 miles a week.

It’s a lot of time to think.
Yeah.

Do you remember the first race that you ever ran?
Yes. I raced in 1999. It was my first time racing in Kenya. It was a district meet. I probably ran some races in school. But that was [the first] proper race, so to speak, where I actually raced against people who were fast. I just ran with them. I didn’t have a goal. I just ran. I got through the finish and thought, “That wasn’t so bad.” I didn’t have a goal, I didn’t have an objective – I was just running.

Do you still race the same way? Or are things more loaded now?
There’s pressure. If it’s your professional career, you’re running for a lot more than running a race. You have sponsors. But I like the purity of running. I think it’s one sport that’s very pure. It comes with that sense of you and the track – it’s just you and the race. I love that.

So you still like running, despite all these new pressures.
I love running. The first day I came out and ran in school, I was so stressed. I wanted to perform well, and put so much pressure on myself. I didn’t enjoy running at that time. Every time I toed the line, it was about something. I either wanted to impress sponsors, or it was something else. But now I’m just so grateful that Nike gave me a chance, that they sponsored me and gave me a chance to do what I love to do, because I know now that I truly love running. This is what I love. I can’t imagine my life without running. I love the purity of it and how it makes me feel. It’s a liberated feeling and I’m grateful that I get the chance and opportunity to do this for a living.

What do you want to do when you can’t run for a living anymore?
I’ll go back to nursing. My heart is still there. Even if I don’t work in a hospital, I’d like to do something related to nursing. I would still love to do something related to health care.

How do you warm up for a road mile?
The mile is quick. 1500’s are pretty quick for me, so I’ll take a little longer to warm up. For a mile I’ll probably warm up more than I would for a 10k. I’ll do a pickup, a two minute pickup that’s a little bit faster than tempo pace. Not quite race pace, but quite high – a fast tempo pace. Just to get my heart going, get my lungs going. Just to get that feeling, where my heart rate is elevated just slightly before a race, then come down. So that when the gun goes off, it doesn’t get me off guard, my body’s ready to go.

It’s funny. Everyone I’ve asked has a slightly different warmup.
I probably do more drills for a mile than I would for a 10k. For that distance you warm up slowly, because you have plenty of time to adjust. But in a road mile, it’s a pretty short event so you have to be ready to go.

Faster and faster, little by little

I’ve gotten faster in the last month or so. This is a fact that cannot be denied.

For one thing, my recovery runs are now anywhere from 8:30-9:30 pace. Usually right around 9:00. I was heretofore running these at 10:00 or slower.

For another, my trips around the track are taking me less time. Two weeks ago I did a workout that consisted of 800s and 200s at high/higher effort. High being a little above tempo. Higher being something a bit short of all out. Splits for that were around 3:25-3:30 for the 800s and 48ish for the 200s. I did one two weeks ago, a 3:13 (I was hopped up on lots of caffeine), that was obviously way too hard. Yesterday I ran all three 800s in 3:13-3:15 at lower effort than last time. The 200s were 39-43. Hmm.

I run better when the humidity’s lower, as has always been the case, but low humidity is no longer a requirement for running fast. At this point, I’m feeling pretty good about my prospects at the Fifth Avenue Mile even if the weather’s hot and/or humid. But if it’s cool/dry weather, I’m feeling more than pretty good.

Next up, a mile road race in Tuckahoe on September 11th. We shall see. We shall see. Wish I knew if the course was accurate.

On another note: Jenny Simpson (nee Barringer) won gold at Worlds today in the 1500 final, in an inspiring sprint from about 120 metres out. She’s the first American woman to win gold in that event since Mary Decker Slaney did way back in 1983. And Morgan Uceny fell down about three minutes into the race, which was upsetting to see.

…and Lauren Fleshman just got even more interesting

Today I had the pleasure of sitting in on a NYRR press (tele)conference with Lauren Fleshman and another 5000 champion, Bobby Curtis (whom I met at last year’s Healthy Kidney 10K). Both runners were there to announce that they’ll be making their marathon debuts at the New York Marathon in November. I only got to ask two questions, but some of the other interviewers hit on the ones I’d wanted to ask, so I lucked out.

Here’s what’s interesting about Fleshman’s marathon approach: at least in the near term, she’s not going to be trying to become a great marathoner per se; instead, she’s using marathon training to try to build strength in order to avoid the cycle of injury that has plagued her over 11 years of racing 5Ks — and (she hopes) help her improve at that distance for the 2012 Olympics.

“The marathon was never on my radar,” she said today. “But I remember when the 5K used to feel so long. I’ve gotten stronger over the last couple of years, dealing with injuries. That’s opened my mind to things that I thought weren’t possible…changing things up and focusing on pure strength for the 5K. For me, [the marathon] is kind of a means to an end, but an exciting one.”

Perhaps most intriguing about this move is the fact that Fleshman’s running history includes a lot of bouts with injury, and she tends to break down at higher volumes. Embracing marathon training, which typically involves lots of mileage, is always risky for injury-prone runners. But there’s more than one way to skin the marathon training cat, and Fleshman will be relying heavily on something called the Elliptigo, a cross-training contraption that she used quite a bit during her most recent post-injury buildup.

Fleshman will continue to use this quasi-bike while preparing for New York. “I plan to use the Elliptigo to make up for volume,” she said. “This isn’t the time to take a huge risk and add 20% volume. Now that I’m doing 70 miles per week I’ll use that as my main form of complementary running. I don’t know if anyone’s ever tried it.”

When asked if the Olympic Trials in January might be a secondary goal, she dismissed them. “That’s not on my radar right now, to be honest. I want to give the marathon a chance to help my 5K. I will try to run as fast as I can [in the marathon], but the marathon fits into the goal of the 2012 [Olympic] 5K. In a way, I feel like I’ll have two debuts: NYC this year and a post-2012 marathon. For now, it’s more of an experiment and we’ll just have to see how that goes. You’ll see more of me in the marathon, I’m sure.”

As noted previously, Fleshman’s running blog is outstanding. It provides practical information as well as an intimate view into what it’s really like to be a professional distance runner. Apparently her inspiration for starting it was Paula Radcliffe, who began chronicling her experiences online way back in 2004 (unfortunately, she hasn’t kept it up). We learned today that even runners of Fleshman’s calibre are not immune to being starstruck. “When I met Paula last year, I was so dumbstruck. I walked away. Next time, we had a great conversation, went out to dinner. I’d rather go to dinner with Paula Radcliffe than any movie star. We still chat and email and I’m lucky that she’s shared some of her knowledge with me.”

In the days since Fleshman’s impressive run in London over the weekend, in which she easily met the A Standard that eluded her at the US championships earlier this year (she came in 8th there), there’s been speculation about whether she’d get a spot on Team USA for the World Championships in Daegu later this month. I asked her what the status of that was, but she didn’t know yet. Fortunately, there was someone from USATF on the call and he confirmed that they’d just released the team start list. Yep, Fleshman’s in for the 5K, which means my Fleshman Fangirl Train will keep rolling through the summer and fall.

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