As a carry-over from my last blog, I decided to continue a feature where I interview an interesting subject relevant to my site. In this case obviously, that would be someone in running.
My first victim is none other than Willis, aka 'Agarose', a radiology resident by day, marathoner by er...morning. A native of Long Island, I met Willis via the forums on Runner's World and then in person at a dinner for San Diego Marathoners back in June. He has been chasing that oh-so-elusive Boston Qualifying time (for him = 3:10:59 or under) and has catastrophically fallen shy in his past attempts due to unfortunate set of circumstances. Not one to make excuses, he just kept plugging away on his training to inch closer and closer to his goal.
Unfortunately, fate dealt him yet another setback when a stress fracture was recently discovered on his foot. While he could have mired in self-pity, he instead discovered new ways to maintain his level of fitness through cycling, aqua-jogging, etc.
Willis, myself, and fellow forumite Charlie
Via the following converstion, we delve more into the life and training habits of the man, the myth, the legend...Willis.
Ok, let's start with the most obvious question - why do you run marathons?
Willis: I should ask you the same question! I used to think I did it for the "wow" factor but in retrospect, I never really enjoyed that aspect of it. I much prefer the conversations with dedicated runners who knew what it was all about, and weren't all that impressed with the 26.2 mile distance. That said, I still think marathons are impossibly hard, even in the best of shape. Impossibly hard is definitely the correct term!
Have you always been a runner? How long have you been at this?
W: I've been a self-identified runner since joining the junior high X-country team in 7th grade. I've been training ever since, almost nonstop. I wasn't really any good though, never becoming a scoring member of my high school X-country team (a PR of 20:50 in the 5K as a senior) and played a lot of basketball in addition. In the past couple of years, I've made a bigger commitment to running in terms of doubling my training volume to 70 miles per week and sticking to the "Pfitzinger Advanced Marathoning" training schedule, which has definitely made me the fastest I've ever been at age 32, with a 5K PR of 18:41. I wish I could have run that fast in high school!
Share a bit about why you want to BQ (Boston Qualify) and what that would mean to you?
W: The BQ goal just happened to be a convenient land-post en route to a quest for greater fitness. Training for a BQ has elevated my fitness to levels I never dreamed possible, even after 15 years of serious running. I'm still not there yet, but I suspect it will happen in the next year or two. If not, I'm going to sandbag and enter my name as "Norma Jean Williams" in the Female 60+ division and see if I'll make the qualifying cutoff that way - it's still pretty hard!
What would you consider to be your best marathon to date?
The San Francisco Marathon. This was my breakthrough race in terms of marathon performance; it came following my first completion of the Pfitzinger 18 week/70 miles (max) per week schedule. I ran this race strictly by "feel", going only roughly by my watch pace, and starting at what felt like a conservative pace. I ran a 30 minute PR in this race, beating my time from 16 weeks prior by over 40 minutes, and racing to a flying finish. That race experience hooked me for life on the marathon.
Talk about some of the more disappointing races you've had in your pursuit of Boston.
W: Actually, I have had many disappointing races. Besides the San Francisco Marathon, I'd characterize nearly all of my other races as disappointing, often running 15+ minutes slower than my projected times based on my half-marathon ability despite my solid mileage base. I seem to be much more suited for short-speedy races than marathons.
The all-time biggest disappointing race however, was definitely the 2008 Houston Marathon where I trained for 80-100 miles per week - my highest volume ever - to only sprain my ankle 2 weeks before the race, and then suffer a horrendous gastroenteritis the morning of the race. All of this and there were about 1,000 people who were tracking me online, only to watch me crash! After all that training, I ran 40 minutes slower than I had planned to on an easy course in perfect conditions, and started cramping as early as mile 6. In contrast to the SF marathon, this race result was nearly enough to make me want to quit running altogether. On the bright side, after suffering this ignominious defeat my other race "let downs" haven't been nearly as bad.
How difficult is it to sacrifice so much time outside of work to train for marathons as you have?
W: I honestly think marathon training is the hardest thing I've ever done. I work extremely hard at it, despite my very busy work schedule as a radiology resident, and I've sacrificed so many things for it. Yet 2 years later, I still haven't achieved my perceived mid-range goal. Despite my seemingly good race performance times, I don't think I'm talented at all at running, as I need to run more miles than most to outperform at a similar level. I'm clearly much better at many other activities in my life, but in terms of self-motivating to overcome challenges, training for a BQ marathon while being a radiology resident definitely takes the cake as the hardest thing I've ever done.
Any other long term running goals besides qualifying for Boston?
W: Interestingly, I don't really have any long-term running goals besides the BQ as of yet. To me, the marathon at BQ pace is so difficult and challenging that I really can't plan or comprehend trying to exceed it in terms of distance and pacing.
The only real endurance event that still draws me strongly besides the marathon is the Ironman Triathlon, although it will be years - if ever - before I get myself to a position in which I can race that insane distance satisfactorily. Probably my biggest long-term running goal however, is to be able to run marathons at approximately age-graded BQ pace well into my late 60's and beyond. If I can accomplish that, I will honestly feel that I've accomplished my true running goal of long-term fitness and performance.
...and short term?
Go running with Billy and the Trail Runners Club!
Thank you Willis. Best of luck in your BQ quest and all other endeavors!
For more on Willis, you can visit his running blog here.