The free flow of information between average participants, avid racers, and true professionals and elites is one of the unique aspects of running. The common man and woman can rub shoulders with the people who populate the pinnacle of the sport –something that would never happen in baseball, hockey, football, etc.
We reached out to the following three runners who work and/or run closely with elites to have them share their tips for approaching your the pros:
- Jonathan Levitt, a marathoner and competitive 5K racer from Boston
- Meredith O’Brien, running coach in Virginia Beach, Virg.
- Albert Dell’Apa, running coach in Toronto, Canada
What has been your experience approaching elite or famous runners at races and expos?
- Levitt: I’ve been training and working with elite and famous athletes for long enough to understand that they’re just like us and have similar challenges and frustrations. This is one of the great things about the running community – most of the elites are very open to sharing their journey.
- O’Brien: I met Mike Wardian at the Shamrock Marathon this year after he won the King Neptune Challenge (8K Saturday, half+full Sunday). As someone who has never run – or even thought about running – an ultra, it was a nice opportunity to meet one of the greats. He was very gracious and humble after such an excursion. It was really neat that he didn’t skip off and hop in an ice bath or get a massage and actually spent some time with the half and full pacers before leaving the post race area.
- Dell’Apa: I think one of the things that an average runner likes to hear from an elite runner is that elite runners struggle too. The average runner often will see the elite runner looking strong and effortless in races but don’t always see that they have the same struggles in training that the average runner does. There are good days and bad days at all levels.
What advice have you received from elite runners?
- Levitt: Motivation. Shalane Flanagan is one of the athletes I look up to most. She’s always sharing her goals and putting it all out there for people to hear about. I think this helps keep you accountable when things get tough. I did a shakeout run with Mike Wardian at a marathon back in March and he highlighted how important it is to have fun out there. I had a terrible race that weekend, but when someone asked me how I was doing at mile 20 after I had crashed (hard), Mike’s words stuck with me and helped carry me through.
- Dell’Apa: I used to train with John Halvorsen when I ran with the University of Ottawa in Canada. John was a five-time Canadian University cross country champion, two-time Olympian in the 10,000 meters for Norway, and Runners World Road Runner of the year in 1989. He had a lot of tricks when it came to road racing that I still use to this day. Things like surging on corners to get an advantage on another runner (the natural tendency is to slow down on corners) and running the tangents on corners rather than the curve (something that in a longer race can save a great deal of time and that is how the course length is actually measured). Probably the best thing I’ve learned is training by “effort” rather than always being so focused on every split down to the second. Some days it will take more effort to run the same course than others and recognizing that will help keep things in perspective, keep morale up and keep you focused.
- O’Brien: When I met Bart Yasso, we mostly had small talk about how open the running community is. Typically when I meet someone who is faster/wins more than I do I like to ask about easy days. I know rest days are important but everyone has a different theory on how easy and often easy days should be, especially when you’re doing two-a-days.
So is anything off limits?
- Levitt: I’m not quite sure. Runners are a special breed, willing to talk about poop within the first 15 minutes of meeting one another. The only topic I’d say is something you don’t want to get into is talking about an injury with an injured athlete.
- O’Brien: It pays to be respectful and remember that they’re real people who have bad days, get hungry, and miss out on sleep, too.
Our writer’s experiences
I’ve met two big-name runners: four-time Boston Marathon champion Bill Rodgers and two-time Boston Marathon champion Amby Burfoot. Both encounters were pleasant and chatty. I spoke with Rodgers after the 2014 Ashland Half Marathon in Ashland, Mass. and asked him a little about how much the sport of major racing had changed with corporate sponsorship and big prize money (there was no cash prize for the Boston wins back then – now, first place gets $150,000). At this year’s Narragansett Bay Half Marathon in Providence, R.I., I met Burfoot and talked with him about my former newspaper intern who now worked for Runner’s World, where Burfoot was an editor. We talked shop – about media and newspapers – and how huge of an event the Boston Marathon is for Massachusetts.
Written by – and pictured above with Rodges and Burfoot – Rob Haneisen.