Utahrunning.com: Maybe to get us started, could you tell us about your running background and how you got started into running?
Paul: I didn’t run until my senior year in high school. I grew up in Blackfoot, Idaho. In the summertime we all had jobs moving irrigation pipe in the potato fields, so we’d go out at 4 o’clock in the morning and move the lines again at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. When we got big and strong enough that we could pick up the pipe and run with it, we’d run our lines both ways because we got paid based on how many of those quarter-mile sections of irrigation pipe we moved. If you ran then you could make more money because we only had an hour and a half window before they turned the pumps on again. I was running from the time I was about 13 or 14 years old, every summer, but it was moving irrigation pipes. I didn’t run competitively until my senior year in high school.
Utahrunning.com: You ran here at Weber State. Tell us about some of your college highlights there.
Paul: I ran first at College of Southern Idaho, which is a junior college. I only ran one year. I wasn’t recruited by an NCAA Division I program, or wasn’t fast enough. Then I took fourth in the Junior College Nationals in the steeple and got the attention of the Division I schools. I ended up at Weber because of their distance tradition and Chic Hislop was coaching here. I was his second qualifier that he had to qualify for the NCAA Championships, and he was really just learning the steeple at that time. I was one of his guinea pigs.
Highlight wise, I made it to the NCAA Championships, was the USA Track and Field All American. I didn’t make the finals at the NCAAs in the steeple though but my senior year I got pneumonia and it wiped my season out, so I really felt unfulfilled as a runner. I wanted to keep doing it when I finished college.
Utahrunning.com: You definitely did some great things after college. You became a competitive marathoner and running on the road. Tell us about that transition and what events you competed in post-collegiately, maybe some of the highlights.
Paul: It was just right after I came out of college in 1981; they made it legal to earn prize money and still run in the Olympics. So the road racing boom was kind of taking off with money. It took me a long time to develop because I was working fulltime, teaching school, so I was getting up and doing my morning run at 5-5:30 in the morning, and again in the afternoon, and on my feet all day. I had a family, so my progression was a long time. I really didn’t get real good until eight or nine years after college. But I started running marathons because that’s where the money was. Eventually figured that event out. It took a while.
I won the Houston marathon in 1990. Made more money in one race than I was teaching school all year. So that afforded me the chance to go back to graduate school and I ran fulltime for several years. I got a master’s degree and was then a competitive road racer. I really got to race all over the world. I’ve been all over Europe and Asia. I was in Russia when it was still communist, and ran the first prize money sporting event they ever had. I’ve been just about everywhere. I made the World Championships for the US and raced in Katzenberg, Sweden in the World Championships. It was a good career. I got to see the world and places that I never would have gotten to otherwise.
Utahrunning.com: As you trained for competition post-collegiately, you mentioned getting up early and getting your run in. How did you find time to fit that training in? What drove you to do that?
Paul: The big thing was I’d get up and get it out of the way early. And then it didn’t take away time from my kids or family. They certainly had to sacrifice because a lot of times I’d be on the road when there were things going on with them. But the big thing was making it a priority and being disciplined with it. No matter what the weather was, or what the conditions were, I knew I had to go out because somewhere somebody I was going to be racing with was training and they weren’t sleeping in and they probably weren’t even working a fulltime job. So I needed to take advantage of the window I had to train. I just got in the habit of laying everything out every night and roll out of bed and be running within five minutes, so that I could sleep as long as possible. I got into a pattern that way.
Utahrunning.com: What do you think contributed most to your success in road racing?
Paul: I think a lot of it was not giving up and continuing to learn and to develop. But also I’d always pick peoples’ brain any place that I went. I knew a lot of world-class people that I got to know — Olympians and Olympic champions and I’d always ask questions. For the most part they were willing to share. Part of it was figuring out trial and error and then asking questions about what are these guys doing that are faster than I am that I’m not, and tweaking it.
I had a couple of guys that were real good career-wise, Paul Cummings. He spent a lot of time with me. He was an NCAA Champion in the 1500 and mile and ended up being a world-class marathoner. He shared a lot with me. He was older than I was, and I learned an awful lot training-wise from Paul.
Then I one time drove a 12-hour drive to spend 8 hours with Joe Vigil who is another very good marathon-type coach. We spent the whole day just talking training, so part of it was to learn and trying to get myself access to the people that had the knowledge, that I didn’t.
Utahrunning.com: Now as a collegiate coach and distance-running expert, tell me about the impact that training groups can have on a runner’s fitness level. What are some of the benefits of those training groups and maybe some of the drawbacks as well?
Paul: The benefits are you have someone else out there, not just you alone all of the time. If you’re going through a hard workout it helps to have somebody else there with you. I was fortunate that Ed Eyestone and I trained together for about 12 years, and it made both of us better and prolonged our career, both of us, because if we didn’t feel like doing a workout we knew the other one was going to be there. And we committed, so we’d both be there. We didn’t have days where we’d say I’m not going to go hard today, because we’d already set it up and arranged it. We didn’t want to let the other one down.
The downside of the training groups is you have to make sure that you’re there to train and not to race. One thing about Ed and I is we worked very hard. People would come in once in a while and want to train with us and I don’t think we ever had anybody last longer than two weeks of running with us, because we did some pretty hard workouts. But we wouldn’t kill each other. It wasn’t I’m going to run Ed into the ground, and he was saying I’m going to run Paul into the ground. It was here’s what we want to accomplish today workout wise, and that’s what we’d go do.
You have to be careful not to turn the workouts into races when you’re in a group. We got along well enough and were smart enough to realize it wasn’t advantageous for us to destroy each other in workouts. It was the racing that mattered and counted.
Utahrunning.com: Feeding off each other in those workouts was what the real benefit was.
Paul: It was, and you’re training with a guy who’s world-class, and you’re running the same workouts. It’s also a mind shift to think if I can run with him in workouts I can race with him. If I can run with him in workouts I can run with anybody in the world. We kind of fed that off each other also. We’d talk races, strategy, and workouts, just to try to get both of us to be the best we could be.
Utahrunning.com: You’ve continued to stay fit over the years. Do you mind telling the Utah running community how young you are, and maybe how many miles a week you’re still putting in?
Paul: I’m 54 and I still run quite a bit. This last week we had a meet at Stanford, so my miles are down, but two weeks ago I ran 105 miles. I’m between 85 and 105 miles a week. But I’m fortunate I’m able to run with my team on distance days. If it’s a distance day I’ll go out when they do and run with them. If it’s a hard day I’ll get up earlier and do my long run in the morning and maybe a short one after the workout. I’m still anywhere from 85 to 105. But I don’t do fast stuff. I don’t do hard workouts anymore. I just like being healthy. I can stay healthier if I just run distance now.
Utahrunning.com: How’s that weekly mileage changed for you over the years?
Paul: When I was competitive and still racing and making my living doing it, I was anywhere from 125-130 up to 160 miles a week, plus the hard, quality work miles in there that I don’t do now. So now I’m just a casual, recreational runner, but I do a lot because I enjoy it and because I can. I’m healthy enough to be able to get out and go. Sometimes people ask my why I run so much and I’ll say because I can. I enjoy it.
Utahrunning.com: What do you think would be the secret to making running a lifetime pursuit?
Paul: I think just being smart about how you do it. It used to be when I had to be on top of everything I’d go out no matter what. Now I’m okay to just cut back if I’m tired, or slow down. I think you have to learn to read your body. When I was a competitive racer I had to learn to read my body also. But I think the big thing is to be consistent with it. It’s much easier to stay in shape than it is to get in shape. Once you’re there I think consistency is the key and getting out. I’ll take a day off once in a while but it’s not all that often, because I feel better when I run every day. I think that’s the thing, just making that habit and being consistent.
Utahrunning.com: Is there any additional advice you’d like to offer up to aspiring runners, final words of wisdom to the Utahrunning.com community?
Paul: Not really, other than there’s a lot of talent out there, and people don’t realize what talent they have until they spend some time to develop. Distance running is an endurance event that takes years and years to reach potential. A lot of people give up, especially the young. It’s difficult when you get out of school and have a job and a family but you just have to stick with it and see at what level. That’s the thing that kept Ed Eystone and I going is we just wanted to see how good could we really be.
Utahrunning.com: You were able to achieve some great things. We really appreciate you taking the time, Paul. We hope to hear from you more in the future.