Garrett Heath runs professionally for Saucony and is an Olympic hopeful in the 1500 meters. With personal bests of 3:37 in the 1500 and 3:55 in the mile, he is among the sizable group of American men's middle distance runners who have the ability to make the metric mile one of the most interesting events at next June's Trials.I’ve really been focused on the 1500m since my junior year in college. Prior to that I had always been a longer distance guy and considered myself more of a cross country runner than anything else. During my sophomore year I got injured in outdoor track and had a horrible finish to the year at regionals in the 5k after trying to make a late come back. I had always wanted to try some of the middle distance stuff, so that next year I convinced my coach to let me give the mile a shot indoors since a couple legs on the DMR the year before had gone pretty well for me. After having a solid year in both the mile and DMR that year indoors, he decided to let me keep going with it outdoors and I’ve never really gone back to the longer stuff. That being said, I’ve had a few shots at both the 3k and 5k at Cardinal Invite and over in europe the past few years, and I’ve really enjoyed the change in pace and switching things up for a race or two. At this point, I feel most comfortable sticking with the 1500m as my main focus at least through the Olympic year, but a lot of my training is still distance based, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I started transitioning back into some more 5k and distance races the following year.
Garrett is a Winona, Minnesota native, where he graduated from Hopkins High. He and his younger brother Eliott (2011 NCAA Indoor 3K Champion) both attended Stanford, where Garrett earned several All-American awards, currently serves as a volunteer assistant coach, and is enrolled as a PhD candidate in the Stanford Technology Ventures Program in the Management Science and Engineering Department.
1. As a professional runner, you've primarily focused on the mile, although you have had very good performances at 5K in the past. Most people go up in distance, so how have you decided to zero in on the 1500m at this point in your career?
I think cross training in general has been a huge asset for me and really contributed to what I have been able to do in both high school and college over the years. Besides running cross country and track in high school, I also focused exclusively on cross country skiing in the winter and supplemented a lot of my summer running training with biking. Although both of those activities have continually become a lesser part of my training over the years as I have become more serious with running, I believe they both helped provide me with much of my initial aerobic base that I could then use to build on with more specific running training. Beyond that, the cross training not only gave me a mental break from always running, but it also allowed me to stay healthy by taking some of the stress that comes with the pounding of running off my legs. I still use biking as a way to progress back into training and get some more hours of base training in early in my training cycle. This really helps provide a solid foundation to build on the rest of the season for me.
2. As a high school athlete, you did other endurance sports. How do you feel that has helped your running career?
Although the being apart of the graduate program definitely adds another level of intensity to the amount of work that you have to do every day, I have really found it to be a nice complement to running. Most importantly for me, school has allowed me to take some of the pressure off focusing exclusively on one activity. That way, if running isn’t going well or if I’m trying to battle through an injury, I can fall back on the school a little bit to help take my mind off the obstacles that I may be facing in running at the time. This has worked the other way around as well. Beyond that, graduate school has helped force me stay focused and maintain a more structured schedule in order to be efficient enough to have time to both run and finish my school work. Overall, even though it’s been tough work at times, the school and running have really provided a good balance for me these past few years.
3. Unlike many pro athletes, you have chosen to continue along your other career path, studying for your PhD as a candidate in the Stanford Technology Ventures Program in the Management Science and Engineering Department. Up to this point, how have those graduate study experiences impacted your running and vice versa?
That being said, I’ve decided to take this next year off from the PhD program in order to focus all of my energy into running and the Olympic trials this next year. With this, taking a year off is mainly a product of wanting to make sure that I do everything I can to get better this year. Probably the hardest part of the PhD this past year has been that there are occasionally some of the extra drills and core that I have had to sacrifice when I have a big paper or project due for school. I’m also hoping to do some altitude training this fall and winter, which would have been much harder if I was still in school. The 2nd year is also an important year for the Phd, so I wanted to make sure that I had enough energy to devote to that as well and decided that would be hard to do this year.
It been extremely exciting these last few years watching him progress. More than anything it’s been a lot of fun being able to train with him and push each other in workouts along the way. While I can help him with some of the speed stuff and help him work on his kick, he’s a bit more of a distance guy than I am and has really been able to help me work on my endurance these past few years. Beyond that, just having one another to train with year round has been great. In terms of giving him advice, we already both think very much alike, so it’s been a lot less giving him advice than just debating and talking through situations with him. Back when he was in high school, I tried to provide him with a bit more guidance, but since settling into college training he’s probably given me with almost as much as advice as I’ve given him. Since we’re a lot alike in what works well in training for us, watching him develop has also helped me discover some new aspects of training that I can use to help to improve my fitness as well.
4. Your brother has developed into a tremendous runner in his own right. What advice have you given him, and what have you learned from watching his growth?
I think more than anything, tapering is helpful in mentally preparing for a championship race. Feeling good going into a big race can help build some confidence and really let you know that you’re ready to go. Beyond that though, I’ve found that the actual act of lowering my miles substantially or getting too caught up in routines leading into a big race isn’t necessarily as important as I may have one time thought.
5. This month, we are talking to our athletes about tapering for their goal races. What have you learned about tapering for championships races? What has been a key to staying fresh and ready when the big race rolls around?
Most recently, I’ve really found that traditional tapering hasn’t necessarily been an important aspect of staying fresh for me as much as just making sure that I feel mentally ready and comfortable with what I’m doing. I’ve had some of my best races when I’ve been in the heart of my training or when everything seems to be going wrong leading into a race (this can be especially prone to happening when racing over in Europe). I think it really comes down to knowing your body and what works best for you. I’ve seen a lot of runners feel great off cutting their mileage in half the last few weeks leading into a race and others who have their best races off running 100 mile weeks like they have been doing all year. Personally for me, I feel the best dropping my mileage by about 20-25% leading into a championship race and really just focusing on getting a lot of sleep the week leading into the race. Beyond that, just eating a good diet and being confident that I’ve done everything I can to prepare myself for the race are probably most helpful things for me at that point.
6. What are some of your goals for the next year or two, and what races do you have lined up for the fall?Obviously the Olympics are the biggest event on my radar right now. Really everything else is just preparing for that right now. The first big goal in terms of preparing for the Olympic Trials is hitting the A-standard. Without that heading into the trials, you don’t have much of a chance of making the team. The times to qualify have dropped significantly over these past few years, but I feel like I’m ready to drop a few seconds off my pr and definitely capable of hitting the time given the right situation. I just finished up my European season about two weeks ago and have two road races left this fall before taking a little time off and starting to get ready for next year. I’m heading out to Hawaii on September 17th for a road mile there and then am finishing up with the 5th Avenue road mile in New York on the 24th of September. That one usually has a lot of the best milers in the US at it and is a good final chance to test yourself before heading into the off season.
In September, we are beginning a new column where we ask health practitioners to help us understand a bit more about some common questions and concerns we hear from our members. This month, we tackled shin splints.
This month's contributor:
Adam Tenforde, MD is a resident in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Stanford Medical Center. He is a 2010 recipient of the prestigious New Investigator Researcher Grant, awarded annually to the top 2-3 PM&R residents nationwide. His recent work includes the co-written paper, Overuse Injuries in High School Runners: Lifetime Prevalence and Prevention Strategies.
While an undergraduate at Stanford, Adam earned five All-American awards, and took part in three NCAA team championships before concluding his collegiate running career with a 9th place finish in the 10,000 meters at the 2004 Olympic Team Trials.
Coach: What are shin splints and what causes them?
AT: Shins splints are also known as medial tibial stress syndrome and are the most common leg injury in athletes. Basically, they are defined as pain located along the shinbone. The pain tends to be diffuse over at least five centimeters, and it is thought to be caused by inflammation on the periostium (the sheath around the bone). Excessive forces can cause the bone to be pressured without adequate time for recovery, which results in little micro damages to the sheath. These result in pain and inflammation.
Risk factors include excessive pronation, and shin splints are more common in female runners. As with most running injuries, it is a question of doing things in a gradual way so the body can react. Increasing frequency, volume, or intensity of training, along with improperly fitting footwear or worn out shoes can cause problems, as can extensive running on hard surfaces.
AT: The first thing is to understand what they are. Then you know what stresses you are putting on your body. Consider the age and appropriateness of your shoes and review your training to make sure you aren’t making any huge sudden jumps. Many runners with shin splints also report tight calves and relatively modest strength in the lower leg muscles. Proper stretching and strengthening of the calf muscles can help. One productive exercise is heel walking. [Check out our Heel Walking Demo Video here.]
AT: There is an inflammatory component here, so ice can help a lot. A reduction in training intensity and a change in running surfaces may be required to allow the symptoms to subside. Anti-inflammatories may be appropriate, but consult your physician to ensure they are a safe choice for you. If symptoms persist or become steadily worse, make an appointment with your doctor.
Published in Injury Prevention
August 30, 2011
One of the most important, but often overlooked, components of training for a goal race is the taper. The hard work has been accomplished and all that remains is to rest and sharpen up. Confidently easing off the gas pedal and arriving prepared, yet rested at the starting line is a crucial component to racing success. Here are a few things to consider when race day is in sight, but still a couple weeks away.
You don’t have to push hard all the way up to race day in order to preserve your hard-earned fitness.
Just as it is important to heed the scheduled call for recovery days in your regular training, the last 2-3 weeks of a half or full marathon training cycle is a singular opportunity to allow your body to be as rested as possible before going to the well on the big day. While there have likely been times where you have had to push yourself to finish the last few miles of a long run or get out of bed when a hard session is on the schedule, enjoy the reduction of miles over these last couple weeks, reminding yourself that you have the physical ability to go farther and the mental confidence from those workouts that will carry you through on race day.
The last few weeks are a great opportunity to focus on healthy living as you prep for your race.
If it is difficult to keep your sleep habits as you would wish for months at a time, this is an opportunity to get maximum impact from a few weeks of slightly increased sleep. Likewise, you can make a difference with a few weeks of healthier eating habits.
Many of us have too many obligations and commitments to live a daily life with the healthy habits we’d hope for, but many of us (and our families) can get on board for a few weeks as enthusiasm builds for race day. Maximize the rest you are getting from shorter workouts with an extra half hour of sleep per night and increased hydration and healthy food choices. This will allow you to arrive at race weekend without feeling the needing to cram hydration and nutrition concerns into a two day period when that may not provide the advantage you seek.
Keep your body in the training rhythm to which you are accustomed.
Tapering doesn’t mean change everything. What it does allow you to do is keep your body and mind focused while requiring less strain and allowing for more recovery. Your training schedule will follow a similar pattern with slightly easier tasks. Continue to take your workouts as seriously and resist the urge to over schedule your life now that you may have a bit more time to play with than in the last few weeks. For example, continue to allow time for the stretching you were so diligent about when the workouts were really tough, instead of dashing off in the car now that the workout wasn’t as taxing.
As your body will require less fueling to accomplish these workouts, the temptation may be to continue eating as though your long runs are still at maximum length. Consider your current fuel needs and adjust accordingly to allow yourself to maintain the spring in your step you are trying to gain by backing off the volume.
Use the taper to make final race day plans
The taper is a great time to break in the fresh pair of shoes you plan to use on race day. This will allow you to make sure you are past any risk of blisters or other problems, but won’t put that much wear on the shoes before you need them to really go to work. Similarly, consider your race day attire, pre-race food consumption, and mid race fueling. While your workouts are a bit easier, you can let yourself make final experimentations with these things to ensure you aren’t showing up to race day doing something for the very first time.
Don’t worry if you feel “flat” during your taper
Feeling a bit sluggish even while you are doing easier workouts can be a function of many things, but is quite common with recreational or pro runners alike. If you continue the good habits you have tried to implement throughout the training cycle, be mindful of your relative consumption as your volume decreases, and follow your schedule, you take confidence that you have done what you can. Yes, your body is used to a different level of activity and that may leave you feeling a bit off. This is why it is important to maintain a similar training rhythm so you can keep your body doing familiar tasks. Once the gun goes off, your months of training won’t betray you, and next time, you’ll recognize that flat feeling if it occurs and be even more confident.
Carling hails from Maryland, and still currently lives in the DC area. She attended school at Salisbury University, on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where she studied psychology. After graduation, she began working for the government and continues to work for the Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. Inspired by her work to sign up for the Army Ten Miler, she is hoping for a fun and challenging race on October 9. A huge fan of the Washington Redskins and Capitals, Carling has a younger sister who is a theater intern, in Florida, and her parents still reside in the DC area.
Coach: How did you start running?
CU: I started running after signing up for the Army Ten Miler race. I attempted to train for the race last year, but lost motivation. This year, I knew that I had to train and complete the race (as to not disgrace myself 2 years in a row haha), so I began training after signing up for the race and FNF.
Coach: Who is your running role model?
CU: My running role models are the volunteers at the Back on My Feet organization. The time, motivation, and encouragement that they give to the organization is inspiring. They've taken doing what they love as an opportunity to share the positives of running and they help show others how to achieve goals, running or otherwise.
Coach: What has been your most memorable running / racing experience?
CU: My most memorable running moment was running an 8-mile training run in England. It was the furthest and longest time that I'd run and I was in England, running through the countryside with my motivating boyfriend by my side. It was a great opportunity to see the country from a different perspective.
Coach: What have you enjoyed about working with us?
CU: I've enjoyed the daily regimen and structure of the FNF program. I keep the schedule up at my work desk and it helps me get motivated for my runs and workouts. I like the variety of the work outs and the ease of being able to do it yourself, without much explanation. Mostly, I've enjoyed the personal contact I've gotten from staff members, whether it be enquiries, training modification, or motivation! I started the program a couple of months ago with, literally, NO running experience and now I feel confident in running the ATM. I like how FNF tailors the training program to your experience, strength, and whether you're running for a time or not.
Coach: What is one part of your racing routine you can’t do without (sleep, pre race meal, tie shoes certain way, other ritual)?
CU: One thing I'm definitely planning AND looking forward to before the race is the pasta dinner. I love pasta, and running has certainly given me a good excuse to eat it. I'm looking forward to the communal race atmosphere and the excitement of everyone there.This being my first race, I'll be pretty excited to get my bib, as well!
Coach: What is your favorite place to go for a run?
CU: My favorite place to go for a run is on the Mount Vernon Trail, by my house. It's right on the water, never too crowded, and I can map out various routes depending on my mileage. I never get bored of the scenery and it's especially nice when there's a breeze off the water.
Coach: In the next year, what goals do you hope to accomplish?
CU: In the next year, I'd love to try a short, fun triathlon. It would be fun to get cycling and swimming into the race. I hope to have done more fun 5K's and to have made friends who share the fondness of community through running.
July 30, 2011
Your weekly schedulel has just appeared in your email inbox and it is time to sit down to consider the week’s training tasks. What track workout or tempo run is planned? When and where will that workout take place?
We know that the actual intervals of the workout will require our greatest expenditure of energy, so naturally we psych ourselves up for those. Far less often do we consider the importance of the warm up. This month, we will shed some light on this crucial aspect of your training and give the warm up its due.
Most workouts include varying amounts and variations on four very important aspects: Easy running, LIGHT stretching, running drills, and strides.
It is not uncommon for an easy warm-up jog to be described as a way to “get the blood flowing.” Although that phrase is often uttered with a figurative meaning, the reality is, the easy jogging at the beginning of your warm up does exactly that. Easy running provides a bridge for your body to move from a static situation (sleeping in bed, driving the car, watching TV), to a place where your core body temperature has been raised. This prepares your muscles to accommodate increased blood flow, allows for more strenuous contractions as required by a hard workout, and starts the processes you’ll need to use your body’s stored energy effectively throughout the session.
The purpose of the warm up is to execute a string of activities that will conclude when your body is prepared to begin the hard work at hand. Taking a timeout to stretch for 20 minutes will certainly disrupt the progression of that process. However, taking a few moments to check in with the major muscle groups after (and only after) you have been able to light the fire with easy running can provide a helpful transition to the increasingly dynamic activities in the warm up routine. Hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, glutes, and iliotibial (IT) bands can be lightly stretched (finding a cozy position for 2x8-10 seconds without any strain or hint of pain) from a standing or supine position without taking more than 5-7 minutes away from the remainder of activities on tap.
Running drills are exercises that mimic or closely resemble some of the types of repetitive demands harder running will make on your body. The intention of running drills are to help ensure your body has been prepared to handle these, and to also reinforce the type of angles and form habits practiced by efficient runners. Focus-N-Fly has outlined and created short videos for a basic canon of seven running drills. Each drill is meant to be practiced for the distance indicated immediately after which the athlete should run with good form at 1500 meter pace effort for the balance of 100 meters.
Consider the last time you observed the start line of a competitive road race or track race. Many times the athletes involved take complete repeated short running bouts of 30, 50, or even 100 meters just before the competition begins. These final preparations are called strides. These strides listed on your warm up are most definitely related (as their lower-key cousin) to these pre race sprints. A chance to concentrate on good form for 20-30 seconds and provide the body a few more sustained efforts that keep the body warm and prepared to work hard are the final touches on your warm up routine. If you have ever done a workout with a short warm up and felt rusty on the first effort, only to find yourself feeling markedly better on the second bout, then you know firsthand the importance of strides. Please see our video description of strides here.
While warm up is a crucial physical preparation process, it can also be an invaluable time to review the mental elements you’ll need to employ during the workout and distance yourself from the everyday cares that will be waiting when you return through your front door. Let your warm up free you of the world’s gravity and transport you to the weightless state of focus on your workout. Complete each step with care and you’ll find your workouts will benefit.
Originally from Pittsburgh, David has moved around quite a bit, including stops in Arizona, California, back to Pittsburgh, and Syracuse. Most recently, he has settled in Houston (Pearland) where he works as an engineer for Continental / United. David is married with a two kids, six and eight years old. He reports that his eldest is a bit into running kids races, but only so she can stay one medal ahead of her younger brother! Having met his wife through a running club in Pittsburgh, David has enjoyed running with clubs each place he has lived, and has even coached USA F.I.T. teams along the way.
Coach: How did you start running?
DB: Well, when I was in California, one of my coworkers in 1995 talked me into doing the 1996 Los Angeles Marathon. I was completely oblivious to any of the training plans out there, so I bought a book. It was kind of disastrous. What helped me was the Mt. Baldy run, 8 miles up. Hill training really helped me, and I ran a lot with some of the Road Runners clubs. 10 years after I left California, I found a club in Pittsburgh, called People Who Run Downtown. Every Tuesday evening, they would meet at a bar or a restaurant and run 2,4, or 6 miles. By the time I moved to Houston, I had run three marathons by that point and run Pittsburgh. I thought I was done with the long runs, but my boss was running Houston. I met him at mile 22 and ended up running him in. I kind of caught the bug again, so here I am looking forward to two more marathons this year.
Coach: Who is your running role model?
DB: The only role models I have, I realize they are the people I have met through the running clubs. They are the typical runner, anywhere from a 3.5 hour marathoner to the people that are doing the walking. Everyone is out there to enjoy themselves, just have fun, and get to know people.
Coach: What has been your most memorable running / racing experience?
DB: I was trying to remember all the racing that I have done so I could answer this question. I came up with one idea, but in this case it was it was more of an incentive for me while I am racing. My wife and kids try to get around the marathon course to see me as many times as they can. I try not to allow her to do this [by going as fast as possible]! The slower I go, the more times they can see me. So, she had a PR of five two years ago when I ran 4:30. However, no matter what race it is, that has always been the most memorable thing, coming around the bend and seeing them.
Coach: What have you enjoyed about working with us?
DB: A lot of it has been talking and emailing with the coaches. One of the things I really like is that even when I have coached, it is a standard schedule and doesn’t take into account your fitness. With this, you can run a time trial and if you end up doing better than what is showing, then you can have your schedule adjusted so you can train harder and vice versa. I really dread speed work, I’d much prefer hills. Because I am not that fast right now, I can do my speed work on the treadmill. I do my warm up on the track, then set the treadmill on a slight incline and set the paces for what FNF has told me. Although I dread doing it, it is a balance between not looking forward to it, and seeing the payback for it.
Coach: What is one part of your racing routine you can’t do without (sleep, pre race meal, tie shoes certain way, other ritual)?
DB: I guess I have a couple. One I have had from a racing standpoint from the California club days is that only on a run of 10 of miles or more, I’ll do Vaseline on my feet. I don’t know if I would get blisters otherwise, but I have never gotten blisters doing it. A bunch of us would do mud runs, so we got dogtags, and everywhere I go now I get new ones, even if the information is already on my bib. I got shoe tags from USA FIT, and still use those.
Coach: What is your favorite place to go for a run?
DB: Whenever we go on vacation, no matter where we go. I’ll usually go for an early morning run; not a fast run, but just exploring, finding parks and restaurants. Then during the day we’ll try out those parks and restaurants.
Coach: In the next year, what goals do you hope to accomplish?
DB: I hope to actually come up with that magical racing moment. I’ve worked with Kate on the schedule because I am really training for Houston. It will be a big jump for New York, but I am just using it as a long run. I’m hoping to run a reasonably slow, well-paced long run. My dad and grandfather grew up there and I have only really been there twice, once to help with clean up after 9/11. I’ve run Houston, and even though last year was fantastic, it Is still businesslike.
My goals for Houston last year were first, always finish, and second, break a PR (4:13). The third goal was to break four hours. I ran 4:03. I was happy, as the projection from FNF was 4:04. I knew from mile 12 that I wasn’t going to break the four. I was going to move on to half marathons, but now I’m optimistic that as long as I stay healthy I have a reasonable shot at it!
A Bend, Oregon native, Jesse Thomas carried a successful high school running career into a collegiate tenure that featured a Stanford school record and All-American performance in the steeplechase, as well as US Junior National and Pan-American Games Championships in the 10,000m. Along the way, periodic injuries required Jesse to maintain fitness with cross training. After dabbling with multisport events after graduation and attending business school, Jesse finally decided to give his full attention to triathlon training with amazing results, none more exciting than winning the professional flight of the 2011 Wildflower 70.3 Triathlon. Along with several of our FNF athletes, Jesse competed at the Vineman 70.3, where he took 10th. Only one year ago, Jesse competed as an amateur in the 2010 Escape from Alcatraz. His biggest weapon remains the run – consider that his half time at Vineman was the fastest among the pros at 1:11!
Jesse, married to 2010 US 5K Champion (and September 2010 Pro’s Perspective) Lauren Fleshman, took a moment to share his story with FNF while recovering from the Vineman performance.
1. Many of our member runners participate in multisport events on a regular or semi-regular basis. You have been able to mount a career as a professional triathlete after a long history of running success. How did you find triathlon, or did triathlon find you?
It was a combo of both, we were like moons orbiting each other for 7 years before finally colliding. Wow, that is nerdy even for me. Anyway, I started riding my bike to cross-train during an injury in my 5th year at Stanford. But then I graduated and worked in a start-up - 100 hrs/week, NOT training, just waiting for my millions to come rolling in. After about 3 years, I decided I needed to get active again. So instead of running, I started doing all three sports to mix it up. My first triathlon was a small local event after a night out with my buddies. I felt like I was going to throw up, but that local, “just for fun” atmosphere brought me back to what I loved about running before I took it “seriously” in college. So I tried it for a year, and then reversed course and went to business school (no training again). Finally, after graduating at the peak of the recession, I decided I may as well enjoy not making money. So I started training to become a professional triathlete.
2. What were the main hurdles you have had to address to move from being a promising competitor with natural abilities to a serious contender?
Oh boy, lots of hurdles. When I started, I swam like a dead fish, except I couldn’t float. It’s still a struggle. I eventually had to spend time just swimming to try and make up the years of pool time that my competitors have on me. I spent about 4 months in the pool this winter, swimming 25-45 thousand yards a week. My hair turned green. I actually got comfortable in a speedo. It was weird.
I’ve also had to build a surprising amount of strength on the bike. You’d think a runner would translate to a good cyclist, but it’s not the case. Runners have the engine, but not the legs. When I ride with some of my competitors, cardiovascularly, I’m chilling, but my legs feel like they’re going to fall off at any moment. It takes years and lots of miles to build that strength, and I’m still building it.
3. What is your favorite triathlon distance and are there any multisport event combinations that you enjoy even more (run, swim, run, etc)?
I don’t really have a favorite distance, but anything that has lots of running is good! I just like a course to be hilly, hard, and take me through some cool scenery. Wildflower, Escape From Alcatraz, Vineman 70.3, all those come to mind. I like it when I can forget that I’m racing for a bit and just enjoy punishing myself out on a beautiful course.
4. What mental and physical overlap have you been able to find with lessons you learned as a young runner? Do you find that any of these apply to the other disciplines you train for now?
Absolutely. I use lessons I learned as a runner all the time. There are simple things, like the ability to push myself, and the motivation to train and improve. But more importantly, I’ve improved my ability to listen to myself, and know when to stop when I’m fatigued to the point where I risk injury and burn out. Those were lessons I learned, the hard way, as a runner. I was routinely injured and overly fatigued. I don’t think I ever really mastered them until I started doing triathlon. And as crazy as it sounds to me to say this, I’m already a better triathlete than I ever was a runner.
5. How does a typical training week for you play out, in terms of integrating in each discipline? What is the hardest part of your training week?
Matt Dixon of purplepatch fitness is my coach and the Yoda behind my training. I would say that no week is really the same under him, which is great. I have blocks where I focus on each discipline for 5-10 days, then recover, repeat. I would say, generally though, I swim 5 to 6, bike 4 to 7, and run 3 to 4 times a week. It sounds like a lot (and is), but I don’t work full time, so that shouldn’t be interpreted as the correct way to train for everyone. Recovering from your workouts is the most important thing. If you have lots of other stuff going - family, full-time job, travel, etc. - you need to do less to recover properly. Believe me, I actually have time to train more, but don’t, because it would mean poorer performance.
The hardest part of my week is definitely a long swim with fast sets. Swimming is the only sport I still fear when I go to workout. The pain is still so foreign (I feel like I’m drowning!) that it’s hard to relax.
6. This month, we are talking to our members about the importance of warm-ups – including drills and strides to prepare for hard workouts, etc. Have those parts of training been impressed upon you as well by coaches through the years?
Warm up is key! Do it to it! You have to “turn on the engine” as Matt says. I think the easiest way to illustrate the importance of warm up is that before a half Ironman - a roughly 4 hour race for me - I still warm up for at least 30-45 minutes, including fast strides or hard buildups in the swim. Whatever I can do to get my body prepped to go hard, I do it.
7. Who have been some of the individuals that have had the greatest impact on the trajectory of your athletic career so far and why?
My coaches throughout the years – Don Stearns my high school track coach taught me to be tough and keep going. Mike Reilly, my college steeplechase coach, taught me to be in the moment, and focus only on the small, individual steps required to achieve an athletic goal. My current coach Matt Dixon has been so influential in my understanding of a complete athlete, including the importance of recovery. All of them guided me with deft hands at appropriate times of my athletic career.
My parents have always been super supportive and influential. My dad took me on my first run, and always had me playing sports with him. My mom has been so supportive, I don’t even want to think about how many races & games she’s been to during my life.
Lastly, and most importantly, my wife, Lauren Fleshman. She not only supports me and the pursuit of my dreams, but she inspires me as an athlete and a person. She’s my hero.
8. What challenges are you looking forward to tackling over the next year and beyond?
I’m so pumped about the next two years. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’ve improved and become competitive quicker than I expected. I’ve got some big goals for the Half Ironman World Championships over the next 2-3 years. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m beginning to see the real possibility of being competitive with anyone in that discipline. I’ll still just keep focused on the next step, one at a time, and eventually, with some luck and the support of my friends & family, I’ll get there.
Finally, thanks so much for interviewing me, it’s an honor! And good luck to all you runners & triathletes out there striving for your own goals. Keep at it, one step at a time, and it’ll come! If you ever see me at a race or out training, please don’t hesitate to stop me and say hello.
June 29, 2011
You're in the race - now what?
When we choose a goal race, we are often preoccupied with the deliberation leading up to the final clicks on the screen. When the rush of the final commitment wears off, we are left with the training to be done – which of course is where we come in!
Certainly, the start of your program is the most important thing. However, it also makes sense to begin planning travel as soon as possible, to ensure your race weekend experience is all that you hoped for. Here are a few tips to optimize your goal race travel.
Read the race participant info early...and often
Most big races require number pick-up at a participant expo the day or two before the event. Some races may also have a fairly complicated process set up for start area arrival and finish line departure. Race directors know thousands of people need to get in and out and have thought through how best to get everyone where they need to be.
Before you set up any travel plans, make sure that you have a good sense of the logistical tasks required of you by the race. The flight that arrives at 5pm may be the least expensive, but you may be out of luck if the expo closes at 6 and your flight is delayed. Even if you are local, securing a ride or a forming a carpool to the start and away from the finish can make the difference between a successful day and one that turns south when you are rushed and hurried, or forced to stay outside in the cold while waiting for a ride.
Even if you review race day details upon initial registration, it makes sense to return periodically to ensure you have not missed any updates. If the race’s plans have been forced to change by unanticipated construction, a different level of participation than originally expected, or any other reason, you will want to make sure you have plenty of time to make your own adjustments.
Check out the race-sponsored travel options, but don’t limit yourself to those.
Many races partner with local hotels and even some airlines to provide options for participants. These may very well offer the best prices for places to stay within walking distance to the start or finish. As such, they should be checked first as they often sell out early. Before you act on a pre-pay option, however, consider hotel reservations with a closer cancellation date in case of injury or change of plans. Also consider other ways to stay in favorable locations relative to the race. If you are early enough, travel websites that offer flight / hotel options in combination may provide value as those negotiated prices might have been made before the race blocks were established. Vacation rental sites like vrbo.com or airbnb.com may offer houses or condos for rent at reasonable rates, particularly if you bring the family along for the big day. Finally, never underestimate the power of a call directly to an onsite reservations agent or even the front desk of a small hotel.
Consider your regular pre-race routine and sketch a travel scenario that will allow for as much familiarity as possible.
Do you prefer to eat dinner at a certain time? Do you try and head to bed at a certain time? Do you prefer a certain type of food in the evening or morning before the race? Take these preferences into account when you make your initial travel plans. How long might it take to get to and from the expo? Where will you likely eat and how close is it from your hotel? If you want coffee in the morning, where will you get it and are they open at that hour?
For these reasons and others, it often makes sense to arrive two days before your race so you have a day to take care of whatever you need to do without being rushed for time. Similarly, if time and finances allow, you may be well served to depart the day after your race instead of that same afternoon. You never know quite how you will feel or how long it might take to exit the finish area, and no one should be rushed after a terrific race effort.
If you need to make a choice between staying near the start or the finish of a marathon, by all means, stay by the finish.
Unless the start of your race is extremely early or in an obscure location, definitely err on the side of staying by the finish. You can always get up 10 or 15 minutes earlier to get to the start with all your energy intact, but anyone who finishes a marathon will be glad that a hotel room is close by. Very glad.
If planning a general vacation in concert with a goal race, plan to race at the start of the trip whenever possible.
Many people combine travel to a new destination with an opportunity to complete an exciting goal race. If you do so, consider how much more you will be able to enjoy your surroundings without the concerns of a race over your head during the “fun” part of the trip. You’ll want the freedom to walk without worry of fatigue in your legs, the freedom to eat adventurously and the flexibility to have a schedule that doesn’t demand eight hours of sleep. Yes, distant travel may require a couple days to adjust to a new time zone before the race. However, it is always best to celebrate the completion of your goal with the bulk of your vacation after the race.
Published in Racing Tips
July Pro's Perspective
Alissa McKaig grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, before attending both Michigan State and Indiana Tech as a collegiate athlete. While in college, she earned All-American honors while at Michigan State and an NAIA Cross Country Championship at Indiana Tech, but after graduation, she has really taken off.
Now boasting personal bests of 15:28 for 5000 meters and 32:14 for 10,000 meters, she ran 2:37 for the marathon last November and recently finished 9th in the 5000 meters at the USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships. McKaig was a member of the US team that won bronze at the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships by virtue of her sixth place finish at the US Cross Country trials, and has secured a spot on the US marathon team for the 2011 IAAF World Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
McKaig trains in Blowing Rock, North Carolina at ZAP Fitness, a residential post-collegiate training program and camp facility.
FNF: The last year, you have enjoyed one breakthrough performance after another. Now, you have recently been selected to represent the US in the Marathon at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, Korea. Did you envision this kind of success when you began running years ago?
AM: I have had a few breakthrough experiences this year for sure. When I started running, I went out to see how fast I could be, and that hasn't changed...I just want to run faster and faster. I didn't envision this, running professionally and making a Worlds team, back in high school at all. It was simply all about getting out there and racing. I like to keep it that way today. Let everything else be in the background and race!
FNF: You have trained for the last few years with the residential program at Zap Fitness in rural North Carolina. How is Zap different than other post-collegiate training settings and why has it been a good fit for you?
AM: I love ZAP. It is different from other groups in that we support the foundation with adult running camps in the summer time and hosting college teams and groups for retreats. We all live within a mile of each other in a little valley; we run together, eat together and work together. It was interesting to adjust to at first, figuring out my place in a group and settling in, but I could not be happier now. I have adjusted to the hills, which kicked my butt as a Midwestern raised girl (we don't have hills in northern Indiana!), and to Pete Rea's training. Pete and I work well together, and I think that that has been huge for me. He supports me in running, but also encourages me to grow and develop as a person.
FNF: Many athletes go their entire professional careers and never have the opportunity to win an international medal. This March, you were a part of the US team that earned bronze at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain. What were some of the most memorable aspects of that experience?
AM: Worlds XC was such a great experience, so awesome, and I am so blessed to have experienced it. The greatest moment of that trip was standing on the podium at the awards ceremony and watching the flags rise on the flagpole. It was surreal. I got goose bumps. I am so proud to have been a part of that. In some ways, I spent the trip in awe that I was even there, so all the little moments, icing with Magda [Lewy-Boulet] and Blake [Russell], eating and laughing with the other girls on the team, training with them in the days before the race, meant so much to me. I was able to learn from them and observe the way that they handled themselves on the world stage. Another great moment was in the warm up area before the race. There was a long row of national flags that were flapping and blowing in the wind. We were all doing strides under them, and I remember looking up and feeling so amazed to be there.
FNF: With personal bests this year in the 5k and 10k, do you anticipate that your best event will continue to be the marathon? Or, does your heart lie elsewhere (track, cross, roads)?
AM: I don't consider myself a marathoner, at least not yet. I enjoyed the marathon a lot, but I've only done one and would love to continue racing on the track as well. I enjoy the 5k and 10k a lot, and I think that my marathon can benefit from training and racing those shorter races. Conversely, it seems like the 5k and 10k benefit from the strength gained through marathon work. It's nice to mix it up and do a little bit of everything.
FNF: Who have been some of the most influential individuals in your life and running career and how have they exerted that influence?
AM: I would have to say that my parents have been the most important people in my life and running career. I certainly wouldn't still be training if not for them. I am so grateful to them for understanding my need to pursue this dream and have encouraged me every step of the way. They have always believed in me, even when I wanted to give up. I have also been blessed with some great coaches who saw potential in me and convinced me to see it too.
FNF: This month, we are talking to our members about the importance of travel planning to the big goal races. What is a tip you might share with a recreational runner about traveling effectively for a distant race or large marathon?
AM: Travel, especially if you are flying, can be so unpredictable. It can be hard to know when you will have access to food or water, so I always pack snacks and make sure to have a huge water bottle on hand. My teammates make fun of me for packing lots of trail mix, but inevitably they end up getting hungry and eating it too! I think it can be helpful to stay as close to your usual schedule as possible while traveling. Get up and go to bed at your usual time, try to run and eat when you would at home, so that your body remains in its normal patterns.
FNF: What are your ultimate goals for your career and what do you hope to accomplish in the next year or two?
AM: It's tough for me to say. This year was sort of a whirlwind of breakthroughs, and for now, I simply want to focus on continuing to gain experience in racing and training. My main goal is to develop this gift that God has given me for as long as I can and to see how fast I can be. I don't know where that will take me, but I am excited to see what happens!