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Interview: Rob Myers

by Kevin Beck

   

2004 Ohio State University grad Rob Myers quietly eased his way into the upper echelon of American miling this year, starting with a win in the 1,500 meters at the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships in Boston in March and ending with a 3:53.78 mile in Gateshead, England, in July — the latter race a personal best by almost five seconds. The indoor victory qualified Myers for the World Indoor Championships in Budapest, where he missed qualifying for the final by one place.

In between his exploits in Boston and Britain, the Rushville, Ohio, product just missed making the Olympic Team in the 1,500, taking third at the U.S. Olympic T&F Trials in a personal-best 3:38.93 after dipping under 3:40.00 for the first time in the semifinals (3:39.96). Myers, however, fell shy of consideration for the Games as a result of not having reached an Olympic "A" or "B" standard mark by the end of the Trials, as had four other American men.

As a prep athlete at Fairfield Union High School, Myers ranked in the top 10 in the country in both the 800 and 1,600 meters as a senior in 1999. His decision to attend Ohio State — where he was named to three Academic All-Big Ten teams and racked up four OSU Scholar-Athlete honors — was predicated almost entirely on the presence of Robert Gary on the Buckeyes coaching staff. Needless to say, the coach-athlete mix turned out to be a grand one, and Myers, having moved to Missouri, plans to continue working with Gary indefinitely.

MensRacing.com caught up with Myers during an eight-hour drive from Missouri to Columbus, and gathered his reflections on his whirlwind 2004 indoor-outdoor campaign.

MensRacing.com: In a short span, you graduated from OSU, narrowly missed making the Olympic Team, and dropped your best mile time from 3:58 to 3:53 in one race. What's next?
Rob Myers:
To top my summer off, I also got married after returning from Europe. I've been back training for about four weeks and I've already set some high goals for myself. I'd like to repeat my US indoor championship and be in the top two at the USA Outdoor Championships. I'm also looking to advance my times to around 3:50 and 3:33.

MR: You finished third at the Trials, and the rules notwithstanding, a very good case could have been made at that point for your being put in the pool of potential US Olympians. When you lined up in Gateshead, were you motivated by such considerations?
RM:
No. In Gateshead I just felt honored to have such a great opportunity. I really felt fit and couldn't wait to run fast. Gateshead was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had. The tradition and atmosphere blew my mind.

MR: Other than your self-evident Trials results, what were some of the indicators of that fitness?
RM:
The week of the Trials, I was doing some quarters and 200s and was able to do them in around 51 and 24 flat, very relaxed. I think that was one indication. But overall I just felt fit.

MR: You won the 1,500m at the USA Indoor Championships in your first season of non-collegiate competition. Do you think being outside of the NCAA racing sphere at that point was a factor in this victory, or was it more a matter of just being ready to rip?
RM:
Yeah, I'm sure it helped. I only had to race when I wanted to for preparation, and I was able to train specifically for that race. It's great racing inside the NCAA sphere, but I was ready for a chance to run at the next level and that helped me be ready to go.

MR: In Hungary [at the World Indoors], did you find yourself trying to balance being overwhelmed by the aura with competing to the best of your ability against competition of a caliber you had never faced?
RM:
Yes, it was a completely new experience for me. I wasn't all that sure what to expect. I was told to watch for elbows. That said, when the gun went off, I took the hardest elbow I have ever had right to the stomach. I'm convinced that was part of that guy's game plan. It took a long time to regain my composure during the race. But now I know what to expect.

MR: Were you still training with the Buckeye runners over the winter?
RM:
Yes and no. I did some training with my teammates and some on my own. It really just depended on what type of training we were doing and where we were at as individual athletes in our seasons. Coach [Robert] Gary is very specific with his training. He doesn't bunch all of us into one group just to save time — he gears workouts toward individuals' specific needs; some days we'll be divided up into five or six groups doing different workouts.

MR: You went into the postseason this spring with a recent 3:41.13, then wound up third at the Big Ten Championships and second at the Mideast Regionals in a pair of slow races, 4:02.16 and 3:50.35 respectively. Did you hit the Oregon Classic meet primarily to get another quick 1,500m in or was that race part of an advance sharpening plan?
RM:
At that point in the season, I still hadn't done any real speedwork. I was hoping to get into a really fast race, just to see where I was at and what I could do at that point. My training this year was geared towards the Trials. The Oregon Classic was another great opportunity to sharpen my skills and shoot for a fast time.

MR: By the time NCAAs rolled around, you held a 2004 national title in your event but had more recently finished out of the top couple of spots. Where were you from a confidence standpoint when you reached Austin?
RM:
I wasn't 100% confident yet. Deep down, I knew my training was geared towards the Trials final, which was over four weeks away. I was in good enough shape to do well; I was just lacking that mental edge.

MR: This isn't the most creative question, but were you happy with fourth?
RM:
I'm only happy with fourth when I know it was the very best I could have done. It's always an honor to place well in a national meet, but I don't feel that I gave my very best that day.

MR: Not that these are mutually exclusive goals, but did you head to NCAA's aiming to win or were the Olympic Trials your main focus?
RM:
I aim to win every race I'm in, no matter what it is. While I was at NCAAs, I tried to think of it as my last race, not as a segue to the Olympic Trials.

MR: Do you feel at this point that multiple rounds work to your advantage — they seemed to in Sacramento — or is this an area in which you figure you'll improve with age?
RM:
I feel that I can compete just as well in a single-round race, but Coach Gary's training philosophy allows me to have the strength to perform at a high level over multiple rounds as well. So yes, I do feel they work to my advantage at times.

MR: Cross country hasn't been your specialty, but you seemed to make a notable jump in your final year at OSU. To what do you attribute this?
RM:
The success in my last year of cross country at OSU can be attributed to training consistently without injury or any other setbacks. Coach started me on a light lifting program geared toward keeping me healthy. So far it has worked fairly well.

MR: In April you ran a 5K at Mt. SAC in 14:10. Was this all part of a plan geared toward being in top shape at the Trials?
RM:
Yes, it was definitely part of the big picture. At that time, I was just getting back into running after Worlds, and we were still working on strength. We thought it'd be a good idea to see where I was at for a 5K. I was actually having some Achilles problems at the time and wasn't even sure if I was going to be able to run once I got there.

MR: Many milers are often urged to move up even when they're both successful and young. Do you see the mile as your long-term event of primary focus?
RM:
I will enjoy the chance to run other events but I plan to keep my main focus on the mile/1,500.

MR: Given how close you came to going to Athens, are the next Olympics already on your mind?
RM:
Definitely. Beijing is my next ultimate goal. Its something that I constantly think about.

MR: Post-collegiately, a lot of athletes struggle to plug themselves in to programs that prove a good fit. Is Robert Gary still coaching you? Do you train in a group?
RM:
I am still training under Coach Gary; I feel that we work really well together and I have no thoughts of training under anyone else. I am currently living in Chesterfield, Missouri, and training by myself. I will be traveling back to OSU at times to train with some of my former teammates, but I do feel that I train well on my own. Eventually, I will be moving back to OSU to train, and that is where I will likely find myself until my running career is over.

MR: You're not the first to sing Coach Gary's praises, but a certain Chad Myers is also on the OSU coaching staff. Did you feel it was especially helpful having your big brother around?
RM:
Yes. He was my high school coach, so I knew that he knows his stuff. He's the only other person that I would ever trust to coach me. It was great to have my brother around for support and friendship. He was always there to talk to, but he would never tell me something different than Coach Gary; he understands the trust that must be established between coaches and their athletes.

MR: Who were you idols when you started running?
RM:
A major idol of mine while I was growing up was Pre [Steve Prefontaine]. I always loved his passion and the way he wasn't afraid of hard work. I feel that passion and the willingness to work hard are two qualities that are often overlooked.

MR: What were your significant early experiences in the sport? Was there a turning point at which you realized you could run with the best?
RM:
I've always had a lot of great experiences because my family has always been so involved. I have had tons of support and companionship, and this helped shape my career at an early stage.

I think the first time I realized I could be a good runner was at the age of four or five. I was helping my dad give some medical shots to a baby calf, when out of nowhere its mother started to chase me. That was the first time I really learned to open up into a full sprint. I think I might have been able to beat Michael Johnson on that particular day.

On a more serious note, I think that I grow more each year with every race. I was telling my wife just the other day that my 3:53.7 mile opened my eyes to a whole new competitive level. I find myself thinking about goals that I'd never considered before.

MR: Your major — agriculture business — seems to suggest clearly focused ideas regarding where you'll eventually go from a vocational standpoint.
RM:
Yes, I was raised on a farm and have always been involved with agriculture. I'm still not sure what I want to do after my running career, but going back to the family farm has always been on my mind.

(Interview conducted 10/9/2004, and posted 10/25/2004.)

 
Rob Myers runs in the 1,500m semi-finals at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials.
(Both photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)
Myers on his way to a 1,500m title at the 2004 USA Indoor Track & Field Championships.
     
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