Antonio Vega has emerged this year as a contender in any race he enters. He has improved at all distances and set his sites on the marathon as the event where he wants to make his mark. Next weekend he will be running the Falmouth Road Race and after that the US 10-mile road race championship on August 28. Here he provides some insights on his past and his future.
Down the Backstretch: Pat Goodwin has said that they had to “sell” you on the idea of joining Team USA Minnesota. That your plan had been to go to graduate school,finish your education, and get a job. Can you talk a bit about that time? What your thoughts were. How they approached you. What influenced your decision to give the sport a go with Team USA MN?
Antonio Vega: The summer after I graduated from the University of Minnesota, I decided to forego getting a summer job and try making a little cash running various road races around the Twin Cities. I was accepted to graduate school and my plan was to begin in the fall and stop training. However, that summer of racing went really well and I was ran times that were pretty close to my track PRs. It occurred to me that maybe there was something more in me, maybe I had not fully developed as a distance runner and that made me question my quick decision to just give up competitive running.
I applied to a couple of different groups around the country just to see what would happen, if anyone would be interested in taking me on as a athlete. I was very hesitant to apply to Team USA Minnesota, as I did not feel that I had the credentials to be an athlete on that caliber of a team. When Pat and Dennis said the group was interested in taking me on, I was ecstatic and agreed without hesitation.
DtB: You have one of those varied backgrounds in sports. You played soccer, were a kicker on the football team, and ran. How did this prepare you for college and post collegiate sport? What influence did it have on the role of sport in your life?
AV:I think growing up playing so many different sports helped a lot going into college and post collegiate running. Since I took up running late in my high school career everything was new. I never felt burned out from the sport. Every morning I wake up and I am excited to get out the door for my first run of the day. If there were an Olympic event combining running a marathon, juggling a soccer ball and kicking a field goal, I am confident that I would have a good shot at an Olympic medal.
DtB: The picture that is “painted” of you is that of a “late bloomer.” Somebody who is now beginning to blossom as an athlete. Does that correspond with your view of yourself, your development?
AV: I don’t consider myself a late bloomer. I think I just finally started to figure out how to get the best out of myself physically and mentally when racing. Running is hard and it’s not something you can have instant success at. It takes a lot of time and patience before you start to see the kind of results that you know you’re capable of producing. I would say a more accurate picture of me is that I am stubborn and unwilling to give up.
DtB: You’ve now won a national championship, run 2:13 for the marathon and get invites to the big races. What have these accomplishments done for your self confidence, your assessment of what you can do in the sport, your future goals?
AV: I am not sure if I have more confidence going into races now or just a change of perception about what I can do. I have stopped putting a ceiling on what I think I can accomplish or preconceived idea of where I should finish. When I stopped worrying about failing I started to excel.
Over the next couple of years I believe I can have a big breakthrough in the marathon. At Boston this year things were going great until the last 5k. After the race Dennis told me that I am only 5k away from being a 2:11 marathoner. I truly believe that. My current PR, 2:13, is only the tip of the iceberg and improvement will come. Future goals include winning national championships, to finish in the top ten at a major world competition, and ultimately to be on the 2012 Olympic team in the marathon.
DtB: You used a front running strategy at Bix, basically throwing down the challenge for the others to come get you. You’ve said that you like to run from the front, rather than run conservatively. So, was Bix a measure of increased self confidence and/or merely what you felt would work best in that situation?
AV:Bix was definitely an example of increased confidence. I didn’t have much of a race plan going into the race. I just knew that I wanted to give myself a real shot at winning, and it’s hard to win if you never take the lead.
DtB: What are your long-term goals? What do you see yourself doing a year from now, two years from now…?
AV: My long-term goals are to keep improving as a runner. The marathon will be my primary focus for the next couple of years. I want to run under 2:10 for the distance. The marathon tends to be a war of attrition and takes a couple of tries before everything goes right. Hopefully as I gain experience at the distance I will see some big improvements and be able to compete with some of the world’s best marathoners. Finishing in the top ten at a major world marathon would be something I would like to accomplish before my career is over.
I have earned one spot on a US national team, and I would like to have the opportunity to represent the US on a few more occasions. It is always a great experience going against some of the world’s best athletes and seeing where you stack up.
Right now I think it is great to be a part of the resurgence of American distance running. When my career is all said and done, and I want to be able to look back and say that I played a small role in bringing American distance running back to it former glory. That would be the biggest accomplishment of all.