Lauren Fleshman, Kate Grace, and Sally Bergesen were our guests on Episode 8.
C259: Sally, Kate, and Lauren, welcome to the cloud.
Sally: Thank you, thanks for having us.
C259: Sally, why don’t we start with you. You started Oiselle in 2007, but it’s clear that your mission is more than building a successful clothing brand. It’s about changing the structure of the sport as we alluded to with Nike and Adidas dominating the scene. When did you decide to sign pro runners and take on the giants?
Sally: It’s really been an evolution from the beginning. Before starting Oiselle I was involved with running more as a regionally competitive runner, very much into road racing and some club cross country. Even though I was probably more into it than a jogger, per se, I still was at a bit of an arm’s distance from the inside of the sport. The start of Oiselle in some ways was really just this quest for a better product to run in because I was frustrated with the status quo.
It really wasn’t until we got rolling and got a couple of years into it and got reacquainted with the workings of the sport and the players and the athletes and just how everything works that we became more focused on this area and more interested in sponsoring pro runners. It was really just kind of a dream in the beginning – when you’re a start-up you don’t have a lot of extra capital, so the fact that we are at right now with these wonderful women on the line is a dream come true. We’re very committed to it now, and the more we learn, the more we get interested in looking at and hopefully creating positive change.
C259: So what do you think are the biggest problems the sport faces in terms of sponsorships? And what are you doing to change the paradigm?
Sally: I’ve done a lot of thinking about this and a lot of talking about it, and there’s a big dialogue going on inside the sport. As a general MO, I like to, as Lauren says, “dwell in positivity” because I think you can get a lot more done by creating positive forces in the universe. On the other side of it, if you take a critical eye to our sport and our industry, I think there are elements at play that are holding us back. Everybody on this line is a huge fan of track and field and I think we all have an interest in seeing it grow and thrive.
On a somewhat critical note, right now the way our system is structured is that the sport of professional track and field is hooked up to a little bit of a life-support system, and that support system is Nike. It’s very much in their interest in many ways to keep it small and keep it a sport that the world rallies around only in an Olympic year. Part of that is just that they don’t make their money from the sport of track and field. It’s a legacy to their company and their culture, but I just don’t think it’s in their interest to see it really grow and thrive. Why would they do that? Right now as it is they control the governing bodies, they scoop up the top 3% of the runners, everybody else is scraping around for a $15,000 annual salary.
C259: It’s a very provocative angle. Given that, how did you get Lauren away from Nike?
Sally: (Laughs). You’ll have to ask her that.
C259: Well Lauren, thankfully you’re here on the line!
Lauren: Yeah, well, I had a relationship with Nike for 9.5 years, and there were some really great things to that, but one thing that cannot really be argued with is that it’s about business for Nike 100%. They have a valid sports marketing strategy, but it works best for you as an athlete if you never get injured, you win all the time, and you are motivated purely by money. Realistically, if you are a clean athlete who is trying to be your best and have a long career, you are going to have good years, you’re going to have injured years, you are going to have years where you have a baby. If it’s purely about winning, it can be a pretty stressful business relationship.
For me, I do best when I am running for a team. In high school and college that was easy. Your team literally was a team, and you wore the same jersey and went out and ran together. As a professional, your team is made up of people like your coach, a few mentors, your sponsors, and your massage therapist, and all of those relationships be somewhere on the spectrum of purely business all the way up to like family. I didn’t realize when I started out as a professional runner that you have a choice in what relationships you choose and how you want them to function, and I just realized that I much would prefer sponsorship relationships that are about more depth than what race have you won lately.
Part of that is that I take my sponsorship seriously. If someone is going to invest in me, I want to invest my heart and soul back into them. There wasn’t really an upside to that with Nike. You can pour your heart and soul into it, and go above and beyond – I’ve always been an overachiever – and go above and beyond in marketing efforts or other things, and there’s absolutely no upside for that in that type of business relationship. I started to see Oiselle from a distance in my last year from Nike, watching them on social media, getting to know some of the people that worked for them, and I saw there was something else out there, that was possible, and I wanted to be a part of that. With Oiselle, I feel like they recognized the athlete parts of me but also the business experience I’ve gained over the years with PickyBars, the marketing experience I’ve gained, my abilities as a writer, there’s a more complex role I can play and I enjoy that.
C259: When you talk about upside, you mean the other parts of your life would be supported by Oiselle that wouldn’t be supported by Nike? Or is there also a financial upside in being with Oiselle on a ground level?
Lauren: It’s both. It’s personal and it’s how you are valued in business. What are you going to be evaluated on at the end of the year? Is it just going to be your season best, or is it going to be that you actually contribute to the brand and help move the bottom line? There’s more than one way you can do that. There may have been years when I could have contributed to Nike in ways other than just my running, but there was no way to value and appreciate that, just being such a large company with so many athletes. What they really want is saturation at high places and that’s really all they have room for in their model of evaluation. When you are with a start-up, a smaller business, you can make a bigger difference in multiple areas. So yeah, I do gain financially if Oiselle does well financially because I’m invested and I’m a partner, but I also gain professionally with experience in other areas and I gain personally from people who treat me as a family. It’s a more multidimensional relationship and it’s a much better for me as a person and what motivates and drives me as an athlete.
C259: Kate, let’s get you in the conversation here. You’ve been one of the bigger breakout stories of track and field in 2013. Having already signed with Oiselle you signed again through the Rio Olympics, which is really a strong statement of your commitment to Oiselle and vice-versa. Are your reasons of being with Oiselle similar to Lauren’s, or how do you look at that relationship with the company?
Kate: I came at the company from a very different background than Lauren. Lauren clearly was already a world-class runner, whereas I was fresh out of college with very little on my official track resume. That said, I’m creating a bond with the company for similar reasons: this feeling of team, this feeling of great support for my running and for what else it could offer my whole person. I came to the company, it’s almost as if we were growing together in the first year and it was more of a discovery. When I first signed with them I wouldn’t have had many other options on the open market. Now, being with them for a year, I’ve learned about the brand, coming to feel my persona as a runner is much defined and intertwined with the brand identity. In that sense I can’t even imagine another situation with another company. Exactly what Lauren was talking about, the current environment with sponsorship is very year to year. I see my friends and my training partners going through the stress of contracts that come up and having to be renewed in non-Olympic years, when money for the sport tends to dry up. As far as training environment for an athlete, that’s just toxic, because then you are making decisions not based on what’s best for your training, or what makes the most sense in a long-term scheme, but what’s best right then. I’m learning more and more that in this sport, for my goals for the Rio Olympics, the work I am doing now has short-term but also a long-term vision to it. That would change if I had to have the top performances of my career this year to keep my contract and keep staying alive.
C259: So did you come to Sally with the idea of signing through the Olympics or was that her idea?
Kate: Sally, was that your idea? Both of ours? In came to us both in a dream.
Sally: It was very mutual. Oiselle is also bigger than Kate and I. We have a really good group of people, including business partners like Bob and Sarah Lezko who are also part of the network family. Actually it was through them that we met Kate initially, as they also went to Yale. I think Sarah Lezko had her eye on you right, early on in your college performances. It evolved really after the Trials. We knew the more we got to know Kate and being together as people and as a company and as an athlete and all that, that we wanted to continue together. There was just no uncertainty in our minds that we wanted to make it work, and we feel really fortunate that that’s happened.
C259: Can you talk about in general terms how you structure your contracts, or what you do or don’t do that the shoe companies do or don’t do? How do you compete against the much deeper pockets of Nike and Adidas and others?
Sally: I don’t know if I feel totally comfortable in spelling it all out, but we make sure that with Kate and Lauren and the athletes have a combination of both stipend/salary and bonus potential, growth potential. That’s one of the exciting things about being where we are at right now. There’s a ton of upside just like what Lauren was talking about, so as we are going we are able to invest more in those that invest in us. Everybody that on the team feels good and confident about that. There’s also this question of multiple sponsors which has created quite a bit of conversation inside the company because that’s one of the things that has kind of held pro runners back, is this single sponsor formula. That’s probably a whole other tangent, but we have had healthy conversation inside about can we partner with a shoe company. How would that work, what would it look like? All of those things we are open to talking about because essentially what we are driving towards is new solutions, being creative, looking at multiple brands, potentially. It takes more work, but the payoff could also be better not just for our team members but other runners in general if we could potentially create a new example or a new paradigm as you called it.
C259: I guess one of the big barriers is that most if not all shoe companies also make apparel, so they are probably reticent to share sponsorship with you since they want to sell their clothes. Amy Begley on our show said they own your shoes, they own your whole body.
Lauren: It’s interesting my husband [Jesse Thomas] is a professional triathlete, and what I’ve learned is that there is actually a lot of precedent for shoe-only sponsorships. Triathlon is a sport where things are segmented into little tiny bits. You’ll have a wheel sponsor, and a power-meter sponsor, and a shoe sponsor, and a cycling kit sponsor. They are drawing from a lot of the same companies. There are some triathlon-specific companies that you don’t see in the sport of running, but they have Asics athletes, and New Balance. There is a precedent out there, but it is very uncommon in running, because running has always been done one way. What’s exciting about Oiselle is that we finally have an opening to try something new. I’m optimistic that there is something out there. We’ll just have to see what happens.
Sally: Just as a brief example of how we are playing with it: You mentioned that Lauren founded Picky Bars, which is also a fast-growing start-up like us. When she joined us, we joked around that she was going to be Chief Picky Bird as her title, combining the two brands. We did this tee-shirt that says “Picky Bird” on it just for fun, but also to kind of communicate that idea that collaborations are possible, and not only are they possible, but they can be fun, they can create something new that is interesting. So again, just looking at the sport with fresh eyes and asking questions maybe that haven’t been asked in awhile.
C259: So Sally, you’re not interested in designing the Oiselle running shoe and then locking up all of your athletes from head to toe?
Sally: Well, you don’t know… (laughter).
C259: Question for any of you. Do you think there are ways to drive more attention to the sport from the other side, from the spectator’s perspective? We personally think that the broadcasts have to get a lot better in terms of delivering more drama and more data and to tell a compelling story. Maybe Lauren, you’ve been watching a little more track lately?
Lauren: Yeah. I like watching more track for the reason that it never lives up to my expectations. The production value is terrible. There are some meets doing some decent jobs in person, you see it moreso in Europe. It’s really tough. It’s the same sort of obstacles that face the sponsorship challenges. There are a lot of old dogs in the sport that don’t want to see it change. They are scared of change, and I just don’t know how we are going to make that happen. I was hopeful with events like Re-Run, some new people trying to get in the game and do something different. We need to support that. Athletes need to get behind that, the media that cares. When somebody is trying to do something outside-the-box, you’ve got to get on board. You’ve got to try things and fail. I think the USATF is a big hindrance in a lot of ways to the growth of our sport, but one of those is also in production value. I don’t really know how to propose a change, other than I have the suspicion that simply opening the sport up and making it a more hospitable environment for more sponsors and more dollars to come in from more sources, it certainly can’t hurt in bringing more people to the table who will then have a vested interest in watching it grow. The way the current system is set up, is not hospitable to newcomers. It’s protected, it’s monopolistic, you will not see changes in an environment like that, because the people that own the sport are getting what they want out of it, and they have a lot of lose by allowing anybody else in, or by changing the rules in such a way that allow other people to make an impact, to make a difference. We need to start with changing to rules, we need to make it worthwhile for sponsors to get involved. Oiselle currently can support me for four years, and Kate, and Kate and I can go to the Olympic Games, and we could have the race of our life and win the gold medal, and we’re not allowed to talk about Oiselle for two weeks before or after the Olympics, or during the entire games, we are not allowed to wear Oiselle. We are not allowed to give any credit to any of the people that paid our bills, supported us, motivated us, any of that stuff for the previous four years because of rules like Rule 40 and the IOC protecting its interests, and until you see the real upside for new sponsors to be able to support an athlete and see that all the way through to the highest performance at the Olympic Games, we’re not going to see a lot of new players get excited about pouring money into the sport. That’s where I would start.
C259: It’s absurd that you wouldn’t be able to talk about Oiselle if you won a gold medal. It’s bizarre.
Lauren: Yeah, it’s not even just on the day or on the podium, it’s for a blackout period. And Oiselle couldn’t talk about us. They couldn’t do a Kate Grace commercial about it, nothing.
C259: Is that rule in place to protect the sponsor of the Olympics? Is that the purpose of that?
Lauren: Yeah, it’s so that they could sell the exclusive rights to sponsors for the games, so they could make the value of the sponsorships really really big, so they can get all this money that the athletes never see a dime of.
C259: So essentially the problem is that the Olympics are owned.
C259: That’s depressing.
Lauren: Yeah, it’s really depressing. There are some examples of some rebels in the sports world that have a made a difference. In swimming in particular, I can’t remember their names right now, but there was a guy who insisted on wearing his Cal Bears swim cap, and was just like “I am going to wear this swim cap. I don’t care what swim cap you issued me. This is my lucky swim cap and you can fine me if you want, but I am going to wear it.”
C259: So there will be a very small Oiselle bird on the USA singlet that you will wear at Rio. Lauren, you had to remove your tattoo for the marathon, right? The Picky Bars tattoo?
Lauren: Yeah, I learned very quickly how seriously people take those IAAF rules. Maybe I could have just said forget it, I’m going to leave this on, and then I would have run the race and been disqualified after it, I guess you never know. I’m not going to say that I’m against pushing the boundaries when I come back to running.
C259: We look forward to that. It’s amazing when you compare running to auto racing. NASCAR has an enormous fan base, I’m not included among them, but those are things going in circles around the track. There are dozens of sponsors on every vehicle, and there are no exclusions. It helps the sport in the long run, it doesn’t seem like it’s hurting the sport.
Lauren: That’s one of the biggest arguments you hear against opening the sport up. Everyone hisses the word NASCAR, “we don’t want to become like NASCAR” like it’s this horrible thing. It’s one of the most successful sports out there, so it just kind of cracks me up. That reaction cracks me up.
C259: Lauren, I want to talk about some of your top races in your career thus far. In the 2006 US Champs you beat Kara Goucher, in the 2010 champs you outkicked Jessica Barringer, (now Jessica Simpson), among others. Then you won the Diamond League race in 2011 when you started kicking well before the bell, and the announcer thought that you had miscounted the laps. You knew that you had a lap to go, but he didn’t know that you knew that you had a lap to go. Basically, when you opened a can of whoop-ass with more than a lap to go, where these preconceived strategies to catch your competition off guard, or were you just feeling great at that moment, so you thought I’ll go early?
Lauren: It doesn’t take a genius to realize that if you are going to make people hurt for a longer period of time, that they will be less excited about kicking with you, but that doesn’t mean that everybody is willing to try that strategy, and it doesn’t mean that I’m willing to try that strategy every time. I’m a competitor and I want to win, so if I even have an inkling that I could maybe hold on for longer than 400 on a kick, then I’m going to give it a shot, because I’m just going to dare people to try to stay with me. I love that feeling of letting it all hang out and not knowing for sure if you can maintain. I’ve always enjoyed that, since college I’ve kicked from anywhere from 200 out to 600 out. I don’t have one strategy, but those races are fun. When you make the decision to go, like in 2010 when I won the Nationals with that type of 600 meter kick, I didn’t plan that in advance. I knew it was one of my tools in my arsenal from my past, but you don’t know if you are going to have it on that day. I saw a window of opportunity, I saw on that day that there were athletes who were better prepared than me. There was a moment when Jen Rhines was about to get swallowed by the pack after she made a really early move, and we were just about to go into the turn, and I thought if I go now, Jen is going to get in everybody’s way, nobody is going to see it coming, and maybe I can get a jump start on these guys and steal the race. So part of it is just reading the specific race environment and being open to hurting for a really long time. That’s really all that you need. Gabe Jennings actually was the inspiration for a strategy like that. He won the 2000 Olympic Trials 1500 with a 500 meter kick that just annihilated people, it broke their soul. I watched him do that. I was like, holy crap, if I can do that I could really make some people hurt in the 5k. It’s scary though, because you are putting yourself out there and you can’t look back. You are very vulnerable all of a sudden. You are really going for broke, you know?
C259: It’s interesting how on the track the bell is such signal and how the bell does start the kick, so that if you don’t start the kick at the bell then you do change things around a bit. I’ve noticed often in road races too, people start kicking like mad when they can see the finish line. Mostly among amateurs, but sometimes that’s only 100 yards or 200 yards to the finish, so it’s that visual cue, that signal, that sets people to go, and if you can get a head start on that, if you know where the finish line is, you can track down some of the competition.
Lauren: Yeah, definitely and 600 out is still before people can feel the finish line, and you are forcing them to make a hard decision.
C259: Can you rank your favorite races? Was that 2010 race your favorite race?
Lauren: That race is definitely up there. I had been away for almost two years. I had a navicular stress fracture. I missed the Olympics barely, by one spot, in 2008. Barely missed it, followed that with an injury, followed that with a surgery, followed that with getting way out of shape, way removed from the sport, depressed, there was kind of a low point, and then having to crawl back from that and have it take as long as it did and start from scratch, and being one of the last seeded people in the race in 2010. I was just proud of myself for making it back to high-level competition at that point. I think a lot of it is that I was grateful, that I pushed through and fought back and earned my spot on the line. That made it easier to to out there and run with guts and not be afraid and seize the opportunity if it was presented and not let pre-race rankings determine that. From that sense, it was probably the most rewarding race. Plus my coach Mark Rowland was my new coach, starting in 2009. He poured two years into me when there was no guarantee I’d come back from that foot surgery. It was about him, too, kind of way for me to show him that his hard work and loyalty was worth it, so I really enjoyed being able to show that to him. But in 2011 winning that London meet was my favorite for a different reason. It was my only 5k that didn’t hurt. You hear stories about this. You hear that races exist where you just feel good, but I had never experienced that. It’s something I may never experience again, so I’m glad I had that experience once.
C259: Lauren, a very different race for you was in the Trials in 2012. You basically came in with hardly any training at all. I think you were able to do some sprints. You still inspired a lot of people by reaching your goal of making the finals, and just on that I think Twitter blew up just with excitement for you to make the finals, even though you knew you were not going to make the Olympic team. How do you look back on that experience right now?
Lauren: Oh man, you know that whole experience was so complex, the whole thing was so complex. I could run 10 or 11 miles a week, max. I really didn’t have any reason to think on paper that I deserved a lane or should do anything worth watching, much less making the final. I preach to people all the time on my website, and in public appearances and in what I do that it’s not just about winning, and you have to take the good times with the bad, and really think of it more like a journey. The challenges that I faced in 2012 really put my words to the test in my own life. When the race came near a few weeks out and it was obvious that making the team wasn’t going to happen, I had to make that choice for myself. I had to decide, is this just about making the team or not? If this was just about making the team, I shouldn’t go out there and bother, because I’m probably going to embarrass myself. A younger version of me would have opted not to race and not to have the, you could say negative experience of running poorly, but I felt beholden to the words I preached, and I wanted to see that experience in my own life, see what that felt like, and it was so satisfying. Simply by changing my goal and making it more obtainable, I was like floored not only that I could make the final, but how much people came to support me in that adjusted goal, how much they were rooting for me, and how much they shared in that joy. All I did was make the final. Making the final was something that I did every year before that with no problem. Now all of a sudden it was a huge victory and people understood that. It was cool. It was really really special. It has made me less afraid to try even when I am not going to be my best, and let my performance be what it is going to be, and that’s going to be valuable for me coming out of pregnancy. I’m probably going to have some doozies out there.
C259: Who knows what it will be like when you first stop racing, but certainly if you get some training uninterrupted by injuries, you could get right back up there, right at the front. Are there any runners in particular who you are looking forward to competing against when you get back?
Lauren: You mean who I want to beat?
Lauren: I want to beat everybody, I’m just gonna say it.
C259: Is Kate going to be thrown into a 5000? Are you going to go down to 1500?
Lauren: I love Kate, but if we raced of course I’m going to want to beat her, and she’s going to want to beat me too. Both Kate and I are one person when the gun goes off, and another person when it’s over. We are well balanced people, we’re logical people, but the gun goes off, and we are fierce competitors. That’s something that draws us to each other and that we really respect about each other and something that I always respect about my competitors too. Nothing is more confusing to me than when somebody can’t let the competitiveness go off the track. Life is too short and there are too many awesome relationships to have off the circuit to be like that. So yeah, I want to beat everybody. I want to be a national champion again, I want to make the World’s, I want to make the Olympics, I want to take a shot at a medal, I want to do all those things. I highly respect my competitors, and anybody that I have the honor of beating will be very satisfying.
C259: Terrific. You just wrote a Runner’s World column on the competitive fire that still lives within you, and we’ll put a link to it on our show notes for any listener who wants to take a look at that. Kate, you don’t train in physical proximity to your Oiselle teammates, but rather in New Jersey with Frank Gagliano’s group which includes Olympian Julie Culley, but it sounds like you do talk to Lauren a lot about race tactics, and you get advice. What kind of interaction do you have with Team Oiselle on a day-t0-day basis?
Kate: It has taken me by surprise how powerful the interaction is both in instruction and also in motivation. Echoing what Lauren said as far as I’ve gained throughout high school and college, I realized almost after the fact how inspired I was and motivated I was by the team aspect. Oiselle is creating what feels like and what is in reality this incredible community of runners. Yes, Lauren and I are part of that but it extends to the people working in the office, to other elite athletes and ambassador athletes around the country. Anybody on Twitter can see and feel this connection. There is tons of interaction back and forth on Twitter, and through having these people and knowing that they are watching and similarly watching them, it has created this passion again, this extra fire in races. You want to win because it means something more than yourself. This is a big thing in terms of pre-race motivation. Lauren actually was here when I came to run my first race of the season, the 3,000 at the indoor Dempsey track. She was staying with me, and before that race, being able to talk with her, being able to hear her story and being able to talk with her on the phone, it was invaluable getting the advice and her tidbits. It’s incredible how much knowledge she has and experience in the sport, but couple that with her articulation and these mantras that just light you up, it’s pretty amazing.
Lauren: Thanks girl.
Kate: Just a quick addition, circling back about her story. The most powerful thing about that connection is when she was in the Trials last year, she did inspire so many people with just making the final. Lauren is a storyteller, and her connection with Oiselle right now is so powerful because this is another thing about changing the way the sport is marketed and sponsored and changing the value of athletes. On one level, if you are just focusing on the winning athlete, there isn’t much room for sponsors because there is only one winning athlete per race, but if you focus on the stories of each athlete, that first of all is much more interesting, as other sports do, like NASCAR or maybe horseracing. That is what opens this ability to really blow open this market. There is no cap on the amount of people that you want to root for, or mini-victories that you can watch and be a part of.
C259: That’s a good point. There are so many stories. Everybody who runs a race has a story about that race. A lot of them are quite compelling, and if fans could access more of these stories, maybe they would be more interested in the sport in general. Speaking of stories, Lauren the press release when you joined Oiselle said that you were likely to publish a book. Can you tell us any more about that, a sneak preview?
Lauren: Writing is going to be a big part of my life, moving forward, indefinitely, because I do love telling stories. I love opening up sides of the sport that people don’t know exist. It’s really rewarding for me to show people the deeper side to professional sport. You know, it’ll probably be at least a year before you see a book from me, considering that I’m about to have a baby in three weeks. I have the feeling that maternity leave will make it difficult to write a novel right away, but what I want to write about is the experience between 2008-2012, and the development of myself as a professional athlete through these really interesting experiences and challenges that I had, that I know relate to a lot of people beyond professional sport, because I’ve been experimenting with these stories on my blog for the last few years, and I get lots of comments from readers. There are stories to be told that can motivate and inspire and inform and educate. I feel really passionate about doing that. I feel very grateful for having a wealth of experience in that period of time to write about. So yeah, don’t be surprised when you see it on the shelf.
C259: Just a couple more questions, you’ve been all so generous with your time. Kate, what’s on your calender for the rest of the season? Diamond League? US Champs, hopefully Worlds?
Kate: Yeah, all of the above, and more. Next week the Diamond League race at Icahn Stadium in New York, I’m running the 1,500, then maybe a tune-up race, I’m not sure. The next big one would be USAs. I actually haven’t decided yet what I’m running there. This is my first experience doing the European tour. I’ll be going in July. World’s are in August in Moscow, and that’s the big goal for the season.
C259: Do you think you have a slightly better shot in the 800 than the 1500?
Kate: I have to withhold judgement. It’s a great situation to be in, I’m not complaining. I need to see what this next 1500 brings, at Icahn, to see how I feel, and maybe one more 800 , and gauge that against the rest of the US competition.
Lauren: One of the things that is so exciting about Kate is that she has this incredible range from 400 through 3k, and I think that she’d be a good 5k runner as well. It’s so cool to have her be a part of the Oiselle family and to watch her story unfold. The fact that you don’t know what your best event is, is just awesome. It’s great because it really could be a number of things. You’re going to be – not just because you are a Oiselle athlete – but being young and on the scene, and having posted these indoor times, you are a person who I an really excited to watch grow and see what you turn in to.
C259: We were doing predictions before the Millrose Games. I was looking at the list and thought “Who is this Kate Grace person?” Then I looked up the results and said, “Oh, wait a minute, we need to get you on the list.” We had you finishing well in that and indeed you did. Kate, last year you won the 5th Avenue Mile but it wasn’t in the heat with Brenda Martinez in it. This year, do you think we might see you in the 5th Avenue heat with Brenda Martinez in it?
Kate: I would hope so. Actually, that kind of started off my season. After finishing that, I was at the awards ceremony where they gave her her award. And they gave some anecdote that the year before, or two years before, she had been in my heat. It was this secret I had, secret and fire, that maybe I was following these footsteps. We shall see.
C259: We are looking forward to your battles with Brenda and also Mary Cain for the next decade or decade and a half.
Kate: As am I.
C259: What was your experience like at the Drake Relays? That was a surprising race to us, because we saw Jenny Simpson shot out from the get-go. We weren’t expecting that at all. What was that race like from your perspective?
Kate: That was an interesting one. That was the first major 1500 that I’ve had with any of the top U.S. 1500m runners, so I didn’t really know what to expect going in. We had a rabbit, but it strung out almost immediately, which I’m not used to in 1500s, especially at this caliber, I’m used to much more pack running. It was pretty windy that day, there were many factors. My experience personally, I was happy with the mid-race decision to make a move and try to latch on to the two leaders Jenny and Shannon Rowbury, but I have to expect in the future championship races, and the next time I’m in Drake, to have much more of a bunch and throwing arms and elbows. At that point, I was happy to have the confidence in myself. Even if I lost complete contact with Jenny, I was there in the hunt, and I made the move early enough to be there.
C259: Yeah, seemed like a strong race. Sally, we have to ask, are you currently courting any other professional runners, and if so, who?
Sally: No, we are huge fans, obviously, we are always following the stories, but we feel really happy with where we are at, with our group. We’ve talked about this family, and their stories are so amazing. We are honored to be a bit player in their stories. You never know what the future holds. We would love to sponsor more women runners. One of my final comments on that point is that if there is a legacy that we leave in any small part, I would hope it is something around women pro runners and how they are treated and handled at the sponsorship level. It shouldn’t be shocking that a woman is not cut because she gets pregnant. We shouldn’t have these situations where if you get injured you are retroactively reduced or your sponsor asks for money back. I just think there are some elements at play that especially effect women athletes that need to change and it’s time for them to change, so we’d love to be a part of that.
C259: Yeah, I think a lot of women would look great in Oiselle clothing. It would be great to break up the monopoly I suppose you could say among the shoe companies that are also apparel companies.
Sally: Just for the runners too, and having them be in better situations for themselves in their lives. We believe that happier runners make faster runners. A view of the whole female athlete is a much more humane way to go. It is certainly what we would like to push for. We are still a small company, so as much as we’d like to go around and get everybody on the boat, we still have to proceed and do what we can.
C259: Thanks so much. We’ve got a bunch of other questions we’d love to ask you all, but people need to get to bed at some point, so we’ll get to our selfish question. The name cloud259 in our podcast is a cryptic reference to our goal of breaking three hours in the marathon. Gregg has run 30 marathons and has failed every time to break three hours. I’ve run five of them. The closest both of us have gotten is 3:08. We both have fall marathons this year. We are going to try to be honest in our training and take a good crack at the three hour barrier. What is your best training tip to get under three? We’d like all of you to answer the answer. Especially Sally with the 2:59 PR.
Sally: Lauren will get you way lower.
Lauren: Well I’ll give you the advice a Kenyan gave me when I was trying to break 15 minutes in the 5k was just run faster. It was pretty much, “So why didn’t you run faster?” so there’s definitely that. I’m a big believer in the mental side of the sport, and I think you need to incorporate the mental training into your regime. Make sure that you don’t take any of your good workouts for granted. The things that you are naturally good at, you tend to take for granted and overlook, maybe your long runs or your tempos are your strengths, or whatever it is, and you focus on what you are not good at. Every time you do something that you are good at and you don’t acknowledge it, you are missing the opportunity to pat yourself on the back and build the confidence that you are going to need when you get to mile 20. So I would make a conscientious effort to focus on your strengths, instead of focusing on your weaknesses. And then to prepare some counterarguments in advance before the race starts. Everybody usually has the same negative thoughts every time, at least I do, and a lot of people I know do. For me at about 3400 meters into a 5k, the same doubts and fears creep in, and you are tired and you are worn down and you can’t fight your best battle at that point so you really have got to be like a lawyer and before the race prepare the counterarguments and have them ready, so when the voice comes in that says x, y, and z, I’m going to combat it by saying this. That works extremely well, and it’s a technique used by professional athletes everywhere from the 100 meters up to the pole vault. Definitely give that a shot.
Kate: Maybe I’ll go next. I don’t want to be the one that ends it. You want to end on a good note. Ask the 800m runner how to break three hours, I don’t know, carbo-load.
Sally: Pasta dinner the night before.
Kate: Yeah, pasta dinner. Okay, now to Sally.
C259: Kate, since you are a track runner, let’s reinterpret this. Lauren has run 2:59 for the 5k per k. 2:59.5 times 5 would give you the 14:58 that Lauren has run. How do you get under 15 minutes for the 5k? How do you put together five straight 2:59 kilometers?
Lauren: How do you do it? You are talking to me, Lauren?
C259: Kate, it could be Kate because Kate’s 3,000 is 2:58 per K. We’re math geeks.
Kate: Oh, I’m so close. Ohmygosh Lauren, you ran 3000 for that, and then you ran it for 2000 more meters, wow.
Lauren: You will too Kate, you will too.
Kate: Just keep going. Focus on your arms. In my track workout today – focus on your arms, focus on your core. I guess right now I’m learning all of the auxiliary work, getting a little bit of a schooling in the importance for an athlete of any level – first of all, the speed and the gains that come from strong core, good form. How much of a percent faster is that, if you’re only eight minutes out of three hours, that is less than 2% of your race, that you need to get faster.
C259: Okay, strong core, good form. Give us a single core workout.
Kate: I’ve been doing various planks to try to change up my plank routine. Rolling out, feet on a bosu ball, hands out, and holding that position in a plank form. Experiment with raising your legs or doing little twists where you twist to one side or another. Fun with a bosu ball. That can get you out of a rut of a traditional plank routine.
C259: Bosu ball planks, how many of them?
Kate: Usually my core routine post run is about 10 minutes. Maybe for that one you could cycle through a few sets of 40 seconds. So 40 seconds straight, holding each leg up for 20 seconds, and then switch to each side for 40 seconds. I guess that would give you nowhere near 5 minutes. I would maybe do a plank routine, then transition to push-ups, and if you have a 3-minute plank routine you could do that three times for a total of 10 minutes post run.
C259: Good, we’ll work that in.
Sally: For me I’d say that you were talking about Fleshman’s 600-meter kick. When you get to around mile 22, take that Fleshman cue to start kicking and take it down by 2-minutes per mile for those last 4 miles.
C259: Two minutes per mile for the last four miles. Generally for the last 4 miles I’m adding two minutes per mile.
Lauren: Definitely don’t bank time. Don’t do the thing where people try to bank time early and go out faster than their pace.
Sally: You can invest at the end.
C259: Sally, tell us a bit about your 2:59. Where was it, and did you see the clock at the end?
Sally: Yeah, actually I ran that time two years in a row and I ran them both at the Portland Marathon, which I really recommend. I’m not a big race person. I’ve done New York once, and I was supposed to do Boston this year but didn’t, but anyway, I like the more medium-sized marathon and that one was well run. I do recommend doing a pace group. That’s what worked for me the first time, though I have to say I had the hubris to leave the pace group around mile 17. They literally caught up to me in the last 400 meters, so I paced back in with them. The second one was more of a bell curve. I went out a little bit too fast, and then it was just a matter of how little could I not slow down. It definitely was painful at the end for both of them. The more even paced one was definitely less painful mentally and physically. It’s a great feeling. I believe in you guys, I think you can do it.
C259: It helps so much talking to you and other professional runners, not only for ideas on how to train but knowing that you believe in us, or as Patrick Rizzo said, he’ll keep an eye on us. We are accountable. It’s nice to be accountable for the professionals. Thank you all so much for your time. I don’t know how to thank you enough, but I’ll tell Lauren that Gregg and I both have little kids and know good babysitters, so if you need a babysitter when you come to New York…
Lauren: Actually, what are you doing September 10? Oiselle is coming for fashion week, and if I’m going to walk the runway, someone is going to have to watch the little bean!