Transcript of interview with Glen Redpath during Episode 12 (July 25, 2013)
C259: Glen arrived back in New York today from sunny California. I’m sure you didn’t get sick of the sunshine during Badwater, did you Glen?
Glen: No not at all.
C259: Glen, why don’t you give us a bit of a race report. High point of the race? Low point of the race? Tell us about it.
Glen: It’s such a hike when you actually get there, and you are at the starting line, and you look around, and most of the Badwater runners are celebrities. They’ve written books, they’ve set Guinness Book of World Records, they’ve done things. Some of them are CEOs. It’s sort of a media circus right from the get-go. Early on I was running with David Goggins and I was running with Dean Karnazes and it was kind of cool, it was neat to be around there and there were a lot of people snapping photos and stuff. It’s really hyped a lot. I think that whole beginning and running with those guys is a high point, and the final high point is always the finish. When you cross that line and you are at Whitney Portal, it is just so pretty and beautiful and you are just so happy to be done.
As far as low points, you don’t realize how how hot it is until you are in to it. At ten or 15 miles, all of a sudden that heat starts baking. You feel like a roast, cooking from the inside out, it’s just insane. When we pass mile 42 at Stovepipe and we started running up to Towne’s Pass, there’s this head wind. People talked about it, but once I felt it, it literally feels like a hair dryer, one of those super huge hair dryers blowing in your face. It’s just pushing you down, and you are thinking about running and you don’t even want to walk. I pushed up that 5,000 foot climb, and when I got close to the top, one of my crew members said you should probably take in some calories because you are going to be running downhill. I quickly ate one of those Mojo Cliff Bars, popped in some salt tablets, and then he said you probably should take some caffeine now because it’s getting dark. I drank half a can of Coke. I walked away from the van and within 30 seconds it all came back. I was just wobbling on the side of the road, and was like “Oh my God, all those calories are gone.” Made it to the top and then I started running, but that was definitely a low point for me.
C259: About what mile mark was that?
Glen: Probably about 57, 58. I wasn’t even half way.
C259: It’s interesting that you were vomiting, and your concern is that you’ve lost the calories. I might be concerned that I’d keel over at the point, but it’s interesting how aware you have to be of the inputs and the outputs when you are running that thing.
Glen: You don’t want your stomach to close down on you, so I was thinking “Oh my God will I be able to take in more calories?” It became liquid calories for a long time.
C259: But you were able to keep everything down after that?
Glen: Yeah, not a problem. With the temperature going down that really helped. By the time we got to Towne’s Pass, it was close to midnight and it was about 77 degrees, so it really dropped as the sun went down and as the elevation went up.
C259: Did it ever get much colder? You had said in previous years that it had gotten into the mid-40s at some points.
Glen: Yeah, it didn’t get that low.
C259: We were surprised, we were tracking you the whole time on the website. You had talked about being an experienced ultra-marathoner and you take your time early on and that you tend to bag runners later in the race. But you went out – you were up there around 8th place at the first checkpoint?
Glen: I was just running my normal race, I wasn’t trying to race or pace, I was just running comfortably. We got to that first checkpoint and I was feeling fine. It was shortly after that that I realized my breathing, my heart rate was really spiking. I tried to slow the running down, and my pacer Ian Sharman basically said, Glen you need to walk. I was on this flat area and not really wanting to walk, but he’s telling me we should walk. I started to walk and I checked my heart rate and it was 145. It was the hottest part of the day, it was around 124 degrees, I’m walking, my heart rate is 145, and I want to slow down. I want to keep my heart rate low, and I can’t get it down.
C259: What was Ian’s cue? You say your heart rate was up, but was there something about the way you were moving or his experience that tipped him off?
Glen: I think he was listening to my breathing. I think he asked me what my heart rate was and I sort of told him.
Glen: He was just like, you are working way to hard, and it’s way to early. He kept saying over and over, “These guys are all going to come back. They are all going out way too hard.” He knew, he knew. He had been there the year before so he had an idea of what was going on. I was reluctant to do the walking but I did it and it definitely helped me later.
C259: It really paid off because you had one of the fastest if not the fastest segment at the end of the race.
Glen: Yeah. It’s funny because when I actually broke it down, I broke it into 45 mile sections, the first 45, the second 45, and the third 45. I was actually pretty even on all of them. I actually ran close to 10 hours for the first, 20 hours for the combination of the first two, and then 30 for all three. Tony [coach Tony Ruiz of Central Park Track Club] would be proud of that, the 10-10-10.
C259: So you were as high as eighth and may have been higher than that early on, then you dropped back to as low as 23rd, then you boomeranged right back and worked your way back through some legends of Badwater, including Dean Karnazes and Pam Reed. Tell us a bit about that part of the race where you started to pick people off.
Glen: Once I got over Towne’s Pass and I was running downhill and I got to the next big checkpoint at Panamint, it was nighttime and it had cooled off. It was down in the 70s, and that’s the kind of place that I like to run. The hills, I’m a climber and I actually do well in the hills. I caught most of them running up from Panamint up to Darwin, which is another 3,500 foot climb. You had asked when I passed Dean, I passed Dean in there somewhere, and he was literally chatting with a woman that he was running with, who ended up third overall, I think she was from North Carolina. I just kept on moving.
C259: So he wasn’t eating pizza, he was chatting. How aware were you of your time goal over the last several miles?
Glen: Well I hadn’t really thought about it. I just kept thinking get to the next checkpoint. When I got to Lone Pine I needed to sit down, because the second day it got hot again. Coming into Lone Pine it was 101 or 102, which seems cool compared to the 124, but it was still roasting me so I sat down and they put a 20 pound bag of ice in my lap. When I left I knew it was possible I could get under 30. When I hit the last checkpoint, they told me I had to run the last 4 miles in under an hour to break 30, and I still had a 3,000 foot climb in there, so I just put the pedal to the metal and tried to run most of it.
C259: At that stage is it some combination of exhaustion and euphoria? With just four miles left, even though it’s a big uphill, it must seem like not much when you’ve already done 131.
Glen: We’re talking three or four o’clock in the afternoon. The sun is still out, and there are people around so they can see what you are doing, but I’m pretty much locked into my head. I’m not really aware of everything else, I’m just trying to put one foot in front of another. At this point [my crew] are carrying my bottles. I’m not carrying anything. I’m just moving, trying to move as quickly as I can. I’d come around the corner and my crew would be there. I had them meet me every half mile during the daylight and when it was hot. You are out there, you are alone, and they’re your cheering support, they were spraying me with ice water, as much as I needed to keep my body cool. They had these plant sprayers, industrial sized ones, and I’d come around and they’d just squirt me on the arms, and the head, and the torso to keep me cool. That’s the only way to do it, is the ice water. No one could do this without a crew. The crew is the key component to everybody running these things.
C259: What was the biggest surprise of the race? You were spot on with your goal, you’ve done lots of long runs before, though never Badwater. Was there anything that caught you off guard or surprised you in the race?
Glen: In that one section early on, when I was walking and not having a good time, there was an Australian runner who was behind me. He caught up to me, and we chatted with him. He actually got in front of us and he stopped and he walked. We matched his stride, stride-for-stride. After a minute he started running again. I watched him and I was enamored with the fact that he had this really efficient walking stride, and he wasn’t that fast but he just really was tenacious and kept on moving. That fella [Grant Maughan] ended up running through the field as well, and he finished second. When he caught me he was probably in 15th. He was just really really efficient and tenacious and kept moving. Later I found out that even though he was an Australian runner, he was being privately coached by Lisa Smith-Batchen, who is a five or six-time finisher of Badwater, so he really got all the tips and tricks and he figured them all out way in advance. A veteran runner at Badwater has a huge advantage over the rookies, because the rookies just don’t know what they are in for.
C259: That begs the question: You did so well as a rookie, does that mean you are going to come back?
Glen: I know I could do a couple of hours faster, but it’s not my event. This was a stretch for me. I’m more of a trail ultra specialist. I don’t mind the climbs, but there was a lot of pavement. Guys, I mean 135 miles of asphalt, it was long and it was hard. I’d love to go back. I’d love to go back and pace and crew, but there are other challenges out there for me. It was a big time commitment and financial commitment as well to do Badwater. I don’t regret it, it was a great experience, but I don’t think I’m going to go back and do it again.
C259: You are not afraid of the heat, so I guess given how well you performed in the heat, a long trail run in a really hot climate would suit you just right.
Glen: There’s one in Morocco you may have heard of.
C259: Through the desert? Marathon des Sables?
Glen: Yeah, it interests me.
C259: You’ll have to come on the show before you run that one.
Glen: Would love to. You know about that one?
C259: A week long race through the desert?
Glen: Yeah, it’s a 160-mile event through the desert, in stages. You are self-sufficient, so you have to carry all your own gear.
C259: And no crew.
Glen: No crew. That’s the thing about Badwater. You rely on your crew, but they really have to love you. It’s a tough chore to ask people to come out there and be a part of. If your day is not on, and you’re doing a lot of nasty ugly things, that second day can get nasty.
C259: Well Glen we were totally inspired. Thank you for doing that race. It helped me get through two extremely hot lunch runs, it was very hot here in New York too at the time, and there was no excuse not to go out and pound the pavement for one hour, knowing that you were doing it for thirty. It was very inspirational. Gregg and I were watching, and it was an interesting experience in itself to try to track Badwater purely from the Internet.
Glen: There’s really no Internet service out there. It’s really the desert, you are nowhere near a town until mile 122, so they were trying to do different little things but it was hard, so I thank you guys for trying to follow!
C259: All in all, big picture I think it worked out alright. There were a lot of complaints because the site wasn’t updating at various stages during the race, particularly towards the end of the race, and of course people were worried sick about their loved ones because they were out in the desert running 135 miles, but all in all, given the limitations, I think the organizers did a pretty good job of keeping people in the loop. We were able to track you, and it made for one or two interesting days at work.
Glen: That’s the beauty of a Monday/Tuesday event versus a Saturday/Sunday event.
C259: When are we going to see you in practice Glen?
Glen: Next Thursday I’ll be there.
C259: Oh fantastic, look at that. How about club champs? Can you jump in the club champs?
Glen: No no no. No turnover. Five miles, that’s short. I’m as slow as a turtle.
C259: You can run it in the Badwater suit, so people will know.
Full transcript of interview with Glen Redpath (July 8, 2013):
C259: Glen Redpath, welcome to the Cloud.
Glen: Hey guys, thanks for having me.
C259: Thanks so much for joining us, Glen. First off, we understand that in training for this you’ve been spending a lot of time in the sauna.
Glen: Yeah, it’s part of the heat training. When I looked at the temperatures last year, I just realized that I’ve got to do more training in the sauna. I’ve done well in the heat in the past. In New York, in late June and early July it’s been really hot here, so it’s easy just to get out and experience the heat, but you have to let your body adapt, and it takes a good three to four weeks to really acclimate to the heat.
C259: Last year at the Spartathlon, temperatures were in the 90s, now the forecast has the temps in the 120s for Badwater. How do you prepare for that? Are you spending an hour a day in the sauna, after a run? What does the training look like for something like this?
Glen: For Spartathlon last year it was really humid, and I don’t think I was as prepared because they typically had been getting in the 80s, so when it hit the mid to high 90s it was kind of a fluke and it caught a lot of people off guard. The Spartathlon last year there was over 350 starters and only 72 people finished, so it was quite a low finishing rate. This year, with Badwater, it’s dry, it’s a different kind of heat. It’s more typical of a sauna, a sauna is typically drier. In the early part of May and June I actually started my training by doing Bikram Yoga. The Bikram Yoga was just so humid in there, I was really struggling. The Bikram Yoga classes are 90 minutes, so you’re in there, and you’re doing these poses, and you’re there for 90 minutes. I would drip drip drip, and I had a liter of water with me and I would sip on it from time to time and that got me started on my heat training for Badwater. After my 30-day membership ran out I decided not to renew it and I decided to put more time and effort into sauna training. Pretty much I’ve been going every day, and I’ve been maxing out at 40 minutes. I don’t think I need more than that because at the end of 40 minutes I’m dripping pretty good. I’m not really doing anything in the sauna other than stretching. I see people jogging in the sauna – not here at the sauna where I go to – but I’ve heard of other people jogging in saunas or taking their treadmills in saunas or bikes, and you know, stretching is fine for me.
C259: Are you going right from a run into the sauna, or running right after the sauna, or does that not matter?
Glen: In the beginning I was doing that, but as it goes on I try to do the run in the morning and the sauna in the evening. I try to mix it up.
C259: And how about mileage? This is something I’ve never been able to wrap my head around, how you prepare to run a race of over 100 miles. Elite marathoners run, say, 120-140+ miles a week, but an elite ultramarathoner?
Glen: I’ve been maxing out at 100. In past years I’ve done more than 100, but with all the other things I’m trying to incorporate like the sauna training, it’s taking time away from my running. I’m only getting maximum 100 miles a week, and I’m pretty much getting a lot of it on the weekends. During the week from Monday to Friday I’ve been trying to get in 10 or so a day and then on the weekends, get more. Funny thing, I haven’t seen you guys for awhile because I’ve been avoiding the Central Park workouts, just because I felt the speed was too much for me. I’ve backed off the speed and tried to slow it down, which is a hard thing to do, but the winners of Badwater are running about 12 minutes a mile for all 135.
C259: What’s the longest run you’ve done in preparation for this one?
Glen: Well the other thing I incorporate is hikes. I do a lot of fast packing, where I hike fast. This past weekend I was out at the Delaware Water Gap and I did a 41 miler. There was a small group of us, we started at High Point in New Jersey and we hiked all the way to the Delaware Water Gap on the AT. There’s a few hills there, so I get some hill training in there. I’m just walking really fast, trying to move. This weekend it was probably 88 or 89 degrees out there and fairly humid, so I’m not just moving fast on my feet, I’m also acclimating somewhat to the heat.
C259: You do a long hike on Saturday and try going long on Sunday as well?
Glen: Yeah, so the next day I did a 20 miler, just real easy, and when I say easy I mean 8.5/9 minutes a mile. That’s my comfort zone, I think my body really likes running 8.5/9 minutes per mile. When I’ve done that on tired legs, when I do 100, it’s a lot easier when I’ve actually rested, so I can put lots of miles back-to-back-to-back at nine minute pace.
C259: This kind of training is very different from marathon training, would you say that’s true?
Glen: Well, the other thing is that we’re talking time on feet, so you have to adapt to eating and drinking. You have to learn how to take in calories while you are moving. When you’re running a marathon, it’s all about speed and getting your mile splits down and trying to be as light as possible. Whereas sometimes I’m trying to be a little heavy going into a longer run because I know I’m going to be depleted as I go on.
C259: But in this race you are going to have a crew, you don’t have to take everything on your back.
Glen: No, exactly. That’s what’s unique about this. It’s in a national park, it’s beautiful, it’s Death Valley, but it happens to be hot. There are no aid stations. There are six checkpoints where they check your time, but there is no aid. You provide your own. So you have to have a minimum of two and a maximum of six. And you’re allowed up to two vehicles, so if you have some people who want to go off and sleep, they can go off. Basically, your crew travels along and meets you every mile or two down the road. They are never that far away from you, so they can always check you out. Really, the hardest part of this race is the first 42 miles because it’s all in that Death Valley lowland. After 42 miles you are going uphill and you are getting out of the valley and you are getting into another area of the park. Once you are at altitude, temperatures can drop down to 85.
C259: So once you’re done with the first 42 miles, the next 90 is just a piece of cake (laughter). Legend has it that runners use the white line of the road because it’s a little less hot than the dark parts of the road.
Glen: The pavement or the asphalt can be 10 or 20 degrees hotter than when they are taking the temperature underneath the trees. It’s actually hotter on the road, and if you are running right on the black asphalt, you can melt the back of your calves, because when it’s 120 it can be 140. You’re gonna see a lot of people wear the white suits, a lot of people wearing calf sleeves up their calves just trying to protect them from any kind of blistering or sunburn. So yeah, running on the white line, if that can reduce some of the temperature on your lower extremities that’s probably what I’ll be doing as well.
C259: Have you run any of the course before?
Glen: I drove it. I was out in San Diego for a conference in February, and I met up with my brother and we drove the course. We drove all the way to the Whitney Road, to Whitney Portal, and the last four miles were closed, because of snow. So we stopped the car and we ran to the finish in the snow.
C259: What were your impressions from driving it?
Glen: It’s really flat. In the beginning it’s really flat. It’s so stunning, it’s such a beautiful area. The sand dunes are pretty. The Alabama Hills are all red before you hit the Whitney section. It’s just stunning, it’s a really pretty area, and it’s really not a place to go in the summer, but in the winter I think it’s stunning, I think everybody should take a trip out to Death Valley at some point. It’s a unique landscape. The course itself it’s on a road. I much prefer a trail, I’m more of a trail specialist than a road specialist, but I’m happy to be out doing something that’s long and that’s interesting. It’ll be a good experience I think all around.
C259: We talked a bit about a crew, 2-6 people. Tell us a bit about your crew. Who are you bringing, and are you bringing one or two cars?
Glen: I actually had a lot of different people interested in helping me out. It was really hard to figure out what I wanted to do as far as a makeup of a crew. In the end I thought you know what, I’m going out there and I want it to be as focused as possible. I really wanted a tight, small crew, so I cut it down to four. My brother has crewed for me before at Western States. And a good friend of mine Karl Hugland has also paced me at Western States. A friend of his, Kim Dunbar, she’s legendary actually, she actually once was pacing my friend Karl during the last seven miles at Western States, and it was a section that got dark. There was a bear on the trail, and Kim actually ran the bear off the trail and scared the bear up a tree. When I hear that story, I’m like “You’re on my team, you’re gonna be my crew chief.” So I’ve got those three, and then I thought I’d pull in the ace in the hole. I got a call from Ian Sharman, and he wanted to pace for me, and I said you know what, sure, I’d love to have you. If you don’t know who Ian Sharman is, he’s a younger fellow, he’s run 100 miler in twelve hours and forty minutes, and he was fourth this year at Western States, a real fast guy, I’m just happy to have him.
C259: So they allow pacing at the race?
Glen: Yeah, and you know what? Mule-ing is allowed. You don’t have to carry your bottles and stuff. You can have your pacer or crew carry your bottle and hand it back to you as you are moving along. At Western States, you are allowed to have a pacer for the last 38 miles, so from mile 62 to the finish you can have a pacer. At Badwater, you can have a pacer from mile 17 to the finish. Nobody really is going to run with another runner for that long. The pacers usually go for a mile or two, stop, and then throw in another runner for a mile or two, and then they stop. So there is some switching back and forth. When they’re not pacing they’re in the vehicle, in the air conditioning, drinking their Gatorade or their Slurpees.
C259: These pacers, are they there to set a pace or just to talk to? I imagine one way ultras differ from marathons is that you’re having more conversations, right?
Glen: Moral support, but also to keep you cool. A lot of people carry plant sprayers filled with ice, and they are just squirting you. You really need to keep your body temperature down. If your heart rate starts to go up too high, you’re gonna bonk at some point, and you really need to take time off. It’s all about being able to run at a lower cadence for a long time. To do that you gotta keep your core cool, and the way to keep it cool is ice, ice water, and just keep damp. I feel like I’m going to be pouring a lot of water over my head just to stay cool and to keep moving. In any ultra, there is always highs and always lows.
C259: The concerned mother in me wonders is there a temperature at which you would not run this race?
Glen: Well, the sauna training I’ve been doing is 190-200 [degrees]. Every time I go in there it’s 190-200. The world record is 134. I’m thinking if it’s starting to approach 130, there’s not going to be a reason to do this, but if it’s in the 120s, it’s been in the 120s in previous years.
C259: So it is actually close to the line at which you might not do it.
Glen: Yeah, but I think the race director would make that choice.
C259: And call off the race? Has that ever happened before?
Glen: Not at Badwater, but I’ve heard of road marathons that are cancelled just because the temperature reaches 90 or 100.
C259: I think there was one last year at Green Bay that was called off, something like 40 degrees colder than what you’ll be running in.
Glen: But honestly these athletes that are running Badwater, they’ve all trained for this. They’ve all put the time and effort in. They’ve all done their crazy turned on all the heat in their car, wear their winter clothes in the summer, trying to acclimate. People have done all kinds of different training methods to prepare for this, and I don’t think the average runner would do that for a marathon. We all know what we are signing up for is what I’m trying to say.
C259: In the documentary “Running on the Sun,” there’s a woman who hauls around a truck tire tied to her waist, and there’s a guy who goes into his basement – I think he lives in the northern U.S. where it’s not hot at all – and takes the duct out of his clothes dryer and sprays it on himself while he’s in his treadmill in his basement to get hot air. Have you been in touch with a lot of other competitors besides your team, sharing tips with the Badwater community?
Glen: Oh, totally. Everybody is pretty generous. There have been others that have shared tips. There’s actually a young guy, Jonathan Gunderson, he’s a 5-time finisher. He sent me a nice little link with a bunch of suggestions. One year when he was running and he was going up a hill, the temperature dropped at night to 46. I though oh my gosh, I didn’t think about bringing a long-sleeve shirt or gloves or something because it actually would be cool, I’d been thinking of the heat the whole time. Another thing he said is there can be a sandstorm, and it can get really windy, and sand can just blow right off the dunes and onto the road where you are running, so if you don’t have any kind of mask, you could be running straight into sandstorms. So just little things like that that I hadn’t thought of. I’ve got a mask now, I’ve got some warmer clothing. So I think all those little tips are going to help me be prepared, because I don’t think my crew might have thought of those things, I’ve got to be the one on top of all those little, little things.
C259: Have you got goals for the race in terms of time you want to run or place you want to finish?
Glen: The time cutoff is 48 hours, so my first goal is to finish, and my second goal is to break 30 hours. There are other runners in the race that I’ve either run with or been ahead of in 100 milers, so I feel like I have that ability to be either with them or ahead of them, and they’re in that sub-30-hour range. I think there’s only going to be about 10 runners who can break 30 hours.
C259: Yeah, exactly, in last year’s race 12 out of 96 broke 30. In fact, at 29 hours and 57 minutes was Dean Karnazes.
Glen: Ah ha ha, there we go.
C259: Go get him, Glen! Why don’t you just sit on his shoulder for 134.9 miles and then…
Glen: Wait until he sits for a slice of pizza. Yeah, it’s not that kind of a race. It’s all about having a good day and making sure that everything goes smoothly. If everything goes smoothly and I’m sub-30, then I should be in the top ten and probably ahead of Dean.
C259: I noticed in your Spartathlon write-up, you really worked your way through the field. There were a lot of dropouts but it seemed that you also passed a lot of runners along the way. If not a negative split in time, at least in runners passed, you worked your way through the race. Is that how you usually run these things, are you usually picking people off?
Glen: Oh definitely. Someone like me who’s been running and racing for so many years, it’s ingrained in me. It’s all about running smart. There’s no need to run somebody else’s race. You’ve just have to run your own race and take care of yourself. Make sure you are getting your nutrition and your hydration needs met, and you are just moving along, and good things happen.
C259: You also wrote that you ran the first 10 miles of the Spartathlon at 8 minute pace. Was the start really fast because temperatures were cool and it was the time of day to run fast, or what was going on there?
Glen: Oh definitely. People were super excited. We were starting at the Pantheon right there in the center of Athens. It was actually a bit of a downhill. People were just so rested, they all just wanted to go out. For me, eight minutes was really comfortable. If I had gone any slower than that, it might have been uncomfortable. So it was really comfortable, it was cool, and I just got into a nice groove. But as soon as we got around the bay and got closer to the water and the heat started to rise and the humidity started to rise, that’s when everybody started to slow down big time. That’s not going to happen at Badwater. We start at 10 AM, it’s already going to be 100, 107. I think a comfortable 8:30-9 minute pace is probably what we are going to start out at. I looked at Mike Morton’s time last year and he was amazing. He went out at seven minute pace, and I think he held that all the way to 42. Basically the first 42 is fairly flat, and then you turn out of Stovepipe Wells and it’s literally 17 miles, with 5,000 feet of uphill, so you are gaining 5,000 feet over 17 miles up to Town’s Pass, and then at Town’s Pass you start to head downhill and you are in the second canyon.
C259: But you are looking forward to the climb because it will cool you off.
Glen: Cool you off, and I think I’m actually more of a climber, if that makes any sense.
C259: Sure. Have you run with the guy who finished second last year, Oswaldo Lopez?
Glen: I ran a 50K against him almost ten years ago. We battled, we duked it out. We got beat, some other young guy beat us. Oswaldo was second, I was third. There was a bear on the course. I remember the bear. It was near Sequoia National Park. Before I moved to New York I lived in San Francisco, so I would go south and get some of those Southern California runners.
C259: So the bear didn’t frighten you at all.
Glen: No, but Oswaldo is definitely the favorite this year, having done the race so many times.
C259: It seems looking from the times from last year that he’d be the heavy favorite. Do you agree with that?
Glen: There’s a few other darkhorses that people aren’t talking about. There’s a kid from Brazil who won the Brazil 135 this last January [Eduardo Calisto]. He’s in the race. There’s just a handful of people who if they have a good race they can run close to 24 hours, and I think that’s what it’s going to take to win. Like we were talking about, there’s probably only going to be ten runners under 30 hours.
C259: So that’s a pretty elite time barrier, it seems, thirty hours. So what is the equivalent of a three hour marathon for Badwater?
C259: So 48 hours?
Glen: I think there’s probably a group of runners who think they can run thirty, and everyone else is pretty much going for 48. They are thinking they want to break 40, but if they are not having the kind of day they want, at least they can get under 48 and get a finish. Nobody wants a DNF. No one wants to get pulled off the course because of the time cutoff.
C259: So we’ll call it 48 then. A three-hour marathon at Badwater is a 48. Gregg, we’re going to have to call this Cloud 47:59. Give us ten years to warm up to this idea. This is out of my range right now.
Glen: Brenn, you’ve got to grow into these ultras. Earlier you guys were talking about how there has been a huge influx into the ultra world. A lot of people are running a marathon and turning around and going, “oh I can run a 50 miler.” They probably can, but the body needs to adapt into these longer distances. You need to grow into running a 50k, 50 miler, 100k, 100 miler. I probably have 20 hundred milers under my belt, and now this is just my second or third attempt at a longer race that is well into that distance. If you want to be successful and have a longer career, which I think I’ve had, it helps to be able to grow into these events. Just jumping up into those events for the sake of doing them, you can really have nerve damage and muscle damage, all kinds of things, and a really short career.
C259: Wise advice, I have no problem putting it back another ten years. Glen is there a single race that you are most proud of?
Glen: Well, I think I really fell in love with the whole Western States, because I was living in California and the first year I was out there I went out and helped pace one runner and helped this one woman who ended up winning the race, and she ended up being one of my training partners. She was a real inspiration and that was Ann Trason. Just being around somebody who was that fast and who had won the race that many times was an eye-opener and it was like, wow, this is a race that is really important because she keeps coming back year after year. A lot of races don’t have that ability to draw you back again and again. That early love with Western States really drew me to running ultras and running ultras on trails. I’ve had varied levels of success there. Some years I’ve been able to break through and get top 10. Other years I’ve just, you know. It’s such fun because it’s such a stacked field. They try to bring in international runners and everything. I really like the event. You are sort of asking for one performance, which is really hard to narrow down with a career that is so long. Actually, here it is, here it is, Brenn. State high school championships cross country, 1982. I came from behind, I ran down three runners, and I was the Manitoba provincial champion for 5000 meters. I was not the favorite, I was one of the underdogs.
C259: You had already run marathons by then. You ran a marathon at age 13, tell us about that.
Glen: I had an uncle who was a runner. He had run cross country and he had run half marathons, I don’t think he ran a marathon, but he was a distance runner and I had someone to look up to. Where I was living at the time, it was the first year that they had this marathon, and everybody was talking about it and entering it as more fun than anything. My mother drove to mile 10, and waited for me and thought I was just going to stop at mile 10. I got to mile 10 and I said well no, I’m going to go the whole way, and I just kept going. It was really hard, but I was really young and really naïve and I didn’t know any better. After I did it I said well I think I can do better next year, let’s do it next year, so I came back the next year and ran it again.
C259: What were your times?
Glen: I knew that was coming.
C259: Of course!
Glen: At 13, I ran 3:57.
Glen: And at 14, I did 3:20.
C259: No kidding. Wow.
Glen: So I brought it down. It was just a weird thing. When I got into high school I was told or kind of coerced into getting away from that. So I got away from it and got more into cross country and a few road races, and track, I got more into track.
C259: Those marathons, they were in Manitoba?
Glen: Yeah, the Manitoba Marathon in Winnipeg. Yeah, and I didn’t get back into marathoning until I got out of college. Once you are out of college there is not a lot of track running or cross-country running, it’s really hard, so there’s a whole road running scene. Trail running was not a thing at all back in the late 1980s. That whole trail running thing just started to boom. I really got into trail running when I moved to San Francisco. San Francisco was sort of the Mecca for trail running. Do you guys know the famous Dipsea race?
C259: I’ve seen pictures of it. There are stairs in the middle?
Glen: Yeah, it’s the second-oldest running event in the USA after the Boston Marathon. It’s in its hundredth year. It’s a 7.1 mile race that starts at Mill Valley, runs up and over Mt. Tamalpais and finishes at Stinson Beach. It’s a handicap race, so if you are a certain age or a woman you get a bigger handicap. If you are a male aged 19-35 you get zero, you are a scratch runner. They start the earlier runners and they let in 1500 runners and they chase each other. It’s a crazy race.
C259: Is it still a mecca or the mecca of trail running, San Francisco?
Glen: Trail running, yeah. There are other pockets of the US where there are good ultra runners, good ultra trail runners. Oregon is having a great boom right now, especially their women, they are so talented. And New England has always had really good trail runners.
C259: You mention Oregon, and one things we’ve looked at a lot on this show is the business side of track and marathons. I noticed that of all the sponsors of Badwater, Nike was not one of them. Can you tell us anything about the business side of ultras? I know it would be a very difficult way of making a living. Are some people making a living through sponsorships, ultra-runners?
Glen: There’s a few, but the few are the ones who’ve gone and written books. You’ve got Dean who’s making a living out of it, and Scott Jurek who is making a living at it, but both of those guys are semi-retired. They aren’t competing at the high end anymore. As far as the high-end runners, I think it’s still really tough. The fella who won Western States last week, Kim Olsen, he’s got a full-time massage-therapy practice going on in Ashland, Oregon. He may be making 20 or 30 thousand a year, but that’s not enough to be a full-time athlete. I think there are races now that are starting to offer prize money. If more of those events come available – but again ultrarunning is not an Olympic sport, so it’s different. The competitive side of ultrarunning is so different. Marathoning is really a competitive world. In ultras, people are really friendly and trying to help each other finish. Finishing is the important thing, not so much winning. It’s just a different thing.
C259: It’s a lifestyle, it seems.
Glen: It really is a lifestyle.
C259: One other question as a non-ultra person I wonder about is how do you have a social life? Is there some kind of tradeoff? Is a lot of your social life is during the race?
Glen: Before, during, and after. It’s really social, and it’s become so. In New York, there’s a group called the Jumpers, at least that’s what I call them. They go to all these races. A lot of them are friends of mine. They are on Facebook all the time, and they are travelling to these different events. They are not competitive, they are just out there doing it, and they love it. I applaud them, because they are going to places that I’ll never get to, and they are racking up two to three races a month, ultras, where they are just constantly on the go. Some of them can’t afford a coach or don’t have a sponsor, but they have a travel agent, and they are off to the next event, whether it’s in Rio de Janeiro or California. The Jumpers are amazing. If you don’t know who they are, there is a New York ultra running group that you can google and you can join, I think there are 800 members already. You’ll find them. They are everywhere in New York, and at all the races.
C259: This fits in with my theory of running that no matter how crazy you are and how much you run, there is always somebody crazier than you who has put in more miles.
Glen: Well, you know the longest race in the entire world is in Queens every year. It’s going on right now.
C259: The run around the block? A park?
Glen: Yeah, it’s a half mile. A half mile around Queens. It’s the Sri Chinmoy Transcendental 3,100 mile race.
C259: Are you tempted by it Glen?
Glen: I went out and watched. I saw it and know all about it.
C259: First stage, right.
Glen: It’s not for me. It’s a multi-day.
C259: Not quite the scenic vistas that you are used to.
Glen: Yeah, I like the trail. I love point to point events. I actually get a thrill if I can run the event all day and try to finish before dark. There’s something about trying to get in before dark. When you run through the night, if you’ve never run through the night, that first feeling of going through all night, you get so tired, and those wee hours between 1:30 and 5, you’re in another world. To experience that and then to run all day the next day, with the thought of running through the next night with no sleep, it’s tough. Some of these multi-day runners are doing that day after day after day. In April, the Sri Chinmoy has a warm-up race, for their 3,100 miler. They have a 6-day and a 10-day event. That’s another introduction into the longer, longer events.
C259: So what’s on your bucket list? Obviously Badwater is a huge accomplishment, very prestigious. Is there anything else you’d like to do overseas or anything else that you haven’t done yet?
Glen: I actually got invited to do the Grand Raid on the Reunion Islands off of Madagascar. That’s in October. It’s a 100 mile race, and it’s over three mountains. I’m not sure I’m going to do it yet because I need to come up with airfare. It’s about $2100 to fly to the Reunion Islands. That’s one race that sort of interests me. I’d love to do the Tour de Mont Blanc. I haven’t been able to find time because it’s always at the end of August and that’s my busiest time at work. I don’t really have a lot of bucket list races. I’ve done Leadville, I’ve done Vermont, I’ve done Western States, I’ve done a lot of the 100s here in North America. I like the travel events. The Brazil 135 kind of interests me because it’s in another country and I get to see other things. I’ve really been able to travel a lot because of my running, and I think that’s something unique that not all runners have. Last year as you were saying earlier I was in Greece for Spartathlon, the year before that I was over in Ireland and I did a race in the Connemara. I take advantage of those opportunities. They don’t come very often, and I’m sure they’ll be another event that will come my way.
C259: Just to bring it back to distances that we’re more accustomed to, you ran a 2:45 at New York, is that your marathon PR?
Glen: I’ve run faster, back when I was younger. I ran the Sacramento International Marathon, I ran a 2:35. The marathon training is really different than ultra training or trail running. I never thought I never thought my marathon time was as good as it could have been. I never lived in Albuquerque or Santa Fe or Boulder where it seems that all the best marathoners were running at the time.
C259: What do you think was missing from your training? Altitude? Was there another aspect that you think you didn’t do effectively?
Glen: I don’t know if my body was as strong. I think you need to have a strong core and all that, but so much of it is about doing repetitive fast miles. If you want to run 2:35, you’ve got to run sub-6 minute pace a lot. And if you want to run sub 2:20 you’ve got to a lot of 5:20 a mile. Your body has to be strong and you’ve got to be able to do speed, so it’s a really tricky balance. People who are running their PRs and their faster times, they are doing them in their late 20s, early 20s to late 20s. You need a program, you need a coach, and you need other fast runners to train with. It’s a whole combination of things. You’re not seeing one-offs just coming out of nowhere.
C259: Do you have any desire to run another marathon?
Glen: I think when I hit 50. I had this little thing in my head, I’m like, well wait a minute, I might be one of the few people ever who could run marathon in their teens, in their twenties, in their thirties, in their forties, in their fifties, in their sixties, in their seventies. I’m gonna do it. I’m going to run one every ten years.
C259: And what’s that marathon going to be when you are 50?
Glen: Probably New York because it’s right here. There are a lot of interesting marathoners out there who have interesting stories. Just a shout-out to my friend Alan Ruben, the guy’s run 25 straight New York City marathons, and Brenn and I train with him so that’s pretty cool. Whether he can put another 25 together I don’t know.
C259: He’s run them all fast, too. If he could do another 25 at sub-3 that would be really something.
Glen: Even if they are all just sub-4, that would still be impressive.
C259: He’s a class act. Glen, we’ve got to ask you this. We’ve peppered you with this question at practice, but never before our studio audience of thousands of listeners here. We want to get sub-3, as do a lot of people listening. We have gotten advice from some Olympians and some really great athletes. We want to get one piece of advice from you. How are you going to get Gregg and me sub-3 in the marathon? 2:59 would do.
Glen: I’m going to steal right from the playbook of [Central Park Track Club coach] Tony Ruiz: 10-10-10.
C259: Spell it out.
Glen: When you are in that race and you know you are ready, the first ten miles you’ve got to be able to look at the runner beside you. You gotta be able to say hey, you are looking pretty good, you’ve got to be able to have a conversation, and then you are going to bring it in. Your focus is, you can see everything for the first ten miles, the second ten miles your focus is a little more narrow, you’re starting to get into your groove. The last 10K, you’ve got blinders on. All you can see is the road in front of you and you are just hammering it out. So it’s the wide, middle, and the really narrow. If you are running too fast too early, and you are focused too early, you are going to hit a bad patch. So you’ve got to do that 10-10-10. Tony is always preaching that, and he always has his workouts set up for that. I think you’ve got to believe it, and you’ve got to execute it. You’ve got to do the work. If you are not doing the work, then it’s not going to happen.
Glen: I think Brenn isn’t doing enough mileage. You have the speed. You have the speed.
C259: So I’ve heard.
Glen: It’s not that you’ve got to do more speed work. You’ve got to do a longer, faster tempo run, or you’ve just got to do more mileage.
C259: How much mileage Glen? Give me a program.
Glen: Eighty. Seventy or eighty miles, you’ve got to build up to that.
C259: Okay, alright that was the plan, that was the plan. We are 16 weeks out, I’m in the 50s, I’m building.
Glen: If you could hire Alberto Salazar, that might help too. I heard P-Diddy did that once.
C259: I’m sure it would. I’m sure it would.
Glen: And if you’re not doing any core work, core work would help too. If you can get in there and do some core work. I know Shalane Flanagan had a pretty intensive core workout routine. It really comes down to the little things, when you’re that close to breaking it.
C259: Core work, gotta do it, okay okay okay. Glen, thank you so much for joining us. It’s been interesting, and again, the mother in me – be careful. If you’re feeling really horrible, slow down. We’re totally going to be rooting for you, of course, and monitoring you. I noticed the badwater.com site has some good resources to track your runners.
Glen: Like I said there are six different points throughout the race. I think they’ll have updates as we cross those little mats so that you can see where we are.
C259: That’s good. Last question. What is the most upside-down you’ve been in a race? What’s the worst feeling you’ve had?
C259: We’re trying to end on a happy note here. I want a test here, I want to see whether you can achieve this at Badwater, whether you can fend it off.
Glen: When I was younger I had food poisoning the night before and I didn’t know, and it came out during the race.
C259: During the race, have you ever been in one of these 100 mile races and thought, do I go on or not?
Glen: Oh yeah, I’ve had that. I had that at Western States one year. One year it was a really low finishing rate. I hit 55, and I was done. I sat down. My feet were done. I had blisters. My crew was there. My crew kept me going. They gave me salt tablets. They gave me a turkey sandwich. My mother was there. She took my shoes off, she took my socks off, she popped my blisters. She taped them up, she put new socks, new shoes. I was probably there for eight minutes, but it felt like an eternity. I left there walking, hobbling, and after two miles of walking I started to get a little bit of energy, and by the time I got seven miles down the trail I was on again, and I couldn’t believe it. I think it was just I hit a real low point. Mile 55 at Western States is Michigan Bluff, and you are just coming through the last canyon. I was depleted and I just needed moral support. Having a crew really helps in those harder events. If you are just running loops or stuff around a park it is not as difficult, but when you are doing these big point to point, having the moral support. I’ve run 100-mile races with no crew and no pacers, and done really well. I think it’s the ones that have the elements, whether it’s the heat or the snow or the altitude.
C259: Well, I’m glad that you’ve got a crack crew with you and you’ll know when to say when. I’m sure you’ll push through and get it done.
Glen: They are going to look into my eyes and they are going to tell me whether I’m done or not. If they see that I’m just off in another world, they’re going to pull me. They have the smarts to do that.
C259: Or they’ll say get up, here comes Dean.
Glen: He’s eating pizza.
Full transcript of interview with Amy Begley (March 28, 2013):
C259: Amy Begley, very happy to welcome you to the cloud.
Amy: Thank you, I love the Running on Air workout for today, I love that.
C259: Thanks very much. You’ve been writing a bit about this subject [the business of running], and it seems to me that you are doing at least two things: one, bringing more transparency to the sport and perhaps helping young runners who are considering post-collegiate careers becoming elite runners themselves, and helping them know what they are getting into, some of the pitfalls, but also working to change the system around the margins and seeing where we can make things more productive for runners. First off, can you discuss the difficulty of getting funding for pro runners or aspiring pros, and are shoe contracts the primary source of income? And if so, what are the pitfalls of that?
Amy: Well, I’ve been saying all along that the shoe companies should not have to prop up our sport. We shouldn’t just have one source of income, which we do. Distance runners, we actually have it lucky compared to the rest of track and field – the field events, especially throwers, their money from track and field is really miniscule. Shoe contracts are pretty much the only source of funding unless you are in a group, but most groups are funded by shoe companies in the end. The pitfalls of that are you are a contracted employee, so there are no benefits. They don’t take out taxes so you need to be able to do that, and you know, for a young 20-year old coming out of college it’s not always the easiest thing to figure out. Then your contract, sometimes they’ll sign you for one year, sometimes they’ll sign you to four years and the bonuses and rollovers are great if you are running well, but if you get injured or you’re pregnant or anything along that line that keeps you from training or competing for anywhere from 3-6 months, they’ll either suspend you, and not pay you for the next 6 months that you are competing to make up for it, or they’ll cut you, or they’ll reduce you at the end of the year. For a long time, when the economy was really good, they didn’t always do those reductions. They didn’t always take things like that out, because they were trying to be nice, they were trying to help you with your career, and they only really used those on people that they didn’t like and they wanted to get rid of. When athletes were negotiating in the last five or six years, the contracts were pretty much cut and dry, and you’d say, oh, well what about this reduction and this reduction, and they’d say oh, we don’t take that, we don’t do those. When the economy got worse, they do take those reductions. And the worst part is that they also do it, at least some companies, they don’t tell you that it’s coming, or they do it retroactively. Oh yeah, we paid you three months ago but we forgot to take this money out, so now we’re doing it with this paycheck and you’re not going to get anything.
C259: Is there anger or animosity among a lot of runners about these issues that cropped up when the economy went south?
Amy: No, it happens to everybody, a lot of people lost their jobs and a lot of people are out of work. We’re lucky to get paid to run around a track and run on the road and not sit in a cubicle, so we’re lucky in a way that a lot of us still kept our contracts and kept our jobs through the bad economy and got supported through the Olympics or the World Championships. It just how the business is – that’s how it’s run and how it’s always been run. I think there could be better ways and I think there could be other ways.
C259: What do you think the upshot is if shoe companies are getting more selective or if they are cutting runners or if it is just a volatile way to make a living, is this effect the structure of the sport? Are the U.S. elite ranks less deep than they ought to be, or do you see some very talented runners that aren’t even giving it a shot to develop?
Amy: I think so, especially on the women’s side. You really don’t peak until you are 26-30. There are quite a few years in there where you may not be one of the top six or the top five in the U.S., you may not even be in the top 10 when you first come out. You need those years to be able to develop. If you don’t have a livable wage, then you can’t focus on what you need to focus on and train the way you need to train to keep progressing in the sport. The way that they are cutting back, and all of them are cutting back – they always do after the Olympics, it’s nothing new, they always cut back after the Olympics. The problem is that they already were signing less people to begin with, so when you cut back even more, you’re signing less. It’s not always the running department’s fault. Let’s say Nike or Adidas or Reebok from the top down are saying hey, we’re cutting all budgets, so maybe the running budgets are slashed by a quarter or a third, and that came from the top, so now they have less money to give. It’s not like they didn’t want to. They probably would like to have more athletes. They just can’t.
C259: What do you think can be done to improve the business model for professional runners?
Amy: That’s really hard because the uniform rule with so many logos, and I know they changed the rule so that in non-IAAF, non-championship races you can wear more a few more logos now. The problem is the people who pay the bigger amounts, that’s where they want the logos, they want the logos at those events. I’d say there are other ways you could use the athlete. Let’s say if a big corporation decides I want to sponsor this athlete or I want to sponsor this group. Maybe you can’t put the logo on them as big as you want, but have them come in to your company and do a fitness program. Have them speak to different groups. Pay them to go put on a program for a Boys & Girls club or speak to Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. That way you’re supporting the athlete, you are giving back to the community, and you look good. The athlete is representing you, and representing healthy living, and it looks like you’re giving back to the community and supporting it with an aspiring Olympian. That’s a win-win.
C259: Yeah, I think getting the corporations involved would definitely help, and it seems that’s what some other sports leagues have been able to do.
Amy: Yeah, I think we’ve always limited ourselves and haven’t gotten as creative as we probably should because that’s the status quo. It’s hard sometimes to think about it out of the box.
C259: Do you think Amy that there’s any way the events themselves could be promoted better? In other words, not relying so much on the governing bodies, like the USATF? Obviously, the New York Road Runners has gotten involved and promoted some races in addition to the New York City Marathon which is increasing the pie for elite runners, with a 5k before the New York City Marathon or the New York City Half which didn’t even exist eight years ago. Is that a positive trend, when other organizations are starting and promoting events?
Amy: Oh, it is, that’s what we need. We need other corporations or events stepping in. The grocery store chain [Hy-vee] that stepped in and is sponsoring the Drake Relays, they put a lot of cash in and helped. Trust me the athletes are like, okay, we’ll go where they money is, so they’ll probably get a lot better athletes because they are willing to offer that. When corporations step in that really helps. I know sometimes it’s hard to get athletes to do things before competitions and coaches always want them home right after, but sometimes we need to give back a little bit too. We are no longer in a position to say pay me all this money just to wear your logo and I’m not going to do anything else. Even in our shoe contracts, we have so many appearances we have to do every year. It’s a give-and-take, and we need to give a little more sometimes.
C259: Tell us about your latest project called Distance Divas Elite. I think you are in the process of setting it up and it may take some time. How did you come up with the idea and explain how it works.
Amy: It’s actually an idea I’ve had since 2000. I graduated from college, and my husband and I were married, and there was a couple of groups back then, not as many as there are now, and one of the groups wanted him to join and one of the groups wanted me to join, but there wasn’t just one group that we both could go to at the same time, so we were in a dilemma of what to do. Well, we had a foundation in my hometown that agreed to take me on if I moved back home, so I moved back home to Kendallville [Indiana] and we actually set up a group at that point. We had a couple of girls, I had my college teammate Tracy Robertson, now Tracy Robertson-Frack. We had Johanna Olson, who actually just passed away from cancer this year, from a brain tumor, and we had Monica Hostetler, and one more that came in and out. The foundation provided housing for us. Then they were going to fund kids programs that we were going to do. We were going to go to school and do a program called “Track is for Every Body,” meaning, track and field has an event for every body type out there. We were going to go in there and do these in schools and the foundation was going to pay us to do these programs, mostly in the off-season when we just were doing base training or easier training. We had it all set up and then 9/11 hit and the foundation couldn’t give us the funding anymore. They were still providing us with the housing but the funding fell through with the foundation. So we were left with these girls living in with us and training and I had promised them some support because the foundation had promised us support. I didn’t want to go back on my word so I pretty much gave everything I had to support the girls with that. That lasted until the beginning of 2004, and at that point I decided I wanted to really target the Olympics and I just needed to focus and get away and do my own thing, so we ended up leaving Indiana and trying to focus on my running from that point on. I want to revisit that again, and I want to do the programs and a women’s group. This time I won’t promise more than I can give them. I learned that lesson. Again, it’s about the foundation and corporations sponsoring the events, and the athletes representing the corporations through these school programs. It takes care of a lot of things. It helps the athlete with money and training costs, it puts the corporation name out in the community. You are getting people excited about track and field and getting moving so it’s helping with childhood obesity and nutrition and healthy lifestyles, and hopefully you are creating track and field fans for life. And hopefully you are creating fans for those athletes who go in and do those programs. I mean there is a lot of positives coming out of the program if we could just get it off the ground.
C259: Sounds great. How many women have you got in the group so far?
Amy: Well, that’s the thing I said before I made that mistake in 2001, so I’m in the process of doing the 501c3, setting up the foundation. When I went and applied for grants, they only really give grants to people with 501c3, so I have to go back and do the 501c3, set up the non-profit status, and then I need to go and get the funding before I can bring in the girls.
C259: Got it.
Amy: I have certain limits of how much money I need and I’m hoping for multiple-year sponsorships. I’ve gone over the budget a million times. I know how much money I need before I bring in so many girls. It’s going to start off really small because I want to do it right. The programs aren’t the only source of income for the group and the girls. Distance Divas Elite will be the name of the girls group, but there is also just Distance Divas, which is a women’s recreational training group for people that want to run their first 5k or break three hours or four hours for the marathon, pretty much for everybody. The Distance Divas Elite will take turns coaching these women, and we’ll also do cross-country camps in the summer which I had for years but have put on hiatus for a couple of years. We’re going to do a lot of different things. Some of them we’ve already done like the camp. I started registration this year so I know how that’s going to work. It’s all going to be very slow, but I’m hoping by the end of this year or the middle of 2014 I can have at least some girls that I’m helping to get to the next level.
C259: It sounds like what you are doing and hopefully you will be successful is bridging the enormous participation boom that’s going on with running and all the work that’s going on with children as well in terms of fitness, which is huge, and melding that with the elite running scene. The conundrum is that running as a spectator sport or as a fan sport isn’t anywhere near that. You are setting up links between the participation boom and the elite runners and I hope that it pays dividends.
Amy: I hope so too. It’s kind of sad that the participation numbers have risen, but the prize money and the support of the athletes running those races really has not risen, to say the least. I’ve been interviewing a lot of these women and they were telling me how much money they were making in the ‘80s, road racing, and I don’t think we’re anywhere near that, what they are making. I will say that USATF is trying to step up and they have increased prize money for outdoors, for this year. They say the last time it was increased was 1998 but I think it was a lot longer than that. It’s still only $7,000 to win, and granted we have a lot of events in track and field. For a lot of us that will pay for a couple of months of training and travel and whatever and that would be great. But still, as you said it still drops off very fast.
C259: Before we to shift into talking about your career, which we want to do because Gregg and I are in awe of what you have accomplished, I want to ask you one more thing: If you take an athlete like Alysia Montano or Chris Sowinski, who both set U.S. records at Millrose on the indoor track. Neither of them is sponsored. Knowing what you know through all of your contract negotiations, what advice would you give them as far as getting them paid to run?
Amy: You can try to be really creative and go out and try to get corporations to sponsor you. The agents right now have kind of been in this box and a lot of them haven’t gotten out or don’t know how to get out. I can tell you that it is hard to approach a corporation and ask for sponsorship because a lot of them have never done that. They have never been in that arena, they don’t know how. You tell them they could run it through their advertising budget, through P.R. or whatever, and they look at you like you are crazy, but I know corporations do that. There’s billboards, there used to be phone book advertisements and things like that. People have the budget, and I know the economy has been bad but it is coming back and there is more money in those areas. You have to go in and you have to show them what you can do and what they can do in return.
C259: So you would advise them to not focus solely on the shoe money but rather to show them a new way of getting paid as a runner, to get corporate sponsorship beyond the shoe companies.
Amy: Well, I mean, paying for your own shoes and apparel is very expensive. If you could do that and still go through the shoe company route – if I had to do it all over again I would go to the shoe company and get a very small monthly stipend, enough to cover the bases, and have that be steady throughout my entire career that I signed with them. That money that they give me every month can’t be changed. It can’t be taken away, it can’t be increased, it just stays the same. But what can happen is with bonuses that you can earn. I think those should be bigger, there should be more, they should be more attainable, and have the shoe companies or the agents sit down and say if this person has a stellar year, above and beyond what we thought they could do, this is how much money they could earn. Set the bonuses up like that. Go backwards, so if they did A, B, and C, we’d pay them this much, and so they just have to work backwards from what they think we would do.
C259: So perhaps better negotiating by the agents on behalf of the runners.
Amy: It’s eat what you kill, but if you have a have a steady base that does not change, and I emphasize does not change, then it’s so much easier and less stressful for the athletes that they have this steady base that’s not going to change.
C259: I know Nike wouldn’t want you wearing an Adidas top, there must be some exclusivity in the shoe contract or apparel contract, but it would be possible to have a shoe contract and support from non-apparel companies, I imagine.
Amy: Right, the contracts state that you can’t have anything competing, for example when I signed with Adidas, they actually came out with a perfume when I was there, and I was like, “Are you actually going to sniff everybody?” Then everybody came out with sunglasses so you couldn’t get another sunglasses contract. Everybody came out with watches so you couldn’t get a watches contract. It’s almost like they were coming out with every single product that you could put on your body so you couldn’t get any other sponsorships.
C259: And then Lauren Fleshman put a tattoo on her shoulder and they said no you can’t do that.
Amy: Yeah, that was interesting as well. There’s a lot of exclusivity with what you can and cannot do, but again if you go out and get corporations that aren’t apparel based, that aren’t whatever. What I did with Nike is that I bought plain Nike tee-shirts, and if somebody wanted me to do something, I had their logo printed on a plain Nike tee-shirt, and it’s still Nike, it had the different things that I wanted to do on it, but it was still Nike.
C259: As a segue then to talking about your career, you trained with Alberto Salazar and his Nike Project, as an incentive to sign with Nike was it running with Alberto that did it?
Amy: I was at a crossroads in my career. I had fallen and had bursitis in my hip and then I broke my ankle running in the woods. I had not really raced in about six or eight months and I decided I needed to make a big change. I had actually called Coach Gagliano, and he said Amy I don’t have any 5k girls but why don’t you try Alberto, because I know Kara needs a training partner. So I called Kara, we had been racing against each other since we were about twelve. She gave me Alberto’s information. I called Alberto, he had no idea who I was, didn’t know anything about me which was probably fine. He called Kara and Kara said yeah I like her, and he went to Cap, and Cap said yeah I liked her racing style in college, she’s a frontrunner, she finishes, give her a shot and see what she can do. So I was pretty much signed up as Kara’s training partner which was fine. I was about proving what I could do, eat-what-you-kill mentality. I just went from there and it was the first time in my career that I wasn’t working two jobs, I could train twice a day, I could take a nap. I had weekly massage. I had weekly chiropractor and I didn’t have to pay for those things whereas before I did. It was a lot of resources all of a sudden, and eighteen months later I made the Olympic team, so sometimes it’s just about getting the resources to the right people.
C259: Which is a perfect segue to what we wanted to talk about – the famous race at the 2008 Olympic Trials when you qualified for the team by 1.4 seconds. You’ve probably told the story many times, but can you take us through those last few laps, what that felt like? Also, was there a period in that race where you had substantial doubts about your ability to make that A standard and make the team?
Amy: I had tried that race a couple times and I ran 3:02, 3:01, I just could not get under there, but I’m a big meet competitor. Going to those meets with 20 people in the stands wasn’t going to help me get to that next level in racing. With Hayward I didn’t go into the stadium before, I didn’t want to see it, so that when I came out underneath, it was amazing. It was the last event on the track and the stands were packed and loud and it was amazing. The race plan was pretty much we knew that Shalane and Kara were going to take it, and I was going to hang on for as long as I possibly could and try to get the standard. I think there was probably about four people who believed I was going to do it, my husband and my parents and my chiropractor. They knew and they believed that I was going to get it. So we were running and I knew what I had to run to hit the time standard, and everytime we came around I tapped my watch and was saying Alberto “I need to go I need to go” and I even yelled at him once that I need to go. He came over and told Andrew (my husband) to tell me not to go. He wanted to control the race. My husband finally got angry and screamed if you don’t go now you aren’t going to make it. That’s when I took the lead. I took the lead in the race for awhile and got it back on pace, and then I guess the girls decided they wanted to go at it so they took off. I didn’t go with them and I don’t know why I didn’t. I had to start picking it up. I knew with 600 meters to go I had to run 1:40 or 1:42 or something like that. The week before we had just done this amazing workout, 600 breakdown, and I ran the 600 in 1:39 in that workout, and so I put my head down and said to myself you did this last week, you can do it now. I know I negative split the race and think I had closed in 67. I just put my head down and went, and I crossed the line and I looked up and they had stopped everything when Shalane crossed the line. I had no idea what my time was, I had no clue. I was laying down on the track. I wasn’t tired. I was emotionally drained because I didn’t know whether this would be the best night of my life or the worst night. I had no idea what I just ran. I was laying there until they put my time up, and I went from the biggest low to the biggest high in about two seconds because I knew then that I had made the team and the last eighteen months had been more than worth it.
C259: It was a very savvy crowd at Hayward, right, they knew what had happened, so they responded?
Amy: Well, they stopped the clock so nobody knew unless they had their watch going. Some people knew, and some people didn’t. They tried to hand me the American flag. Well they were giving the top 3 always the American flag whether you made it or not, and I really didn’t want to take it until I knew that I had made the team. Then it was just chaos from that point on. It is funny if you watch the NBC footage, they keep talking about Katie McGregor because Katie McGregor had the standard and she was only running for fourth, because she knew that I had tried to get the standard two or three other times and I didn’t get it. Katie was convinced that I was going to miss the standard and that she was going to get to go, no matter what. Katie didn’t race, she just ran for fourth because she thought that I would never get the time and I would never go. Yeah.
C259: I guess she probably has some regrets.
Amy: For me, if I had the standard and didn’t race for it, I would feel like I just got handed something I didn’t deserve. I think you need to go and race and earn it. I know we have one of the hardest teams to make because you have to be ready and you have to be on that day. It’s one day out of 365 days a year. If you wake up with a cold or roll your ankle or fall down the stairs, it’s an entire four years of training just went down the drain for just an accident or a cold. It is rough. It is a very rough way to make or break. It is rough. It’s a very rough way to make or break a team of Olympians.
C259: What did Alberto tell you after that race? Did he sort of say I told you so, it’s good you waited to go, or did you give him a piece of your mind, you should have let me go earlier?
Amy: Well, you know, I’ve never actually told anybody what he told me.
C259: We can break some news here on the Cloud.
Amy: Yeah, why not. So, after the race, Alberto, my coach, told me that because I took the lead and because I made the Olympic team, that I cost Kara the win in that race. And then he didn’t talk to me for two weeks.
C259: Cost Kara the win in that race?
Amy: Yep, I cost Kara the win in that race. And he told me the next day that I shouldn’t have any contact with Kara because I was too much of a distraction and he didn’t want me getting in the way of her losing the 5K.
C259: That’s not what we were expecting when we asked what Alberto told you after that race. That’s quite remarkable.
Amy: Yep. Yep. There you go.
C259: Wow. Well, did he get over it?
Amy: Yeah he got over it, after Beijing and I was running really well in 2009.
C259: You really were on a roll in 2009, and in fact you were smashing your time from that Olympic Trials by twentysomething seconds in the U.S. Championships, and then even faster in Worlds. We were going to ask you about that amazing race against Shalane Flanagan in the 2009 US Championships, and we’ll put videos of these on our show notes. You had the back and forth with Shalane in 2009. It’s very rare to see somebody passed and then pass somebody back on the outside on the curve at the end of that 10,000. How does that race rank among your all-time favorites? How do you choose?
Amy: That one and worlds are my two favorite races. I was incredibly fit at that point. And granted Shalane was having an off year, but I was incredibly fit and ready to race. And Shalane and I had agreed to swap every other 800. She threw down an 800 and went really fast, and she didn’t pull out to let me take the next lead, and I said, “Hey, I can take this next 8.” I think it caught her off guard because I think she thought she was going to drop me with whatever she threw down for that 8, but I was fine. And so she let me take the lead, and she just kinda waited until she wanted to make her move. And then I made a move, and she made another move. I think I ended up making three moves on Shalane. That’s kind of the M.O. as an athlete, you know how many moves you have on them to drop them. I think I closed in a 67 so I don’t think my last lap was any faster than the year before, but it was just the back and forth between us. I love that Shalane afterword gives me a hug and she’s like, “You know I didn’t think you had that speed.” It was really funny, we had a good time, a good laugh about that one.
C259: Just as a side-note. Brenn and I both run in the middle or back of the pack for Central Park Track Club. There’s a runner that gets lapped by both of you, I think maybe she had been lapped a couple of times. On the last stretch, about 50 meters from the finish, she may have gotten in the way, just a little bit, it looks like you would have won anyway because you had a lot of power on the backstretch. She kind of slowed up Shalane a little bit. I think there were a lot of lapped runners that were getting in the way a little bit.
Amy: Yeah, there always is and you just know that in the 10K. Some events like Worlds they put the lapped runners in lane 2. Sometimes they don’t. It just depends. If you run the 10k long enough, you’ve been there, done that.
C259: You mentioned Shalane didn’t think you had that finishing speed. And I’ve looked at your all time best times, and I think man, you can run a fantastic 5k and 10k coming off a PR in the mile of 4:37, which is faster than my mile PR, but it seems like you can really keep a great pace. Just to bring Alberto in it one more time, he’s gotten a lot of credit for getting Galen Rupp to get his finishing kick down, to really increase his speed. Did you do a lot of speed-specific work with Alberto to help hammer that final quarter down?
Amy: He did and you I know it sounds like I can be angry at Alberto, but he did a lot of great things for me, I did make the Olympic team, he gave me all the resources that I needed to be great. And he taught me how to work hard and he taught me what it took to be on the elite international level. I am very grateful for that and am very grateful for Nike for what they did. We worked speed, we did a lot of 200s, we did 200 hills, 600 breakdowns, 300 repeats things like that. Probably the biggest difference was I was always chasing Kara and trying to close the gap. I think I was always just trying to keep up, which helped me run a lot faster. My husband has been my training partner and coach for a long time, but there’s not the same competitiveness with your husband in workouts as there is with a female and a training partner, so I think having Kara there and trying to close the gap with her really helped me with my speed and my kick.
C259: Shalane was training with another group. Who was a greater rival for you, was it Kara or Shalane?
Amy: They both were. I only beat each of them a couple of times, so they definitely beat me a heck of a lot more times then I beat them. It was always for me about closing the gap and trying to be as strong as they were.
C259: Rewinding one more time, your 2008 Olympic Trials race the fourth place finisher you said was assuming you were not going to make the standard. If you were watching the 5000m final at last year’s trials, Julia Lucas, who could have sat and prevented other runners or tried to prevent other runners from making the standard didn’t do that, she went for it. On the flip side Kim Connelly really came through. We’re wondering whether A) you were watching that race, and B) what you were thinking or feeling at the time.
Amy: That’s actually the only race I went and watched at Eugene last year. I just emotionally and mentally couldn’t watch any of the other events, but I went and watched that one. It was heartbreaking yet exciting at the same time because I had been in Eugene training with the OTC, or trying to train because I was injured, and I had seen Julia train all spring and the whole season and I knew how hard she was working. To see her with those last few steps not have anything to give, and Conley coming running for her goal and running for her dream was both sad and exciting at the same time. It was hard to watch because you just knew that one dream died and Kim’s was just raring and ready to go.
C259: Did you put yourself in the position of either of the runners. Did you think Conley is doing what I did, or was it not like that?
Amy: I think it was definitely like that, making the team by such a little margin. You have to go into the race believing that you can do it and that it’s possible. If not, you’re never going to give it your all and try to put yourself on the edge like you need to.
C259: Amy we talked about in the intro how you’ve run a half marathon quite well in 1:10 and you are a 15k US Champ. Injuries permitting, do you have plans to take on the marathon at some point soon?
Amy: Everybody has plans. My one race plan was the run a marathon in the fall of 2012. So if you would have asked me in 2009 if I’d be injured the next three years I would have been like yeah right, because I was on top of the world, every time I stepped on the track I was running a PR or winning and it felt like that could last forever. I almost felt invincible at that time. And then you know, injuries come and you get sidetracked and I kept thinking, well we have to do this and we have to do that, but I’ve had two achilles surgeries, nerve damage in my ankle, and now I have kind of a torn hamstring and something in my hip that has been here since September. I think this injury might be the one that just ends it all, so I’m not going to say I’m retiring but I’m going to say that I don’t know if I’ll ever really compete on the elite level again. I will do a marathon before I die, either competitively or for run. If I have to walk one when I’m 80, whatever, I will do that before I die. Yeah, that’s kind of where I’m at.
C259: You certainly have time, when you think about it. There are runners who are considerably older than you. You just need to catch a break with your health. Deena Kastor went to Arkansas as well and she’s five years older than you.
Amy: Deena had an amazing class at Arkansas. They all graduated right when I was coming in so I didn’t really get to be with any of them. It was really amazing, the things that they did before I got there. Deena’s 5 years older than I am. All the women that I’m interviewing for the RRCA, a lot of them ran their first Olympics in 1984 in their late 30s, and they were running 2:30, not with the training and foods and all that fun stuff that we have now. I definitely think that if I want to get back and if my health will agree with me then maybe I can. But right now honestly my goal is just to be able to sit for more than 10 minutes without pain.
C259: Well, I think you have an incredibly healthy perspective for a runner. In your journal online you have a quote, “After accomplishing every dream I had for the past 25 years, I knew I would eventually have a dream that would not happen,” and I thought that is very wise. That betrays a wisdom beyond your years. It hasn’t stopped you from dreaming, either, but it’s a very realistic look and it reflects that you’re thankful for what you have accomplished and that’s a great deal in running. Let’s shift to a murkier topic, that being performance enhancing drugs. We’ve discussed this on the show. We interviewed a gentleman who organizes races and is advocating drug testing among amateurs because the problem is so bad. It’s certainly a hot topic in the news and in distance running. How rampant from your perspective as an athlete, do you think PED use is in track and road racing?
Amy: I know when I was road racing, it was pretty obvious who was using drugs and who wasn’t because those that could bounce back and race weekend after weekend after weekend and keep winning, those were the kind of people that were using drugs. And then some people that I could beat in college and couldn’t break 34 minutes on the track were now beating me on the roads and two years later, it like hmm, I’m not sure that was quite natural. In track and field, I don’t know, we can get randomly drug tested and get tested at all the events. Funny enough, as of April 1, I will be off the random drug testing list for the first time in I don’t know how long. I will no longer have to have a sign on my door that saying, “USADA and WADA, please ring both doorbells so I can hear you.” I can take that off my front door as of Monday. We put up two doorbells so you could always hear it wherever you are in the house, and I’ve had this sign that says secondary doorbell forever, and we’re always testing it to make sure it works.
C259: Certainly there’s a lot of suspicion. Do you think a lot of the athletes were beating the tests or that they were participating in events that weren’t tested?
Amy: They weren’t testing when I first started road racing, which was 2001 to 2006. I was road racing a lot, and I don’t think I’ve ever been tested on the road, honestly, maybe once or twice. There wasn’t much drug testing going on then. I definitely think our sport has a lot of drug use. I’ve never seen it, and I’ve never been asked. I know other athletes that have been asked about it, and asked if they want to. I’ve asked field event people and they say yeah, they know people that are. It’s just interesting that our sport has to be like that. For me, I would never want to jeopardize living as long as I can because I don’t think anybody knows what the drugs will do to them long term, and I’d rather not test it to find out. Everybody in my family has lived really long. My grandpa was 104 when he died, and I want to continue the longevity of the family. The whole Lance Armstrong thing really got me thinking because with the whole microdoping, more people could be using drugs then I ever thought, if they were microdoping. And I used to think that drugs were out of the price range for people, but then Christian Hesch ended up using EPO, and I just thought, you know he doesn’t make the hundred thousand dollars that some of the other athletes are making and he’s affording EPO. That also changed my mind about how many people could be using drugs because I guess it’s not as expensive as I thought. Now with microdoping, which I guess supposedly is undetectable, with long term use increases performance over a long time if you stick with it. That’s what they got from the Lance Armstrong stuff. I think it’s more people than I would’ve guessed.
C259: Our previous guest talked about how there were drug busts among bikers where there really was no prize money to speak of, it was just for their own personal vanity, so it really proliferates throughout. It ties back to our topic of the economics of the sport because it is a steep pyramid, and if you’re in the second ten or the fifteenth place in the U.S. you’re not making much but if you advance ten spots you’ve all of a sudden got a viable career, and if you drop 10 spots you have to get a job like Brenn and I. You can understand the incentives in the economics.
Amy: The only way I could ever come back is just to accomplish my goals. With drug use, you just don’t know who you are competing against is clean or not. Getting 6th at Worlds I was excited, but then again I don’t think I raced just as well as I could have. You just have to have your own goals and go for those, and if money and places and times come with it, that’s awesome, but you have to be happy with what you can do within yourself.
C259: You mention that you came in 6th at world’s, that is your PR 31:13 in the 10,000. You also mentioned the Olympic Trials race, there was a moment in each race where you didn’t go, and you thought after the race that maybe I should have gone. Was there a race in your career where you had that same moment, but you did go with those racing ahead of you?
Amy: Yeah I did a couple times. In NCAA cross, I think 2000, I went with the lead pack and ended up getting second. In my first indoor title, Carrie Tollefson and I broke away – I went with her on that. I got second so many times I wanted to win and my mantra was “I’m going to win I’m going to win I’m not going to get second anymore.”
C259: So you had a similar doubt in those races, but you overrode the doubt?
Amy: Yeah, and honestly, the 2009 World Champs, with 3k to go, the top 5 broke away, and honestly I looked at the five that were with me and I said I can beat all these girls I’m with. I’m happy with sixth. I wish I wouldn’t have said that to myself. I wish I would have tried to go with them, but they closed that last 3k faster than my PR, so it would have been brutal, to say the least.
C259: It’s tough at those ranks, but 6th in the world is not too shabby.
Amy: I was excited about that. My first goal was just to make the Olympic team. After that my goal was to break 15 minutes in the 5k, I wanted to break 31 minutes in the 10k, and after making the Olympics I wanted to be in the top 10 in the World. I broke 15 in the five. I was sixth in World’s and made the Olympics. You know I told my husband the other day I probably accomplished 95% of all the things I’ve ever wanted to do, and I’ve rarely been told “no”. And now joining the work force and doing things like this I’m probably going to be told no a lot, so it’s going to be a whole new world for me.
C259: Amy, Brenn and I have a running goal of our own and it’s much more modest but one we are relentless about as well. We want to break 3 in the marathon, hence the name of the show cloud259. If you could provide one training tip to us, maybe an unconventional one or whatever comes to mind, what would you tell us to do?
Amy: I think a really important part of marathon training is when you do your long runs, every other week part of that long run there needs to be a tempo in the middle of it that is at marathon pace, so that you learn to do marathon pace. In the middle of your long run you practice with your fluids and you need to spend time with what that pace is going to feel like. There’s a lot of advice about do you run the 26 prior to the marathon, do you run farther than 26 and how far do you go. I think that’s a personal preference, what you want to do and what will give you the most confidence. Whether you run the full distance or not you need to make sure you stay aerobically active for the amount of time that you actually will be out there at the marathon.
C259: And how long should we be building that marathon pace segment? Obviously you can’t do it for an extended amount of time at the beginning of the training, but what’s the end goal for that?
Amy: I think the end goal would be to work out to be able to do it for up to about 12 miles in the middle of the long run?
C259: Somewhat similar to a tip that we had last week. Good to have the confirmation there. Actually, you’re going a little easier on us than the other guy, who is not an Olympian. But if the Olympian says 12, maybe I won’t go 15, I’ll go 12 instead.
Amy: You know I was going to say 15, but I didn’t want to scare you. I wanted to make it a little more friendly, but your first marathon I would probably just say 12.
C259: It’s not our first marathon. We’re getting older, our window is closing, and we need to knock this out. If you say 15 we’re going to do 15.
Amy: I would do 15, and you need to keep the distance up two, three weeks out. Don’t really start tapering until two weeks out. Otherwise, it’ll be a little too flat.
C259: Thank you so much for being so generous with your time and your insights on running as a business. Going through your career highlights and it’s been a tremendous pleasure having you on.
Amy: We’ll see if I get any backlash about the Alberto thing. I’ve never said it and I said I probably would never say it, but that’s what happens.
C259: All will be forgiven. Breaking news on the cloud. We love it.
Amy: I hope so. I hope he’ll forgive me for saying it, but it hurt my feelings for a really long time.
C259: That’s completely understandable. We’ll be in touch as we progress towards our goal. Hopefully we’ll have you back sometime to discuss improvement and your developments with Distance Divas Elite.
Amy: And the TFAA, the track and field athlete association. Hopefully can be the new league of track and field that we discussed earlier.
C259: Exactly. Much more to discuss on the subject. Thanks again Amy.
Amy: Thanks guys I appreciate it.
Full transcript of interview with James Chu (March 17, 2013):
C259: James, welcome to the cloud.
James: Hi guys, thanks for having me.
C259: The name of the show is Cloud259, there’s a reason for that, Gregg and I want to get under three hours in the marathon. I’ve had a terrible time with my splits, Gregg has been a little more successful. How can you get somebody like me who does a 10-minute positive split to get sub-3?
James: In training you really have to practice race pace. You’re running a 26.2-mile race, a common way to train for that is to make your long run a workout. I think we’re seeing that more recently than you have in the past. I don’t know how you guys are training, but I think it’s been common to keep increasing distance of your long run. I’ve recently read the Italian Coach Renato Canova, and he believes that’s the incorrect method of training for a marathon, that instead you should be working on your race pace and trying to extend how long you can hold that pace for. I subscribe to that, I believe that you should do progression runs and lactate threshold workouts. These workouts end up being fairly long workouts.
C259: So rather than the conventional wisdom that you should do your long runs very slow, maybe a minute and a half slower than marathon pace, you’re saying that you’ve got to hit those long runs hard.
James: Yeah, I think it’s kind of standard that you should do 12-15 miles in the middle of your long run at your marathon goal pace.
James: So if you’re doing an 18-miler, let’s say, that could be a 2-mile warm-up, 14 miles at goal marathon pace, 2-mile cooldown. That forces you to be honest with what your goal pace is going to be. You do that workout once a week, or every other week, you’re going to have a very good idea whether that pace is correct for your marathon.
C259: I like that you mention honesty because I think that’s what trips up many marathon runners. They train so hard for this thing and they have a dream time, as we do here, and they set their target at this dream time. If they had a great day they would hit it, but if they are trying to hit it very consciously from the start it might actually decrease their chances of hitting it because they go out too hard. James, you say 12-15 miles in the middle of the run at your marathon goal pace, what is the longest pre-marathon workout that you would recommend?
James: I think the 15-mile long run at goal marathon pace. If you want to add miles to that, I would add miles to the warm-up and cooldown. It could be a 3 mile warm-up and 15 miles at goal pace, 3 mile cooldown, and you’ve got 21 miles there in the long run but it was a quality long run, you did 15 miles at goal pace. Hopefully it felt comfortable enough that you have the confidence that on race day you could do that for the extra 11.2. I’d apply that same principle if I’m training for a half marathon as well. I might do 8-10 miles at half-marathon pace. Or something slower, perhaps, it’s lactate threshold training. You’re moving quickly, but you are comfortable, you clearly have gears saved for a race situation. When you are in a race, you’ll have the extra gears and you’ll have race-day adrenaline and a taper to hopefully take you the rest of the way.
C259: For novices, explain what a lactate threshold run is and what that means in terms of the marathon.
James: You’ll hear things like tempo run and steady state and progression runs, those are lactate threshold types of workouts. They can also be tempo intervals, which are just longer intervals. Basically, I’ve read LT pace defined as the pace you could hold for one hour, so for me that could be a 15k or a 10 mile sort of race or maybe a bit longer than that, but I also think it’s a moving target, depending on how long you are doing this workout for. A 4-mile tempo run would be different from an 8-mile progression run, so the LT pace is different for those two types of workouts.
C259: Basically you are trying to train your body to keep the lactic acid at bay.
James: Right, it would be the threshold between aerobic and anaerobic. In the presence of oxygen is aerobic, and the lack of oxygen is anaerobic.
C259 (Gregg): When you get to race day, how do you usually approach pacing? Do you plan for a negative split?
James: We’re mostly on the road-racing scene where there are hills involved, which is very different from a track race. I typically would negative split most distances longer than – you talked about before how 800 meters is one of the last distances where positive splitting was optimal, and everything after that even splits or negative splits seem to be optimal. Perhaps the 1500 is the inflection point where even splits is the optimal strategy. Everything beyond that I would slightly negative split. And you are negative splitting effort as much as you are by time. What I mean by that is everything feels easy at the beginning of a race. You want to get halfway to 75% through a race feeling fairly comfortable and be able to really go anaerobic and redline the last 25% of the race, and that would lead to a negative-split performance.
C259: I think that’s key. I think it’s counter-intuitive to a lot of beginning runners that it should feel easy for awhile, before it doesn’t.
James: Yeah, the longer the race the more patient you have to be.
C259 (Gregg): Do you have any insight into why the 800 is different? It just doesn’t seem obvious to me why you’d be spending more on the first lap. Maybe you know from your days running at college and running it very well.
James: My 800 PR is 1:58 high. I’m pretty sure the splits as being 27 seconds first 200 (I ran this on an indoor track), 58 seconds at 400, and 1:27/28 at 600. Each lap I was positive splitting, but if I had to do it in reverse, it would be impossible. It’s too difficult to affect the final 400 meters of that race, whether you went out slow or fast. It’s never really that slow, so if I went out in 61, that’s still not that slow, I’m not sure that I would be able to come back in 58. If that’s the case, you have to go out fast and have time in the bank, and just try to hold on to complete the race, for me it was under 2:00.
C259: I’m used to running longer races and one thing that I count on – I ran the mile at the North Brooklyn Runners meet last week – is that in the last lap I’m going to get some adrenaline. Maybe because I paced it too easy, but on the last lap I ran a lot faster than the other laps. I certainly felt great coming out of it like I had this adrenaline shot. You’re saying in an 800, you really can’t control the last 400. In an 800 meter race if you are just hanging on at the end, when do you get the big adrenaline surge in the race?
James: I’d say there is no adrenaline surge in the race. I guess that’s why you do it that way, where you’re going to end up positive splitting. You just go out so hard, the entire distance is a long sprint. I think David Rudisha now has really shown that it is a long sprint. There is definitely a strong aerobic factor to it, but it really feels like a sprint. You basically can’t go any faster in that last 200, no matter if you went out a little bit slower than usual, I just don’t think you can affect that last 200 that much.
C259: They are great races to watch, the 800. What you see happen if you follow Nick Symmonds in his races and he’s running these slightly positive splits but he looks like he’s just blowing people away in the second lap because everybody is slowing down, and everybody is frantically trying to reach the finish line so it looks like Symmonds is actually running faster in the second lap in an outdoor 800. Also, Erik Sowinski who set the American record in the 600, he mowed down Duane Solomon at the Millrose Games and he actually positive split that, he went from 23 to 25 to 26 seconds, 26 high on the last lap, and it looked like he was accelerating at the end, but actually he was just reeling in Solomon who was slowing down more.
James: Looks are kind of deceiving, right. It all depends on what your form is looking like. I think that’s the difference with the 800 and perhaps the 1000 and the 600 as well. It’s sort of similar in the 400 where you start to see people’s form break down in the last 100 or so. I don’t think you see that in longer races than the 1,000. I think people’s form tends to hold up a little better.
C259: Why do you think most people pace their races poorly? You’ve got a New York Road Runners Race with 15,000 people in it. Why do most of them run a pretty significant positive split?
James: Inexperience. You have to consider the size of the field. There are a lot of novice runners in this field. But even among experienced runners, I think it’s race-day adrenaline, not being honest about what their true fitness level is. Everyone is shooting for a goal pace, which perhaps they didn’t set correctly, and that’s why I believe in training you really have to work on race pace. I see it all the time. Even in workouts, people end up racing workouts, and you’re not supposed to race workouts. You’re supposed to get an honest read of what your race pace should be.
C259: So you should try to feel in the workout like what? I run into the problem where I think, well, in the workout, if you are not racing it, are you trying to feel like you would in the middle of a race?
James: Yeah, I’ve never heard that before, but yeah, maybe you’re trying to feel like what it would in the middle of a race.
C259: So you’re not hammering it at the end. Every quarter isn’t like the last quarter of a race.
James: Exactly. You are absolutely not doing that. If you have a good idea of what your goal pace should be, and you’re doing a workout, you focus on not running the splits faster, but making them feel more comfortable and relaxed. Until you race faster, you have to go with what your current times are. You have to be honest with what your current fitness level is, not what you hope your fitness level is going to be, until you’ve run the race and have the time to prove it.
C259: The athletes that you coach, first of all, are these athletes of various abilities? Are these serious amateurs, or is there a range?
James: There’s a range, I’m coaching a few beginners, some experienced runners. I think the experienced runners are perhaps more difficult to coach, just because they expect to improve and if they’re already well-trained, it’s very difficult to get that extra bit of improvement out of them. The beginning runners, inevitably they’re going to improve. With them you want to stress good habits and how to train because a lot them don’t know that you need recovery days, or that hard days should be really hard, easy days should be really easy. They just know one speed and that’s to run hard all the time, which doesn’t work. It usually leads to injuries and leaves you stale in the workouts and in the races. Not the way to go.
C259: Have you had success stories?
James: Yeah, it’s been very rewarding so far. I get my athletes thanking me quite often. I’m making them very happy, more happy than I am about my own races actually, when they do well.
C259: I’ve noticed there are fewer race results for you recently. Are you doing some heavy duty training?
James: I was. I was doubling several times a week. I went over 80 miles a week and I started to get a pain in my leg. It was an injury that I had before but I never had it diagnosed. This time I did, I went to the doctor, had an x-ray, and it was a stress reaction. I was out for four weeks, and am slowly building back up now.
C259: Well, I hope to see you at the 5th Avenue Mile. We had a great interview last episode with Uli Flume (I’m sure I butchered his name yet again). At any rate, he’ll be in that race, I think. He’s another guy who has walloped me in that race before, you’ve certainly walloped me, but I’ll be gunning for both of you. You posted 4:37 in the 5th Avenue Mile, right?
James: Yeah, and my college PR is 4:27. I’m getting there. I’m getting there…
C259: Interesting that you are chasing your college PR. I’m chasing my high school PR. Now do you think you’re going to get there? Are you going to get down to 4:27?
James: Well, it helps to run on a slightly downhill course that’s also straight. If I’m going to do it, it’s going to have to be there.
C259 (Gregg): How do you approach the mile since we’re talking about paces. The 5th Avenue Mile has that hill, is it the second quarter mile it has the uphill?
James: Yeah, it’s interesting because we are talking about positive splitting and negative splitting. I think that from the mile to 5k, you actually want to go out fast, perhaps in that first quarter, and then settle into a slower pace. So in that first quarter of a race you might be faster than goal pace, and then the middle half of the race you might be at goal pace or slightly slower, and the last quarter you give it all you got.
C259 (Gregg): Is that to shock your body into going anaerobic? What is the science behind that?
James: I think because the beginning of a race is so easy, and it’s still a pretty short distance, a mile to 5k. You can’t be too far behind the pace early on. Especially since at the beginning of a race you are completely fresh, so you’ve got to get out a little quicker, and from there you back off and settle in to pace. Most people running a mile will run a good hard first quarter, and then settle in to the second and third laps, and the fourth lap they’ll kick. I don’t know if you’ve done that before?
C259: Yeah, it’s very interesting you say that. From my experience that’s how I’ve done it, I’ve never really thought about it. People fear those second and third laps, they are known to be very difficult, but if you think of it as settling in, maybe you have the expectation that if you’re not redlining those laps, it would make more sense.
James: You are saving energy for that last lap, right?
C259: Yep, storing up for that big old kick.
C259: Well James, thanks so much for your comments on pacing. I’m going to try working up to your 15 miles at goal pace. We’ll see if that gets me under three. I’m sure I’ll have to do other things in training. Before we wrap up our interview I just want you to talk to you a bit about North Brooklyn Runners. I think it’s a great club and you guys put on a fantastic meet last weekend. For those who don’t know about the club, tell us a bit about it.
James: The club is fairly new. They just celebrated their anniversary a month ago. I think they are 4 years old now or something like that. Don’t quote me on that but I guess I’m being quoted.
C259: Well, full disclosure, I was on one of the first North Brooklyn Runners runs over the bridge and back. I had already been a member of the Central Park Track Club, so I might get some shit for being part of two clubs, but it was enjoyable and I think it was four years ago.
C259 (Gregg): James we’re very worried that you’re going to lure Brenn away from us. We don’t like it when he hangs out in Williamsburg. We like him wearing orange.
James: Hey Brenn, we could use you over at NBR.
C259 (Gregg): Well, we could use you at Central Park, you know.
James: Central Park has got enough guys.
C259 (Gregg): What is it that mainly attracts you to NBR? The community feel?
James: Yeah, there’s a real community feel. We’re mostly based in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. It sort of has the old college and high school feel where we’re travelling to races together, but instead of the school bus we’re on the subway. We all show up at races together. You get big crowds showing up at workouts because we all live in the same neighborhood, pretty much. That doesn’t mean we don’t like other people from different neighborhoods to be part of the team. We have people in Manhattan, Queens, and South Brooklyn even. We have a group in Prospect Park as well. We’re not local to just Williamsburg or Greenpoint.
C259: A few things that have really impressed me about the club are the speed at which the club has grown – there were a handful of members when we ran over the bridge and back and got coffee afterwards years ago – and now there are hundreds of runners. Also the speed at which you guys have gotten up to speed. You are nipping at our heels in some races, and beating us [CPTC] in other races. Staten Island it seems like you’ve got a stranglehold on that race, for whatever reason. Also, the number of workouts. You’ve got 12 scheduled runs a week, something like that? Morning and night options.
James: Yeah, there are morning options, evening options – that’s just to fit everyone’s busy schedules. Some people can only run in the mornings, some people can only run in the evening, and also we also have runs in Prospect Park, so geographically we have different practices set up. It’s free to join the team – that’s been a huge factor in getting people to join. Once you get fast people joining, other fast people want to join, so that’s how we’ve gotten up to speed as well.
C259 (Gregg): One last question from me. When do you plan on running your first marathon? You’ve run the half. Will you be running your first marathon before or after Bernard Lagat?
James: That’s a good question, and I get a lot of pressure from just about everyone about when I’m going to run a marathon. My guess is if I run one, I won’t like it enough to run one again. It’s just such a long race. I like to race often when I’m in racing season. I prefer running several races rather than putting all my eggs into one race, so not in the near future. If I start to slow down in improvement, then maybe I’ll just move up to snag a new PR.
C259 (Gregg): We’ll keep track and maybe have you back as you’re gearing up for that in the months or years ahead. I’m sure you’ll post a great time whenever you choose to take that on. Thanks so much for joining us, it’s been a great discussion and we’d love to have you back sometime.
C259 (Brenn): WE may call you back late in the summer when we’re both in hard-care marathon training, give you some updates on long goal-paced runs and ask for more help. You gotta get us under three, man. Thanks James.
James: Thanks guys.
Full transcript of interview with Ulrich (Uli) Fluhme (Feb. 27, 2013):
C259: Uli, welcome to the cloud.
Uli: Thanks for having me, guys.
C259: First off, tell us a bit about Gran Fondo and your experience as a cyclist and a runner.
Uli: Gran Fondo is a cycling race for amateurs. We are going into the third year this year on May 19. We start in New York City, it’s 110 miles, the course goes to Vermont and finishes back in Weehawken. It’s a bit like a marathon in the sense that the guys in the front are racing, the guys in the middle are going for a PR, and the guys in the back are hoping to survive. We have 7,000 participants. It’s a fantastic thing. People from over 70 countries are coming. I think a comparison to the NYC Marathon but on bikes is the easiest way to explain it.
C259: In the last Gran Fondo you actually did some drug testing, correct?
Uli: Yeah we tested because it’s something that’s really close to my heart. It’s something I’ve followed it a lot over the last 10 years. I believe it’s unfortunately an important part of the sport but I feel if you put up a good race as a race director and you invite people to compete and train for that and do their best and you measure the course and you make sure nobody cuts the course, then drug testing is part of it, otherwise people will just take drugs and get away with it and would make it unfair. That’s why I believe drug testing has to be at any event of the size that can afford it.
C259: As a race director, what are the logistics of testing for drugs? Is this something that could be done at any race, or does it cost a tremendous amount of money? How does it work?
Uli: The cost is the biggest hurdle I’m sure. I said it before it has to be a relatively big event. Even for us it was a struggle to come up with about $15,000 to pay for in-competition and out-of-competition testing, but there are many large running events in the U.S. that could afford that. The financial issue is there, logistics – not a problem, really fairly simple and USADA takes care of that for the event if you pay for it.
C259: So basically you pay USADA and they take care of the testing?
Uli: That’s correct. Talk to them about what a good approach would be, what is in the budget of the event, what kind of testing would make sense, who you want to test, if you want to do in-competition, if you can even do out-of-competition testing, which is I think the more important one, and then you come up with a plan and they act completely independently of the event. They do the testing, they come back with the results and take care of it.
C259: For those unfamiliar with the actual test, what does it actually involve? For example, the in-competition, after the finish line, is there a tent and a blood test, a blood draw? How does it work?
Uli: Blood test you can do but these days you can detect most of the drugs by just peeing in a cup, which is what’s happening, so you’ve got chaperones they know who they have to what they call “catch” at the finish line. For example, the first five have to go to drug testing so there is a person designated to the fourth finisher. The guy comes across the line, they grab him, they go to a tent, and in this tent they get something to drink until they can pee. They pee in a cup. And all this is done by the chaperones under the supervision of USADA.
C259: Generally the athletes are cooperative and understand the reason, or do you have a lot of people who are very resistant?
Uli: In cycling, if you have a license from USA Cycling it’s like a USATF license, the same thing, then you agree to drug testing at any time, you don’t even have a choice. The easiest thing is, if you don’t even agree to getting tested then you automatically get a ban, so there is no choice in that. Most athletes they support that, and we had no problem with anyone refusing it. We did have positive tests. No one is going to say no because they know they would get banned at my event for life if they would do that and would immediately get a 2-year ban from USADA.
C259: Were you surprised at the positive tests? You had two positive tests, right?
Uli: Yes, I was surprised because in competition, as they say, you usually only catch the dumb guys, because, you know, there are so many ways to take the drugs so that they can’t be detected on the day, and there are many drugs that help you to get ready for the event, for the race, you don’t even have to have it in your system for the race itself to help you with training. The two that got busted one of them was Italian, he didn’t know we tested and the other guy he said he was just caught, he was not thinking he would get tested positive.
C259: This was EPO?
Uli: Yep, full-on EPO, two amateurs, in an amateur event, EPO, two out of ten.
C259: Could you tell us what the prize money at stake was for these athletes, and do you think it was the prize money, or other factors of general prestige that led them to do this?
Uli: It’s an amateur event so there was no prize money, however the winners they get an $8,000 bike, so you can think of $8,000 prize money. But prize money is not really why people dope. Sure in professional sports there are athletes even not all of them dope for the money; in amateur sports it’s not about the money, it’s all about prestige and wanting to win. When you talk to the people who get busted, the amateurs, one of our guys, he doesn’t need the money or the bike, he has enough bikes. It’s all about ego.
C259: So you think this is a big problem among amateurs generally, in running and cycling?
Uli: Yes I think so it is. I could take our event as proof. I could claim that 20% were on EPO, but just among ten guys, but I think it is, it is a problem. It is hard to prove it at this point because there are very few events that do testing among amateurs, but the supplement industry is a massive industry. People take anything, they put anything in their bodies to just improve whatever. Getting these drugs is very easy these days, having the Internet. You just go on Google, you put in the stuff you want, and you get it delivered to your door in a non-descript envelope. You can even Google how to take this stuff, so there is no reason why people wouldn’t do it. They go to great lengths, they train hard, they want to win at any cost. People do that, no doubt.
C259: If you could venture a guess, what percentage of NYC Marathon runners, of the amateurs, would test positive?
Uli: Well, you know, with test positive you’ve got to be careful, because if you look at the NYC Marathon field there are probably 90% in there, or 80%, who just want to finish. Then you have 19% or 19.9%, who want to beat their personal best, and then you’ve got very few who actually go for the win or are professionals.
If you’ve got someone who just wants to finish they may take some medication just because they do that anyway. Because it makes them feel better or a big problem now, I call it a problem in the U.S., is that if you are 50 and you go to a doctor and say you feel a little tired, they say well your testosterone is low, how about a testosterone supplementation? It’s just the general process of aging that you have a lower testosterone level, so it’s not something that is a medical issue, it’s just life. They may take testosterone, not as performance enhancing but just to feel better, they end up running a marathon they want to just finish in five hours and of course they would test positive. That’s not a positive doping test that we should be concerned about. We should be concerned about the people who are competing, the sub-elites, people who are competitive club runners in New York City, you look at the top 100, the top 200 guys who are bringing in the points for the teams. There I would really look closely at what they are doing. I would be looking at the Road Runners to do something there.
C259: If you were in charge, what would you do, if you were Mary Wittenberg?
Uli: If I were Mary Wittenberg, I would definitely take the larger races like the Scotland 10k or Coogan’s which is coming up this weekend and test the podium, test a few age-group podiums, two or three random tests, maybe 5-10 tests in competition, and I would also create a list of the top 200 runners from the year before and test them out of competition.
C259: Interesting. So you would vastly expand drug testing?
Uli: Absolutely, what I said before. The Road Runner races are fantastic races. I came to New York five years ago and got into the running scene and really enjoyed and got better just having all these competitive races – well organized, measured courses, it’s just perfect from start to finish. That motivates me, it motivates me to train hard, to go out there and train every day, and do my best. If you as a race organizer provide all these great races that are competitive, then you have to do everything, that is the obligation as a race director, to make sure it’s fair, which means you have marshals to make sure that no one is cutting the course. You also need to have drug testing, because that’s also a way of cheating, and I think it should be part of it. The Road Runners are an organization that is big enough to afford that.
C259: Do you think Uli that the costs will come down over time and make it more commonplace for this kind of testing to take place in smaller races outside of New York Road Runners? In other words, do you think we should expect as runners that over time we will eventually be giving a test at the finish line, even if we are looking for a masters award in a small race?
Uli: It wouldn’t be in a small race, and that’s not what I would be getting at. If the perception is out there that you could be tested, and there are certain bigger events that they are testing and people see actually see it, and you know there is out-of-competition testing there, and you know in your club, well, John got tested last week, he’s a 2:49 marathon runner and does all these club races, scores from time to time. I think it makes people more cautious with what they are doing. That makes people who are taking drugs maybe go away from the sport, maybe don’t go to those races, maybe they have to be more careful in what they take, maybe they can only take less, they have to start more micro-dosing, all this helps. We will never be able to get drugs completely out of the sport, but right now it is a free-for-all. Right now you can do whatever you want. You can take EPO until your blood is thick. If you go to 60% hematocrit, no one cares. There are enough studies out there, that if you are a 3:00 marathon runner, you take this stuff, you run a 2:50, that’s ten minutes, just by taking EPO. It’s possible right now. No one is going to stop you. If they are going to stop you it is because you don’t go over a timing mat because you cut somewhere in the Bronx, you took a cross street to not go all the way in the marathon and you only run 25 miles. You take the EPO, 10 minutes, no one is going to be able to tell.
C259: Do you think that the running clubs bear responsibility for keeping their athletes clean?
Uli: Yeah, I think education is what the clubs need to do. I don’t think the clubs could afford to test the runners, but they can do education, that is something that is missing, but that is definitely something that should be done. There could be education of any runner or in particular younger runners, growing up. In the long term it is not about winning or placing in an amateur competition. Competing and training is so much more than just placing tenth or eighth or twelfth or whatever.
C259: It’s interesting to hear you talk about this among amateurs. I never would have thought that such a thing would be possible, testing among amateurs, but it’s very interesting that you did that in Gran Fondo and I would welcome it. I think it would be fantastic if at the Scotland 10k the age-group winners or certain people would be picked out, would have to pee in a cup. The thought that the whole field was clean or cleaner I would welcome that, I think that’s great. People would be running for the right reasons and you might be saving some people from greater health or psychological issues down the line.
Now Uli, looking at the pro scene, do you think that running is in a bubble right now and that we may see some bad news in the next few years akin to what we’ve seen in cycling leading up to Lance Armstrong?
Uli: Yeah, from knowing running and cycling, the sports are too similar that you shouldn’t think that drugs are not as widespread as they are in cycling. I think we shouldn’t be scared about what could happen, I think we should welcome if more would come out, because right now everybody is just living in denial. Many races are just scared that they have a winner and then a week later they have to say well actually he was on drugs. There is this perception that you don’t want a tainted winner and you don’t want that risk so you’d rather not test. It’s kind of like just like looking away. It’s not sustainable, as we’ve seen in cycling. Pro cycling is going through a rough time because of that and I think running will too if we don’t really take care of it. Just before you spoke about what the World Marathon Majors were doing and you could call it a tiny step in the right direction, but they are actually not out-of-competition testing. I don’t think that you read that correctly. From my understanding they applaud it, that they think it’s good. But what I think they actually should do is come up with money to fund it.
C259: I think the release said there would be additional out-of-competition testing in Ethiopia and Kenya and biological passport testing and that they had not been doing that before.
Uli: This is not because of them. This is just happening by WADA. They applaud that it is getting done. I don’t think they are financing that program, and that’s what they should do, and they should go further they should go into amateurs as well.
C259: Some have said that some of the big money centers of the sport, the big sneaker companies should really get behind this.
Uli: Yeah, perfect. They too, absolutely. I’m always talk about the races because I am a race director and it’s easier to point fingers on others. Being a race director I put the money where my mouth is and I actually do it. We test, and I show that it is possible. I want the Road Runners, I want Chicago Marathon, Boston, I want the Competitor Group to test, because they can. If they say they cannot it is just they are too greedy, they are too cheap, they can do it. I show it’s getting done and there are other events, we aren’t the only one, we were the first ones testing out-of-competition. There are large cycling events in Italy that test amateurs.
There is the so-called Five Stars league, which is five large Gran Fondos, they all have 5,000 to 8,000 participants, and they created a list of the strongest 200 cyclists from the year before. When they want to do one of those big five races, think of them as the big five marathons in America, they have to give blood in the morning. That test costs 50 euros. It is not a doping test, but they are creating a blood profile and they can see what’s happening. If they see a blood profile that is completely out of whack, they tell this guy look, you are not racing, you are not doing this, you’re banned for two weeks. Just the scare of giving the blood in the morning before the race and knowing you are getting monitored kept a handful, quite a lot of riders, actually, away from those events – those who were on the podium the year before, who dominated those events. Events got slower, the races got slower. It helped. It is a cheap way to do it because it is not actual testing, but it is another way. There are smart ways to do it. People always say well, we can’t do it for legal reasons, this and that. I’m lawyer, it’s possible. You just have to do it. Sometimes you’ll have to deal with the consequences, sometimes some one will fight you, but you can get through it.
C259: You have an opinion piece on slowtwitch.com, we’ll put a link to it on our show notes. It’s a great piece about age-group doping control, the very subject we’re discussing now. One of the comments you make that I love was when you say that the primary goal of testing is not catching the cheaters, it’s about deterring dopers from competing in the first place. I think that’s very correct, we’re obsessed with catching people, but it’s really about deterrence.
Uli: Absolutely. Catching is so much harder than to deter them, we saw that. When we announced that we have testing, there were some interesting no-shows, and that’s okay. If someone wants to take drugs, do it, take testosterone or whatever, if that’s what you want, I don’t care, but don’t come to my race. And that’s fine. It’s helped. And we had a few DNFs where we knew well, these people that’s kind of weird, where did they end up? You see them at the start and you know they are good, they should win something, and then they don’t finish. And I think that’s all we need, that’s all we need. I’m sure we had some people place who take drugs. You cannot avoid that, but you can minimize it, and it helps the people who try to compete clean, and it is still the vast majority who try to compete clean, and they get cheated by a few bad apples.
C259: In your opinion piece you mention TUEs, which are therapeutic use exemptions, and you talked about it a little bit with a 50 year-old guy getting some testosterone medication, and there are other therapeutic uses. Do you have an opinion, what should we make of a high-profile athlete who has a medical condition and is taking something that otherwise is considered a performance enhancing drug. In the swirl of accusations and innuendoes, there were articles from a couple of years ago pointing out that Galen Rupp has his own TUE for a thyroid condition and is getting treatment for that. Do you have an opinion on this area?
Uli: TUEs are important because there are some people who actually have to take something to live a life that is normal. They have a medical condition that is not pleasant, and they’d probably rather not take the medication and be healthy. The TUEs are really important. Are they abused? Of course they are. It happens, too. It happened in pro cycling where there was a time when more than 90% of the field had asthma, so they could take something. This is a small problem in the big picture because you won’t get a TUE for EPO, it’s very hard to get a TUE for testosterone, I think it’s almost impossible. You won’t get a TUE for HGH, for the stuff that really, really helps, you won’t get a TUE for that. TUEs are important, yes there are cases where you can question it, but I doubt that some one wins the race because of the medication he or she could take because of TUE. That should not something we should be obsessing too much over.
C259: Were a lot of the participants in the Gran Fondo grateful about the drug testing policy you took on?
Uli: Yeah absolutely. They want that. The vast majority want that. There were a few people who don’t want it, but, you know, there were some weird things happening that were quite suspicious, like, why don’t you want it? People said it’s too personal, it’s my hobby. Well, you know, unfortunately thank the cheaters that it’s now part of your hobby that you might get tested. But the vast majority loves it, they want that, it makes them feel better, because everybody sees some performances, especially from age-group athletes, 40 plus, that are almost impossible. They are freaks of nature, and the number of freaks of nature has definitely grown in the last 10, 15 years. To be honest, seeing this it really disgusts me to see these people get away with it. And I try to do my own thing but I’m a competitor, I like to compete, and sometimes it’s hard to swallow. First thing is always I think, well, he’s better, and then someone gets busted and I’m like, well, he wasn’t just better, and it’s not easy. It doesn’t matter if you are a 2:30 runner or a 2:20 runner or a 2:50 runner, it’s in all these levels. Once you are back of the pack and want to finish, then you really are only concerned about yourself, but the competitive level, that’s a lot of people.
C259: Have any race directors followed your lead for other cycling races and started drug testing?
Uli: Yeah it’s definitely something that thanks to us doing this, and I’m tapping my own shoulder because I like that it’s happening, it has helped and other events are following suit, not as many as we would like but it definitely starts working. CRCA, which is the racing organization for cycling races here in New York is starting testing, and there is a large triathlon organization called Rev3 who plans to do age-group testing. USA Cycling, which is the cycling federation like USATF, is working together with USADA on an amateur doping control system for all of the U.S., thanks to what we did. So there is a movement, it’s happening, and I really hope that the other large organizations that run great amateur events like the Road Runners follow suit and see that it is something that has to be done.
C259: One last question. Would you link the striking improved performances that we’ve seen among the elites in the marathon and the half marathons that we talked about earlier in the show to a lot of people getting away with taking drugs?
Uli: Yeah, that’s probably one of the reasons, yep. You named the other ones, that people are younger and it’s just more competitive. At the top of the end of it, if you have someone really young who comes from a 2:09 to a 2:04, that’s pretty rough. To get to a 2:09, people from East Africa, they don’t have access to drugs. I’ve been to Iten, I’ve trained there (or run there, I wouldn’t call it training) for two weeks, and if you see how a 2:12, 2:13 runner lives there, they have nothing. They don’t have access to drugs. But they get to a race, they run 2:09, and then they get to those training camps and then they have managers and that’s the point that they get access to drugs, and that’s where the next step happens. Those training camps, how they function is not good. The managers get a portion of the winnings, which of course is to a certain extent normal, but the incentives are maybe a problem there.
I really hope that New York Road Runners, Competitor Group, IronMan in triathlon, the organizations that have the money that are stepping up now, will also start testing among amateurs. I think we amateur runners we deserve that. We train so hard, we pay those entry fees, we want to race the other guys and we want a fair competition. Like you guys talking about it, there need to be more people stepping up and saying why don’t you test me? I want to be tested. Our whole club CPTC we want to be tested. We want to show we do this clean. We want to prove we do this clean. I think just saying we know you can afford it, it can be done, there are other events that do it. What do we need to do? Also, go to the race director and tell them, you should do it. Many race directors don’t know how to do it, what to do. Offer the help, say, let’s go to USADA together. Talk to them, they are really helpful. You go on a website, you go on the contact form, you write them an e-mail, you call them, they help you out, they tell you what’s possible and what’s not. It’s really easy if you want it, and I think just shunning away from it and closing your eyes and hoping nothing happens isn’t the way to deal with it.
C259: Uli thank you so much for joining us tonight and for your insights on both the amateur and the elite scene. We can’t let you go without asking for a training tip. You as an accomplished 2:33 marathoner, what is something you’ve done, besides having obvious talent, that’s helped you get your times so low?
Uli: Yeah it’s all talent I actually should be running 2:15, right? I can say I’m 6’1’’ and I weigh 165 pounds so that’s not really that much talent for a runner, so I’m quite heavy. I’m kind of old school. Sometimes I run with a watch, when I do a tempo run or intervals, but usually I run without a watch. I start my run and look at the CNN sign at Columbus Circle, and go for a run in the park and come back and look at the time again and write down the time. I think keep it simple, just run, and what I’ve learned from CPTC is you need to run hard from time to time. You need people who push you. CPTC is a great club because for everyone there is someone who is going to beat you and is going to make it hard for you. Don’t race every workout, but some workouts we have to hurt. A book I recommend reading is Matt Fitzgerald’s “Brain Training for Runners.” It’s all about getting the brain into the right frame of mind, of hurting yourself and getting used to it.
C259: Thanks for joining us and we’ll have you back if the doping situation develops of if we can’t get another guest we’ll have to get you back in either case…