Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Talk With Garrett Heath

"Yeah, it's been a fun but crazy week up in Seattle with Brooks meeting the team, working with marketing, and getting things going there," said Garrett Heath of his impending move to Seattle to become a Brooks Beast.  "The Hanson's group was also in town this week, so it was good chance to meet everyone there as well and catch up with a few of the Stanford boys out there right now (Jake Riley and Brendan Gregg). I'm actually not going to officially make the move to Seattle until early April but will be training with the team before then for a while up at altitude in Albuquerque before and after USAs. 

"Leaving Saucony was a tough decision because they have been so good to me over the last many years, but I'm really excited to be a part of what Brooks is doing now and the running culture that they have built there in Seattle. And, obviously, I'm pumped to have a great group and some consistent training partners up there."

On Saturday Heath finished second in his indoor track debut at the Armory in New York City.   "Running at the armory is always great, and I felt good about yesterday's time for the first indoor race of the season. We had some great rabbiting up front, and I just tried to keep the pace going after they dropped off.  I couldn't quite hold off Lee in the home stretch, but he ran smart and is really strong right now."

Below he talks about his past, present, and future.

Down the Backstretch:  You’re on this incremental improvement rise upwards over the last three years.  In 2012 you were in contention for a spot on the US Olympic team.  In 2013, you set a PRs and won road miles.  You started off this year with a cross country win defeating the reigning Olympic 1500 champ and another Olympic and World champion, Kenenisa Bekele.  If nothing else your confidence must be growing.  Any combination of factors that led to these improvements?

Garrett Heath: I felt like I was on the cusp of breaking through for a long time there after college, so it's really been a fun ride over the last year or so to see that improvement actually happen and to knock off a couple of the most respected guys in the running world along the way.  

I've always been more of a strength based middle distance runner, but I feel like I've really gained a lot over the last year or so through putting an emphasis on speed development.  It's been a gradual process, but I was definitely able to see a large difference in my top end speed between the beginning and end of last season.  I still feel like I have a ways to go with this, but it gave me a lot more confidence in my kick again when I was eventually racing.

I've also been paying more attention to some of the little things like sleeping and eating that I think can make a big difference over the long run if you're doing them right. 

DtB:  Going into the Bupa XC race in Scotland, what were your objectives?  Last year you went to altitude to train longer than you had before and that seemed to help.  Any modifications on your training coming into 2014?

GH: I mainly went to Scotland looking to get in a high quality race to kick off the season and to have a chance to run cross country again for the first time since college.  It's hard to tell exactly where your fitness is at this early in the season, so my objective was to just keep myself with the pack for the first lap and just move from there as much as possible.  Obviously, with both Bekele and Kiprop in the race, you always have your sights set on those guys, so I was really looking to stick with them as long as possible and hopefully be in contention when it came down to the end.

As far as training, my coach, John Skemp, and I were really happy with the way the altitude training went and how training in general progressed last year. Overall, I have to give him, as well as my previous coaches at Stanford, a ton of credit for getting me to where I am now.  I feel like we've worked really well together and that has been a key in seeing having consistency in my training and getting the results that I have over the past few years. With that, most of what I have done so far this year has been a little faster but very similar in the types of workouts that I've been doing. I'm also planning to head to altitude again (this time in Albuquerque) for a long stretch this winter, and maybe again later in the year if it makes sense with racing.  

All that being said, some of my training will likely be modified slightly as I move up to Seattle to train with the Brooks Beasts group and add some new training partners.

DtB:  The 1500 has become something of a signature event of the resurgence of US distance running for both men and women.  There are medals being won, depth in the US fields, and you don’t have to go on the Euro circuit to get in top races.  What have you learned the last few years racing in this sort of environment?

GH: It's an exciting time for American distance and middle distance running.  The biggest change with the success of guys like Galen, Nick, Matthew, Duane, and Leo over the last few years at the Olympics and World Champs is that making the US team is just the first step, as opposed to the end goal.  Obviously, it's still a huge deal to make a team, but I think it's raised the expectations of anyone who does for what they can accomplish on the world level.  That same attitude has also been trickling down into other international races, and it's been great to see the momentum build as it begins to happen more and more.

DtB:  What has the road mile circuit taught you?  It does provide for different tactics than on the track.  Has it helped you be a better racer on the track or does the road format better suit your skill set than the track?  Or, conversely, do you not see much difference?

GH: More than anything, the roads have been a great change of pace for me over the past few years.  They're very different as far as tactics and a completely different mental animal to plan for. I do think that they can help increase your ability to adapt to different conditions and situations that are thrown at you. Overall though, it seems to be a lot easier to get a community or city into a road mile, which makes the atmosphere for racing in them especially great.

DtB:  In 2012 you had the 5K as a “plan B,” i.e. if you didn’t make it in the 1,500, you could still have a shot at 5K.  Is the 5k still a secondary event for you or are you thinking of taking his year to experiment more with the longer distance?

GH: For now, the 5k is still a secondary event, but I'm planning to do at least one again this year.  Eventually I may move that direction, but I feel like there's still a lot that I'd like to accomplish in the 1500 before moving up.

DtB:  What are the goals for 2014?  You going to run more cross country?  Indoor track?  Mix of both?

GH: Unfortunately, no more cross country this year.  It be great if they decided to bring back the 4k though for US and world cross country championships.  It would be an exciting race with all of the high caliber mile and 5K guys in the US right now.

I'm mainly focusing on indoors now and gearing up for USAs.  The big goal is still running fast outdoors, but doing well at USAs and trying to make the team is definitely the short term goal.

DtB:  You raced a lot in Europe last summer.  What did you learn from that?  Did you make contacts that might allow you to get into the big meets in Europe this summer? 

GH: The summer European racing season has been a great opportunity to race some of the best athletes in the world outside the championship meets and build confidence that I can be in any race all the way to the finish.  It's obviously been great to get in some fast races over there as well and hit a few PRs, but I think realizing that you can compete with anyone outside the US as well is the biggest thing that can be gained over there.

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