A few minutes with Adriana Pirtea

Adriana Pirtea, 29, was a surprise showing at the Mini 10K press event. She wasn’t on the roster, so I hadn’t researched her. But I knew three things about her: she’s originally from Romania, she lives and trains in Colorado (Fort Collins), and she was nipped in the last 50 meters by Berhane Adere at the 2007 Chicago Marathon, where Pirtea’s mistake was celebrating her win too early at what, up until that moment, had been a dream debut at the distance. Since dredging up a bad memory is a terrible way to get someone to open up to you, I decided to not mention Chicago (even though I was dying to). Instead, I decided try out some of the more oddball questions I had, to see what I’d get. One piece of exciting news: Pirtea is going to become a US citizen in November, so we’ll have another very fast import soon.

10th, London 2008, with a 2:28.

What do you think about when you’re racing?
Many things. When you’re in a race, you know how you’ve prepared and what kind of speed you want to go. If you’re thinking about the marathon, then it’s a long way. I actually have almost no time to think of anything else but just to keep myself in the rhythm.

So you’re in the moment when you’re running.
Yes. I just watch my competitors. If I struggle a little bit, I try to come back. If I go too fast, just go back in the rhythm so I don’t waste my energy too much. That’s kind of it. It’s almost like you think too much of the race over the moment. People say, “Do you think of everything you’ve done in your life in the marathon?” It’s not like that. It’s just keeping your body motivated and being able to keep the pace up to the end of the race.

Are you breaking the race up into different sections, or are you running mile by mile?
You know, it depends. A couple races were such a tactical race, very slow. Sometimes you feel very fit and trained. This might be a mistake, to stay at a slow pace. It happened to me a couple of times, and I blamed myself. Why didn’t I go faster, to make my own pace? But sometimes a race can be a fartlek, where people try to get rid of the other ones. Most of the time, it’s a good race if — like Magdalena [in Rotterdam] — you can be pretty steady all the time, if possible.

When did you start running in Romania?
I was 17 years old when I started running. I started improving very quickly and I got a chance to get a scholarship to run here [for University of Texas, El Paso] just a few years after I started running.

Did you specialize in a certain distance when you first started?
I kind of jumped from one to another one, because that’s the way the championships were going there. So I’d be running 1500 or 3000 indoor and then a half marathon and then 5000. So all over.

Do you have a favorite?
I have a favorite when I run well.

It’s funny how that happens.
Yes. Because I did my debut a couple years ago in the marathon. It was a great marathon for me. And so I liked it that day. A year later, when I didn’t do too well — don’t ask me, because I was like, “This is not for me.” But everybody’s saying, “This is for you. You have to go for the marathon.” I used to love being on the track sometimes, and right now [I'm] losing the speed. So I have to stick with the marathon and half marathon right now, because that’s probably where I can perform better.

If you couldn’t be a runner, do you have other things you’d like to do?
I think I just love running. Before I started running, I was a dancer. I was dancing for my school. That was a really cool thing. I started running because my teammate had to lose some weight. She was about to get kicked off the team. So I said, “I’m going with you. We’re going to go run, you’re going to lose weight, and you’re going to be back there.” When I took her there, she didn’t want to run. She was embarrassed.

So my dad talked to the coach and he’s like, “Okay, you have to run now.” And so I just glued to the group of guys and stayed with them and I was so relaxed. And they were saying, “Slow down…” and I was like, “No, I feel good.” At the second training session they said, “Uh, we have a cross country race in two weeks. Do you want to run it?” It was a short distance, only 1500 meters. And I was like, “Okay, I’m running.” And I won the race so easily. And they said, “You have to stay in this sport.” And I said, “Okay, I’m staying.”

I think that’s called “destiny.”
Yes, I think so too.

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.

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.

The state of the sport

MarathonGuide.com has come out with its annual review of US marathon statistics. It’s all here: biggest races, AG participation, finishing times and trends, trends, trends.

I can summarize with something you did know — and something you probably didn’t know: Marathons are getting bigger. But did you know that marathoners (meaning the average Janes and Joes) are getting faster? I did not know this.

Elite Blog: Ian and Julia

Ewen from Down Under recently pointed me to a newish elite blog, hosted by married elites Ian Dobson and Julia Lucas. Only upon visiting the blog (many weeks later — sorry, Ewen) did I realize that I was rubbing elbows with these two when I gatecrashed the Emerald Nuts Midnight Run elite tent on New Year’s Eve.

Well, dang. These two are just plain adorable. Their blog is pretty good too.

Two Angry Runners

Two Angry Runners is to running news what The Onion is to mainstream news. If you spend any time on LetsRun.com, know who Jen Rhines and Terrence Mahon are, or the phrase “Now go down to your local high school track and try that!” means anything to you, then you’ll want to visit this site often.

Facebook side dishes

If you haven’t yet friended me on Facebook, then you’re missing a lot. I tend to post things there that are too ephemeral to warrant a post on this blog. They might be links to articles, interviews of note, links to notable discussion threads, or weird things that break up the day. Here are just a few of the things you missed just in the past few days by not being my friend:

A sendup of the “motivations” people post to one another on DailyMile.com

A link to an article and video about the New Bedford Half Marathon. I love how reporters for these things never do any research. The interviewer has no fucking clue who Kim Smith is. Last year it was the interviewer getting Kara Goucher’s first name wrong at Boston.

A glimpse into my growing obsession with women’s roller derby.

Some of most idiotic threads I can find on LetsRun.com.

Ridiculous images, stolen from others.

Funny comics and other things.

Photos of mass destruction.

You don’t have enough ways to waste your time. Let me fill that need. Friend me today!

Posts I wish I’d written

Sometimes I stumble over a blog post that I envy for how well the author has captured some aspect of running. In this case, our runner lines up for a race in foul conditions and “just wants a good workout.” Then, some internal shift occurs and, despite numerous distractions, she ends up racing the thing like her life depends on it.

Bravo, Angry Runner.

I think I’ll make this a new series, like Google search oddities.

Fear and loathing in Buffalo

I like to research potential marathons on MarathonGuide.com. It’s hard to know what to make of a race when the reviews fall on the extremes of the spectrum. But, in the case of the Buffalo Marathon at least, it can make for some pretty entertaining reading.

Ann Onymous from Rochester, NY writes:
“I signed up for a large shirt; to me, this is an implied contract – I sign up ahead AND PAY MONEY and I get a race and a large shirt (unless I show up last-minute). A t-shirt is not that big a deal (well, on second thought it is – I trained long and hard all winter for this race; it would be nice to have something to show for it, like the women in my group who got shirts). How this has been handled is an issue reflective of the race management – poor. And while I’m on my soap box…. Maybe have a few more than the dozen or so porta-johns for the 2,300 racers at the start area – I’ve not seen as much public urination in my life (well maybe except for the Boilermaker in Utica – but that doesn’t start in a downtown city area).”

I don’t get why people get so outraged about race tee shirts, either when there are only large ones left or none left. I don’t even take shirts anymore since I have so many of them clogging my drawers. If you finish a marathon, you’ve got something to show for it: your finishing time, your bragging rights and your memories. You’ll usually get a cheesey little medal too. As for public urination, she ain’t seen nothin’ until she’s come to New York, Boston or Chicago.

S.N. from West Yorks, England whines:
“The course itself is flat and fast, but crowd support is spread out – there are long periods with very little support, although there are pockets of strong support to lift you.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake. Do your research. You’re running in Buffalo. Buffalo! If you want big crowds, run in West Yorks. Or better yet, Shitterton.

L.W. from Washington, DC reports:
“The course was 0.3 miles too long according to my GPS system (and my husband’s) – even in the first five miles. A third of a mile wreaks havoc on your pace when you’re shooting to complete the race before being asked to move to the sidewalk.”

A GPS reporting .3 miles extra for a marathon is actually very good, considering that it’s nearly impossible to run every single tangent perfectly. More important, how can a course be “too long” in the first five miles? I think my head is going to explode.

J.C. from Pittsburgh exhorts:
“The women runner’s were phenomenal. I was with a group running 8:05’s to 8:15’s that strung me along. Another important rating for this course, all the women runners were 5 stars and some are even good runners!!!”

Oink.

And, finally, there’s this screed that sounds like something out of The Daily Worker. The inscrutably named “m. g. from Parkside with my wage freeze! On ice..” writes, somewhat bafflingly:
“My running partner got hit up for change at mile 25 from some panhandler dude!REALLY! Last bummer: all that was left were loaves of bread and some off-brand diet pop for my post-race party… BREAD AND WATER! HMMM, like I said, the Control Board MUST now have taken over our local road races as well as the economic freedom of the working class! When you see them at the Corporate Challenge in their HUGE tents with catered food and limo service, wave and say hello!”

Will I run Buffalo? I have no fucking idea.

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