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Interview: Peter Gilmore

by Kevin Beck


Over the past two years, 2000 University of California-Berkeley graduate Peter Gilmore has quietly carved out a name for himself in the longer distances, with each of his marathon finishes faster than the last. Lining up as the 20th seed at the 2004 Olympic Trials, Gilmore — part of a fine combined showing by Cal grads that included top-20 finishes by Steve Moreno and Corey Creasey — finished ninth in 2:15:43.

In October 2002, Gilmore — despite being hindered by cramps throughout a final 10K that took him nearly 40 minutes to cover — qualified for the Trials at the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon in his first attempt at the distance, edging under the qualifying standard by 12 seconds with a 2:21:48. After dropping out of a warm B.A.A. Boston Marathon late in the race the next spring, the 1995 Pacific Palisades High School graduate returned to the Windy City in 2003 and finished 17th in 2:17:33, good for third among Americans.

Returning to action last spring after the Trials, Gilmore, now certain where his future lay, split from the largely track-focused Nike Farm Team to better focus on the roads. Training solo hasn't slowed Gilmore down. After a relatively quiet spring and summer, Gilmore was driven out of the Twin Cities Marathon with five miles remaining. Bouncing back and looking ahead, Gilmore, then tuning up for the California International Marathon, ran 1:34:31 (5:04 pace) at Clarksburg Country Run 30K in November and was second at the Pacific Association USATF Cross Country Championships the next weekend. Then on December 5, Gilmore ran 2:14:02 at CIM, his runner-up effort making him the lone American finisher in the top seven.

MensRacing.com spoke with the low-key, high-aiming Gilmore shortly after his ninth-place finish at the USA Half-Marathon Championships in Houston on January 16.

MensRacing.com: At Cal International, did you have a good sense of the competition before the race or did that develop en route? Moreover, were you running first and foremost to win?
Peter Gilmore:
I looked at the elite athlete list before the race and a lot of the names were unfamiliar. There were some guys with fast times, but you never know how long ago they ran those times or what kind of shape they're in now. I knew I was in great shape and capable of winning the race. Two months before CIM, I dropped out of Twin Cities Marathon at 21 miles with a side stitch. In that two-month stretch, I raced five times and won four of the races.

So yes, I had a winning mentality going into CIM; time didn't matter. As it turned out, there was another guy in the race with the same attitude, only he was in much better shape.

MR: Did you know before you ran CIM that you'd be competing in Houston at the Half-Marathon Championships a month-and-a-half later or did you decide on this afterward?
Houston was a race that I'd wanted to run ever since they announced that it would be the 2005 USA Championship last fall. But I didn't commit to the race until after CIM, because I didn't know how long it would take to recover.

MR: Of interest to many is how a top runner balances adequate recovery from a marathon with training and tapering for a half-marathon just six weeks later. You ran PRs in both races, so the plan seems to have worked.
After CIM I only took three days completely off from running. The next week I ran 113 miles, all easy with some strides to stay loose. In hindsight that was a little aggressive. The next week I hurt my ankle and was forced to take a few days off. I can't say for sure if jumping back into high mileage was the cause of the ankle trouble, but it certainly exposed me to a lot of injury risk.

I look at post-marathon recovery in stages. First, I take time off from running until I can run at an easy pace without being sore. Then I do about 10 days of easy running with light strides. Lastly, I ease into workouts, starting with marathon pace work or threshold work. I could have just taken six weeks off and guaranteed full recovery, but I would have lost a ton of fitness that would have taken months to regain. Maintaining fitness throughout the year is important.

MR: You ran 1:06:46 pace for a half-marathon in August, your first long race back after the Marathon Trials. That may not have been an eye-opener at face value, but you were very much alone and Golden Gate Park isn't exactly forgiving.
I trained through that one and used it like a long marathon-pace workout. The hills of Golden Gate Park are tough, but they're predominantly in the first half of the race. After that, it's a lot of lonely miles through the warehouses in the south part of the city.

MR: Stepping back to early 2004, what were your goals for the Olympic Marathon Trials? Did you execute your race the way you hoped?
Going into the Trials, I thought I could finish in the top three. Meb [Keflezighi], [Alan] Culpepper, and [Dan] Browne were the clear favorites, but I figured that at least one of them would have an off day. Unfortunately for me, they all had good races. I thought my strongest running would come after the 20-mile mark, so I stayed focused on bringing guys back late in the race. I did pass quite a few guys late in the race, but I ran out of gas in the last two miles. That shows a big change in my fitness between the Trials and CIM; both races went out slow, but at CIM I ran my fastest 5K split in last 5K of the race.

MR: Ignoring the fact that this question demands overly simplistic answers: What do you see as the most important element of marathon-specific training?
Continuity of training and racing is most important. On the training side, that means finding a way to stay healthy and motivated year after year. For me, running slow on my easy runs keeps me healthy. I run about seven-minute miles. I could run six-minute pace or faster, but the seven-minute miles give me the same aerobic benefit and don't beat me up as much. It also makes it easier to get my mileage high, which is critical for marathon success. The biggest difference between dying at the end of the Olympic Trials and flying at the end of CIM was simply accumulating 10 more months of injury-free training.

Continuity of racing is also a crucial part of marathon preparation. I raced 22 times last year. In those races, my readiness varied from tired and out-of-shape to tapered and focused. We have such a competitive local circuit in the Bay Area that finding a good race isn't difficult. Going into a cross country race off a 130-mile week teaches you unique lessons about toughness. This year, I've been lucky enough to be one of the top dogs on the local circuit. If I enter a local race where I'd be the favorite if tapered, and instead run 130 miles that week, suddenly I'm no longer the favorite and I have to find a way to win. It gives me a good workout, hones my racing skills, earns me a few dollars, and keeps the sport fun. Some guys can go through three or four months of training without a race. I need to get out there and toe the line constantly.

MR: You left the Farm Team on amicable terms last year. Was being primarily focused on the marathon rather than on the track one of the factors behind this decision?
The last two years I was with the Nike Farm Team, Jack Daniels was coaching me and I was focused on the marathon. Jack's approach was working for me and I was unwilling to change the workouts to make them mesh with the workouts that Gags was giving the rest of the club. To his credit, Gags never had a problem with this, because I was getting results. After a while, it just didn't make sense that I was part of a club that I didn't work out or race with. I find that I really enjoy the freedom of working out on my own schedule. It's not for everyone — you've got to be really self-motivated.

MR: Talk about the work you've done with kids.
I've worked part-time as a special education aide at Woodside Elementary for the past three years. Last year, my friend Nate Bowen and I started a running club for kids called the Faultline Track Club. We wanted to get kids interested in running, but shelter them from the hyper-competitive youth running scene. We take the kids on cool runs, put them through some low-key workouts and try to make the whole thing really fun. We want them to still be running 20 years from now.

MR: Are you currently being sponsored?
No, I currently have no sponsor. In fact, I'm just about to walk over to the local running shoe store and buy some spikes for the 12K [at the USA] Cross Country Championships [on February 13].

MR: So Jack Daniels is still your coach?
Jack is still my coach. We both have busy schedules, and we live on opposite sides of the country, so most of our contact is by e-mail. The way he plans workouts is very pace-specific, so it can be easily explained in writing.

MR: With your best college 5K and 10K times being 14:30 and 29:37, it seems you've always had a real distance slant. Other than the usual thoughts most decent collegians have about 'probably' doing a marathon 'someday,' have you always had a keen eye on this event?
Absolutely. From the time I first started competing, I always knew my future was in the marathon. After graduating from Cal in 2000, I thought I would put off my marathon debut until I achieved some success on the track. By June 2002 I was so burned out with track that I decided it was time to do a fall marathon. The first one was Chicago 2002 and I ran 2:21:48. My first half was about 1:06:40 and the last 10K was 39 minutes. Pretty ugly stuff.

MR: You had kind of a bittersweet moment in the middle of your college cross country career.
In 1997, I finished fifth in the Pac-10 Championships and sixth in the West Regional, but didn't get to go to NCAAs because of a bizarre individual qualifying rule. It was a huge disappointment — I thought I was ready to finish in the top 10 at NCAAs. Instead, I went to the USATF nationals, back when it was in December and only had a 12K, and finished 15th. It was my 'how do you like them apples' moment.

Running in the PAC-10 during the late '90s was absolutely incredible. When I finished sixth in the region in '97, the five guys ahead of me were all future Olympians except one, Nathan Nutter, and he won the NCAA 10,000 the next spring. You have to go back to the great Oregon and Washington State years in the '70s to find that many fast guys in one conference.

MR: Do you feel you've learned as much from your disappointments as you have from your best days?
I've had two big disappointments in the marathon. The first was Boston in 2003 when I was underprepared and had to drop out, and the second was Twin Cities last year, where a side stitch forced me out at the 21-mile mark. Boston left the most painful impression on me and I'll never enter a marathon again without being sure of my fitness. Twin Cities was disappointing at first, but the more I think about it I realize that when something goes terribly wrong in a marathon, it's okay to drop out. You only get a few chances each year to run a good one. In that case I was able to come back eight weeks later and run a PR at CIM.

The marathon is so long that you're forced to make a lot of decisions during the race that don't come up in a 5K or 10K. I always think of those decisions as managing your own race. At CIM, I did an excellent job of managing my race. I took the lessons learned from previous disappointments and applied them effectively.

MR: Based on past interviews, you've been thinking like a 2:13-2:14 marathoner ever since you tackled the distance. How did you decide on that and do you sense that others at your college level need to think as high as you have in order to achieve?
I looked at my track PRs and my workouts and they suggested a 2:13-2:15. It just took a while to get it right. For what it's worth, I'm thinking like a 2:10-2:11 guy right now. College guys or recent grads who are running around 29 minutes for the 10K should be gunning for 2:15, I think that's reasonable. The problem lies in choosing the right race. You want that 2:15 to be split as evenly as possible, and that can be difficult at the big marathons where there are essentially three elite packs — one hits the half at 69-70 minutes, another at 66 minutes, and then the leaders. Nobody at 67-68 minutes. If there were enough young Americans in that situation, they could get together and set something up at New York or Chicago and it would yield some very good times. Then there's always the smaller races like CIM where we hit the half at 67:30. But that can be tough because without rabbits you might hit 67:30, but the pace is all over the place. 5:25 one mile and 4:50 the next mile.

I love to hear that guys are coming out of school and straight to the marathon. I think it's healthy for the sport.

MR: At which marathon do expect to toe the line next?
I'd like to run a spring marathon, but I haven't made any definite plans. Running the World Championships this summer is a big goal of mine, but I'm not sure if my time will be good enough to make the U.S. team.

(Interview conducted February 6, 2005, and posted February 10, 2005)

Peter Gilmore competes in the 2004 USA 20K Championships in New Haven, Connecticut.
(Photo by Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)
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