Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Annie Bersagel Talks About Her Marathon Breakthrough at the 2013 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon

Annie Bersagel accepting the NCAA Woman of
the Year Award for 2006
Last year's Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon women's champion, Anne Golden "Annie" Bersagel has Minnesota roots.  She was a member of Team USA Minnesota until she was "lured" to Norway on a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a graduate degree in peace and conflict studies at the University of Oslo.  She met her husband there, who shares her passion for running, only he does his in the mountains.  Bersagel is running the TCS New York City Marathon next month as another step in her ultimate goal of attempting to qualify for the US Olympic team in 2016.  After completing a trip to the US and Canada for her job as a consultant for  KLP Asset Management, she took time out after her return home to Olso to answer a few questions about last year's Twin Cities race, her recent PRs in the half marathon and marathon, and her goals for the NYCM. 

Down the Backstretch:  What was the impact of the win at Twin Cities last year?  Was it a major boost for you or merely a step in the right direction for your career?

Annie Bersagel: That race was a major breakthrough.  I had always believed that the marathon would be my event, but before Twin Cities I never seemed to quite figure it out. It was a major boost.

DtB:  You had several more “breakthrough” performances this year with a 13th place finish in the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in a PR of 1:10:09, then the Dusseldorf Marathon where you set yet another PR and of 2:28:59.  Can you first talk about the IAAF race?  What your goals were going in.  How the race unfolded, and what you took away from that performance.  What you learned, how it impacted your next objective(Dusseldorf).

AB: My goal going into the World Half Championships was to finish in the top 20. The race in Copenhagen was just one of those great experiences where I knew I was going to PR, and the question was just: by how much? I only started feeling really tired in the last couple kilometers. You just have to savor races like that. After that, I knew I was in shape to run a PR in Dusseldorf.

DtB: Dusseldorf.  I suspect one of the goals was breaking 2:30.  Why did you choose Dusseldorf and how did the race unfold?  You negative split it running 1:15.02 for the first half.  Was that what you hoped to hit the half in or do you run more by how you feel than chasing certain split times?

AB: I chose Dusseldorf primarily because of the timing for the World Half Marathon Championships. That it was a flat and fast course with a short travel time from Oslo didn’t hurt either. I had a rabbit — great guy named Yilmaz — who helped me through the first half.  I had been sick in the weeks before the race and really did not know where I was going to end up. I thought that if I took a shot at 2:30 and blew up, at least I would walk away having given it a serious try.  Any slower than that and I would probably be trailing the elite field from the gun.

DtB:  Aside from winning international races, you also have a “day job.” How do you manage two high stress professions?  What do your co workers think about your aspirations, accomplishments as a marathoner?  Is it even something that gets talked about much at “the office?”

AB: Since April, I’ve been working as an advisor in responsible investments for KLP Asset Management. I am lucky to work on a regular and fairly predictable schedule, so I can generally plan my training in advance without worrying about staying at the office through the evening to finish an assignment that lands on my desk at 5 PM. It is not nearly as stressful as, for example, a big law position at a US firm. 

Also, it would be an understatement to say that my colleagues at KLP in general have an above average interest in endurance sports. The head of responsible investments just completed her first Ironman and more colleagues than I can count compete in biking,  running, cross country skiing, and even water skiing in their free time. So moonlighting as a professional runner has not been a disadvantage at all, and the highlights sometimes end up on the company intranet!

DtB:  The perception of most people is that this sort of mix would be very difficult to do well.  Yet one job is pretty cerebral, while the other is very physical.  The major issue would seem to be time management.  What is a typical day like—if there is such a thing as a “typical day?”  Do the two professions compliment one another in that you can escape some of the stress of one activity by doing the other?  Is it part of a life balance philosophy than a job choice situation? 

AB: Yes, I think they are complementary, and you’re right in that it is all about planning ahead.  I run before and after work and spend most of my weekends training and recovering.  That doesn’t leave a lot of social time, but my husband and many of my closest friends are runners, so we catch up with each other while training together. 

 I love my work and enjoy having something to strive for outside of running, but it’s not as if running would cover the bills either, so calling it a philosophical decision is a bit of a stretch. I am, however, lucky to have an interesting and challenging job that is also compatible with running, and I couldn’t ask for a more supportive workplace.   

DtB: In other stories about your recent success, it’s reported that you are considering cutting back on your work as a consultant after your current contract expires in June of 2015 to devote more time to your ultimate running goal, making the US Olympic team.  What factors will you be “weighing” in making that decision?

AB:  At this point, I don’t have anything lined up for when my contract with KLP expires. Whether I will continue working with KLP on a reduced schedule, run full time, or begin working somewhere else really depends on what KLP wants, and on whether I am able to find a sponsorship before then. My husband has already let me know in no uncertain terms that he thinks I wouldn’t be easy to live with if I didn’t do something else with my time besides train for the marathon!

DtB:  Your husband, Øyvind  Helberg Sundby, is a mountain runner.  You’ve done some mountain runs.  Is that part of your training—something that helps in your prep for flat land marathons--or just something you do with him?

AB: I leave the mountain running to him.  Øyvind grew up in a little town on the side of a mountain emerging from the fjord, so mountain running is in his blood. The only “mountain” race I will do is an asphalt hill climb to a lookout point in Oslo, Grefsenkollen.  These mountain races in Norway are extremely steep and technical.  I know my limits!

DtB:  Did the NYC invite come after the IAAF WCs?  After Dusseldorf

AB: After Dusseldorf.  I have had the TCS NYC Marathon in the back of my mind for a while though. Remember that from a Norwegian perspective, there is no marathon bigger than New York.  

DtB:   New York is not a PR course or known as one where you go to run fast.  So, are your goals in that event more to finish high in the standings than to attempt to lower your PR?  The weather conditions weren’t great in Dusseldorf, so you can obviously run faster, but your approach to racing the marathon seems to be to go out conservatively and finish strong—a strategy easier said than done.  Do you take a gamble of going with the lead pack if their pace isn’t too fast or do you stick with what’s worked for you in the past?

AB: I can’t really say at this point, but you’re right in that time is less important — at least in terms of personal records. You’ve given me a few ideas to chew on here though.

DtB: In your blog post for KLP, you wrote about ethics and demarcation.  It was an essay on the complexity of the situation on the West Bank in Israel. At the end you invited the audience for the blog to “have a dialogue on this issue.”  You were just in New York at the UN for the Climate Change debate.  World altering issues.  It would seem to be a very attractive career path.  Do you want to pursue these sorts of issues in your career?  Be one who uses her skills to have an impact on big issues in the world.  If those are the goals, how does your running career fit into that career path?  Is 2016 the end of the line for being an elite racer or, if you didn’t make the team, would you consider another try in 2020?

AB: I am impressed that you read my post in Norwegian on the KLP blog! To be honest, I haven’t given any thought to 2020 at this point. As long as I have the opportunity to continue with meaningful and interesting work while running on the side, I don’t see any reason to change what’s worked so far. I’m having too much fun now. Ask me again in 2017.

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