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.”