Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Chris Solinsky Ends His Professional Running Career

Chris Solinsky, the first American to break 27:00 for 10,000 meters, has ended his professional running career. Chris reached the decision earlier this year after a series of injuries dashed his hope of making the 2016 Olympic team at 5,000 meters.

“This summer I felt like I was getting rolling again,” Chris, age 31, says, “but in the fall I had Achilles tendinitis in my right leg that was slowing me down, and then my left calf seized up and I had a heavy limp. By the first of the year I hadn’t run regularly for six weeks. I thought, ‘I can’t even do simple stuff without falling apart. How am I going to get to the Trials, much less qualify for the Olympics?’ ”

With personal bests of 12:55.53 for 5,000 meters and 26:59.60 for 10,000 meters, set in 2010, Chris is the second fastest American ever at both distances. But the following year, he tripped over his dog while he was going down stairs, and what had been a chronic left hamstring strain became a full-blown avulsion, in which the hamstring tendons separated from his pelvis. Chris had surgery to reattach the hamstring in September 2011.

“I was 100 percent convinced I could get back to the level I’d been at” before surgery, Chris says. In the spring of 2013, Chris had his best post-surgery result, 13:23 for 5,000 meters. But he was unable to sustain solid training without injuries repeatedly popping up. After deciding July’s Olympic Trials were out of the picture, “I thought maybe I’d just keep running and compete when and where I can,” Chris says. “But I don’t really want to do that. That would feel like I was running for a paycheck, and running has never been like that for me.

“I’m very appreciative of what Nike has done for me over the last nine years,” Chris says. “It didn’t feel fair toward Nike to just be going through the motions. Nike was behind me 100 percent maybe longer than they should have been. They were there once my hamstring snapped off even when the times fell off.”

The Solinsky File
An eight-time state champion at Stevens Point High School in Wisconsin, Chris ran collegiately at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He won five NCAA titles before graduating in 2007. In his first full year as a pro, Chris placed fifth in the 2008 Olympic Trials 5,000 after boldly taking the lead in the last lap. Later that year, along with college teammates Matt Tegenkamp, Evan Jager, Simon Bairu and Tim Nelson, he moved to Portland, Oregon, as one of the original members of what became the Bowerman Track Club.

Perhaps the race Chris will be best remembered for is his 10,000-meter debut at the 2010 Payton Jordan Invitational. With a final 800 meters of 1:56, he finished in 26:59 and lowered the American record by 14 seconds.

“The 10K was that day when everything came together,” Chris says. “It felt relatively effortless. All three times I ran under 13:00 [for 5,000 meters] it was what I set out to do—that was checking off an accomplishment. All three times I was hurting two laps in and questioning whether I could do it. But the 10K was relatively effortless.”

The race was a good example of two areas in which Chris made an impact on U.S. running.

“First, runners come in all shapes and sizes,” he says. “You don’t have to be a scrawny little punk to be a top distance runner, if you have the determination and work your hardest.

“Second, I hope I’m remembered for not having fear. At the 2008 trials I didn’t want to just make the team, but to win. I came up 100 meters short, but not having a fear of failure helped me to get the successes I had.”

It’s interesting, then, that Chris doesn’t mention running 26:59 when asked what three things from his career he’s most proud of.

“Going back to college, the NCAA titles as a team, 2005 cross country and 2007 indoors,” Chris names as one highlight. “I will cherish for the rest of my life being part of a group that accomplished something that’s so hard to accomplish.

“The best race I ever ran was U.S. nationals in 2011,” Chris says about taking Bernard Lagat to the limit at 5,000 meters with a 7:37 last 3K. “That was the closest I ever came to beating Lagat. I looked at Lagat as a measuring stick against how I could do versus anyone in the world. He was not just best in the U.S. but the best in the world. I always wanted to go for that challenge—I thrived off the challenge. Running against Lagat made me a way better runner.”

Chris also cites the 2009 U.S. outdoor championships, where Tegenkamp, he and Jager went 1-2-3, respectively, in the 5,000. “A lot of my best memories are things done with my teammates,” Chris says. “We had worked hard all year and sweeping made it that much better.”

The Road Ahead
It’s fitting that someone who found meaning in connecting his efforts with that of others is now coaching. Since the fall of 2014, Chris has been assistant cross country and track coach at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

“I knew early on I wanted to coach,” Chris says. “I had two great coaches in high school, Donn Behnke and Pat Leahy, and [college and pro coach] Jerry [Schumacher] has been a great coach, friend and mentor. Seeing the impact they had made me want to get into coaching.

“While running I always tried to be observant,” Chris says. “What made Tegenkamp, Jager, Bairu, Nelson good was different from what made me good. I’ve tried to see what works for others and what makes them tick.”

One lesson Chris tries to impart to his runners is to mix realism with a dash of derring-do.

“As a racer I liked to stick my neck out there, and I preach that a little to the team,” he says. “I tell them, ‘Give yourself a chance to surprise yourself.’ That means different things for different people. Maybe you get yourself in a position you didn’t think you could be in, and with the adrenaline pumping you see what happens. You can’t be afraid of failure because if you are you’ll never succeed at the level you might be capable of.”

As for himself, despite the end of his professional career, “I definitely intend to jump in races here and there,” Chris says. “I enjoy racing—that’s why I started running. I really enjoy events like the Beach to Beacon 10K or Falmouth Road Race and getting out there in the running community. I definitely will always identify myself as a runner.”

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Get Your Copy of “Bannister: Everest on the Track” Today

We’re pleased to announce that our new film, “Bannister: Everest on the Track,” is available for pre-order on iTunes  and Amazon before its release on April 12.

The documentary details not only how Roger Bannister became the first to break 4:00 for the mile, but how his doing so inspired a world still struggling to emerge from World War II. Nike founder Phil Knight and IAAF president Sebastian Coe are among those in the film who describe how Bannister’s landmark accomplishment shaped their lives. You’ll also hear from world-class athletes such as Steve Cram, Tim Hutchings, Chris Chataway, Dave Moorcroft, Craig Masback and, of course, Sir Roger Bannister himself.

Indiewire named “Bannister: Everest on the Track” one of the best sports documentaries ever made, putting it in such company as “Hoop Dreams,” “When We Were Kings” and “The Endless Summer.”

Learn more about the film here, and order it here or here.

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Saturday, April 2, 2016

Laura Thweatt Wins Stanford Invite 10K, German Fernandez Gets Oly Trials Qualifier

Laura Thweatt, seen here en route to a 3,000-meter PR in February, lowered her 10,000-meter best on Friday with a win at the Stanford Invitational. Photo by Victah Sailer/PhotoRun.

It was a good night for KIMbia athletes running 25 laps at the Stanford Invitational on Friday.

Laura Thweatt won the fast heat of the 10,000 in 31:52.94. The time was well under the Olympic standard of 32:15, and took 23 seconds off of Laura’s previous personal best from three years ago. Laura dispatched her last challenger, eventual second finisher Alphine Bolton, in the last mile.

In February, Laura lowered her 3,000-meter PR to 8:57.11.

In his 10,000-meter debut, German Fernandez placed fifth in 28:06.64. The performance gives German a qualifying mark for the U.S. Olympic Trials.

German said after the race he was bothered by a side stitch, which may have contributed to his finishing outside of the Olympic standard of 28:00.

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Why Making U.S. Teams is Important to Naturalized Citizen Lopez Lomong

Lopez Lomong competes in the 2012 Olympics. He hopes to make another U.S. team at this weekend’s indoor national championships. Photo by PhotoRun.

For two-time Olympian Lopez Lomong and his Bowerman Track Club teammates, it’s highly convenient that the U.S. and world indoor championships will be held on consecutive weekends in their training base of Portland, Oregon. But Lopez would be aiming for a top finish in the 3,000 meters at USAs on Friday, and the subsequent spot on the world indoor team, regardless of the meets’ locations.

“The opportunity to race against the world best is never one to be missed,” he says. “In 2012 I competed in indoor worlds in Istanbul, and it gave me a chance to test out tactics against the world’s most elite runners. I learned a lot about what it would take to be on the Olympic stage and chase after a medal. You can never be fully prepared for the feeling of stepping into the Olympic stadium, but world indoor still gives a good taste and is like an Olympic testing bed. Everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are really magnified on that little indoor track!”

As a former Lost Boy from Sudan who was the American team’s flag bearer at the 2008 Olympics, Lopez has another motivation to wear the U.S. uniform—to be a counterargument to the harsh language on immigration that’s marked much of the U.S. presidential campaign.

“I think the discussion around immigration is one that will define the U.S. for many years to come,” he says. “Running has allowed me the platform to speak about the conflicts in South Sudan, the need to use athletics and sport in general to achieve greater goals, and this year about the importance of embracing immigrants.

“I will certainly be proudly representing the U.S. again this year and forever thankful to the people who opened their arms to me to give me a second chance. I pray that we as a country continue to believe in the American dream that is built upon our great diversity.”

Lopez qualified for indoor nationals with an indoor 3,000-meter PR of 7:43.01 at the Millrose Games on February 20. After years of battling muscle and nerve issues, he says a new focus on recovery has him feeling strong and agile. “The key for me is health so that when I line up I can pour everything into the race without any concern about pain,” he says.

Perhaps fitting for someone with such a broad international outlook, Lopez did much of his base training for this season on the other side of the world. His wife, Brittany Morreale, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, is currently stationed in Adelaide, Australia. Lopez joined her there for three months, training with a local group known as Team Tempo. He’s already pining to return.

“I am really encouraging [BTC coach] Jerry [Schumacher] to bring more of the team down next year so we can escape the cold, rainy Portland winter and train on the amazing park lands in the perfect Adelaide weather,” Lopez says.

After, of course, he makes one or more U.S. teams in this Olympic year.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Before Indoor Nationals, Evan Jager is Already Looking Ahead to the Summer

Evan Jager competes in his qualifying heat at the 2015 World Championships. He’ll use this weekend’s USATF Indoor Championships to practice racing tactics for his 2016 outdoor season. Photo by PhotoRun.

As is fitting for a specialist in a race involving 28 hurdles and seven water jumps, Evan Jager likes to look ahead, not back.

At the Paris Diamond League meet last July 4, Evan was meters away from winning the steeplechase in a sub-8:00 time. He tripped over the last barrier, but recovered almost immediately and finished second in an American record of 8:00.45. When asked whether he’s still haunted by the incident, Evan jokingly says, “Not really. The only time I really think about it is when other people bring it up or ask questions about it.”

Instead, Evan’s thoughts are totally oriented toward the summer of 2016.

“I only have two goals for this year,” he says. “Make the Olympic team in the steeple and medal at the Olympics if I am able to make the team.”

For Evan, this weekend’s USATF Indoor Championships are a means to those big-picture ends.

“My focus going into US Indoors is to work on my racing tactics and trying to win a championship-style race,” he says. “If I happen to make the world team I will be very happy and do my best to try to medal.”

That both meets will be held in his training base of Portland, Oregon, simplified the decision to run a brief indoor campaign. To get his qualifier for the meets, Evan placed fourth in the 3,000 at the Millrose Games on February 20. His time of 7:40.10 was just off his indoor PR for the distance.

“I would guess I’m in close to the same shape as [this time] last year, possibly just a little bit fitter,” Evan says. “We have trained just a little bit harder this winter compared to last year, and that is mainly because most of our team wanted to try to qualify for the World Indoor Championships here in Portland.”

That high level of fitness will be crucial to Evan’s goal of medaling in the Olympics. At last summer’s world championships, he led with one lap to go, perfectly positioned in the outer part of the first lane. But over the last 250 meters, he was unable to match the closing sprint of eventual winner Ezekiel Kemboi and the three other Kenyans in the race, and finished sixth.

After the final, Evan told Runner’s World, “They just have that quick step and can put five meters on you in no time, so it’s really hard to play their game. I’ve got to figure out how to do it my way. I don’t think I can do it their way and beat them.”

Months later, Evan says he meant both fitness and racing tactics when discussing how to get on the podium in a global championship. “I believe I have to be able to use race tactics that benefit my strengths, and in order to do that I need to be the fittest I have ever been so that I can follow through with those tactics,” he says.

So while Evan is looking forward to competing indoors in Portland this weekend, he has the much bigger events of the summer fully in sight.

“The biggest change I have made for this year has been my goals and my mentality,” he says. “The only thing that I care about and the only thing that I am thinking about this year is making that Olympic team and trying to medal at the Olympics if I make that team.”

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