Mark Winitz Interviews the U.S. Olympic Women's Marathon Team Before Beijing
California Track & Field News (supplement to Long Distance Running) by Mark Winitz.
CTRN: How does it feel to make your third Olympic team?
Kastor: Crossing the finish line in Boston felt just as good as making my first team in 2000 [when she competed at 10,000m—Editor]. I’m just excited to be representing my country on another team and having the loftiest goal I’ve ever had going into an Olympic Games. So, I’m just excited about the training and preparations to reach my dreams of standing on the awards podium again.
CTRN: Do you feel that you can improve on your Bronze medal from Athens?
Kastor: When it comes down to it, I hope that I won’t have as much energy [left] crossing the finish line in Beijing as I did when I crossed the finish in Athens. My biggest goal is just to lay it all out there, to get my best on that day, to give everything that I have on the streets of Beijing. I hope doing that will put me on the awards stand again. I’d be happy with getting on the podium, but, ideally, I’d love to bring home the Gold medal. I have dreams of the national anthem being played, and knowing that my focus and training has been to make that happen.
CTRN: So, you felt that you left too much out on the road in Athens?
Kastor: Yes, you learn from everything. I earned a Bronze medal, and it was a wonderful race, the highlight of my career. But, it also taught me that I may have been a little bit too conservative instead of picking up the pace a little sooner. So, maybe it means being cautious in the [Beijing] heat, but not as cautious as last time around.
CTRN: How do you feel about our women’s marathon team that is composed of three Californians? You’re a longtime Californian [Agoura High School, ’91].
Kastor: It’s pretty awesome that all three women happen to be from California. We hope to represent the state well when we’re in Beijing. We have a very strong marathon team and I’m honored to represent my country with two other women who have proven many times that they are ready on race day. I know they’ll be ready to run the performance of their lives in Beijing and I’m excited to see the outcome.
CTRN: Tell me about the main things that have contributed to your consistent success, and allowed you to become an Olympian for the third time.
Kastor: I attribute the longevity of my career to two things: taking adequate breaks between seasons to help recharge my body and my mind, and constantly pushing my goals. There always seem to be more things to accomplish in this sport, so it has kept me excited. As soon as one goal is behind me, I set my sights on, and narrow my vision, towards the next thing.
My success is also due to a tremendous amount of teamwork. My coaches, Joe Vigil and Terence Mahon, are both brilliant men. I really feel fortunate to have them. I really feel that Terence is the best coach in the world. Just believing in him on a daily basis has contributed to my success over the past few years. Along with the support of my husband [Andrew], who is also my massage and stretch therapist, I feel very fortunate.
CTRN: Tell me about how Team Running USA and your training group in Mammoth Lakes has contributed.
Kastor: My training group in Mammoth Lakes has meant the world to me. I rely on their strengths on a daily basis to get me through some of the harder workouts. We’re all very supportive of one another. The town of Mammoth Lakes has also played a major role. It’s a community of athletes who are supporting athletes such as myself who are pursuing Olympic teams and Olympic medals. It’s truly an athletic community, whether you’re a skier, mountain biker, rock climber, or hiker. It seems everybody can appreciate what we’re doing, so we have a lot of encouragement from the people in town.
As an athlete in high school, we always had a training camp at the end of summer in Mammoth Lakes, so it’s always had a special place in my heart.
CTRN: What about your training for Beijing? At this point, do you plan to stick to your tried-and-true plan, or will you make any adjustments?
Kastor: Even with the fast turnaround from Boston to Beijing, I took a couple of weeks off, so my training is just building up again. It’s hard to say where my training is right now because I’m just getting some mileage under my belt and trying to get my heart rate up again. So, my training right now is at a very simple stage as opposed to a few weeks from now when I’ll have a better gauge at where I am as far as being prepared for the podium.
The one thing that we’ll do, which is what we always do, is get as fit as possible. To me, that’s a combination of long runs, tempo runs, and intervals. As soon as I get a couple of those under my belt, I’ll pretty much know where I am as far as stacking up with the rest of the world. When I’m in the thick of my training, and it’s even too exhausting to answer phone calls, I’ll know where my strengths are—whether it’s some speed aspect or strength aspect. Then, I’ll be able to put together a racing plan [for the Olympic Games] to cater to that.
CTRN: Will you be racing between now and the Games?
Kastor: I’m running the Bolder Boulder 10K [May 26, where Kastor was 7th on what she said were “legs still in marathon mode” —Editor], and the New York Road Runners Mini 10K [June 7, past our editorial deadline—Editor]. Other than that, I’ll just focus on my preparations for the marathon.
CTRN: You’ve been asked this before, but I’ll ask it anyway. Do you have any concerns about the conditions in China, the air and heat?
Kastor: No, I don’t think that I need to be too concerned about it. As far as the pollution, we hope that the government will take of that by shutting down some of the industry to clean up the air a little. We can only hope for that. As far as everything else, we just have to prepare and be as fit as possible. The more fit and tuned your body is, the less those hurdles and hindrances, such as heat and humidity, will hurt. It just comes down to knowing how to get your body ready for racing, and minimize the hurdles and severe conditions by your fitness level.
CTRN: What does it mean to you personally to have made the U.S. Olympic team?
Lewy-Boulet: I think about it every single morning when I wake up. I’m so excited to have the opportunity and so excited to represent Team USA, Saucony, my family, and everyone who has been behind me. I’ve been trying to do this for the past 8 years. I became a U.S. citizen on September 11, 2001—which was an event in my life that I’ll never forget. That makes it so much more meaningful—that I became a U.S. citizen and made the Olympic team and now have the chance to represent the U.S. in Beijing.
CTRN: What do you think about our all-California women’s Olympic marathon team?
Lewy-Boulet: I think it’s great. Deena, obviously, has to be considered as one of the favorites in the [Olympic marathon] field. For Blake and myself, having been fourth and fifth last time around, it’s so exciting. Not that we wanted it more than anyone else, but we learned from last time, and we had to do everything right. I couldn’t imagine a better team. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
CTRN: What are the key factors that have allowed you to reach this pinnacle of your athletic career?
Lewy-Boulet: I think it’s due to the balance that I’ve found in my life, and doing what is required in training. I can’t express how much my family [husband Richie Boulet and 3-year-old son Owen] has played a role. In the beginning, my coach [Jack Daniels] had to learn along with me how to tweak everything, and to fit everything in one training cycle that needed to be done. It’s balance. I do everything for a reason. I don’t do more or less. I just do what’s required to get the most out of myself.
CTRN: And, that’s a lot considering how much you have on your plate—a role as a mother and wife, a coaching job at Cal (men’s and women’s cross country), and a full-time job as a professional athlete. Tell me more.
Lewy-Boulet: I almost want to say that I have it all. I have a dream job at Cal. I’m a professional athlete. I train and race hard, which [satisfies] my competitive [nature]. Then I come home and I have a beautiful family. At the end of the day, you have to be happy. I might be tired, but I’m very happy.
CTRN: You sound like the kind of person who needs something else in life besides just waiting for your next training session.
Lewy-Boulet: You’re right. I’m afraid that if I didn’t have all the other responsibilities and outlets that I’d overtrain. I’d push the envelope of being injured more frequently.
CTRN: Can you tell me more about your relationship with your coach, Jack Daniels, and his role in bringing you to the level you are now?
Lewy-Boulet: I’ve known about Jack [his accomplishments] since grad school at Cal. I majored in Exercise Physiology and studied and used his research then. Jack and I have worked together since the end of 2001. We do most of our planning and training over the phone and by e-mail. I go to Flagstaff as much as I can, even for a couple of weeks here and there. And Jack comes to some of my major races as well. But I do what he tells me to, nothing more and nothing less. He’s been amazing to work with. It’s a great relationship. He’s very responsive, extremely intelligent, and full of resources. He has worked with, and tested, so many elite athletes, going back to Jim Ryun and Alberto Salazar.
CTRN: The fact that he isn’t with you to watch your workouts everyday isn’t a limitation?
Lewy-Boulet: Oh, no. I think if Jack lived in the Bay Area, he couldn’t keep up with my schedule. [laughter] Actually, it works out just fine. I call him right after workouts. I always keep telling him “Jack, I’m a big girl. I don’t need you to hold my hand.”
Sometimes, I never know when or where I’m going to work out. Sometimes a workout is scheduled for a Monday, but I have to do it on Tuesday or Sunday. It all depends on other responsibilities. At the end of the training cycle, it really comes down to if you’ve done the work versus whether you’ve done it at 8 a.m. or 8 p.m. Jack has enough trust in my judgment that it works out really well.
CTRN: Have you and Jack decided yet what particular aspects of your training you’ll be concentrating on leading up to Beijing?
Lewy-Boulet: Yes, at the [USATF] Olympic Marathon Summit [for U.S. Olympic marathon team members and their coaches in Colorado Springs last May], Jack and I had some time to sit down and do some planning. The main thing that I’ll have to pay attention to—living in the Bay Area—is how to prepare for Beijing’s heat and humidity. I don’t want to go and train in Florida; I want to be here with my family, in a place that I love. So, we’re planning on some heat training by optimizing the resources that are available here: treadmill training, dressing up a little warmer when it’s warm enough already. Jack is a scientist and he has an interest in how much clothing I’ll need to wear [in training], how much fluid loss I’ll need to deal with, and what I need to do.
CTRN: And your racing between now and then? Is your new shoe sponsor agreement with Saucony going to allow you to travel a bit more to major races?
Lewy-Boulet: Good question. I believe the answer is yes. My contract with Saucony is a multi-year contract, and it will allow me to go to different races and bring my family with me. One of the reasons I haven’t raced that much outside of California in the past is because I just couldn’t afford to take time off from work and leave my family behind. Things will change a bit now that I represent Saucony at races. For example, I would love to run the Boston Marathon one day, and Boston is the home of Saucony, so I’ll definitely get there. I would definitely like to do more races outside of California.
It’s hard to leave your own backyard when you have such a great system here, such as the Pacific Association/USATF [road Grand Prix circuit]. I’ll run the Marin Memorial Day 10K [PA/USATF 10K championship on May 26 which she won—Editor]. Then, I’ll do the New York Road Runners Mini 10K. Then the 10K on the track in Eugene (U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials). I might even squeeze in the Wharf to Wharf [6M, Santa Cruz, July 27] at the very end before Beijing.
CTRN: Although you’ll be competing in Eugene, you’re committed to the marathon, right?
Lewy-Boulet: Oh, definitely the marathon. But I love racing on the track and it’s hard to get in track races during marathon training. But the track Trials are very prestigious. It will provide great competition, and it’s always good to break up marathon training and do something faster.
CTRN: It worked for you when you ran a PR in the 10,000m at the Cardinal Invitational before the marathon Trials.
Lewy-Boulet: Yes. Thanks a lot. Why not at this point? I’m healthy and I love to race, so there’s no better opportunity than the Olympic Trials in Eugene.
CTRN: Of course, a lot of runners here in California are familiar with your husband [former Cal All-American miler Richie Boulet], the Transports running stores [which Richie co-owns], and the Transports adidas running club [which Richie organizes]. How big of a role has Richie played for you?
Lewy-Boulet: I don’t think any of this could have happened to me without Richie. His experience as an elite athlete has provided me with a lot of guidance. He’s probably been the biggest contributor to the balance in my life. If I wasn’t with Richie, I probably would have overtrained a lot. He’s always reminding me to take proper rest, which is so important. In addition, I worked at Transport right after college and they [store personnel and club members] have been my biggest support crew.
CTRN: Are you concerned about the likely heat and humidity in China?
Lewy-Boulet: Yes. Looking at the [climatic] conditions in Beijing in August, it will definitely be in the 80s at the start with at least 80% humidity—very challenging conditions for a marathon. Yes, it’s a challenge. It’s probably my biggest concern, since I don’t train in these kind of conditions. They will equalize the field. The times won’t be fast. People who have better PRs than I do will be closer to me. So, it’s going to be an interesting race, and anything can happen.
I’ll be doing some altitude training in Flagstaff and Lake Tahoe over the summer, but the conditions there will be warm and dry, not hot and humid. So I will be simulating the [Olympic] conditions. Jack [Daniels], and the USATF [sports medicine] committee with Dr. David Martin and Dr. Randy Wilber, have worked out a plan for us to do that. I have full confidence that we’ll be fine.
CTRN: What are your specific racing goals for Beijing?
Lewy-Boulet: I’ll be chasing down every single spot in front of me to place as high as I can. I’m training for the top 10. I think that’s pretty realistic for me. I’ll be training for the awards, and shooting for the stars.
CTRN: Have you had time to reflect on what it personally means to you to make the U.S. Olympic team?
Russell: It still sounds strange to me when you say it like that. It doesn’t feel quite real yet. I think it’s going to hit me when I walk into the opening ceremonies. I’ll realize the magnitude of it then.
CTRN: How does it feel to be part of a U.S. women’s Olympic marathon team composed of all Californians?
Russell: It definitely says a lot about the training [environment] here. The trails and the good weather are conducive for good training. If you asked me before the race who the top three would be, I would have said Deena, Magdalena, and myself. I was definitely giving the nod to the veterans.
CTRN: What are the factors that contributed to your success at the Trials?
Russell: This time around, it was really seeing myself on the team—an “I know I can do it” attitude, as opposed to “maybe I can do it” [at the 2004 Trials]. Having come so close before, I knew things had to go right, and I knew I was stronger than four years ago. I wasn’t as nervous as last Trials. Even though things [in training] weren’t going great, I knew I just needed a good, solid performance,
It definitely helped to have my coach [Bob Sevene] with me through all the ups and downs. There were a couple of times coming off the injury (foot) that it was so painful to run; I didn’t think I’d be able to run again. It was a tough comeback, and it helped to have someone who has stuck with me.
CTRN: Was Sev fairly confident, too, about your prospects for making the team, even though you’d had some unplanned down time?
Russell: Yes, he definitely went in with the (attitude) that a top-three finish was a doable goal. Everything started to click a couple of months before the Trials, so I wasn’t really worried, as long as everything was just solid. The way we were looking at it, it definitely would have been a tragic thing not to make the top three.
CTRN: How important is it for you to have a coach who is close by and can oversee your workouts, versus working long distance?
Russell: Its probably more of an advantage for me because I don’t have anybody to train with. So, [Coach Sevene] is more like a training partner, but on the sidelines. He can ride on his bike with me [during workouts]. I think [Deena and Magdalena] have their husbands and other training partners that they can run with. It’s definitely nice to have a coach that can be there when you’re not truly motivated to do a workout. The good thing about [Coach Sevene’s] coaching is that he coaches a lot with his eyes. He can adjust workouts [midway]. For example, if I’m feeling really good, he can add something. If I’m not looking as good as he wants, there’s no point in overdoing it. So, it works out really well for me to have a coach right there.
CTRN: You seem to thrive without training partners. Is that your preference? I guess if you have to do it, the Monterey Peninsula environment isn’t too bad, right?
Russell: I really haven’t had anybody to train with until the year after I got out of college [University of North Carolina]. I miss being able to do some running with Jon [husband], but he hasn’t been able to with his work schedule and injuries. I like being able to run hard if I feel good, and run slower if I feel a little tired. I don’t have to worry about anybody else’s workouts. I’m on my own time schedule. When you’re by yourself, it’s a good way to concentrate on how your body feels. I think the marathon (distance) is kind of a solo effort in most cases. If you find yourself alone after about 17 miles—which is how the race unfolds for me—it’s kind of nice to have that experience from training.
CTRN: Blake, in an era when training groups like Mammoth Lakes [Team Running USA], Hansons-Brooks, Team USA Minnesota, and ZAP Fitness are contributing to the resurgence of U.S. long distance running—you’re sort of a kickback to the “loneliness of the long distance runner” days. Evidently, you don’t have regrets about following Sev to the Monterey area from Boston [in early 2004].
Russell: No, especially when I see the weather reports back in Boston all winter. I like to call and make fun when they’re getting two feet of snow and were getting nice, sunny, 65-degree days. I would have loved to have taken advantage of the running groups if they had been around right after I got out of school. They definitely serve a purpose for kids who need to figure out post-collegiate running for a year or two and need a support network.
CTRN: Are you going to be competing in the 10,000m in Eugene [U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials]?
Russell: Yes, we think that will fit in really well with training. I really enjoy doing a good 10K, so we’re leaning toward doing it. The 10K that I did at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational (two weeks before the marathon Trials) really worked out well. The [women’s] track Trials 10K [June 27] would be a little bit earlier [before the women’s Olympic Games marathon, August 17]. So it will be nice to do something different (in training) for a little bit, go in to the Trials 10K a little bit tired, but still try and run a good time.
CTRN: And what if, low-and-behold, you make the team in the 10,000m? What are you going to do?
Russell: You have to commit to one or the other. We’ve committed to the marathon because you have to pretty much start training for the [Olympic Games] marathon at the beginning of June. But it would be frustrating if I did make the team only because running a 10K would be a lot more fun than running a marathon in the [Beijing] heat.
CTRN: Do you have any concerns about smog, heat, and humidity in Beijing?
Russell: The pollution doesn’t bother me because there is nothing I can do about it. I think that [the Chinese government] will take a few measures to make it as good as possible. But as far as running a marathon in 80-degree weather and humidity, it’s not fun to think about. At least everybody will be running in the same conditions. We’ll do the best we can to get ready for the heat. I think it will help us to prepare, knowing right off the bat that it’s not going to be comfortable.
In Athens, people still went out pretty hard and a lot of people ended up dropping out. I definitely think it’s going to have to be a more conservative beginning than I’d normally like. I think the weather conditions will definitely dictate a little bit of the tactics.
CTRN: Have you set any performance goals for the Games? What kind of performance will you personally be satisfied with?
Russell: We’ve learned from the past year or two that a really solid performance might get you in the top 15, which, I think is doable for me. Cathy O’Brien finished 10th [in the women’s marathon at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona]. [Editor’s note: O’Brien was also coached by Sevene.] Whenever a country is only allowed to send three athletes, it helps a little bit as far as placing high. It depends a little on how the race unfolds, but I think I’d be ecstatic with a top 10 or top 15 [finish].
CTRN: Regarding your training for Beijing, will you be tweaking or changing anything in your training? Do you have any other races planned during this time besides the Track Trials?
Russell: For racing, I plan on the New York Road Runner Mini 10K on June 7 and the 10K at the trials. My marathon training will probably be about the same [as for the marathon trials]. I may be able to do a bit more mileage since I’m coming in with more strength and base work from the Trials marathon. I’ll be able to jump into [marathon] workouts faster than I did the last go-around. We used a pretty conservative training program for the Trials—just trying to get me feeling good, healthy, and strong. Sev might try a little longer [workouts] than he has in the past, but he’ll decide as the weeks unfold.
CTRN: And what’s your typical mileage when you’re training for a marathon?
Russell: I’ve averaged about 100 miles a week. I don’t tend to do too well doing lots of mega miles.
CTRN: And you probably don’t need much more with your leg speed [31:35 for 10,000m].
Russell: Hopefully not. Keep a little speed. Whenever I’ve tried to do a little more, I start hurting a bit more, so it’s probably better to stay on the safe side. We usually do some type of interval work once a week and a marathon-type workout on weekends.
Mark Winitz welcomes your comments and contributions for this column. Contact him by phone at 650.948.0618 or via e-mail at email@example.com. Mark has written for CTRN since the mid 1980s and has been running, writing about running, and organizing programs for runners for 30 years. He is a longtime activist within USA Track & Field. He also assists road racing events through his company, Win It!z Sports Public Relations and Promotions in Los Altos.