Ryan Vail was our guest on Episode 15.
C259: Ryan Vail, welcome to the cloud.
Ryan: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.
C259: You won the San Jose half marathon convincingly in 1:02:46. Before we get to New York, can you tell us about that race and how it felt? Were you thinking about New York during the race?
Ryan: Sure, you know it’s always hard to tell how you are going to feel during the middle of marathon training for a half marathon. I’ve only done that one time before, so I was definitely a little stressed out in the middle, not sure how it was going to go later in the race, so I was certainly conservative through the first 10 miles. Once ten miles came and I was still feeling good, I thought I might as well test myself for the last three. That’s when I was able to pull away. That’s going to give me a lot of confidence going into New York, that 4:49, 4:50 felt so easy for ten miles. I was definitely thinking about New York in the middle of that, just trying to keep that composure and stay focused and calm during those early parts of the race.
C259: Have you run the New York course before?
Ryan: I have not, no. Last year I was slated to run New York but didn’t get the chance to. I’ve never run the New York course.
C259: Yeah, interesting, Jason Hartmann said the same thing. We had him on last time. I’m sure you’ll be seeing him in a few weeks. Have you got any goals for the race?
Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t want to put a time goal on it, because the winning time varies so much there depending on the weather, depending on how fast the guys go out, so I want to take it more as a cross country race and just focus on competing against the other guys in the field. Top ten is obviously always a goal, but I think it’s a smaller elite field this year. I think if I have a good day top five is not out of the question.
C259: Brenn mentioned we had Jeffrey Eggleston and Jason Hartmann on the show before, and they’ll both be running. They have similar PRs to you. Do you see yourself running in a pack with them?
Ryan: That’s definitely a possibility. I think talking to guys that have run New York before, the message has been run your own race, and that’s something I’m very good at. If I have to run on my own for at least part of it, I’m definitely willing to do that. I don’t want to go out to hard. I want to be fairly conservative because I think really that second half is where the race is made. I think Jason Hartmann is definitely somebody to key off of. He’s shown himself to be very good at these major marathons. Being fourth twice in Boston is unbelievable. We have similar PRs and so I think he’s definitely somebody I’m going to be looking at in the race to not make mistakes, at least early on.
C259: And he’s a big dude too, so if there is a lot of wind you can tuck in behind him.
Ryan: Yeah, exactly. I’ll help him out, you know, if it’s a group of us I’m not going to be just hiding behind him, but yeah that’s something to think about.
C259: We talked about some of the young marathoners such as yourself. Are there any others we didn’t mention who you think may be moving to the marathon? Maybe some of your teammates at World Cross in Poland who you think may move to the marathon in the coming years?
Ryan: I think it’ll take some time, you know. Guys like Ben True who are so talented at these, I don’t want to say shorter distances, but his one half marathon experience was a bit of a struggle, so I think it’s going to take a few years still for a lot of these guys. Bobby Mack I know has marathon aspirations, but overall, it was a pretty young team, so I think it’s going to take some time still.
C259: Ryan given your success on the track – you came in 6th at the Olympic Trials in the 10,000m – what brought you to the marathon at such a relatively young age compared to your fellow Americans?
Ryan: I saw it as an opportunity. Olympic Trials, it’s a hard thing to pass up. I think it’s a great way to jump into it, with a bunch of Americans that are around my similar level. I got to get in there and learn from guys that had been doing it for so long. A lot of times when you jump into your first marathon, you get into something like New York or Chicago and you are kind of out of your league and might end up by yourself. I knew that in Houston I’d have a chance to run with guys that had been there before, so I took it really as a learning opp0rtunity, so that was my motivation for that. I’ve only run one marathon since then, so I’m trying to ease my way into it.
C259: I know as a kid you played football. Was there some point in your youth when you thought I’d love to run a marathon someday, or did 26.2 only become something you thought about as you had more success post college?
Ryan: It definitely was not a thought until later. When I was a kid I didn’t even think about collegiate running until I was a junior or senior in high school. Not until my last year did I think maybe I’d run post-collegiately. So then after a year I slowly started to build confidence with my volume increase that it might be something I could do, and something I could do soon. It was definitely a later thought for me.
C259: Do you consider yourself a marathon man now, or are you half the year a marathon guy and half the year a track guy?
Ryan: The marathon is definitely my future. I mean, 27:44 on the track is good, but the way guys are running now it’s not going to get it done. I think I still have another jump to make, but I’m still behind when it comes to the track. I see my future in the marathon, and I think that I can make the jump in the marathon to be competitive on the international level. I don’t want to go to the kind of guy who is going to run 2 or 3 marathons every year, all year round, I still want to run the shorter stuff, I still want to run the track races and shorter road races, but the marathon is definitely the focus.
C259: Do you have interest in running some Diamond League races? Next year there is no World Champs on the track, so Diamond League may get a lot of attention.
Ryan: Yeah, we’re going to see how New York goes and talk to my coach Dave Smith. We’re going to definitely consider the summer schedule. So I may still run a spring marathon, I’m going to think about it, but I’d really like to get back on the track for sure. That would be a great opportunity that we’re definitely considering, trying to lower my track PRs next summer. Maybe it won’t be in the U.S., maybe it will, but there’s a lot of great summer races even in August and September, so even if I run a spring marathon I could still hit a late track season.
C259: Well, back to the long stuff, as that’s what we’re primarily concerned with. Last year a number of stranded New York City runners, both professionals and amateurs, people that Gregg and I know, really struggled to find new races, or if they did find new races they weren’t able to hit basically what they were hoping to hit in New York. How did you maintain such good form for Fukuoka? You had a great race there and showed that you are the real deal in the marathon.
Ryan: Yeah, that was a really stressful time, not just trying to find the race but trying to decide what to do next. We talked to other coaches, trying to figure out what’s the best option, but not a lot of people have been put in that situation so there were not a lot people to talk to about it, so my coach and I decided in the end to try to mimic the last four weeks going into New York. We bumped the mileage back up for a week, then tried to re-taper. I’m not sure if that worked out really well or didn’t work well. You know, I thought I was in good shape for New York, so I don’t know if 2:11:45 was an accurate depiction of that or not, but that was our plan, we just decided to roll with it and see what happened, and it definitely didn’t work out poorly.
C259: It’s too early to start tapering for New York City now, but in that week before the marathon how many miles do you think you will run?
Ryan: The week before I’ll probably run a little over 100.
Ryan: It sounds like a lot, but there’s a lot of guys that will still do 100 miles the week of the marathon, so it’s really varied. That’s what I’ve learned talking to a lot of marathoners. Some guys will do 50 miles, some guys will do 100 miles. I’m just going to take it down one step at a time all the way there. That will include a lot of doubles. Not a lot of long runs, but a lot of running.
C259: And how much running will you do two days before or one day before? I ask selfishly because I have a marathon in two days.
Ryan: Sure, not much, for me it’s not much anyway. I’ll do probably 50 minutes two days out and 35 minutes a day out.
C259: And that’s leisurely for you pace?
Ryan: Yeah, absolutely, nice and slow, just feeling comfortable and relaxed. Just recovery runs.
C259: Your blog ryanvail.blogspot.com, it’s really admirable how much information you put out there and how much transparency you have about your training. It’s something that a lot of sub-elites or runners of any ability to can look at to get info, so I applaud you for that.
Ryan: Thank you.
C259: If you look at your training as a whole, what percentage of your mileage is at marathon pace or faster?
Ryan: I’m not sure percentage-wise, but it’s not a lot. If I’m getting 150 miles in that week, maybe I have a long tempo run, so maybe we’re doing 15 miles that week or maybe 20 max at that pace or faster.
C259: On the blog you wrote about some of your tempos and how you do them occasionally on the track. Your wrote in one that you are checking each 400 meter split, so there is no chance to zone out or lose concentration. How does that compare when you are actually on the roads during a marathon? Are you checking each mile split on the marathon or are you playing it by feel?
Ryan: I’m actually checking each mile split, really to make sure that I’m not getting out over my head. It’s important if I go through a mile in 4:50 to see that I have to relax and slow down because I can’t sustain that pace. It’s not about those four, five, and six miles. It’s about 20-26. I’m definitely checking each mile split to make sure I’m in a zone that’s going to allow me to finish the race in a strong fashion. Obviously I can’t check each 400 meter split during the race, but it’s just about practicing that mentality of not spacing out, but actually being in the moment at every point in the race.
C259: So you have pretty much a preset plan for what time you want to hit, say, halfway through.
Ryan: Well, I have a preset plan for what’s out of my range in terms of my goal for the race. Going in to New York it’s a tougher course, so if I’m going out in 2:08 pace I know I need to slow down because I don’t think that’s a reasonable goal at this point to try to run that fast on that kind of a course. For me it’s more of a range than anything. I don’t want to be faster than a certain time, I don’t want to be faster than 64:30 going through the half at New York, especially with the second half being tougher. It’s about keeping me in my comfort zone, a zone that I know I can close in a strong way.
C259: At what stage of the race would you let go of that? Say you’re just feeling fantastic, and you want to keep the brakes on a little bit because you don’t want to get in over your head. At what stage though, would you let go and say I’m just going to crank it?
Ryan: I’d say about 20 miles. I need to look closer at the New York course to give an exact mile for sure, but you really have got to feel comfortable in that 18-20 mile range still. When I say comfortable that’s deceiving, because comfortable is still working very hard, but more of a very hard tempo effort. I think in my first two marathons my biggest mistake was easing back from 18-24, so I need to have the confidence in this marathon to really really push through those miles, 18-24, and keep on pace, and be confident that I’m going to be able to finish at that pace. My first two, I’ve let it slide a little bit for those 4-6 miles, then I’ve come back and gotten back on pace for those last couple. That’s not the way to run a marathon. I need to have the confidence in my third one now to really keep pressing when I still have eight miles to go.
C259: Right. Those middle miles are tough. Those late middle miles I’d say. You can’t quite see the finish line yet, and there’s a lot more work to do. So you are sponsored by Brooks, correct?
Ryan: That’s right.
C259: What model of Brooks shoes will you be wearing for the marathon?
Ryan: I’m going to wear the T7s. It’s a pretty lightweight flat. I wore the ST5s for my first marathon because I was afraid that the concrete in Houston would beat me up. I’m pretty confident now after running a lot of long tempos that the T7s that they are going to work out very well for me. I wore them in Fukuoka as well.
C259: We talked about some of your race highlights, World Cross Country and NCAAs. What race would you say is the favorite of your career?
Ryan: I’d say NCAA cross is the one race that stands out for sure. That was something I put five years into before finally being able to accomplish that goal that I had since I was a freshman in college. That one definitely stands out. Second is the team silver at World Cross in Poland this year. Those are just so much more fun when you can win as a team and everyone gets to celebrate together. Whenever I have an individual race, whatever turns out, you always question yourself: Was that as good as it should have been? Could I have run a little bit better? At Poland maybe I could have had those same questions: Could I have gotten 14th instead of 17th? Maybe, but we got the team silver so that all goes out the window. That team atmosphere is something I definitely miss from college and something I definitely appreciate having in the few times I can, times like World Cross.
C259: That World Cross result shocked the running world. Did it shock you guys? Did you go into that race going for a medal or hoping for a medal, or was it as big a surprise to you as it was to us?
Ryan: We went into the race definitely hoping for a medal. I think bronze was our goal, and that’s something just being around guys like Ben True and Chris Derrick, they instill that kind of confidence in you that we are not here just to mess around, we are here to get a medal. I still felt deep down that it was a longshot. This was my fourth World Championship Cross-Country Championship at this point, and I still thought if we all have a great day, that might be a possibility. Part way through the race we were told you guys had a shot at bronze, but the silver was a big surprise. We didn’t know that until well after the race. That made it even better. Getting across the line, hugging each other and thinking man, we might have got the bronze, then to be in the chute afterwards and to have somebody announce that we had got silver was really a phenomenal experience.
C259: Must have been. There is video, Letsrun is interviewing one of your teammates, and the news comes out that you had won the silver. Everybody is jumping around. I noticed Deena Kastor is in there as well.
Ryan: Yeah, it was just really, really incredible.
C259: Let’s turn to a subject we often talk about, the business of the sport. Competitor Group recently made a lot of waves, a lot of them negative, by pulling appearance fees for elites. You’ve run a lot of Rock ‘n Roll events put on by Competitor. San Jose was a Rock ‘n Roll half. Can you talk a bit about how the Competitor decision affected you financial or otherwise, and your thoughts on what the decision means for other runners?
Ryan: Sure, it was really disappointing to hear. It’s a business move on their part. I guess in the end you can’t fault them for that. It’s a for-profit company, they are trying to do what they can to increase their margins. It’s too bad that they don’t see a responsibility to the running community like some other companies do, but again it’s there own decision, there’s no obligation on their part. There’s a lot of other great races out there, a lot of other great organizations that are doing really amazing things for runners, so we shouldn’t put too much focus on this. We should focus on the people that are doing it right. This year, I had Philly or San Jose already planned into my training slot. I looked at doing the Woodrow Wilson half marathon. I just didn’t want to travel that far at that point, four weeks out of New York, then travel all the way back, so for me it was about convenience and doing what I could do to maintain my high volume, maintain my training. Take a one hour flight down to San Jose, get a good tune-up, get that race atmosphere, and get a good effort in. That was all that was in my mind at that point, was let’s forget about all this drama, all the politics. Let’s do what’s best for you and what’s best for New York. That was all that was in my head.
C259: Did you get some travel support?
Ryan: I did not, not from them. Fortunately, Brooks stepped up and took care of me, as my sponsor, they got me down there. From Competitor I didn’t get anything.
C259: Did you have to pay the $85 entry fee?
Ryan: Ha, no, I did get a comp entry. I did get a comp entry. If it wasn’t for Brooks, I would have had to figure something else out. They took care of me and made sure I could do everything I could to get ready for New York.
C259: And there was prize money for winning the race, correct?
Ryan: Ah, no. There was not. There was a $1,000 bonus for breaking 65 minutes. The top four guys all got the same amount of money.
C259: Wow. Had there been prize money for this race in previous years?
Ryan: There has, yes.
C259: So they got rid of that for this year.
Ryan: That’s right, yeah. There was definitely no emphasis on winning.
C259: Huh, and there was no Ryan Hall either. Had you been looking forward to mixing it up with him at this race? You’ll see him at New York, so you don’t have to wait too long.
Ryan: Yeah, I was looking forward to that. And also I wasn’t sure what Meb was going to do. He’s done this race many times as a tune-up for New York as well. I thought maybe he’d show up too. I really didn’t have any idea what their plans were. I would have liked to have had them here to, to have some guys to push a little harder in the middle, but again my focus was just to get the effort in before the race.
C259: Interesting. I’m surprised that they pulled the prize money. Some of our listeners like us are amateurs, trying to do the best that they can and trying to balance work or kids or whatever obligations they have outside of running with running. We know that you work or have worked in a shoe store and have been running up to 150 miles a week. How do you balance your work and training with having any kind of non-running life?
Ryan: Fortunately I only work a couple of days a week at the running store when I am in town, but yeah, I have to take that into account, that’s at 10 a.m., so I get up early obviously. I’m out the door at 6:30 for my first run. I make sure that I have everything available to me at my home as well. So I have purchased a lot of equipment to have basically a home gym at my place, so I can do my run, all of my core, I have my nutrition there, so I can have everything at one spot and make it really efficient. Everything that I need to have done I can have done in two hours. So instead of joining a gym, get a few very easy pieces of equipment to get all of your training done in one central location.
C259: Good tip.
Ryan: And I’m not talking expensive stuff, I’m talking some weights, a few yoga pads, you can do a lot of work just with your own body weight.
C259: So waking up early in the morning seems key, having your own workout equipment. Any other time-saving tips for sub-elites with full-time jobs?
Ryan: Yeah, make your meals in advance. The night before I get everything I need to have ready for breakfast and for lunch the next day, so meal preparation is huge as well, to make sure you are getting what you need from meals and getting it in a way that you can get it done fast. If you don’t do that, you always end up running over what you think you were going to do time-wise, and you end up making poor decisions diet-wise.
C259: Your wife is a runner too, right? And how many miles a week is she doing?
Ryan: Yeah, she’s doing about 70 miles a week now, yeah.
C259: That takes some coordination I’m sure.
Ryan: Yeah, it’s helpful too though, you know. She understands what I am going through. She’s helping me, I’m helping her, it’s a team effort.
C259: Ryan, it sounds like you are so well organized and so very focused on running. What do you do that has nothing to do with running? Do you have a non-running hobby?
Ryan: Yeah, we have lots of different things. We try to explore Portland. We try to see the theater, I play guitar. We travel, travel’s the big thing. That’s kind of the goal with some of these races. Things like the marathon when you can take a couple of weeks off afterwards is immediately going somewhere and traveling. That’s our big focus, is immediately going somewhere that’s our big focus, is changing the scenery.
C259: Any exotic races out there you think you’ll try? Antarctic Marathon?
Ryan: Not right now, maybe when my career is over. Right now all of my racing is going to be focused on important goals. When I’m not running, the few times I can take a break, I try to get out of town and try to go to exotic places then. We’ll be going to Chile and Argentina right after the New York City Marathon.
C259: Fantastic. Ryan, we have one last question for you it’s a bit of selfish one, but if you are looking ahead at being a coach after your career winds down, here’s a headstart. Brenn and I are both looking to break three hours in the marathon. My race is in less than two days, at Hartford, and Brenn will be running New York somewhere well behind you on November 3. We’ve each run a number of marathons, and coincidentally have the same PR of 3:08, so give us one tip, one good tip, to get under 3.
Ryan: Stay focused at 30K. Those are the miles. Have confidence that you are going to be able to finish the race at the same pace or faster. You won’t know until you get there, so 30K and on, stay focused and keep pushing, even if you are hurting. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.
C259: Great, that’s awesome, I will think of that at 30K. That’s about 18 miles in, on First Avenue. New York is really tough on mile 15 and 16 there’s the Queensboro Bridge. It’s quiet. It can kind of hurt, that uphill. First Avenue sometimes people get a bit of a second wind there. I think it’s very interesting what you say about your other marathons. You slacked off the pace a little bit in those miles and were able to come back at the very end. Alright Ryan, thanks so much for being on the show. Best of luck n New York. We’ll try to introduce ourselves at media events before. Go get ’em.
Ryan: Thank you very much.