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

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