Lots of good stuff

So things are a little nuts.

I just started a sizeable corporate writing job, although I capped it at 20 hours a week. It runs through New Year’s Eve. Whee! If I gave you the description of the project, you’d probably wonder why I haven’t shot myself in the face by now. But in fact, it’s just the sort of project that appeals to me. I will be making real improvements to a big mess and the work taps into some of my obsessive-compulsive content strategist skills. I’m even getting to do a little on-the-fly usability work.

I’m putting the finishing touches on my second article for Running Times, the subject of which is “what do race participants want from their race directors?” Sound familiar? Yes, there was a reason behind that survey. To round things out I did some great interviews with directors of races both large and small, along with runner Kim Duclos, of Emerald Nuts Midnight Run gatecrashing fame. Unfortunately, because of tight space considerations, I could only use about 1% of their material. But maybe I’ll use it for something else eventually. That article comes out in December (Jan/Feb issue).

In the meantime, my first paid byline, a portrait of masters Marathon Trials qualifier Tamara Karrh, appears in the November issue, which should be hitting newstands and doorsteps in about two weeks. There is a companion profile for Karrh on Houston Hopefuls. That’s scheduled to autopublish tomorrow (I think — I put it on autopilot for a reason). Now I’m just trying to find the hours to transcribe and publish the latest excellent interview with Chicagoan Julie Wankowski. I may find those hours over the weekend as I…

…jet off to Arizona for a family get together from Saturday through Monday. I’ll have much time in airports and on airplanes. I am also hoping to do some work on the Fifth Avenue Mile elite interviews I did last week. They will take the same structure as my previous “A few minutes with…” pieces. Those seemed to work well and my questions are not tied to the event the runners were here for, so I can take weeks to publish them (much as I hate to). I’ll take this opportunity to say this again: professional runners are delightful people, by and large. They seem to like their jobs and most of them are, I suspect, brighter than the average person. When I find myself sitting there talking to one of them, I still feel like I need to pinch myself.

As far as what you have to look forward to, I had great chats with Shannon Rowbury (who won the women’s race), Leo Manzano, Molly Huddle, Alan Webb and Morgan Uceny. I’ll get those posted eventually. My one mistake with this race was not taking NYRR up on an invitation to sit on the “press truck.” This is a flatbed truck that drives along at the front of the race, outfitted with bleachers, from which gawking members of the press sit rearward, enjoying a panoramic view of the race as it unfolds. Well, that looked like a total gas, if incredibly dangerous. Yeah — like I said: total gas! My hope is that next year I can run in the race myself, go shower at someone’s apartment nearby, then come back and jump on the crazy truck for the elite races.

And there’s more. I’ll be at the finish line (and perhaps also along the course) of the NYC Marathon on November 7th, serving as aide de camp to photographer Stacey Cramp, who’s shooting the event for Running Times. I get a groovy press pass, a nice Asics jacket and entre to a big party on the Friday that kicks off race weekend.

And there may be still more. Later in November, Coach Sandra, who has several parallel careers, is agenting 10 elites from all over the place (people I’ve mostly heard of and, in the case of Adriana Pirtea, met) to a 10K race in her country of origin, the Dominican Republic. I may be able to get comped on travel costs in exchange for doing a writeup. That’s a big “we’ll see” at the moment, but it should be a lot of fun if it happens.

All these developments are almost enough to make me forget that these days I am a runner in theory only. But not quite. It’s been seven weeks since I’ve gone running. Since my insurance sucks, meaning my stratospheric deductibles require that I  pay out of pocket for things like MRIs and bone scans, I am going on the assumption that a stress fracture is what ails me and will take another 4-5 weeks off (or, rather, spend another month doing insane cross-training only and not running at all). Then I’ll try a run. It will have been three months by then. If I’m still in pain, I’ll bite the bullet and shell out the thousands required to look inside myself.

This was a long-winded way of saying that things might quiet down on this blog. But only because my offline life has gotten considerably more noisy.

Except for the running injury, everything else that’s happened is exactly the sort of thing I wanted to happen when I jumped ship from my corporate gig over the summer. Let’s hear it for leaps of faith.

New Houston Hopeful interview: Heather May

This one’s with a twist: Heather has qualified for and raced in the Olympic marathon Trials twice already, making her our first “Trials veteran” in the series. Yet her experience has not dampened her enthusiasm for going after a threepeat. Having become a marathoner as much out of ignorance (“I’ve run 10 miles. Now what do I do?”) as out of a desire to qualify for the Trials, Heather’s path as a Trials-calibre runner has been both fraught with peril and filled with opportunities for self discovery.

For the full interview: Houston Hopefuls > Heather May

A few minutes with Lornah Kiplagat

Lornah Kiplagat, 36, has been absent from the racing scene for awhile, but she’s back. She has excelled at distances from the 5K to the marathon, and has continued to race competitively across that distance spectrum throughout her career. She holds four world records for road racing: 5K, 10M, 20K and half marathon. Originally from Kenya, she has been a Dutch citizen since 2003. The Mini 10K was one in a series of post-surgery “comeback” races for Kiplagat. A four-time winner of that event, she’d hoped for a fifth title and was leading for the first half of the race before being overtaken by the eventual winner, Linet Masai. Kiplagat would finish fourth.

You’ve been running fast forever. How have you managed to have such a consistent career?
I think it’s just good planning. Good support, the right people around you. And a lot of running. So if I can also do that as a career, then you like to do that extra.

After setting the world record for the half in Udine, Italy, 2007.

What’s it like to have a tulip named after you?
It’s nice. How did you know about that?

I went to one of your sites and there was a story about that. I thought that was pretty neat.
Yes, it was nice of the Dutch that they did that for me. They mentioned this to me about seven years ago, even more. They thought it was a good idea, and they started preparation for it. Because it takes a long time. But it finally came out. It’s a very funny flower because it’s very strong. We have tulips and home and normally tulips don’t last long. They were lasting like for three weeks!

That’s very appropriate for a marathoner.
Yeah. Tulips normally just wither down.

Do you train in Holland?
Yes. But mostly in Kenya. Because of the altitude. It’s nice in Holland in the summer. I like it. But in the winter, it’s better in Kenya, for sure.

I was reading about your High Altitude Training Centre in Kenya. It seems like the focus has become less on athletics and more on academics.
The focus is really both. But we’re more into giving opportunities to top athletes all over the world. So they are able to train there.

Did you always have it in your head that you wanted to start something like this?
It was with a group of people. We have one guy in Kenya that’s selecting students. And they are staying in my place. They get coaching. They also get to study there. After that, they can come to America. We do it with four people. My part is to coach them — not so much to coach them, but to motivate them. So it works really good. They are boys and girls, top students from high school.

Is your foundation still focused on AIDS prevention and AIDS education?
Yeah. We are growing, actually. We’re starting up a high school for 300 girls. The training camp was so small. We could do only 12-15 girls.

How did you manage to grow it so quickly?
We’ve not yet gotten funding, but we have the plans for doing that.

How do you select who gets into the school?
They have to meet a certain academic level. And they all have to be doing something in sport. Football, hockey, running.

Do they have to maintain a certain level of academic consistency to remain in the school?
Yes. They have to. You know, they come there and they go down…we want them to come there and go even higher. Academically and in sport. This would be a boarding school. Before we didn’t have a school. They would only stay there during holidays. They could go to schools all over Kenya. They’d come to us in August and December, but it was not enough. It was too short to do something. Finally, I said, “I’m doing something, but it’s not enough.” So we needed to put [together] a better structure. We hope the first class will be 2013. It’s nearby the altitude training center. We’re trying to get the funding, but even if we don’t get it, it will still happen with our own money. I’ve got the ground to build the school already. It’s 18 hectares. That was the hardest part — getting the ground.

What made it so difficult? Finding the right place?
That and getting the right ground in such a place is almost impossible anymore. Getting a space that big. I had to move four families.

Was that difficult? Did they not want to leave?
No, it was an opportunity for them. If they give me one acre of land, then I have to buy them two and a half somewhere else. But in a nice place, where they can really farm. And still with some money on top of that. So they saw it as an opportunity to get more land. That was the most difficult part, and now that’s done. So the rest — putting up the buildings — is not a big deal for me. If we get funding, it will go quicker. If we don’t, it will go slower. But still, it will happen.

Do people know that you’re doing this project? Do people at these things ask you about it?
I don’t even talk about it. When I see that you’re interested, I talk about it. But normally I don’t even mention it.

No, I ask because I was surprised. I did some research on you yesterday. I know you as a runner but had no idea you were heading up all these other projects.
I don’t think most people are interested. They just want to see how the running will be. This is for my own good feeling. I don’t want to be just a runner and then pass by. I want to be a runner, but establish my roots. You want to know where you came from and where you end, what you brought to influence society. That’s what we [with husband/coach Pieter Langenhorst] do. Pieter supports me very well with this work. He’s the one making things happen. Sometimes you can be together, but if the other partner doesn’t have the same motivation, it doesn’t work. For us, it works very well.

I came across an interview with you a few years ago in which you were describing your experience of going to one of your first races in Kenya. You slept in a bathroom. There was basically no support. Have things improved in the last 18 years?
Yeah. It’s improved a lot. It’s like day and night.

Yes, it was really shocking.
It’s quite impossible now to have that kind of experience. There are so many athletes now, so many girls. Girls running now is a normal thing.

Is it still one of the biggest professional opportunities there?
Absolutely. In the last 10 years, it’s grown like crazy.

Can I ask you about your running, or are you tired of answering questions about that?
No, it’s okay.

You’ve been coming back with some shorter races. Are you planning on returning to the marathon?
I will build up slowly now, since I am coming back from injury. But end up at the marathon.

Do you have one in mind?
Not yet.

As you’ve moved into your thirties, have you found that you need more recovery between hard workouts?
Yes.

Are you doing two workouts a week now? Or three?
I run, of course, every day. I do speed work three times a week. But not very sharp, though.

What kind of mileage are you doing right now?
70-80 miles a week. Not a lot.

What do you get up to when you’re peaking in your training for the marathon?
If I’m going for the marathon, for sure over 100.

Do you think after you turn 40 that you’ll keep competing?
No, I think I will just go to easy running. But not competing. It depends.

Because a lot of women are running well into their forties.
I’m not far from 40…

That’s why I’m asking.
I will just see how it will go.

If you scale back the running, will you spend more time on these other projects?
Yeah. That’s like my baby.

Do you think doping is widespread in women’s distance running?
No, I don’t believe it. Because I know most of the women in distance running and most of them are really clean.

I know it was bad in the eighties. A lot of the Chinese times, people don’t even really count because it’s assumed they were all on something.
And it is possible [to excel without drugs]. It’s just a matter of training hard. Simple. No shortcuts. Knowing most of the girls in long distance, you can tell that they train hard. Even in competition, you can see somebody who you can say, “Hey, something is wrong.” So it happens, but it’s not common.

Do you train by heart rate?
No.

How do you know how hard to run?
I used a GPS watch. Every kilometer, I know what speed I’m running and I feel. So if I’m running under 4:00 per K, and I’m feeling good.

Do you race with a GPS?
Sometimes [Kiplagat wore her Garmin 310xt at the Mini 10K]. When I’m not sure, I race with a GPS.

A lot of people are funny about it. They think it’s cheating, that you have an advantage over other people in the race. Or they assume that elites never use them.
No. It’s no different with a watch. Every kilometer, you can see [the split]. What’s the difference? There’s no difference.

A few minutes with Magdalena Lewy-Boulet

Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, 37, needs no introduction. But here’s one anyway. Originally from Poland, she became a US citizen on September 11, 2001. She is a regular top 10 finisher at the marathon and was this country’s half marathon champion last year. She stood out in the 2008 Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials by immediately rocketing out to a sizable lead that she would hold for 24 miles before being passed by Deena Kastor. She lives and trains in Oakland, California where she is also one of the founders of the Bay Area Track Club. She is coached by Jack Daniels.

After smoking the Rotterdam course.

In your preparations for Rotterdam, a breakthrough race [2:26:22, for second place and making her the fourth fastest American female marathoner] for you earlier this year, it sounds like you were doing a lot of work on your top end speed.
Because the World Cross Country Championships were two weeks before that, we definitely incorporated a little bit more of that work into this preparation. I really enjoyed it. But I still maintained all the other marathon stuff that we’ve done in the past. Not much has changed. I think it was just a little more balanced this time around.

I know you did a lot of training for the 2008 Olympic Marathon on the treadmill. Did you find doing all that running inside difficult to deal with mentally or physically?
Not really. As a marathoner, you’re already doing a lot of repetitive stuff. Long runs, out and backs, loops. I started running on the treadmill when my son was born and I was progressively spending more time on it. But I learned to do workouts on the treadmill, which I’d never done before. I don’t have to run on the treadmill, but I still incorporate it at least once or twice a week now. I do hill repeats, actually. Because I don’t have to run downhill.

Do you think regular runners can benefit from incorporating the treadmill into their training to do those different kinds of workouts?
Yeah, a lot of people have a very limited amount of time and sometimes limited access to do a track workout. Over the last few years I’ve learned that you can take any track workout and convert it to the treadmill. Having a child at home, you might plan to do a track workout, but then something comes up and you have to cancel your plans. But there’s always the treadmill, so that’s a good option to have. It saved my training many times, where I was able to get the work done.

What are you thinking about when you’re racing?
I actually think about a lot of stuff when I race. It kind of goes in and out. Sometimes I reflect on workouts that I’ve done that remind me that I’ve done some workouts that are harder than this race. It keeps you at ease because it’s the feedback that you’re well prepared. My last marathon was the first one where it was marked every kilometer. It was really going by quickly, versus miles — you get all this feedback. I coach, so I started designing workouts [that use kilometers rather than miles] for the athletes that I coach.

I don’t really have a strategy for what I think about. I just try to go with the flow. But I’m never out of touch with what happens in the race. It’s usually not until the second half that my mind fully tunes into the race that’s happening. The first half, it could be anything. I’m thinking about the dinner I’m going to make for my son the next day, or the workouts that I’m going to give to my athletes, or my own workouts. And then the second half is usually all about the race.

Can you tell early in a race whether you’re having a good day or a bad day? And are you ever wrong?
Usually, in the first part of the race you can tell. I’ve had races where I was warming up and feeling awful, just awful. I remember a couple races on the track where I was warming up and thinking, “There’s no way if I keep feeling like this…” but it ends up being a PR day. It happens. When you do feel bad, you always have to give another shot at changing something within the race to make sure that it’s really not happening today. Sometimes, you can change the outcome, hopefully.

After you bashed your knee, before the Olympic marathon [which Lewy Boulet could not run], you seemed really accepting of the situation. You were upset, but you seemed to take it in stride. Do you generally have a positive attitude when you have a setback like that?
You know, my coach is just an unbelievable person. Jack is really positive. It doesn’t just start with just races, when you don’t do well at the Olympics. It’s day in and day out — I’ve learned that I need to take something positive from each workout. He’s gotten me to always learn something from each situation and turn it into something positive. Making the Olympic team — even though it was a horrible outcome — I still learned so much from that experience. Something as simple as the logistics of how things work at that level. When I do make another team, I know what to do.

Is the marathon your favorite distance, or just the one you’re best at?
Usually, they go hand in hand. You always love events that you’re good at. I do love the marathon. More than anything, I love the preparation required for a marathon. It’s very rewarding when you do run well. And you don’t get too many chances. A 5K you can do once a month, or a mile every other week. With the marathon, you only get two shots a year. But I did love cross country. Racing at Worlds this spring was a lot of fun. The fact that it was in Poland, that I made the team and got a medal was pretty super cool.

Training July 18-24

The adventure continues. As does the heat wave.

This past week was typical of what I’ll be doing in the coming weeks: speedwork and lots of progression runs. I didn’t cross-train as much as I’d hoped to, but I’m working on making biking and weight work more of a priority. I also got my first massage since right after the Green Mountain Relay in June. I was informed that my hamstrings aren’t nearly as tight as they were then. But my back, shoulders and neck are still a holy mess.

Monday was really, really hot again. So I did my short progression run on the treadmill. That went pretty well, considering that I’d raced hard on Saturday. Wednesday was another really hot morning at the track — 90F with a dewpoint of 68. I had to do longer intervals, which was mentally difficult.

Then I stupidly ran an extra 5 miles, bringing the total to 11, which was supposed to have been distributed over two runs: 7 at the track and then 4 recovery in the evening. I got so used to running lots of miles around track sessions last year that it’s hard to break that habit. I won’t do that again. Coach Sandra was not pleased and thought I was just being overly enthusiastic (so unlike me) or simply non-compliant. I told her that I merely have poor reading comprehension sometimes and all was forgiven.

On Thursday, as often happens the day after some faster running, my legs felt zippy. So I ran the recovery run by feel, which turned into a slightly higher effort outing. But I knew I had the next day off from running, so I didn’t worry about it.

Saturday was, once again, very hot and humid, so I took the progression run inside again. This was a horrible run. My stomach was a mess and my right hamstring felt very stiff. I ended up puttering along at 10:45 pace for 4 miles before I was able to pick things up ever so gradually and run the last few miles at a properly fast pace. Given how shitty I felt, I was tempted to abandon the workout, but remembered that if I don’t finish a week, I need to do it all over again. I didn’t want to be held back in what is the training equivalent of Kindergarten.

Besides training, it was an eventful week. For one thing, it was my first week as a non-IBMer in 7 years. That took some getting used to. I also updated Houston Hopefuls at long last. Then I worked on my first byline piece for Running Times, a profile of one of the masters runners who has already qualified for the 2012 Marathon Trials, Tamara Karrh. Originally I’d hoped to do a piece on the growth of masters participation in that race over the years, with Karrh as personification of this trend (but not the article’s centerpiece). But getting historical Trials data on short notice proved impossible, despite how annoying I made myself (in a friendly, grateful way) to the USATF. Fortunately, Karrh turned out to be a great interviewee, worthy of a profile focused on her alone. That will hit the newsstands/web in October (November issue).

This week is more of the same: track work (with Coach and stopwatch this time), a tempo run and more progression miles. I’ve been exploring the local trails, to save my legs by running on soft dirt, but also for a change of venue. I don’t actually have to be anywhere these days. I can drive to a trail. I can stop and look at other creatures’ homes. I can wander the aisles of Costco at 2:00 in the afternoon. I don’t feel a shred of anxiety over this current state of affairs. I have not felt this relaxed in decades.

Race Report: NYRR Mini 10K

This was my second Mini 10K, the last one having been 2008. I missed last year’s because I was too busy crying into my microbrews in Oregon after dropping out of the Newport Marathon at mile 18.

It was warm and humid this year, but not nearly as bad as it was in 2008. I’d say it was around 70F and the dewpoint was maybe in the low 60s. Not ideal, especially for a bad hot weather runner like me. But not disastrous either. It was also overcast for most of the race. This is about as good as you’re going to get in New York in June, so I was not complaining (for once).

This year was special for me because I got to meet so many of the elite runners yesterday, giving an extra dimension to my fandom today. Jonathan dropped me off at 72nd St around 8:00, an hour pre-race. I had no trouble getting my bib and I was able to do a leisurely warmup: .8 miles very easy followed by 5 100m strides at just below race pace. Along the way I spotted Benita Willis doing some easy running alone, Emily Chebet jogging along with her coach and another runner who I didn’t recognize, but she was a skinny Kenyan and obviously A Somebody. After the speedy bits, I adjusted my laces, did some dynamic stretches, downed a gel and some water, and I was ready to rock.

I had a blue bib for this race, first corral, a number in the 600s (they number the various corral bibs by last name). Getting up to it from Central Park South, where I did my warmup, was a challenge, but I plowed through the crowd and managed to arrive about 8 minutes before start. Corral 1 was crowded, but people were in good spirits. I saw a contingent of New York Harriers ahead of me but didn’t feel like expending a lot of energy by introducing myself and being social (how unlike me). So I hung back anonymously and waited for the festivities to begin.

The elites were introduced, with three brought up to the stage: Goucher (who decided not to run, although blew the horn to get us going and was at the finish holding one end of the tape, with Kathrine Switzer holding the other), Radcliffe and Kiplagat. Goucher and Radcliffe’s pre-race comments weren’t memorable. But Kiplagat’s were dry enough to be a Bond martini. She deadpanned (and I’m paraphrasing): “Everybody have a good time today. Don’t run the first miles too fast. Whether you’re first or last, you’re a winner.”

A few photos follow (thank you, Ellen).

Photo courtesy Ellen Jovin

Winners, all. This photo reminds me of a Manet painting for some reason. Is life imitating art?

Or is art imitating life?

My pacing plan was as follows: 7:10, 7:10, 6:50, 7:30, and the last 2+ miles were whatever my legs could manage. I have yet to have nailed either the 10K as a distance or on this course in particular. I have a history of running too hard in the first three miles. Then mile four, which is slow for everyone because of the Harlem Hills, does me in and the last two miles are a slog. I did not want to repeat that pattern today, so I paced the early miles so the first two felt easy. No going out at 6:30 was allowed.

As it turns out, I still haven’t nailed this course, but I’m getting closer. My splits were: 7:08, 7:04, 6:58, 7:37, 6:52, 7:09, last .39 (ran long) at 6:41 pace.

Mile 1 felt way too easy. I kept telling myself that it was supposed to feel easy and to just be patient for once. 7:08 was close enough. I spotted Jonathan somewhere into Mile 2, after we’d turned into the park at 90th St. I had plenty of energy at this point, more than enough to wave and say hello.

Mile 2 still felt way too easy, so I pushed things a little, but not too much. Maybe that was a mistake. 7:04. Whatever. What’s 6 seconds?

Mile 3 has a big, gradual downhill followed by the first big Harlem hill. I was flying at 6:30 for the first part of the mile and I felt fine, so I went with it. I knew the humidity was going to slow me down later in the race, not to mention the big hill that was rapidly filling my field of vision, so I ran by feel and didn’t worry about pace. 6:58.

Mile 4 is the bastard on this course. A huge, long hill follows the 5K mark. You wind up around it, past the Lasker pool/rink and Harlem Meer, and you’re still running up and up and up as you approach the 102nd St. transverse. Then you have a flat bit that if you’re smart you use to recover since you’ll be heading back uphill very soon. It’s draining as hell, and if you’ve spent too much energy in the first 5K, this mile will destroy your speed for the remainder of the race. It is what always happens to me. 7:37. Slower than I wanted, but not a meltdown.

Mile 5 was exactly what I wanted it to be. I wanted to be passing lots of people during this mile. And I was. I felt really good during this mile and that good feeling led to some extravagance that I paid for later on. 6:52. Jonathan told me that news of the elite race was being relayed to the finish and Linet Masai also had an extravagant mile 5, dipping well under a 5:00 pace. She was on course record time then. But, alas, her legs couldn’t hold that effort and speed any more than I mine could (relatively speaking — very relatively). As I crested Cat Hill, which I flew down, I passed two guys holding a Swedish flag, looking intently for (presumably) a Swedish lady friend runner. “Go, Sweden!” I yelled and they replied, fists up, “Yay!” First laugh of the race.

Heading into Mile 6 I passed Tavia, who shrieked (she’s very outgoing), “Julie!” [pause] “It’s Tavia!” For some reason, I found her comedic timing to be both brilliant and hilarious. This gave me laugh #2. Well, of course it’s Tavia! Her voice and enthusiasm are unmistakable!

At the 5.5 mile mark I was surprised to spot Benita Willis again, spectating right there on the course. There seemed to be a momentary flash of recognition, although I think I probably looked considerably more relaxed and attractive yesterday when I was sipping water and asking dumb questions than I did as I struggled past her toward the “800m to go” marker. So I was probably imagining things. I was verging on oxygen debt and developing a side stitch, so didn’t dare run faster. 7:09. Ouch. I knew I wasn’t hitting sub-7:00 that mile, but the readout hurt to see.

The last bit I managed at a 6:41 pace. Perhaps I’d been too conservative earlier on, but based on mile 6 I don’t think so. Nevertheless, I was happy that I could run that fast at the end. But I know I have homework to do as far as figuring out that last mile on this course.

Official time: 45:18. That’s 36 seconds faster than 2008 time. This was also my first club points race. As I’d hoped, I managed to contribute points to the Harriers 40+ women’s team, placing 2nd after the club’s masters rock star, Stephanie Hodge, (big gap in time there) and helping to put us into seventh place for this race.

Photo courtesy Ellen Jovin

Masai wins! I picked the wrong Kenyan for the win (Chebet), but at least I picked the correct runner's African country of origin (out of two).

Mini 10K wardrobe plans

For anyone interested, tomorrow I will be racing the Mini 10K sporting black shorts, an Orangina-colored shirt, Asics Hyperspeed 3s and a stern expression. Maybe also sunglasses, although I don’t like wearing them when it’s too hot because my nose gets all sweaty and then irritated by salt (TMI?).

I spent most of the morning talking to the Mini 10K elites. They included:

  • Kara Goucher
  • Paula Radcliffe
  • Lornah Kiplagat
  • Magda Lewy-Boulet
  • Emily Chebet*
  • Benita Willis
  • Kim Smith
  • Adriana Pirtea

Somebody pinch me.

A preview: The highlights for me were Lewy-Boulet, who had a lot to say about fostering post-collegiate talent; Pirtea, a surprise showing who I didn’t research but got some great answers from in response to hastily improvised questions; Kiplagat, who as far as I’m concerned is the reigning Queen of Distance Running (or maybe Co-Queen with Catherine Ndereba) and who I could have spent all day asking questions of if she had let me.

Some news: Irina Mikitenko is out with a “back twinge” according to one of the NYRR media people. Too bad. I really wanted to ask her about compression socks, “good” vs. “bad” running form and other weighty matters.

I have no idea when I’ll get to post about this morning’s chats since tomorrow is a race and Sunday I need to get to work on my third Houston Hopefuls interview. And spend the morning shepharding Jonathan to and from a race in Connecticut. And some freelance work.

Then Monday I go back to my real job. And I have more freelance work starting next week. And then the Vermont Relay all next weekend.

Fucking hell. I have way too much to do.

Good luck to everyone racing tomorrow. I was excited about this race until I spoke to the elites this morning. Now I’m mega-excited. If you’re spectating, you’re in for quite a show. I am amazed at the depth of talent NYRR will have assembled on the starting line this year. Nice video with some history.

There will be a New York Harriers cheering section at Engineer’s Gate (90th and Fifth on the East Side) tomorrow. I don’t know what they have up their sleeves, but this tantalizingly cryptic message was posted to their message board this afternoon by one “tmk030″:

We have a special cheering approach planned for Saturday’s race that you don’t want to miss. While I can’t reveal the details because of the sensitive nature of the subject; this is one spectacle that you don’t want to miss. Meet us at the West 90th street entrance to the park right before 9:00 am on Saturday and participate in an event that will change the way Cheering is done for races in central park forever!

You’re going to like the way we cheer and I guarantee it!

* Who I think is more likely than not going to win, and I can say that because I’m not a real journalist but merely a journeywoman blogger.

New Houston Hopeful interview: Tammy Lifka

I published the second interview in the Houston Hopefuls series yesterday. Tammy Lifka trains in the Chicago area, has three young kids and uses high altitude simulation equipment, among other distinctions. It’s a long interview, but I think well worth the read, most notably for her perspective on pacing marathons, both as pacer and pacee.

For the full interview (with audio): Houston Hopefuls > Tammy Lifka

Houston (Hopefuls), we have lift off

My passion project is now live.

http://houstonhopefuls.com

I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know these impressive women as much as am.

I am working feverishly to get additional interviews up in the coming weeks. There is also a Facebook page. And I’ve got business cards on the way.

If you would like to promote this site, you are more than welcome to use the banner shown on this page in the upper right hand corner. Or I can make custom sizes to fit your site’s format.

Healthy Kidney 10K: The Front Runners

In which I gatecrash a function meant for actual journalists

Yesterday marked by first foray into something resembling running journalism. I joined Steve Lastoe, who founded and runs NYCruns.com at the Warwick Hotel in midtown, where we met with several members of the elite field for today’s Healthy Kidney 10K run for a series of interviews.

I should point out here and now that I am totally unqualified to interview anyone about anything. I have no journalism background whatsoever. But I know how to research people, ask questions and write about the answers. I’m already flailing down this road with my Houston Hopefuls project with completely unwarranted confidence. Why stop there? I figured I’d give this a whirl for the experience.

Anyone who knows me will note that I am somewhat shy and very soft-spoken. These are not helpful qualities for an aspiring journalist, a field that tends to favor aggressively nosey loudmouths. But sometimes it’s easier to do something new when you’ve got a clear role, and yesterday I had one. I just had to remember to relax, speak up, and hit “record” at the right time.

Steve (who’d I’d never met until five minutes before the conference) and I had collaborated via email on doing pre-conference research on most of the runners who were there. We ran out of time on others, including the winner of the race, Gebre Gebremariam. I’m sure if we’d done some handicapping that wouldn’t have happened, but live and learn.

Since I started following track and field seriously a few years ago, I’ve always found its lack of popularity hard to accept. But yesterday I saw the upside of such systemic indifference: namely, that a nobody like me can turn up at something like this, offer the lamest of explanations for my being there (“I’m a blogger and I thought it would be interesting to talk to these guys.”) and still be welcomed with coffee, pastries and, best of all, unfettered access to some of the world’s top male runners for well over two hours.

In which my suspicions about elite runners are all confirmed

By and large, most runners are friendly, down-to-earth individuals. That’s why I like them. And you know what? The elites are no different in this respect. These people didn’t know me from a bucket of rocks and yet they were still willing to sit there and answer my questions, more often than not offering up smart, articulate answers.

The highlights

I’ve got well over two hours of poor quality audio. I won’t inflict that on you, but I will pull out some of the highlights from yesterday. As previously noted, I didn’t speak with the man who would go on to win the race, Gebremariam. But the five others more than made up for that lapse. My time talking with a sixth, Khalid Khannouchi — and his wife, Sandra, (who is also his coach and agent) — warrants its own post, which I’ll put up soon.

Peter Kamais (Kenya)
Kamais, 33, won the NYC Half in March by quite a wide margin. He also placed fifth in the highly competitive World’s Best 10K this year, which is always run in horribly hot and humid conditions in Puerto Rico. His time there was 27:54. This is important to note because today’s race featured a $20,000 bonus to the man who could not only win but also break the course record of 27:48. He has run 27:09 on a flat course (Tilburg, Holland in 2009). That was on the road, not the track. In other words, this man has invisible wings on his feet.

Get to know him:

  • Kamais is self coached and has always been self coached. He trains with a group in Iten, Kenya and runs with others much of the time, but he plans out his training and runs his own paces when he needs to.
  • He says he makes adjustments to his training often, based on how he feels from day to day. He does not push things on days when he’s not feeling up to doing a hard workout.
  • He loves racing hills.
  • When asked who he felt was the biggest threat in this race, he said it was Boaz Cheboiywo. But I suspect he may have said that because the man who would ultimately win today (and break the course record), Gebre Gebremariam, was sitting a few feet away within earshot.
  • His goal for the Healthy Kidney race this year was 27:45. More on that below.
  • He’s going to start training for his first marathon in August. He’s not sure which one he wants to choose as his debut race.
  • When I asked him which Kenyan marathoner he felt would be his biggest rival — the person he wanted to beat at that distance — he told us it was Paul Tergat.

Quote:
“If you’re going to run the marathon, you have to run more miles.”

Place, time, pace today:
2nd, 27:49 (4:29)

I did a run in the opposite direction so I could spot the elites (and others I knew who were running) in the early miles, then be at the finish line for the race’s conclusion. I saw the elites come through just shy of the 1.5 mark and Kamais was in the lead, but barely. Gebremariam was one step behind him and Kamais kept looking back at him.

I gather that most of the race unfolded in this fashion, with Gebremariam then making a break past the five mile mark. He came in at 27:42, besting Tadese Tola’s 27:48 and securing a $20,000 bonus. Kamais shut down in the last few strides and jogged through in 27:49. Had he not done that, he could have beaten the 2009 record, but not the 2010 time. And that was all that mattered this morning.

Collis Birmingham (Australia)
Birmingham, 25, has raced once before in New York at the 2009 Fifth Avenue Mile, where he ran 3:53.9. He represented his country in the 5K in Beijing. He’s run a 27:29 for 10K on the track, which is the current national record. He, along with his colleague, Ben St. Lawrence (below), are gearing up for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India in the fall. He considers himself a specialist at the 5K distance.

Get to know him:

  • At the Penn relays, in which he was running the first leg (1200m), Birmingham lost his shoe in the first 200. He finished the leg in 2:54.9 but then had to take a week off because he’d completely torn up his foot in the process.
  • He trains for approximately 10 weeks a year in Falls Creek, Victoria, at altitude. He’s also training in Laguna, California, near San Diego, which is at about the same altitude: roughly 6000 ft.
  • He’ll be doing the 5K at the Prefontaine Classic this summer.
  • Birmingham ran at university after a short period as an apprentice carpenter. Now he wishes he’d taken the opportunity to run for a university in the States to take advantage of the collegiate system, which is stronger in terms of runner support than what’s available from Australian universities.
  • Birmingham has gotten some help from the Victorian Institute of Sport, which offers physical services such as massage. Otherwise, as in this country, athletes are on their own to make a living aside from whatever sponsorship they can secure from shoe companies.

Quote:
“We’re not afraid of the hills.”

Place, time, pace today:
14th, 29:16 (4:43)

Ben St. Lawrence (Australia)
St. Lawrence, 28, also considers himself a 5K specialist, although he was 2nd in the Australian 10K championships last year. He ran 13:25.9 at Mt. SAC last year as well as 28:05.8 on the track, also last year.

Get to know him:

  • Upcoming races include the 3K in Ostrava, Czech Republic (his debut European race), followed by 5Ks in France and Sweden.
  • St. Lawrence ran while at university, but then decided to take a year off. That year turned into 5+ years. He got back into the game about four years ago.
  • He works full-time for ING in the HR department. The company has given him 10 weeks vacation this year to accommodate his racing schedule.
  • Does a fair amount of training on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). He enjoys trail running and says he could be interested in doing a trail race or ultra marathon, but the race season for that conflicts with the Australian track season, so he hasn’t pursued it.

Quotes:
On why he got back into competitive running:
“I guess to start with, it was just to get fit and healthy again. And then I was actually a spectator at our last Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and saw a few Aussies out there running and just decided that I’d rather be out there running than sitting in the stands spectating.”

On whether they ever see wild animals on the PCT:
“You see a few coyotes. And turkeys. Sometimes we’re a little worried about the turkey hunters.” [Pauses in a moment of reflection.] We don’t look like turkeys.”

Place, time, pace today:
7th, 28:36 (4:36)

Bobby Curtis (USA)
Curtis, 25, was the 2008 NCAA 5K champion and has placed well at the World Cross Country Championships (37th in 2009 and 48th this year), considering the formidable competition from Kenya and Ethiopia. He hit his personal best at the 10K (27:33.4) just two weeks ago on the track at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational at Stanford.

Get to know him:

  • Thinks that running can potentially offer greater financial success than other, more traditional avenues might. If it doesn’t go well, he still considers that he’d have gotten an enriching experience from the competition and travel.
  • Has a master’s degree in public policy from William & Mary. He’ll probably go into finance, having gotten a job offer in that area, should pro running not prove lucrative enough. But he also hopes to make contacts in running and do something with that professionally when he’s done racing competitively.
  • He was realistic about his chances in the race today, acknowledging that the pace guys like Kamais would likely set would have him running outside of his current capabilities.
  • In terms of his future racing “wish list” he thinks perhaps a NYC marathon might be in his future, along with some Diamond League meets and perhaps the Great Ethiopia Run where “shopkeepers in Ethiopia run something like 27:50.”

Quote:
When asked about Josh Cox doing Comrades and whether he considers taking on an ultra race:
“I guess if you’re into something like that, that’s the best race to do it. It’s a very prestigious race. Best of luck to him. But you’ll never see me out there.”

Place, time, pace today:
22nd, 30:39 (4:56)

Patrick Smyth (USA)
Smyth, 23, bears a striking resemblance to Adam Ant (without the makeup) and is probably too young to know who Adam Ant is. His track 10K PR is 28:25.9. He placed 2nd in the USA Half Marathon championships in January with a time of 1:02:01. He trains with Team USA Minnesota/Nike.

Get to know him:

  • Smyth felt like an underdog in college and continues to feel that way. His focus is now on making a name for himself by, as he put it, “surprising people in road races.”
  • He loves the half marathon distance and wants to move up to the full marathon distance, as that’s where he feels his future is.
  • Didn’t get signed on for sponsorship out of college, so he was all set to start grad school in Chicago for a master’s in social sciences, with a focus on history. Then he started to flourish in road races last fall and has ended up deferring entry in that program until such time as it becomes obvious that professional running isn’t going to work out. So far, that hasn’t happened.
  • He’s making a living, much of it off of the US road championships (20K, 10 mile, etc.). It keeps him on the radar and keeps the money coming in. But he also can’t pick and choose. He has to compete and try to win money in order to stay afloat; that means sometimes making compromises in terms of how he’d ideally like to lay out a training cycle.
  • Smyth leaves Minnesota in the winter for the friendlier climes of Albuquerque. He has trained at altitude for the past three years and says he’s seen the difference it makes.
  • He enjoyed the NYRR Emerald Nuts run on New Year’s Eve, despite the bad weather, noting the novelty of racing with fireworks going off overhead. Although it was odd to wait around all day to race at midnight and presented logistical challenges, such as figuring out when to eat.

Quote:
When asked about the sudden drop in 10K times amongst Americans like Dathan Ritzenhein and Chris Solinksy and whether it’s changed his outlook on what he can do:
“It’s really more what I have to do to get to that level. That race (Solinsky’s 26:59.6 at Payton Jordan) really kind of objectified where you need to be to be in the mix of guys who are going to make an Olympic team or a World Championship team. So now I’ve got to just set about getting there.”

Place, time, pace today:
12th, 29:03 (4:41)

[Edited: I promised a Khannouchi profile this weekend as well, but I'm going to take some time with that one, so it could be another week or so before I post about him. For now, I'm back to working on my interviews project for the women's 2012 trials.]

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