Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Matt Gabrielson Breaks Through at Grandma's

Team USA Minnesota's Matt Gabrielson had a breakthrough performance in Saturday's Grandma's Marathon. Below, the Drake University alumnus answers Jim Ferstle's questions about what his 2:13 marathon has done for his career, and, of course, where he and his wife are heading for their honeymoon.

13.1 Mpls

Down the Backstretch: As you noted after the race (HERE), you had a very clear goal (run between 2:12 -2:14) in mind going into Grandma’s, which was a bit of a risk in that the weather in Duluth for the last few years for the race would not have been as conducive to running fast. When the rain cleared and you could feel you had a tailwind, what was going through your mind?

Matt Gabrielson: Luckily my friend and training mate Lundo, aka Chris Lundstrom, was running the marathon, and I was able to warm up with him. With how I felt on the warm up jog, I had a feeling that it was going to be a good day and Lundo assured me it would be. He calms the nerves tremendously.

I had been paying attention (too much in fact) to the weather predictions all week long and knew it might be favorable. I also knew I was fit, but I really didn't know how fit. Plus, sometimes it's about having luck on your side on the day and hoping the body and mind are both willing to cooperate. Everything was there for the taking it was just a matter of executing the plan, and hoping I came out on top.

DtB: Now that you’re a 2:13 marathoner, how much room for improvement is there? If you had risked it and tried to go with the leaders at the end of the race, was there enough left to give you clues that your 2:12 pre-race range might be at the upper end of possibilities next time?

MG: I had one single goal and that was to run under 2:15 (Olympic A Standard), but I really believed deep in my heart a race in the 2:12-2:13 range was possible. That was it. That was my goal. If I was going to be 100th place doing so that was perfectly fine as long as I hit the time. I wanted that time for respect - you get a lot more of it being a 2:13 marathoner than a 2:17 marathoner.

So I was going to run as evenly in my splits as possible, which I did, and I was going to start out conservative, which I also did. My first mile was 5:15 and then I started clicking off 5:00-5:07 the majority of the remaining 25.2 miles. I had a 4:53 a bit after half-way, but I made a calculated decision to back off because I did not want to risk, in any way, blowing up. So I went back to 5:05s. I had a 4:57 right before 20 and a couple 5:00 miles in there. At mile 21 I came to a complete stop at a messy water bottle station trying to search for my fluids.

I resumed and ran a 5:12 mile. I ran a 5:16 last mile turning into that wind coming around the DECC. So subtract a few seconds from the 3 miles run over 5:10 and you have a marathon in the 2:12 range. I believe 100% I can run at least that fast.

So, looking back at it, I came away believing three main things: 1. Now that I have what I consider a respectable time, I can take huge risks because I don't care if I blow up. Even at the Olympic Trials.

2. If I would have had the time I now have as a PR, I would have ran harder to chase down the lead pack, and I know I could have caught them. I felt fantastic the last four miles. Lemon Drop Hill was not hard going up.

3. I even feel I can run in the 2:11 range with a little luck on another marathon day.

DtB: Did you prepare differently for Grandma’s than your past three marathons? What gave you the confidence that you could run in the 2:12-2:14 range?

MG: I ran less miles, took more recovery, and raced more. Pretty simple stuff if you wake up and smell the coffee and have the guts to back off. Luckily I listened to Dennis (Barker) more than I may have done in the past. I am a unique runner with a sub-4 mile equivalent 1500 and a 13:30 5K PR. I fully believe the typical training you see for marathons is not right for me. We have found what really, truly works for me, and that is a beautiful thing.

DtB: Jeff Eggleston (first American male finisher at Grandma’s) talked after the race about believing he could win. He took the pace around 18 to 20 miles and talked about how the horizon for American marathoners is changing. You have Ryan Hall running 2:04 at Boston. Eggleston won Pittsburgh . It’s shaping up as a much deeper event at the Trials in January. Before Grandma’s, I suspect your focus was more on the track, now you have the marathon and the track. How are you going to treat that juggling act? You’ll definitely be a “darkhorse” for both, but do you believe your chances are better at one or the other?

MG: First of all, this most recent run on Old Hwy 61 has revitalized my entire career. It's like I've been given a fresh shot.

My focus has not been on the track racing for a year now. I will get back to the track in the spring.

Running is running. The best runners in the world excel at a variety of distances from 10K to the marathon. I will run the marathon trials, and then give the track trials a shot.

I have always been a darkhorse. Nobody picked me to finish eighth in (the Olympic Trials 5K) in 2008; I was even in the hunt with 1K to go (in that race) with some of the best runners on planet Earth. Nobody will pick me to finish third in the marathon or on the track. But if I didn't believe deep inside that there was even a small probability of myself making either team, then I would not be doing this.

I am 33 years old in a week for goodness sake. But, there's always been that slight chance. Particularly in the marathon, where the variables are so much greater. I fully believe outside of Ryan Hall that the 2nd and 3rd spots are wide open. Somebody will have the day of their life where everything simply clicks. This someone will not be on anybody's radar. This is my prediction.

I hope that someone is me.

DtB: You gave your wife and Dennis most of the credit for contributing to your success. Any specific things they have done that helped? Any others that played a big role in this breakthrough?

MG: More like what HAVEN'T they done.

I could list a million things that my wife, Julie, has done for me since she came into my life. Perhaps most important - she has helped me become a happier person. She is so, so supportive of my running, and she is the hardest working, most organized human being I know.

She has influenced me to not be so hard on myself, and take results for what they are. I am so lucky that she is my wife and that we see eye to eye on nearly everything. Except spending money on casual shoes. We do not see eye to eye on that.

Dennis has always let me be me. Never forcing anything on me and always suggesting rather than dictating. I thrive on that. He has one of the greatest sense of humors around, and I just laugh when I am around him.

He was adamant about what I did the last five weeks of training before Grandma's, and while I may have adjusted things here and there slightly, he was spot on with what I needed to do. I owe him a lot for always sticking by my side and making me feel like I could run through a brick wall if I had to.

I owe a lot to many people, and it would be an injustice trying to list them all because I would definitely forget somebody. But I do want to give a big thank you to my friend Jason Lehmkuhle. He has always had a major impact on building my level of confidence with the sport, and it was very much the case before Grandma's.

DtB: You seemed to be racing a lot more in the build up to Grandma’s. Was that in the plan or did it just work out that way?

MG: Last year I was injured all summer, and I had to take a good, hard look at what I wanted to get out of myself as I come into the twilight years. I needed to make decisions as to what I needed to do in order to meet my potential with the time I have left.

After analyzing (perhaps over-analyzing is a better word) many different variables, the one very important thing I realized is that I run better when I race more often. That is an old-school mentality that I will not get away from the rest of my racing career.

DtB: Now that we have all the running trivia taken care of, what everybody really wants to know is where are you taking Julie for the honeymoon?

MG: We are heading to Seattle and Vancouver for a week in mid-July. We're flying by the seat of our pants. We have a huge list of things we want to do including catching a Mariners game, hiking the Cascades, eating wonderful sushi, drinking fantastic coffee, and spending a night at a resort of treehouses among other things. Vancouver is a beautiful city, and so is Seattle. Should be the trip of a lifetime.

No comments: