Solinsky & the marathon (full interview)

Solinsky & the marathon (full interview)
Read the story: Solinsky to move up to the marathon

Ryan Fenton: Alright, we're here with Chris Solinsky, who's got some news that we heard about and an announcement for this coming season. As outdoor comes around, is that going to be the focus?

Chris Solinsky: Definitely not the primary focus. It'll be one of those where, if the cards fall into my hand correctly, it will be an added bonus, but right now the focus is transitioning to the marathon. The mileage and the strength work that comes along with that.

Fenton: So this is pretty big news. I know you've been primarily a track guy your whole career right now. So, transitioning to the marathon, looking to make a debut marathon, what is the timeline? When will that happen?

Solinsky: Right now, the timeline is focused on a fall marathon. Which one? We don't know yet. We haven't gotten that far in the process. Right now, I'm about three, four weeks in to just the training of the marathon. Not specific training for the marathon, but just getting my mileage back up to kind of the levels that it was back in 2010 and 2011, but doing it a bit smarter. Anywhere from, if we're not talking Badger miles, from the 120 to 140 miles per week range. Just doing that consistently and getting that aerobic and physical strength back. In doing that, I think it could potentially help a 10k. Like I said, if it falls into the cards perfectly. I'm not counting out something like Payton Jordan or the U.S. [Championships] 10k. It's certainly be a byproduct of training for the marathon and getting ready for the marathon.

Fenton: You said "doing the similar mileage that you've done in the past, but smarter." What's smarter? What's different about the way you're doing it now?

Solinsky: Today, for example, I had a workout and was kind of exhausted. Instead of doing the full 7 miles of work on the track, I did 5 miles of work on the track. It doesn't sound like much for people getting ready for a marathon, but I'm in my third week… over 120 badger miles. Right now, I'm kind of like a walking zombie, dead on my feet working out. In the past, I would have been, well, I need to get this workout in. I need to run hard and the work is what matters, not how I feel doing it. In the past, kind of what lead to the injury, what caused my hamstring tight enough to tear off just from catching myself on the stairs, was just ignoring all the signs.

Being blinded by the greed of success that came along with being in really good shape. I think this time around, if I need to take an afternoon off, I'll take an afternoon off. If I need to take a day off, I'll take a day off. Whereas before, there were many days that I should have taken, at least a day if not a week off, and let my body repair. It wouldn't have done anything to my overall fitness. But, you know, you learn those lessons and you move on. I think this transition was inevitable, but it's a little sooner than I thought it was going to be, just because, coming back from the injury, I thought the speed was going to comeback to my legs a lot sooner, easier. We've been beating my head against the wall trying to get it to comeback and it hasn't comeback. So, I was reading the writing on the wall, saying, 'Alright, speed's not in your legs anymore and the strength has been coming back. The strength is there. Let's work on that and do races accordingly.

Fenton: So it sounds like you're listening to your body more. You say, "the speed's not there." I'm sure you're in a position where, you know, four or five years ago, or two or three years ago, you would hear other people say that. Did you ever think, "Man, what does that actually mean?" And you're to the point where you're actually saying that now. What's the difference like being the guy that heard people say it to now being the one to say it? And do you really believe that you can't get the speed back?

Solinsky: I could get the speed back, but I think it'd be at the cost of overall performance. And by the I mean, I would do far less mileage. I would focus on strides like everyday and the speed work that's necessary. I mean, last year I ran the fastest quarter in practice that I had ever had, but I didn't have the fitness to back that up by the end of the year. So I was trying to do the things this year to get me that fitness and I couldn't do both things at the same time. And I know I could have kept running at a relatively high level doing what I was doing. Medium mileage, I'd call it. So like, the 90 miles a week consistently and doing the speed workouts.

All the young guys that are in the group, that's kind of made the transition easier in terms of saying, 'I don't have the speed anymore.' Because I see that a lot of those guys are my competitors that I train with and when you're getting your doors blown off in practice everyday by everyone. We kind of have a joke and it's at Dan Huling's expense, but it's 'even Dan could do it and I couldn't do it.' Having those guys blow my doors off consistently, and I was making small, very, very incremental gains on them, but it wasn't enough for me to say, 'This is what I can do at a high level.' That's why I'm in this sport. Nike wouldn't pay me to be running at a mediocre level as well. I know that right now, for me, that high level, is moving up in distance. The best I've felt in the last two years is pacing Matt [Tegenkamp] through Chicago. Granted, I only went 14 miles of 26, but I had only been training for seven or eight weeks leading up to that.

So, if I had really focused on what it takes to be a great marathoner, I think I can run a great marathon because, like I said, those are the workouts that I've done the best in coming back and that's the effort that I've felt the best in. Granted, I ran 13:20s twice last year, but to me, in hindsight, yes, I was really excited about that 13:23 and even the Oxy 13:27 was a solid mark, but that's not going to cut it these days. There was a time when that did cut it, but that doesn't cut it these days. I still have hopes that I can run a really good 10k again, but I feel that my relevancy in anything 5k or below is behind me.

Fenton: Do you feel like this marathon training, in the back of your mind, are you thinking, "This marathon training is going to give me that base that I used to have for the fitness to do the speed once again. Or is it, "Hey. I'm marathon training and if it goes well, I'm going to be a marathoner."

Solinsky: I think it's in the back of my head. I would lie to you if I would say that it's not. I kind of want to approach it that all my eggs are in the basket of marathoning, but if, like I said, if for some reason somehow it falls where we say, 'Hey, things are really starting to come around now. Let's jump on the track and try a 10k.' I'm definitely going to take that opportunity. Like I said, in the back of my head, I definitely hope that that opportunity will present itself. But I'm really excited about the challenge and opportunity to run a marathon this fall. Like I said, I have no idea where it'll be. And that decision will probably be based on what I think will be the best situation for what fitness that I'm in in terms of competitiveness and speed and stuff like that.

I'm a very competitive person, so whatever race that I choose, I definitely want to go into it wanting to compete rather than being okay with being left behind. That's why I'm taking this really long build-up. It's not going to be nothing but high mileage and interrupted training now until the marathon. I think there's going to be little stages of high mileage periods and come down and do some little bit more intense workouts. We're headed up to Flagstaff, AZ and we're going to get some work done up there in terms of just getting the volume in and getting aerobically really strong. When we come back down, we're going to use that altitude to really provide a really good aerobic base to get work done down at sea level and then kind of address where we're at.

It's going to be like a marathon cycle training without the marathon in the near future. And then hopefully fine-tune things what works for me leading into whatever race we choose this fall.

Fenton: So you're a competitive person, you have high standards, you're also maybe a little skewed because you've had, maybe skewed isn't the right word, but you had one of the best 10k debuts anyone's ever seen. So, how do you go into a debut marathon with those aspects about you and set a goal for yourself? And do you have one now?

Solinsky: It's the same as when I went into the 10k at Stanford. You just go in and try and compete. I was really intimidated with the distance and to be honest, I still am intimidated by the distance of the 10k. It's 25 laps of, some people would say fun, and I would say torture. My one full attempt went really well and I tried it again and I think that showed how scared of the distance I was at Prefontaine. Yes, I had the hamstring tightness and injury in the back of my mind, but, I was scared out of my mind for that race. Going into that, I should have been completely fine and had a lot of confidence because I think when Mo [Farah] ran that 10k, 26:46? So, not even that much faster than what I had run.

But everything about that race intimidated me. You take that exponentially more, and I had told all the guys that we're training for the marathon, like Simon [Bairu] and Tim Nelson, and I was saying, 'You guys do realize that the marathon is more miles than the 10k is laps, right?' I kind of regret saying that it's definitely stuck in my head now that it's a lot of miles, but I'm going to give it as much respect as it deserves. I think that's the only way you can go in. If you think you can master 25 laps of a 10k, you're kidding yourself. And the same goes for the marathon. If you think you can master 26.2 miles, you're kidding yourself. And I'm going to go in and give it the respect it deserves, but try and be as competitive as I can and hopefully, that turns out. Obviously, I don't know if I'm going to have the moons aligned, maybe, maybe not --but like they did at that night at Stanford-- but I'm going to set myself up as prepared as I possibly can be.

Fenton: When you think about the distance, I'd like to know two things: (1) what are you most excited about and (2) what are you most fearful about?

Solinsky: What I'm most excited about is… marathon racing is the kind of running that I've always been good at. Just getting out there and grinding. Even in training, everyone always jokes that I like to run until I bonk, essentially. And by bonk, that means running your legs out. Having no energy. I've done, and this way before I even got hurt and it's happened since obviously, too, I've run so hard at times that, like, I can't even run 7 minute pace some days because I'm just dead on my feet. Some say that's really stupid and I would agree with them, but at the same time, that just how I've always been wired: Is to push. And I've learned to push through that fatigue until it gets to a certain point, obviously. That's kind of what I'm most excited about because this is my kind of running and I don't have to worry about having to kick or not. I just go out there and grind, and grind a solid pace the entire time. That's what I've always been about.

What I'm most fearful of is the last 10k. What everyone has said has been the hardest part for them. I think Alberto [Salazar] is the first who actually said it to me that '20 miles is halfway.' That scares me, you know? That's really intimidating to hear that effort wise, 20 miles is only halfway. Matt [Tegenkamp] experienced that this fall. He was on pace to run 2:10 until 35k and that last 7.2k did him in. So, that's what scares me: That feeling of body shutdown and how I'm going to deal with that. Hopefully it turns out similar to the 10k because I had Simon [Bairu] and Tim [Nelson] tell me that the last 2 miles was the worst pain they ever felt in the 10k. I remember getting to lap 7 and 8 being, 'Oh, this isn't that bad.' So, I don't know. Maybe if I give it so much respect, then it won't be as bad as I expect it to be.

Fenton: How do you train yourself mentally to go into this first marathon, you know, you just described so much around the 10k distance in general on the track. To get to that point at 20 miles and not think, "Crap. I have a 10k to run." Can you train yourself in practice to not have that fear come up and be like, "Oh, now I have the second half of the race?"

Solinsky: That's the big question, I guess. I think there's ways to do it and one of the ways I found in training that's helped me is to break it down just in time. We've started already doing 2.5 hour long runs and that's 30 minutes longer than I've ever run for a long run. That's just duration, that's not even the miles and running it hard. That was hard for me to deal with: Running an extra 30 minutes on top of what I used to think was a really good long run of 2 hours. It'll just be breaking it down and be like, "Okay. I'm on pace. It's only going to take me this long." I started doing that, actually, in 10k workouts when I felt like I was already exhausted and being like, "Okay. It's only this much more time of running." Luckily for us, Jerry [Schumacher] has always had us do a lot of marathon-type training. So, I feel like the training, once I get my strength back to where it needs to be, will prepare me pretty darn well to be ready to go. Then, it fully comes down to mental. Then, I don't think you think of it as 10k left. I think you think of it as "I've done 20 miles under control. Now, it's time to do 30 minutes of running really hard. As of now, that's how I plan approaching it. A lot can change because, who knows where I'll be mentally at that point.

Fenton: I want to talk about picking a race. You have quite a bit of time, it's only February. For me, I think, you're an American guy, so Chicago and New York have to be near the top of the list of ones that you'd probably like to do in the fall. How do you go about it? You're a Midwest guy, so I'm guessing that there's got to be a place for Chicago in your heart. At the same time, a lot of people know New York Road Runners has recruited you guys over the years to want to run their race. So, how do you figure out where you're going to go?

Solinsky: Honestly, I think as of now, they are a dead heat. I say that because, as you were saying with Chicago, it's basically a home race. The furthest the any of my family has to come is three hours. So that's pretty darn close. And Amy's, my wife's whole family, is from Chicago area. So, I'll have a lot of support and that is very appealing. And obviously, that course is a pretty fast course. The idea of having a fast time under your belt, if it goes well, is nice to have kind of to your name.

But, New York is such a big stage. If you're ready to compete, that stage is hard to pass up because if it goes well in New York, that's show business. That's where you kind of make a name for yourself in the sport. It's going to be a hard decision and really, I have no idea which one it'll be. I'm hoping, like you said, it is February, but I'm hoping within training, we kind of get a feel for which course I'd be better suited for. And hopefully, I can make the decision purely athletically and decide which one will be the better event for me to have success. That's kind of what I'm going to look for as which one is going to be a better chance of success, so I have a good taste in my mouth for the marathon for the future. Because ultimately, we had already talked about doing a marathon this fall previously, even before 2012… We'd even thought that before I got hurt, we were like, "Well, maybe we should think about doing the marathon and the 10k for 2012. Then I got hurt and that all went out the window.

But the idea of running a marathon, if I hadn't run one, this coming fall, so I'd get one in under my belt before the Trials, is an ideal situation. Who knows? Maybe, I do one this fall and if it goes well enough, I can get on the Beijing World Championship team and get some championship experience and be ready to go when the Trials comes around. It's all hypothetical, but some of those thoughts have come into my head that that could be a really good timeline. It's really exciting, all the possibilities with marathoning. I am sad to kind of put track behind me a little bit, or at least put it on the back burner (not really the 10k). It's an exciting new challenge. I think I had found lots of frustration with trying to make it work with the 5k distance and below and this really excites me to just find out where my boundaries are and find out how well I can do at a new endeavor. Hopefully, like you touched on, it can open up some doors in the 10k again. Bring that kind of fitness back, where I can feel good running 65-seconds over and over and over again.

Fenton: Well before we let you go, you kind of started talking about it a little bit. But as you transition over and to some extent, leave the track behind, you look over a career of a lot of success in high school, in college, [and] at the professional level. I think maybe one of the few things you haven't done is made that Olympic team. What do you think about or anything that you say to that career you're kind of transitioning away from?

Solinsky: I would say that's probably been my biggest regret, if I have one, is not making the Olympic team. And to be honest, there's been a few points over the last two years that I've been really, really, really close to hanging it up altogether. The only thing that has kept fully driven and not allowed me to do that has been the idea that I haven't made an Olympic team… That would be a huge regret to walk away without giving it one more shot. It's almost like the fear of being… I don't know if I'm over-presumptuous, but being the most decorated runner without (a) a national title. I've never won a national title and (b) never going to the Olympics. Those things stick out to me and those things are kind of a thorn in my side. I will definitely be using that as fuel to get me to hopefully get the best out of myself for the marathon.

In saying that I have regrets, I will have to say though, I don't regret anything that I've done in training in terms of how hard I pushed myself, even though I've learned lessons and won't be doing that to the same extent anymore. When I tore my PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) at the end of 2008, I told myself that I was never again going to take things for granted. I was going to get as much out of myself as I possibly could, even if that meant it would shorten up my career. I think in 2010 and 2011, even making the World Championship team in 2009, were all products of that mentality.

I'm really proud of myself that I stuck to those guns and stuck to the fact that I wanted to get the best out of myself everyday and not leave anything behind. I kind of have that mentality, again now, heading into the marathon. I'm very much all in and I'm gung-ho on just training really hard. If for some reason, I cross that red line again, which I hope I've learned lessons to not, but if I do, at least then I know that I've gone out swinging and I've given it everything I could because this is a chance that some of the doctors told me that I'd never be able to run again. I've proven that I can and can do it at a relatively high level. Just not at the level that I want, but this is a chance to compete again at the level I want, by moving up in distance.

I'm going to give it everything I possibly can and going to train my butt off. I guess, I'm sorry to my wife and the rest of my family for being a walking zombie for the next how every many months.

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