Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Medtronic TC Mile Podium Finisher Macklin Chaffee Talks About His Future

Macklin Chaffee finished third in the Metronic TC Mile on May 10 in  field full of familiar names--Nick Willis, Garrett Heath, Will Leer--but who is Macklin Chaffee?  A graduate of Williams College.  Founder of Golden Orb, a web design and development company, and, lately, a tall middle distance runner attempting to make a breakthrough in the mile/1500 meters.  He finished as high as second in the NCAA DIII nationals while running for Williams College, but wanted more.  A six month stay in New Zealand rekindled his desire to make his mark in US middle distance running, but a serious groin injury in 2011 derailed that progress.  Coming back from a long injury layoff, Chaffee has a new coach, Jay Johnson, and desire to make his way in a crowded field of US male middle distance runners who have begun to make their mark on the international scene with World Championship and Olympic medals from Matt Centrowitz, Jr. and Leo Manzano in the past two years.  

The Twin Cities has played a role in his development as he ran the 2011 TC Mile and placed fourth, then stayed on in the cities thanks to "hosts" Heather and Ben Kampf, who let him stay at their place after the race. Below Chaffee talks with DtB about his goals and how he's attempting to achieve those goals.

Down the Backstretch:  In the UK they’d probably classify you as a “nearly man,”  somebody who is on the cusp of a breakthrough, but for whom it hasn’t happened yet.  In your BLOG you answer the question of why you run by noting that you are very competitive and running is an outlet for that side of your personality. 

This can either make the nearly man status very frustrating or fuel for answering the challenge of discovering how good you can be at this running thing.  What do you hope to achieve as a runner?  Is there a timeline for you to either break through or pack it in, or is running something you’re in for the long haul?

Macklin Chaffee: It's a thrill to be back at "nearly man" status. Every year I've been healthy, I've dropped over four seconds from my time. I don't see any limitations as to what I can achieve. And THAT is an exciting prospect! So I would have to say, ultimately, running ends when I feel I have found my limit. And when I'm done, I'm done.

The fact that I can make enough with my web development business to live comfortably allows me to maintain a relatively trouble-free, low-pressure, flexible approach to running; a luxury most "nearly men" don't have. I'm going to run as long as I have a hope of being the best. World number one.

There are other reasons to run: I want to make and represent a USA team. How sweet would that be!

I'd be thrilled to start getting solicited to international meets, using that as a springboard for more world travels/adventures, making international connections among this amazing, global community.

And finally, I'd like to win Rio 2016. Cliche? Sure. But think about the moment. Gold medal. Star-spangled banner. Red, white, and blue fireworks. Knowing your parents are tearing up somewhere. That's a thrill you can't buy. An athletic accomplishment that represents the pinnacle of victory!  

DtB:  Like many runners, injuries have been a major roadblock for you.  Some serious, requiring a long period of time off and rehab, others the usual setbacks one gets when trying to push the envelope of one’s potential.  Your current coach, Jay Johnson, has noted that he’s having you work on strength/flexibility/efficiency work.  Has this approach contributed to your early season successes this year, if so how?

MC: I have consistently improved my mile time every year for seven years until 2012, when I had the first serious injury of my career. As a 26 year-old, time is still plentiful, but not so seemingly limitless. My training philosophy is now built around being bio-mechanically sound with the idea that it would allow me to be injury free. I cannot be set back like that again. This entire year was meant to be groundwork for the future. 

However! It's an eye-opening, side-effect that suddenly I'm also racing better than I ever have before, simply because of this bio-mechanical strength and flexibility work. I can't wait to actually get in the weight room and run 2011 mileage next year! 

DtB:  Jay also says he’s impressed at your confidence that you can run with the best and the fact that you have “long levers,” which seems to be in vogue right now—i.e. Usain Bolt, Kiprop, both big guys who can turn those long levers over pretty quick.  Where does the confidence come from and do you think much about your size, either as an advantage or disadvantage?

MC: (Olympic 800 meter champion and world recordholder David) Rudisha is the man I truly physically idolize. Kiprop's a freak, I don't feel like can learn anything from him.

My size is a disadvantage in a race. Leo and Centro have a much easier time of finding holes, tucking into packs, and riding rails without constantly being clipped. However, when it comes to raw potential, I think taller guys with long, proportionally strong levers, that are able to stay healthy, will ultimately be able to out-run the smaller guys. "It's science!"

I suspect short, lithe bodies have dominated the sport in the past because the philosophy was generally mileage, mileage, mileage. Big guys just got hurt. Now, there is more literature, knowledge, and research into injury-prevention techniques. I was beginning to develop my own paradigms about strength training when I met Jay and all of a sudden it was, "That's it! ... He's discovered what I'm looking for!"

I'd rather have my genetic gift/talent than any other because I'd rather be working on strengthening muscles and improving turnover than growing longer legs...

DtB:  What did you learn about yourself, what you need to do to improve, from the TC Mile experience?  It was probably one of the stronger fields you’ve run in and you were in it down the stretch. 

MC: I ran that race as well as I could with the lead-up I had. I've reaffirmed that I'm training correctly. Reaffirmed that I need more raw speed.  I could barely have stayed with Willis even if I was fresh on the last 200. Reaffirmed that my race/pace tactics are sound. What I learned was that I can improve psychologically when approaching a race. Going into that race there were a ton of reasons to run poorly, and that allowed me to take a shoulder-shrug mentality. It helped more than the lead-up hurt. And that's something to remember. 

DtB:  Your blog is an informative glimpse of the journey you’re taking through the elite running world.  What made you decide to chronicle your running life?  Is it just a communication tool, an outlet for your thoughts?

MC: Yes, "the blog". The blog started because I found it cathartic and educational to analytically scrutinize my thoughts and experiences while training and racing. It also kept me accountable while I was training myself, and (selfishly) saved me from writing a dozen different emails to the people that care about how I'm doing. 

But now, there are a few other reasons to keep it up. First, it's become a neat little way to remember key moments in my running career (since its inception in 2011). I'm a sucker for a complements and I love the occasional "nice blog post!". Finally, despite growing up a vocal skeptic as to the necessity for writing assignments, I've discovered I quite enjoy it when not forced to write.

DtB:  You said in an interview that your college coach got you into a couple of races after you graduated in 2009 as your second place finish at DIII nationals that year sort of left unfinished business.  You qualified for the USATF champs, then went on a trip to New Zealand where the running community there generated a desire to keep going with the running career and see where it took you.  How did the NZ trip come about?  How long were you there?  Were there any particular experiences down under that pushed you toward continuing with the sport after college?

MC: I always had an itch to get out and explore the world that I wasn't able to scratch in college. When, like many new graduates, I had a rough initial launch into the real world, going abroad to live a little became a summer goal. New Zealand fell into place as the perfect candidate, and there was much rejoicing when I saved enough money to buy the ticket. 

Once down there (for six months), I had such a good time, found such good friends, and made so many personal and external discoveries, that all I started to think about was, "I gotta go everywhere!"

It's been a while (my summer plans in 2011 having been dashed by injury), but I think I'm finally going to get the chance to go to run in Europe this summer. And I couldn't be more excited! 

DtB:  What are your goals for the USATF Championships?  It’s a bit different being trials and finals, instead of a one-off race. 

MC: Yeah, that is a great question. I have not put that much of an emphasis on USAs this year, as I've been there twice before and twice been in stacked heats that went slow. I mean in 2011, the guy with the best time going into the meet, Russell Brown, didn't even make it out of my heat. 

This whole year was supposed to be rebuilding, focusing on improving my bio-mechanics. But now I'm beginning to re-evaluate my expectations in light of my recent improvements. Bottom line is, if I can make the finals, I expect a strong, competitive finish. But certainly come 2014, I'll be looking to medal.

The nice thing is, it doesn't change anything about my training, which has been completely focused on strength and speed. My personal expectations will take form when I see some heat sheets!

DtB:  Last question, a bit of a silly one, but all the races I’ve seen you run recently are in a “uniform” of white top and black “cycle shorts.”  Is that a superstition or conscious choice?  Do you have a closet full of white shirts and black spandex shorts that you draw from or a laundry service for after each race?

MC: Well Jim, on the inside of that jersey I have written the lyrics to MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This". And the long black half-tights are in memory of my only pet, Mocha, who is now happily hunting on a farm upstate in New Hampshire...

Just kidding. I just don't own a jersey.

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