Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Will Leer Does the Albuquerque Double

Will Leer finishes his
Photo by
Randy Miyazaki
Will Leer went to Albuquerque to battle Bernard Lagat and returned a double USATF champion.  The Minnetonka grad had won NCAA DIII Championships, but the 3K/Mile double at the USATF Indoor Championships was his first, and second US Championship. The double prompted one blogger to list Leer among the "Future US Distance Stars."  Below, Leer talks abut the double and his plans for the rest of 2013.

Down the Backstretch: Two national championships in one weekend.  What were your thoughts, objectives going into the meet?  What were you hoping to accomplish?

Will Leer: It was a true roller coaster of running emotions heading into this particular national championship. Before the indoor season even started I felt I wanted to focus on the longer middle distance events. My training definitely had a strong bias towards aerobic strength so I thought it would be a bit of a shame not to express that fitness. My coach, Ron Warhurst, agreed, which is why I raced the 2-mile at Millrose as a bit of a test. When that particular race didn’t go as well as we had hoped the thought of running the 3,000m at US Indoors was all but thrown out the window, so to speak.

Fast forward to the Monday before the Championships. I get a call from my agent asking if I had seen the entries for the 3,000m and, if not, I should take a look at them and consider running. This is when Bernard Lagat was still entered, mind you. So I looked, I liked, and I entered. What’s that line from Romeo & Juliet? “I’ll look to like, if looking liking move?”  All I could think was how much fun would it be to battle Lagat in what would inevitably be a tactical 3,000m!   Additionally, as the mile was not being run until the following day, I had very little to lose.

Unfortunately, when I checked in with the lovely USATF folks at the meet hotel in Albuquerque, the final entries had been posted and there was no Lagat to be found. I also noticed that Matthew Centrowitz was entered in the 800m as well as the mile. It was at this point I began to think a double victory was a legitimate prospect.

DtB: You had a good indoor season going into the national championships and historically you seem to do well indoors.  Any reason for that or is it just how things have played out?

WL: I really enjoy running indoor track, minus the “track hack”--the dry, recycled air indoors leaves distance runners usually with a gnarly cough. There is something about it, to me, that seems more playful and circus-like than outdoors. You’ve got all of the events that usually take place in a big outdoor stadium squished in to a small environment with all of this energy and excitement. It may also come from the fact that I won my first NCAA Division III national championship indoors, but I really don’t know.

DtB: The 3K was pretty much a two man race and each of you knew what you had to do to win, so it came down to a matter of execution, not making any big mistakes.  What were your thoughts as the race wound down and you were sitting right there ready to pounce?

WL: This was the longest race I had ever run at altitude so that alone was cause for concern as the race progressed. One of my most vivid memories of the race was coming down the back of the track after passing through the mile and my mouth was so dry I nearly started to cough when attempting the basic task of swallowing spit. Needless to say I resolved to do no more swallowing during the race. 

When we hit 800 to go I felt as though there was a good amount of life left in my legs. It was only at this point that I began thinking about the mile the following day and how to expend the least amount of energy to win the 3,000. After my initial surge with 450 to go proved sufficient I was able to run relaxed through the finish line, enjoying every step en route to my first national title.

DtB:  You were in sort of “no man’s land” with a few laps to go, then really turned it on in the last lap and a half in the mile.  What thoughts were going through your head during the later stages of the race? 

WL: There were a few times during the early stages of the mile where I found myself thinking, “Is this really happening? Did the 3,000 make me a lot more tired than I had anticipated?” The next thing I knew Jeff See, an athlete for whom I have a great deal of respect, was going to the front in what looked to me as a long drive towards the finish. This was pretty much the “now or never” decision making time for me and made me try to reel in the lead pack. 

Thanks to the hard early pace the athletes in front of me were pretty strung out--read, single file--so I never really had to go much outside of lane one in order to make a pass. With each person I picked off the cloud of skepticism that presented itself in the first half of the race would clear, making way for more of the positive: “I can really do this!” type of thoughts. In the final 300, sheer competitiveness and my desire to win took over. Time became irrelevant and the entirety of my mental and physical energy was directed towards being the one breaking the finishing tape--this time bearing the logo of my sponsor, Nike.

DtB:  What do these wins mean for you? Confidence builders?  Stepping stones to further goals?

WL: I’ll throw out another clich├ęd quotation here: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The months of training leading up to the indoor season were a pretty big question mark in terms of whether or not I would be able to handle doing all of the hard work alone. Therefore, in terms of my 2013 campaign, the wins in Albuquerque were my first steps towards Moscow. 

I walked away from those races confident, but also hungry for more. The feeling of crossing the line in first place, that true satisfaction of winning, is a feeling few other sports can provide and is what made me fall in love with track as a sophomore in high school. I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to feel that way again!

DtB:  What are the plans for outdoor season?  Goals aside from probably aiming to make the team for World Champs?

WL: You already mentioned it in the question, but the single most important goal of the outdoor season is to qualify for Moscow. Other than that I am really looking forward to really embracing and enjoying my race opportunities. Sometimes the pressure of big time races makes athletes forget exactly how lucky they are. Yes, we do work very hard, but we are also living a dream.

DtB:  You’ve had a variety of “looks” during your career from ‘clean shaven to varieties in facial hair.  The announcers were comparing your current look to Prefontaine, although Steve didn’t have the Fu Manchu.  Any reason for the look, aside from personal preference?

WL: My “look” really has nothing to do with Pre. It’s merely personal preference as well as an attempt to shake things up a bit in the running world. The vast majority of athletes on the starting line, especially at a US Championship, have almost identical appearances aside from the uniforms they wear. I like to think I am a little easier to notice in that crowd. At least my grandmother appreciates it!

DtB:  Are you going to stick with the 1,500 or explore other options this season?

WL: There is a chance that I will try my hand, again, at the 5,000 at one of the early outdoor meets, namely Mt. SAC or Stanford, but it is unlikely I will compete at any other distance than the 1,500 at USA’s.

DtB:  You thanked your parents and those giving you support after the wins.  How important has their support been?  How do they contribute to your successes?

WL: Every athlete has a team behind him or her. The core of my team is comprised of the following: coach, trainer, PT, training partners, family, friends, and girlfriend. My family is the emotional backbone of my team. They help me weather the inevitable ups and downs of running and they really help when I need to put things in perspective.

Let’s put it this way, without my family I likely would not have continued to run after high school and certainly not post-collegiately. So in that regard my family has been the single biggest contributor to my success as an athlete.

DtB:  The 1,500 is a strong event for the US and the US has become a factor in the event on the world stage, how did your experience at the Trials influence your goals, your future plans.  You made the finals, but had the handicap of having to run for time as much as a place.  What did you learn, take out of that experience?

WL: The Trials last summer was an incredible experience. While it may have not been quite as successful for me as the 2008 Trials(where he finished fourth), I certainly learned more. In each of the three rounds--prelim, semi, final-- I was running from the front. This is a position I seldom find myself in a race. 

My traditional tactic at previous US Championships has been to start in near the back of the field, progressively move up and finish strong. The biggest lesson I learned from the races at these Trials was something all of my coaches have told me for a long time: if you position yourself well early on, you leave yourself a lot less work to do over the final lap.

DtB:  Is getting the A standard for the 1,500 something you want to get prior to the US Championships?

WL:  While getting the A standard early would be very nice it is less of a concern this year as there is a window after the US Championships in which athletes can chase the time. However, if an opportunity to run the A standard presents itself, I will certainly jump at it. But the priority now is to be in top form at the end of June and place top three in Des Moines.

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