New Year's Resolutions With Hoka One One's Kyle Merber
Just a glance at the miler's Twitter page will tell you as much, as the Hoka One One/New Jersey*New York Track Club athlete is always quick with a witty comment or a lighthearted spin on most anything. In the running world, the guy's become a bit of a social media novelty, as his tweets consistently deliver on the why didn't I think of that which separates the bright from the boring online.
Speaking with the 25-year-old over the phone last week, that same dry humor floated in and out of our conversation as we discussed everything from his social media game to training and even his now-on-hold wish to visit Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. The real Kyle Merber and @TheRealMerb are not mutually exclusive.
It's refreshing to see pro athletes not take themselves too seriously, and I suppose that becomes a bit easier when the racing is really clicking. 2015 was that type of year for Merber on the track, as he set three PRs, most notably his 3:34 1500 in May which brought down an infamous three-year-old mark that up until then had been an outlier performance. That combined with a spot on the World record-breaking DMR team at World Relays and his highest ever finish at USAs has Merber zeroed in on even bigger things for 2016, with a target squarely placed on July's Olympic Trials.
But of course, even his athletic dreams are not immune to the humor that pervades everything that is Merber. Here's our conversation:
For 2016, I saw that one of your goals was to "Win Shit." Can you give a little context to that?
Yeah. You know, originally I would say my goal was to go undefeated, and as I noted on Twitter, I realized that besides that being a lofty goal it's kind of like an all-or-nothing because the one other time that I've ever gone undefeated I was just hurt for the entire year. So that wasn't exactly a good year.
I changed my resolution to just winning shit. Because, you know, I feel that's why we do this. We go out with the goal of just winning a lot. I feel like there was a few races last year that I just came up a little short on a win and it's not a good feeling. Hopefully, you're on the right side on those tenths of a second. That's the goal, especially in an Olympic year. The more wins the better.
So you feel like you've gone through those growing pains as a pro, and now you're up to that level where you're not just chasing people down for PRs, now it's time to get to the top and win some races?
I think PRs come when you're winning. If you just keep winning race after race, eventually you're going to be in a fast race, and if you're at the front of a fast race, you're more likely than not to PR.
I think at this point, if I'm in a race, I'm trying to win. That's why we do this, that feeling. The more wins the better, especially if that comes somewhere at a really important part of the season like the Olympic Trials.
Running goals are great, but let's talk real life goals. How is Kyle Merber improving in that department for 2016?
2016 real life Kyle Merber is trying to improve in just finding things to occupy my time in a more productive way. I'm still getting used to having all this free time since college has ended, and there's a lot of free time in day. There's a lot of time to sit on the computer and absolutely do nothing. So now I'm kind of trying to sit on the computer and do something somewhat productive.
I think a lot people would hate you for that being a problem.
It's probably the best possible problem to have. It's definitely a first world, professional athlete problem. I pick up things, like I'll decide I'm going to get a new hobby. A few weeks ago, I went out with Ford Palmer and I was like, 'ya know what, I'm going to make something for myself. I'm going to learn to crochet.' I bought an instructional book, I bought the crocheting needle and some yarn and I did it for about 20 minutes and I hadn't made anything yet, like it was hardly recognizable. I put it down and I have yet to pick it up.
So maybe seeing through with some of these projects would be a good resolution for me.
Your Twitter page has kind of developed a personality of its own, tell me about your social media game.
Everyone, probably besides my agent, I think somewhat enjoys my Twitter having a personality. Sometimes he'll give me little warnings of like, 'calm down or don't say too much.' Also Gags (NJ*NY head coach Frank Gagliano) is probably whatever the opposite of my biggest fan would be about social media in general.
But as I was saying earlier, I just have so much free time and when I have a lot of free time I get bored and decide to let people into my life a little too much. I feel like that's part of the job as a professional athlete, making ourselves accessible to the fans and showing some life and personality.
You know, we're training hard, I run every morning, but then the rest of the day I have a lot of time to think. I feel like it would be selfish to not let my great ideas be heard.
You're down in Tallahassee right now?
Yeah we're down in Trail-ahassee or Talla-nasty.
How's the training going? Is all the group down there?
Yeah we have a huge part of the NJ*NY crew down here. In general, we probably have the biggest professional group out there, just because Gags is so loving and welcoming. We have like 17 or so people down here in Tallahassee right now, so maybe like half the club. It's an awesome crew. We've got plenty of places to run and we're still exploring and getting used to it. No one on our team has ever really been down here before.
We kind of are just googling trails in Tallahassee and asking around. ZAP Fitness comes down here a lot, so they've given us pointers. The weather is perfect-- it seems like it's 60 degrees every single day. The only way to ever see all these trails is probably to live your whole life down here and run every single day because they all seem to just go on forever.
With that many of the group down there, is it kind of like Real World Tallahassee?
Yeah, I would say it's exactly like the Real World Tallahassee besides every interesting part of the Real World. It's just basically what we do in New Jersey, we're living with the same people and we are doing the exact same things. So it's just kind of like we transported ourselves to a different state that is…south [laughs]. We're doing nothing different and that's what I think is kind of cool.
We played around with some altitude last year, we went out to Flagstaff for our stint of the winter. There was a lot of adjustments and variables obviously because of the altitude, whereas here (Tallahassee) you know we were able to just immediately show up and get right into the swing of things. It's been fun, Gags actually just got in last night and he's staying in a hotel next to an Outback Steakhouse and I know he's pumped about it.
Why aren't you guys training at altitude this year?
Gags hates altitude. The thing that he always says is that our altitude training is climbing out of the subway. Sometimes he'll just list off, whenever someone on the team brings up altitude, he'll just list off every Olympian he's ever coached and said that none of them needed altitude. That's a long list.
He was open to it, he let us try it last year and I think a few people were really high responders to it, so they'll maybe go back in the spring. Gags is open to it, you know Donn (Cabral) has been doing altitude for a while and sleeps in a tent very often. For some of us who aren't as experienced at it, he kind of wants to keep us traditional.
WOW from 2015 with Merber and NJ*NY crew at altitude:
Who has the biggest ego in the group?
Man. I would say it's more like a collective thing where we've all come together to have this NJ*NY ego in which we constantly reaffirm everything that we do as being right and the best. We kind of just feed off of each other's positivity about how great we are, and it's just a mess because we're all so full of ourselves that we can't even remotely have an accurate perception of how the rest of society views us [Laughs].
That is the answer I was hoping for.
Honestly, it's out of control.
Do you have your indoor season mapped out?
Mapping still. It's going to be a really low key indoor season for me. I got a pretty late start this year. After 5th Avenue, I took a few weeks off and one of the first days back that I was running, just like growing pains of getting back into it, I just flared up an Achilles a little bit so I had to miss another few weeks. It was just kind of a late start.
Things are all healthy now and training is fine, mileage is up. But just because obviously the emphasis on it being an Olympic year and because I have the Olympic standard already, there's not like a real rush. I'll probably pace a couple events and maybe hop in one or two races, but it won't be a huge indoor campaign.
What kind of volume are you at right now?
I run 90 miles/week. Generally, that's what I do when I'm not racing. I always try and do it in singles (one run per day) with a two hour long run. It gets the job done. I like resting for 24 hours after a run.
Is that how everybody in your group does it, with singles?
No, I think that's one of the cool things about our group and Gags in general, is that he gives us a lot of leeway and freedom in deciding kind of how we want to get there. He doesn't necessarily assign me, 'go run 13 miles today.' It's more like at the end of the week, make sure you're hitting it. But listen to your body along the way.
Some people like the doubles and I've played around through my career and just settled on what I personally feel best off of.
Last year was a huge year for you-- part of the DMR World record, 1500 PR, 6th at USAs-- do you feel like a completely different runner from this point a year ago?
Not really. I feel like my entire career has been a pretty gradual, steady improvement. I feel like last year was on pace for what I would have hoped for the year before, and I think accomplishments last year set me up really well to be where I want to be this year. I guess fitness-wise it's been pretty fun at how much further ahead I'm able to start this year than I was last year, and even the year before.
Merber's 3:34 from May:
Whereas maybe getting my tempo paces down to where they are now took three months last year, it takes a month this year. Seeing that kind of improvement has been a pleasant surprise, but I'm not shocked. I feel relatively the same, just a little better.
What was your favorite moment from last year?
The DMR would obviously have to be the highlight. Just the way the race was run. The stage that it was on was just perfect. If it would have been .1 slower (their 9:15.50 shaved .06 off the previous World record) it wouldn't have been nearly as perfect, but it still would have been pretty cool. But really just the way it played out, that's what I point to in my head when I'm thinking about what I want to accomplish this year. I think about how special that felt and wanting to feel something similar and maybe better again.
What was your biggest takeaway from making your first USA Outdoor final?
You can feel really good one day and really bad the next. I felt really poor during the first round and then came out the second round and felt worlds better. I think now with three rounds (at the Olympic Trials) that's something really important to remember. Let's say I feel bad in the semi-finals, that doesn't mean I'm going to feel bad again in the finals. Every race is going to be its own and you can't take [it] for granted.
Among the top guys in the U.S., where do you see yourself fitting in?
I see myself sitting in the top three. I guess we run the race to figure out exactly where. That's the hope. I think I have the ability to be up there, and I think I have the talent and I think I have the training. It's just a matter of putting it together 6-7 months from now.
Can you share something about Coach Gagliano that most people don't know?
Just how different he is than he was apparently back in the day. He's evolved a lot. If you hear stories about what he was like when he was coaching at Manhattan or Georgetown, you'll hear some crazy stories. He's coached so many people, and we can't go anywhere without someone being like, 'oh, you're one of Gags' guys,' which is like the most affectionate term possible. They'll share a crazy story about something Gags once did.
To us, Gags in his older years has become just like this giant teddy bear, he's such a softy. It's just such a different character than we've heard stories about.
Editor's Note: This gem was tweeted a few days after this interview:
What do you have up your sleeve for year 2 of the Hoka One One Long Island Mile? (Merber is the meet director)
We're still putting some final touches in place, but we should hopefully have a date soon for everyone. For the most part, we're just going to replicate what we did last year. With the experience of last year, we can make the meet run even smoother and I think we can get even more people involved in coming out to race and to come be a fan for the night.
If we got a few thousand people to come out for this event that no one knew what it was, then now we can point to what we accomplished last year and be like, 'come be a part of this now.' Hopefully the fields continue to get a little deeper, and hopefully we can get some more money and maybe some other smaller sponsors. But for the most part, it's going to be bare bones, good track and field and that's what I think keeps it simple and exciting.
Do you have any new gear that you're rolling out for this season?
They're (Hoka) constantly sending us new prototypes to test out. We'll see what exactly we'll be loving come the Olympic Trials. I think the most exciting thing is just the fact that right now Hoka is rolling out flats and spikes for the general public. What we were wearing last year, now people can see what all the hype was about for themselves.
Last question. I assume you've seen Making a Murderer, give me your 20 second take on that show. Guilty or not?
Definitely not guilty, and I would say my plans to visit Manitowoc County are on hold indefinitely. It's a shame, because I was really looking forward to it.