Friday, February 4, 2011

2010 Highlight: Jason Hartmann

With the 2012 Olympic Trials on the horizon, Jason Hartmann is taking his career to new heights at just the right time. Apart from a 4th-place finish and PB of 1:15:38 at the Fifth-Third River Run 25k, none of his performances early in 2010 gave any indication of the piece de resistance that awaited in Chicago this fall. There, a 2:11:06 slashed over a minute from his lifetime best and earned him 8th place in the fastest annual marathon in the United States. The time also makes him the 8th fastest American since 2005. While that clear 2010 Highlight puts him on the short list of Olympic Team contenders, Hartmann is taking things step-by-step, as we move into 2011.

In 2009, you really stepped out by winning Twin Cities, then took another major step forward this year with a performance at Chicago that had to be the highlight of your 2010. What changed in your approach to running that allowed for the breakthroughs at Twin Cities and then again this year in Chicago?
In both races, I had something to prove. Before Twin Cities Marathon in 2009, I was out for almost all of 2008. I had three navicular stress fractures in my foot and my body gave out only two weeks for the 2008 Olympic Trials 10k qualifier. I had been injured for almost 7 months, and it took forever to rehabilitate and really come back. It was the second time I had gotten injured right before a track Olympic Trials 5k/10k, and I was so frustrated that I had greatly considered giving up the sport. I had asked friends to help me edit and work on my professional resume, and I started looking at viable career options. I didn’t know what I wanted, but some of my very best friends persistently reminded me again and again, that I was a survivor, and that I wasn’t the type to go down without a fight. So I started training again. I had some pretty horrible races both times leading up to Twin Cities, and again leading up to Chicago. All my track races leading up to Chicago were great for about 80% of the race, and then I would blow up. At both Twin Cities and at Chicago, while I was running, I told myself I had to make the whole year of training worth it, because none of my other races had amounted to anything, or had really shown how hard I had trained day in and day out. None of those races showed how much I sacrificed to stay in the sport.

Two of my best friends, Brett Holts and Casey Burchill, actually came out to Chicago to see me run the marathon, and I saw them during the race. They have always believed in me, and I like to think that I ran hard for them that day, too. For always sticking by me, and for knowing I could make a come back, even when I didn’t know it myself. I attribute some of my breakthroughs to the friends who have always stood by me: to Dathan and Kalin [Ritzenhein], and Phil Astras for always being someone I could talk to about my training, to Dathan and Jorge [Torres] for being my second family, to Brett and Casey for always inspiring me. These people are some of the hardest working individuals that I know, yet, despite however busy they were, they always made time to support me through thick and thin. I value that a lot in a friendship.

You’ve had a bit of an exodus the past few years, going from Nike to Strands and now back to Nike, all while changing coaches, training groups and home bases. What effect has that had on your training and your outlook on your career?
I am grateful that I have been able to take something positive from each and every coach I was able to work with, through it all. Brad Hudson was just as committed to the training as I was, and his dedication and enthusiasm were addicting. He became family, putting together get-togethers for my birthday, and caring about me off the “field.” Under Steve Jones, a very calm man, I was able to absorb that sense of serenity. I went from more complex workouts at sea-level to a very, very simple training plan under Jonesey. At altitude, he had us doing training mostly comprised of fartleks/intervals, tempos, and hills primarily for base work. The return to such simplicity of routine, week by week, reminded me of my high school training, and allowed me to find my love for running again. Under Lee Troop, I have learned how to individualize my training from that of a group’s. I am started to recognize what I, as an athlete, may need at various points of training, and adapt to these needs. Lee Troop is great about holding me back, telling me to “run low” (on trails in Boulder at 5800 feet) on an easy-run double-day versus “going up to run higher” (at trails ranging between 7-8000 feet) as we got closer to the marathon. Lee Troop focuses on all the tiny details while constantly reminding you to see the big picture, the final goal, and that really helps. The big goal is something I focus on, mostly, as an athlete—I only really have two races all year that are the primary training targets. Everything else is a tune-up.

I love Eugene, Portland, and Boulder equally — each has its benefits and each has become a part of me. After awhile though, I knew I needed a break from the Portland rain, and traded it in for a place that is sunny 10 months out of the year: Boulder, Colorado. I’ll always get back to Eugene/Portland for short spurts of time when I need to get back to sea-level to train or to run a track race, though, so I still get to see my old training mates for a run now and then.

Also, it took me awhile to realize how my training had to change when training at altitude versus training at sea level for both track and the marathon. Lee Troop has again helped me a lot in this category. Lee Troop has been around the block, and is pursuing his fourth [Australian] Olympic Team. You can trust that a guy like that knows what he’s doing. I plan on staying in Boulder and working with Lee for the duration of my career.

The final gem in my training leading up to Chicago was Patrick Rizzo, my training mate through it all. I have often times wanted to kill him, and have told him to shut up as many as four times on one run. Once, I challenged him to go longer than 30 minutes without talking and he couldn’t do it — he lasted 30 seconds! Regardless, training with Rizzo made me a better athlete, and I couldn’t have done this alone. Patrick Rizzo is a true Midwest guy, with a Midwest work ethic. Every workout he came to, he was ready to leave blood and sweat out on the course. I am excited to work with him again after we take our post-marathon break.

And how would you describe the place you’ve arrived at now?
I used to struggle with wanting success too much. When you become married to a time you want to run, or dictate so much how you want your season to go — such that you become incapable of flexibility or appreciating even minor improvements — it consumes you. Sometimes, when you train so hard and want something so bad, it hurts so much when you don’t get it, and you crumble inside and fall apart. I struggled for a long time after the second time I would have to miss racing an Olympic Trials 10k because of an injury.

Right now, I am in a place of gratitude. Getting injured and dealing with adversity humbles you. I am grateful for the coaches and training groups I have had the great fortune to work with, for the places I have been lucky enough to be able to train in, and for the friends who have always stood behind me, supporting me in this sport. When you feel gratitude, your instinct is to give of yourself, and now I’m in a place where I am really motivated to find ways to give back to the sport. Running, and the doorways (such as travel and friendships) that have opened to me through running, have given me so much, and I can only hope to give that back to someone else.

Getting back to Chicago, you told Larry Eder of RunBlogRun that you were seeing “mirages” the last few miles, thanks to the heat. Looking back, what were you seeing or thinking, and how did you cope with not feeling like you could trust your senses?
At Chicago, there are a lot of long straightaways. On a hot day, sometimes it can feel like the next turn is not coming fast enough. I coped with mirages of the next water station being closer than it appeared by reminding myself to run within myself, and to not get impatient. It being my fifth marathon, I had learned from past races that you have to trust what you know versus your senses at that point. In the marathon, you will always reach a point of exhaustion, or there will always be bad patches, where your senses say one thing, but that you just have to get through (because your training says you can). At these points, you just wish you could finish, especially from 35-40k, and the last 2k.

How would you compare the runner who popped a 2:11 this year, versus the runner who debuted in 2:15 back in 2006?
I think what has helped me a lot has been experience—this was my 5th marathon—as well as the willingness to analyze my performances, good or bad. Analyzing bad performances allowed me to recognize what I needed to adapt or change in my training. My first three marathons (Chicago, London, and the Olympic Trials marathon in NYC) were not the most successful races because I was either over-trained, having run 140+ miles a week leading up to it, or because something else didn’t come together on that day.

Something else that has changed since 2006 is my ability to focus on something else other than myself or my training. I made a commitment both in 2009 and again in 2010 to giving back to the sport, as it has done so much for me — specifically in devoting a lot of time to working with youth runners. I enjoy motivating them, teaching them about the sport, and bringing a new intensity to their training. I assistant coach high school cross country for Niwot High School, and I think that being around kids who just discovered cross country highlights the purity of the sport. They help me just as much as I help them. Seeing kids who aren’t worried about running so that they can afford to eat, seeing kids who aren’t pressured to run a certain time or get a certain place because they are scared they are going to lose their contract or not get some money, is refreshing. I think, in the last 2 years, I was able to find my love for running again, and I think my efforts to go to races and speak with youth, or assistant coaching high school kids, helped me find that. These kids train and run hard, simply because they want to see if they can rewrite their potential, set new limits for themselves. In the last two years, I remembered that I actually enjoy training.

What is your favorite workout for the marathon?
Not mona-fartleks, hahaha. Definitely not mona-fartleks. A mona-fartlek is a workout where you alternate between a steady pace (about 5:00 mile pace) and faster than that, back and forth for anywhere from 13 to 20 minutes… and that workout will definitely break you. Especially up here at altitude. It’s the kind of workout where you’re fighting just to get through it, and in a way, that mentality simulates the marathon.

At 2:11:06, you’re just 20+ seconds off the PB of Olympian Brian Sell. Certainly you have to think you have a shot at making the Olympic team in 2012, but what does the road map look like for you from here until the Trials in Houston?
Lee Troop (my coach) and I have yet to map out a training/racing plan that far into the future. Initially, he and I talked about focusing on some cross country, and then deciding from there whether to focus on track or do a spring marathon. Either decision, I feel, is a good one. I do have to admit, I would be excited to have the opportunity to run a fast 5 or 10k — I don’t yet feel that I have been able to put together a 5k or  10k on the track that speaks to my potential (based on workouts), and I am eager to further develop myself as a track athlete as well as a marathoner.


(L to R: Jason in New Haven / a run-in with an angry animal… / …and a cool animal, his dog Max / running XC in Boulder)
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