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Paul Petersen Interview

UtahRunning.com:       Hello everyone this is UtahRunning.com Richardson with utahrunning.com.  And thanks for listening in.  We think you’ll enjoy today’s interview and we’re looking forward to helping you get to know Paul Peterson a little bit better.  Over the past few years, Paul has consistently been one of the most successful marathoners in Utah.  He lives and trains near Logan but he recently traveled to Boston where he was the third fastest American and ran a great time of 2:17.  Paul, thanks for joining us today.

Paul:                My pleasure, thank you.

UtahRunning.com:       We really appreciate you sharing with us some of your thoughts.  I’d like to maybe just start with your background.  Could you just tell me a bit about your background, and some of your experiences with running?

Paul:                Yeah, I think I started competing in sixth grade.  I took up track for something to go along with soccer, like many of us did.  And I got into middle distance, then distance since I seemed a little bit better at that. And I did it all through junior high and on into high school. Then I started running cross country as well in junior and high school.  This was back in Indiana where I grew up.

At the high school level I was a good runner, but not spectacular.  I ran 2:06 for 800, about 4:40, 4:41 for the 1600, about 10:15 for the two mile and  around 16:20 for the 5K, solid times, but my claim to fame is I’ve never qualified for a high school state meet.

I did go on to run in college at a Division III school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, called Calvin College.  I walked onto that team and was able to keep developing there.  I had really good coaching there, was coached by Ryan Beemer a three-time Olympian, and Olympic bronze medalist in the steeplechase in 1984.  The coaches there were really quite excellent and I had really good teammates.

I ran the fourth or fifth guy there for most of my time.  I developed into a sub-four minute 1500 meter runner, and went under 15 minutes and under 31 minutes for the 10K by a little bit.  I had a decent college career, was All-American once in cross country.  And probably my highlight in college was actually experiencing a national championship, team championship.  My senior year in cross country our team took the national meet, so that was probably the favorite part of my college running.

UtahRunning.com:       I’m sure that would be a highlight of the college career.

Paul:                Yeah, that’s probably what I miss most about college is the whole team aspect.  You get out of college and you compete running as an individual of course, with all these great races.  There’s a wonderful variety of different types of races; adventure races, relays, marathons, 5Ks.  If you can think of it, it’s probably a race.  But that team aspect is so fun and brings out the best in people  I think, which is probably why relay races are very popular.

UtahRunning.com:       You mentioned your development through high school and college.  I think for me, that team aspect is definitely part of the development.  I’m sure it’s probably been a little harder since you’ve graduated.  I’d like to hear more about your experience leading up to Boston and preparing for Boston, obviously doing a lot of training by yourself.  Tell me about your training in preparation for Boston and some of the types of workouts you would do.

Paul:                I think that will tie into this continuing the story of post-collegiately I got out and decided to take to marathoning because it seemed the thing to do.  I did better in the longer distances. except I trained for the marathon, I trained mostly by myself.  I trained mostly like a 10K runner would train except with a long run thrown in there.  I think many of us have been in the same boat, where we get out of school and we’re kind of lost.  There’s no coaching and there may not be a good runner group to run with.  Even the motivation can wane without having those teammates there.

I spun my wheels for literally a few years, and ran good times in the marathon but I thought I was kind of underperforming for what my previous times were.  So I started out running in the 2:40s.  My first couple of marathons were in the 2:40 and a couple here and there in the 2:30s.  It wasn’t until the ninth marathon where I finally nailed one down and got under 2:30.

The training I picked up around 2005 and then picked up some more techniques in ’07, leading up to the trials, and then I kept manipulating those training methods and evolving them for my own use as I learned what works and what doesn’t.

Boston, you talk about a training cycle; when we think of a training cycle we think of the six months leading up to a marathon, or four months leading up to a marathon.  Really, this was eight or nine years leading up to Boston, learning how to run a marathon and learning how to train for a marathon.

What I did before Boston I’ve been doing quite a bit of for the last two and a half years or three years.  A lot of it is simply getting the consistency, making sure I get in a solid six days a week.  I usually do a six-day cycle, and multiple runs a day.  I double pretty much all my easy days when I’m doing heavy training anyway.  I’m hitting top mileage in upper 90s, low 100s.  I peaked at 98 before Boston but before the Indianapolis race I did last year, I hit 107 for my high.  I’ll get into upper 90s, low 100s for a lot of these races.

It’s consistency, volumes, getting those doubles in, and then it’s hitting the workouts.  The key to marathon racing, and what I was doing before Boston was marathon-specific training.  Again, I’m not training like a 10K runner, I’m not training like a cross country runner.  I’m not even training like a half marathon runner.  I’m doing things specific for the marathon.

Beyond just the mileage, the things basically entail doing big workouts and by big workouts I mean a session of speed work.  The whole workout lasts between 90 and 120 minutes.  Big workouts alternated with very easy days and then a weeUtahRunning.comd long run.  For me I incorporated a workout within the long run as well.

The build up to Boston was only about 12 weeks.  A lot of people build up longer for marathons but I already had a pretty good base built from the previous year so  took a little bit of time off after my fall marathon in 2010.  I took a little bit of time off and then came back and got back into it pretty quickly, and built my volume up to the 70 miles a week, then 80, and into the 90s for the last two and a half months.  I was consistently in the 90s and didn’t have any injuries or sicknesses or setbacks.  That was really key.

UtahRunning.com:       That’s a big part of it, making sure you’re staying healthy and that you’re consistent.  I completely agree.

Paul:                I think that’s actually the number one key.  People talk about mileage or doing special workouts, and we all read runners’ magazines and we all read Daniel’s Running Formula and Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning.  Those are great things.  That’s where you get a lot of ideas.  But there’s no substitute for consistency and you can get away with having not so great workouts and not so great science behind your running, just if you get out and do it.

A lot of it’s not very glamorous, it’s elbow grease and being consistent.  Some days you’re not going to feel like it and some days you need to back off and maybe run slower.  It’s not very fancy.  A lot of people try and I’ve done this myself, they try and do some fancy four day a week plan and it just doesn’t work.  Consistency really is the number one key and the workouts and total mileage come in after that.

UtahRunning.com:       Really a big part of it too is that it all has to come together on race day for you.  Maybe tell the listeners a bit about your experience at Boston, and how things came together for you on race day.

Paul:                My build up and my training, what I did wasn’t the highest mileage but it was good.  There were no setbacks.  So I came in feeling pretty good about it.  I knew the fitness was there.  I’d run the Strider’s Half Marathon two weeks before and hit a really strong time that indicated to me I had a chance at 2:19.  It wasn’t a gimme and I didn’t think I could go too far under that but I knew I had a shot.

So the training was there and my work was there.  Now it was a matter of you have to get a bit lucky.   That means things like weather.  By running Boston I was taking a bit of a chance because for those that ran in 2007 I believe who ran into the Nor’easter, and the terrible conditions.  Some years it’s hot or a few years ago there was a bit of a head wind.  A lot of years there is a head wind or it can be too hot or blustery.

You hear about 100 year floods, I think Boston this year was a 100 year race.  You only get conditions like that maybe once in a lifetime.  Others that have run it have described it the same way.  When you see the results of the guys that won, Mutai, and Mosop, and Ryan Hall, running unprecedented times, said okay this was a special day.

It’s one thing to be in shape and then it’s another thing to get the crowd behind you but then to get weather in the upper 40s, clear, not humid, and with a prevailing tailwind really the whole way was very rare.  You don’t get that often, and then it being a special day for me as well because of the conditions and training and then the day for me, how I felt that day, they all came together that same day.  Sometimes I get two of those things or sometimes your training is good but the day’s awful.  Sometimes the training is good and the day’s good but you’re just flat for no reason.

It can be a bit of roulette sometimes.  I don’t know if I call it luck, just maybe good fortune, or if you race enough you’ll get some of these days.  I attribute my success in Boston to good training, several years of good training straight that got me to that point but then the tailwind was there, the cool weather was there, the crowds were there, the competition was there.  It was an amazing experience and one I’ll cherish.

UtahRunning.com:       That’s great to hear and we’re excited that you ran such a great time.  We’re glad to have you training in Utah in the UtahRunning community.  It’s a fun thing to see.

Paul:                If I can interject for a second, you talk about the UtahRunning community.  The funny thing about Boston is I flew all the way up to Boston, all the way up to the east coast so I could run with a bunch of people and be really pushed, and for the crowds; I definitely had the crowds.  But as far as the competition, it was good competition obviously and it was a great pack through 10 miles and I was thinking this is great, I have this wonderful pack to run with all of the same goals –  a bunch of American guys trying to qualify for trials.  Then at 10 miles I ended up splitting away from them and just kind of ran away from them.  Some of the guys were dropping back too at that point in the race.

I ran the last 16 miles by myself in Boston, which is not how you think of Boston but that’s how it ended up. The crowd ended up being teammates, I think, in Boston.  The funny thing is I’ve done races  here in Utah, here in Logan without even leaving Logan, or I can think of going down to St. George earlier this January or Provo, Utah last year, where I just go wire to wire against a person or a group of people.  The Utah natives, you can get some great competition right here in the state without even going anywhere.  I thought that was kind of funny; go all the way to Boston and then end up being by myself, and then all these races here in Utah I’ll get pushed for a whole half marathon.

UtahRunning.com:       There’s some great competition and some good races, too.  How about your thoughts after Boston?  Were you surprised?  You mentioned you kind of thought you had a shot at 2:19 and the conditions came together.  What were some of your thoughts after you saw the results and saw where you were at?

Paul:                I went through the half in 1:08:15, right around there.  I was thinking I was going to run 2:16.  I was like walking the half, I was trying to hold back that first half.  The thing about the marathon is you have a couple of hours to be thinking about your race.  There’s no real surprises.  You know what’s going to happen.

I recall the last four miles, I’m looking at my watch and kind of doing the math in my head as much as I can, being all brain-frazzled from not having enough blood in my head.  But I’m thinking okay, last four miles I can average 5:45 a mile and still make it and then I did another 5:15 or something.  And then okay three miles to go, I can average over six minutes a mile and still make it, and I got to the last mile thinking I can do an eight minute mile and still qualify, this is great.

It was quite a relief to cross the finish line.  I didn’t really know where I placed but I knew I could see the clock when I finished and was ecstatic about it.  It was a product of a lot of hard work and going through a lot of trials between 2007 and this race, just with health issues and things like that.  Going from thinking I wouldn’t even run again to getting a second qualifier was very gratifying.  The journey of getting there was important to me.  It was quite a relief to cross that finish line and then to be so exhausted afterward where I sat down and couldn’t even get up afterwards.  That’s a good feeling after a marathon, “Hey, I gave it everything, there’s nothing left.”  I ran this race right.

I found out later, some friends were texting me of course, and said “You’re 17.  That’s great.”  Then somebody said, “Hey, you’re 3rd American.”  I was like oh, that’s even better. That’s probably my favorite stat out of the whole race, beyond the time even and the overall place was being the 3rd American.  I’m really pleased and proud of that.

As far as being surprised, no actually I knew there was a chance of that coming in.  I was pleased with it but I knew beyond Ryan Hall there’s only one other top American running and that guy didn’t start the race.  There’s a couple of Hansen’s runners who were debuting and then there were a bunch of other American runners who basically were in the same boat as me; I’ve run 2:19, 2:20 and so I knew if I could beat the guys in my own peer group that I’d place pretty high in the American bracket.

Boston’s always a good race for Americans.  This year was not the strongest year for Americans, it was deep but not really high on the top end.  It is definitely neat. It was pretty cool to bring up the Boston website and see my name on the front page.

UtahRunning.com:       That’s great and it’s got to be something motivating for the future too.  I think as you look back it’ll be a good experience, like you said, an experience that you’ll cherish.  If you could tell us a bit about that, what has motivated you to get to where you are?  You talked a bit about your development and training before the race.  Besides the physical aspects and training, what do you do that motivates you and what drives you to continue to train and perform?

Paul:                That’s a good question.  Some days I lack in motivation and what keeps me going is just inertia.  I’ve been training these last few months; I better keep going, especially during the winter up here in Cache Valley.  It’s hard to stay motivated.

But in general I just have an internal drive to succeed and to get better, and running is something that God has gifted me with and I feel I should develop that gift.  I just have that internal drive to continue training and continue improving until I can’t improve anymore.

I do enjoy the journey although I’m constantly balancing training with family and other things, so I want to keep my life in balance and a healthy balance, make sure my priorities are right.  That’s my main priority, to keep my family and my work and things like that ahead of running.  Running needs to be just a hobby.  Sometimes it becomes more than that, so I’m always balancing that out.

In general, as far as other motivation, I love competing so I love to race.  I need to get out and race about once a month in order to stay motivated, just having that carrot out in front of me.  “Oh, I have a race coming up.  I better get ready for this.”  Then I get to training.  Then when I get through the race, I get encouragement from the actual running.  So from the actual racing I get some positive feedback and I really love the social part of going to races and meeting new people and meeting people I’ve known for years, and the warm-up and cool down, like what we did at the Strider’s race.  That’s one of my favorite things of racing, the social aspect.  That’s a motivator for me.

If I don’t race, my training will definitely lag.  Another motivator is that Trials mark as a carrot dangling in front of me, trying to hit that 2:19 was a big goal.  When they lowered that mark from 2:22 to 2:19, and when they eliminated all the downhill courses, that was actually an incentive to me.  It really lit a fire.  Okay I made it in 2007 with the old standards, and I did it at St. George; let’s see if I can make this harder standard.

UtahRunning.com:       I think you’ve definitely take it to the next level and you’ve done a great job at preparing yourself and training.  Do you have any specifics as far as a favorite workout or favorite type of workout that others might emulate that might take their running to the next level?

Paul:                Absolutely. Again the key to marathon specific training, the goal of marathon training is to run harder workouts.  But really the actual pace isn’t that hard.  You’re just going to be doing it for a long time.  The key is the long workout, 90 to 120 minutes for a typical workout.  That’s not a long run, that’s just a workout.  Long runs will be a bit longer.

The purpose of doing that is we’re training our body to burn glycogen and burn fat as fuel better by going that long and also to train our muscles and our ligaments to take the pounding by pounding the roads for that long.  That’s really what the marathon is stressing, the fueling and muscle damage.  That’s what we train for.

To do that I really love doing a plain old marathon pace tempo. There’s nothing fancy about it.  It’s pretty vanilla.  But it’s good and it’s  eight to 10 mile tempo, at marathon pace or maybe a bit slower some days due to not feeling it.  You have to back off and train to what your body’s giving you.  Or you can progress into it, have a bit of a progression run.

Another type of workout I’ve really been doing a lot the last year and a half are ladder workouts.  By ladder I mean four mile, three mile, two mile, one mile with maybe two or three minutes recovery between these intervals, the downward ladder.  I usually do a marathon pace although I might progress into a half marathon pace or threshold pace by the two mile and one mile interval.

Similarly, marathon pace intervals, so maybe a three-by-five mile workout, doing a five mile tempo, recovery jog for five or six minutes, then another five mile tempo, recovery jog five or six minutes, then maybe a third.  Or similarly, you can do three-by-three mile tempos at marathon pace.

The idea with marathon pace tempo intervals rather than just a straight tempo run is I can do a 12 mile or 15 mile tempo but it’s going to take me forever to recover.  But I can get 12 or 15 miles in at marathon pace and get all that stimulation to my muscles and simulate that pace for that longer distance but I can recover so much faster if I break it into tempos.  You get so much of the same benefits.

A lot of what I’m doing is marathon pace or even slower.  It’s not super fast stuff. It really does feel comfortable for most of the time.  Sometimes I will get into faster intervals although I don’t do very many intervals compared to a lot of people, but I do them every couple of weeks.  I do eight by 1000 meters within the net recovery, or 10 by 1000 meters right around half marathon or a bit faster pace.  I might do mile repeats occasionally, like six times one mile or three times two mile at half marathon pace.

My favorite workout, I just did it on Saturday, is a workout I’ll do within a long run.  I’ll go and do a 20 miler, but I do pretty hard tempos within my long runs.  I basically consolidate a workout in my long run into one day.  What I love to do is I do a 20 miler and run the first half, the first 10 miles up a canyon, and then turn around the 10 miles and go down again.  I usually do this up Blacksmith Fork Canyon which is where the top Utah Marathon is.  I’ll run up and maybe get about 600 feet of elevation gain on the climb, and then come back down.

You’re hitting downhill when you’re pretty tired, which helps your pace when your legs are getting fatigued and beat up by that point.  I think it’s good for that but I’ll actually treat this as a progression run and keep increasing the pace as I go on.  By the time I get to the turnaround I’m usually hitting sub-six on the uphill.  Then turn around and then go down and I might get to the 5:20, 5:30 pace on the downhill by the end.  I’ll get close to marathon pace, but most of it would be slower marathon pace but continually ramping up throughout the tempo run.

UtahRunning.com:       Sounds like a fun one, especially in a place up there like Blacksmith beautiful area.

Paul:                Yeah, and then I do need to leave my normal area for running once in a while and go do – Blacksmith Fork is across the valley from me so I don’t run there often, but getting some new scenery and the beauty around me makes the run go by a lot faster.

UtahRunning.com:       That’s great.  It sounds like you’ve done a lot of the right things getting yourself ready and you’ve had a good experience in Boston.  Now what is next for you?  What are you looking to accomplish in the future?  You talked about the trials and your time there.  What do you want to accomplish in the future with running?

Paul:                I was talking about this with my wife earlier.  I said I think I need some new goals.  I pretty much accomplished all my big goals at Indianapolis last year and at Boston this year, where I broke 2:20 on a flat sea level loop course, and then Boston was a qualifier and everything that happened there pretty much fulfilled everything that I’d been looking for in running.

I really don’t know what running holds for me in the future.  I’ll be turning 32 in June, so I’m in my prime marathon years, but at the same time I have a wife, I have a business I’m running.  I have two kids, and I’m very active in my church.  Those are really important things in my life, and running is my number one hobby.

I guess where it all falls out in goals is yet to be determined.  One goal is to keep my life in balance and make sure the things that should be important are more important than running.  Yet at the same time I want to be a life-long runner, and I’d like to continue running at a high level, into my master’s years.  I’d like to have a legacy in the State of Utah, and a legacy to my family and my kids, yet within that running to stay on the backburner compared to my family and my kids, for example.

I take a lot of pride in breaking 2:20 and winning some of these races and qualifying for my second straight trials.  Perhaps three or four years from now I might get the urge to try to do a third trial and see where I’m at with my life after that.

Short term I do have some goals that are easier.  I’m running the Utah Valley Marathon in almost two weeks now.  I’d like to win that and break 2:20 there, and have a good experience there.  Then I’m running the top Utah Marathon in September and so I have pretty much the same goals there to win the Top of Utah.

We’ll see how the training goes, but I’ve made a not so vague goal to break the course record at Top of Utah, which is 2:16.   I don’t know if I’ll be up for that but I’m kind of saying that so I’ll have some motivation to train.  These are the races, and try to get into shape.  I’ll be laying low for the summer though.  I’m not going to be doing crazy miles, just trying to stay pretty fit and still doing the long runs, and then I’ll ramp the mileage back up to about 100 in the late fall and maybe do a three month build for the trials.  Then maybe see if I can get a PR there and mix it up there, and try and place as high as I can.

UtahRunning.com:       Great.  We really appreciate you sharing some of your thoughts and some of your experiences.  I think those who listen in are definitely going to get something out of it.  Maybe as some parting advice for aspiring marathoners, what would you share as kind of your final bits of advice for marathoners in Utah?

Paul:                We talked about this earlier but if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.  There’s no shortcuts to marathon training.  It’s not something you can do in a couple of days or a couple of weeks.  You see all these training plans for run the marathon without working or run the marathon by cross training.  If you want to be better at running, you need to run more. That’s about all there is to it.  Running less will not make you faster and doing things other than running will not make you faster.  It can help with injury and stuff like that.  I’m not going to totally poo-poo cross training, but running will make you a better runner.

Stay consistent, increase your mileage but do it very patiently.  Don’t get into binge running where you feel like you need to do huge weeks out of the blue.  But focus on the consistency over a long period of time.  We’re talking running six or seven days a week, maybe even 10 or 12 runs a week if you’re doubling, over a span of a few years.  If you’re not hitting the marathon times you want to hit this year but you’re just starting at marathoning, don’t worry about it.

What I’ve said a few times, the buildup to Boston to me was really about two and a half years of consistent training, and building cycle upon cycle upon cycle.  You keep building on that.  That’s what’s taken me from a 2:40 marathon down to 2:17.   That’s 23 minutes but it took nine years.

If you’re out there running three hours, you might be able to run 2:40.  If you’re out there running a 2:40 or 2:43, you might be under 2:30 or even under 2:20.  I’m not the only one out there who’s gone from a 2:40 to under 2:20.  It does take a while.

Other key precepts of training, take your easy days easy.  A lot of people get into the trap of running their easy days too hard.  Don’t be afraid to run slow.  My easy days I run about 7:30 pace and people are surprised to hear that but I’ll go 7:30 or eight minute miles if I need to.  The hard days are hard and they’re long, 90 to 120 minutes on those workout days.

Focus on the marathon-specific training, really focus on the marathon pace tempos.  I view short intervals as a waste of time.   For some people they do work but I don’t really do anything under 1000 meter for an interval.

Stick with it.  You’ll get discouraged and you’ll have setbacks.  You might get sick or have an injury, have a family problem but it’s a long-term big picture.  It’s a multi-year thing.  If you miss one race, it’s not a big deal.  I missed a race a couple of weeks ago because I had Lasik on my eyes and the doctor said don’t run for a week.  Then I had a race scheduled that I decided not to do.  It’s okay, that race will happen again next year and there’s no shortage or races in Utah.  You just go to UtahRunning.com and see the hundreds of races out there.  It’s amazing.

But not every race is going to be great.  You’ll lay an egg here and there.  I just had a tough race in Moab, physically I just wasn’t able to respond.  It was a hard race for me.  But you just have to shake it off, figure out if there’s something that you did wrong, maybe you learn from it and move on and forget it.  Don’t dwell on it.  Learn what you can from it.  Then leave it behind you.

For me, after Moab that was a hard race for me, but I went on and did Strider’s Half a few weeks later and it was one of my best races.  You’re going to have those bad races.  But you just have to keep moving on and keep the faith, I guess.

On the note of racing, don’t get into the trap of racing too much.  I bring that up because I see it a lot from some of my peers around here, or anywhere for that matter.  These marathons and stuff are a lot of fun to do and I talked about the social aspect, and the competition aspect, and it’s easy to get really hooked on them.  But frankly, two or three marathons a year is plenty and in fact I challenge people to do one marathon per year.  That’s even better, and maybe focus on the half marathon the rest of the time.

I think the half marathon is very underrated distance, but it’s so easy to recover from.  It’s a lot of fun to race and it will make you a better marathoner.  I believe racing once a month is plenty and one or two or three marathons each year is plenty.  If you’re out there every week, it’s fun but especially as you get older; I’m in my thirties now and that’s why I’m talking about this because I know I can’t do this anymore.  As we age we have to back off the fun a bit and be a bit patient.

UtahRunning.com:       Thanks again Paul, we really appreciate your time.  I’m sure there have been some things you’ve said that will help runners throughout Utah and again we appreciate your insight, and wish you luck with your future goals, both here in Utah and with the Trials.

Paul:                Thanks.  I’ll add one thing.  If you want to see my training, I post it daily, my training as well as my races, on the Fast Running blog.  The web address is paul.fastrunningblog.com.  It’s a blog format so if you join the blog you can actually comment and ask questions and stuff.  If people ask me a question I’ll respond. One of my favorite things with running again is the social aspect so I do enjoy interacting with people and helping people out.  I’ve had a lot of people help me so I’m returning the favor.

UtahRunning.com:       That’s a great website.  It’s a good way to get a lot of feedback too, for your running.  I know that the individuals that post on there usually are pretty good about commenting on each other and helping each other out.  It helps that team aspect you were talking about a bit earlier.  Thanks again Paul, good luck.

Paul:                Thank you, appreciate it.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, June 9th, 2011 at 10:38 am and is filed under Expert Answers, Interviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

One response to “Paul Petersen Interview”

  1. Jake K says:

    GREAT interview! A lot to learn here for everyone, from beginners to high level athletes.

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