Amy Begley was our guest on Episode 5.
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.