Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Will Leer: More Than Just a 'Stache'

Will Leer at the 2013 USATF Outdoor
Track Championships
Photo by Gene Niemi
Will Leer had a season to remember in 2013.  Below he talks about last year, his plans for 2014, his "brand," and his perspective on the sport, major championships, and racing.  

Down the Backstretch:  2013 was something of a breakthrough year, two national championships, nine  PRs, and Asbel Kiprop asking you to have a picture taken with him because you look like Jesus.  What factors played a role in it all coming together last  year?

Will Leer: The running wasn't really all that tough. Now, getting to the point looks-wise where someone like Mr. Kiprop asks to take a photo with me (even though it is now common knowledge that I only resemble the anglicized image of Jesus) was a real challenge. It took a lot of patience, persistence, dedication, and sacrifice. But then again the same could be said for the running! 

In all seriousness, I was quite surprised with how well my racing progressed last year. Moving to Los Angeles and training alone raised a bunch of red flags. There has been so much written lately about the benefits of training in group atmospheres. But in training alone (and constantly in the sunny, warm Southern California weather) I became better at pushing my body in workouts and,  at the same time, listening carefully when I needed to back off. This allowed for an entire year of uninterrupted and well structured training, thanks to my coach, the legendary Ron Burgundy, I mean Ron Warhurst. 

The 2013 indoor season went really well and reaffirmed all of the hard work I put in through the fall. The positive race results led to more and more confidence in my fitness level. Being healthy, strong and happy allowed me to race well from February through the end of September. The smattering of personal bests (1,500m, mile, road mile, 3,000m, indoor 3,000m, indoor 2-mile, 5,000m, road 5,000m) you mentioned didn't hurt the motivation to get out there and lace up the spikes either.

DtB:  It was a long season last year, going from indoor track to the European circuit.  Was that by design or part of the plan?
WL: The length of my season was most definitely NOT by design. It was more of an evolving race schedule. So long as I was racing well (there were a few hiccups along the way) the perspective from Coach Warhurst and my agent, Chris Layne at Total Sports US, was "Let's keep racing!" It was certainly wearing towards the end of the season but when you continue to run well and set personal beats, you might as well ride the train. After all, I train hard to race hard! 

DtB:  Aside from probably some increased confidence, what did you learn from last year?  What have you incorporated into this year’s plans from those lessons?

WL: One of the most important things I learned, possibly relearned/refined, was the importance of desire and mental strength when it comes to training and racing. The epiphany arose after the mile at the US Indoor Champs when I came from pretty far back, closing well over the final 400 meters. I was feeling pretty tired, having raced the 3,000 the night before (altitude greatly effects recovery) and was shocked at how hard the early pace felt. The race never really felt comfortable, but I knew I wouldn't be happy with a sub-par effort. It really took grinding it out through the middle laps to bring myself back in to contention and think I had a shot at winning.

I believe that each year of consistent training adds to an athletes foundation and overall strength. Ron and I took from last year, as we took from the year before, that I can handle a larger workload. So we increased my mileage a bit (I top out around 110 right now), increased some of the volume in my workouts (if I was doing 8-10 1K reps, now it's 10-12), but still think it is very important to keep and eye out for signs of over training/excessive fatigue and restructure accordingly. One of Ron's favorite slogans with coaching our group of professional athletes is "Flexibility within the Structure."

DtB:  You had a lot of variety.  Indoor track.  Road Miles. 5K on road and track.  Again was this by design or did these races just happen as things developed throughout the year?

WL:  I like racing. It's the reason I am still in this sport. Last year a lot of the races just happened. I was trying new things--primarily referring to the longer distances and roads--to see if I liked it. I did!  At the end of the day, as much as I love running, this is also my livelihood, and there is a lot of money to be won on the roads. 

DtB:  2014 is an open year in terms of major championships with the IAAF Indoor Champs being the only “major,” so the US indoors is likely to be the focus for a lot of athletes who want that international championship experience.  Your thoughts on defending your title or titles, the impact it being at altitude again on pre-race planning and how and what you run?

WL: I think you hit the nail on the head: Indoor World Champs is the only major competition of the year, and I hope to be there! My former training partner, and good friend, Lee Emmanuel, already blazed the trail to Sopot by winning the UK Champs last weekend. That gives me a lot of motivation. 

With the US Champs being in Albuquerque again, I have been preparing for the altitude by training in Flagstaff, AZ, (7,000ft elevations vs. 5,000ft in ABQ) since January 1. I am currently entered in both the 1,500m and 3,000m but will make the final decision next week as to whether or not I double or focus on a single event. 

DtB:  Do you plot out a season beforehand or just have some general goals and take the rest as it develops?

WL: I have tried before to strictly plan out a race season and it never goes to plan. There are certainly races I would like to run and others I would rather avoid. This outdoor season, more than some of the previous, I am hoping to race in some new places (Asia, the Caribbean).

DtB:  Aside from staying healthy and avoiding injury, do you have a set of things you’d like to accomplish this year?

WL:  This year I would really like to run a fast 5,000m. I'd also like to continue to drop my 1,500m PR as I think there is quite a bit more room for improvement there. Other than pure time oriented goals I am looking to race as much as possible and really enjoy this year! 

DtB:  The stache has become something of a brand of its own.  Still having fun with it or will there come a time to move on and branch out to other sartorial/fashion statements/symbols.

WL:  I am currently sporting a beard that has taken the better part of three months to grow. But to be honest, the mustache will make a comeback. You're right, it has become my calling card. And I'm fine with that. Strong mustaches run in my family, no pun intended, and I fully accept the responsibility of carrying on that tradition and wearing my 'stache' with pride.

DtB:  The sport puts a premium on being ready at the “right time,”  i.e. peaking or performing well in qualifying for events such as the Olympics and being ready once you get to World Championships or Olympic competition.  Your approach has been more of a one race at a time thing.  Go out and race and the times will come.  That can cause issues if you don’t get into fast races to get qualifying times for major championship events.  What are your thoughts on “peaking,”  making the big events the symbols of success?

WL:  Having missed out on two Olympic and three World Championships teams is definitely something that haunts my running career. However, if you omit the 2012 Trials, I have missed four teams by a combined total of 2.25 seconds. So as far as peaking for the US Championships goes, I think my coaches and I have done a very good job. We place the highest significance on the major Championship, with the plan always being to make the team. 

That being said, I think there is a lot more to the sport of professional track and field than simply racing at the "big events." I have had the honor of representing Team USA at one major championship - Indoor World Champs in 2010. But I have also had the pleasure of representing our country on a number of different occasions (Penn Relays, Chiba Ekiden, DecaNations) throughout the world.

Yes, the major championship is the primary goal of each season, but there are also many other factors by which an athlete's season can be judged.

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