Even though Jason Finch, 29, is from Wisconsin, he does enough of his racing in Minnesota to “qualify” for an interview on a Minnesota site. I was a senior at UW-Eau Claire when Jason was a freshman. While he didn’t set the set any records that first year, it was obvious that it wouldn’t be long before he was collecting all-American honors. Prior to college, Jason grew up in Hudson, WI and was high school teammates with Ryan Meissen (20th at the 2004 Olympic Trials Marathon) and Mike Reneau (2:20:28 at Grandma’s this year). Recently he’s done much of his training with these guys, so you’ll see him refer to them throughout the interview. All 3 are preparing for the Houston Marathon in February. Jason will be looking to improve his 2:23:20 enough to meet the Olympic Trials standard of 2:22. Photo courtesy of Wayne Kryduba.
When did you get started running and how’d you get involved?
I started running because I found out I have a very large competitive streak. When I was about 11 or 12 my sister, who is 2 years older than me, ran Junior High track. She’d go running and I’d go with her. She was good at everything and I wanted to beat her at something.
Can you briefly recap your college career? What years were you at UW-EC, number of times you were All-American. College PRs, post-college PRs, etc.
I ran at UW-Eau Claire from 1995-1999. I was a 5 time all-American; once in cross-country, once indoors and three times outdoors. My PRs are;
5K 14:33 (indoors)
8K 24:19 (X-C)
10K 30:46 (outdoors)
5 miles 24:13 (this fall)
In college it seems like all we had to do was mention Ryan’s name and how well he was running and it’d get you all fired up.
Yeah, it was a two-way street. He’d run some fast time and you guys would give me a hard time. Then I’d respond with a fast time and his teammates would give him a hard time. It was great fun because even though we weren’t on the same team he was such a motivator. I knew he was out working so I needed to be out working too.
About a year after graduating you moved to Oregon for a while. How was your training/racing during that time period?
Motivation was an issue for me. I was in this running Mecca, but I wasn’t motivated. I’d go for 10-12 mile runs, but I’d only do that 2-3 days a week. So I was only running 25-30 mpw.
You came back in 2002 for the Twin Cities Marathon. What was your training like for your debut marathon?
After not running very much for two years, I ran 53:13 for 10 miles at the Apple Blossom run in Medford, OR. That made me a little cocky and in April I decided to do TCM. From April until September I ran about 50-70 mpw; more 50s than 70s. I ran 3 long runs in that time; 17, 22 and 19. Needless to say, I was in somewhat okay shape, but nowhere near where I needed to be. At TCM, I went out in 71 at the halfway point. I ended up running 2:35, including 43:35 for my last 10K. I still use that as a motivator.
In that race Ryan ran 2:20:56 and qualified for the 2004 Trials. Did that make you get serious again?
Yeah, for about a week and then it (motivation) wasn’t there.
You can’t force that motivation, can you?
No, it’s just has to come. You can’t force yourself to go out and do it. It’s not going to happen. You have to want to go out and roll.
What happened after TCM?
I moved back to Wisconsin in March 2003. I had been in town about 3-4 weeks and I got a call from Ryan saying, “Hey, this is my schedule. Any time you want to meet me, let me know and we’ll go for a run.” At first I just laughed because I was so out of shape, compared to him. But I called and I’d run 5 miles when he was going 12 or 13.
I was thinking, “This is going to be great.” I worked my mileage up towards 70 mpw then I went and ran an indoor race and UW-EC. Afterwards I ran a 9- mile cool-down in the snow. I tweaked something in my knee and missed 9 weeks of training.
Was that your worst injury ever?
Yeah, I’ve had other things, but I can usually force myself to just shuffle along. With this, I couldn’t get out the door.
Once you got healthy, did you join Ryan again?
Yeah, and it was about the same time that Mike showed back up in town after graduating from UW-Madison. [Editor’s note: Mike had just run his first marathon in 2:36:21 in May 2004] When he showed up everything just fell into place. Ryan and Mike ran together nearly everyday. With my work schedule, I’d meet them about 4-5 times a week.
I was so out of shape but they did a great job just getting me out the door. And if I needed to cut a run short, they weren’t like, “That’s just your head.” They’d say, “Take it easy. See you tomorrow.” Having two guys back me up like that was something I hadn’t had in 4 years. It was cool.
At Grandma’s in 2005 you were the first American and ran 2:23:20 in your second attempt at the distance. I remember talking with you at the finish and you were pretty fired up. What was your mileage like leading up to the race and how did the race go for you?
My highest week was 82 miles and I probably had 5 or 6 runs of 20 or more miles. I was on-pace to run sub-2:22 through 21 miles. I just didn’t have the base or the strength. After 21 miles, I slowed down like 10-15 seconds per mile.
At the same race a year later you dropped out. What happened and how was your training different?
I fell off the pace (for 2:22) at 14. I continued on before dropping out at mile 22.
For 2006, I actually ran a hell of a lot more miles. I was running 90-95 mpw and probably had 9-10 runs of 20 or more miles.
Do you think you were over-trained?
I think it was a combination. I think I chopped my taper too much. I went from like 70-80 to 60 to 10. I wanted to be totally fresh. I also caught a sinus infection the Tuesday before the race and was on antibiotics.
It wasn’t like I didn’t think I couldn’t run 2:22 still. But I was overanalyzing everything. It totally played with my mind.
Obviously a DNF is disappointing, however you seem to have bounced back well this summer with a 52:04 10-mile in July, 31:09 10K in August and 24:13 5-mile PR in September. Were you happy with your racing this summer?
Yeah. Last year I was doing a lot of the team races for Run ‘n Fun after the marathon. It was hot and muggy and my legs weren’t recovered yet. This year I decided to pick and choose where I wanted to race.
Last time I spoke with you, you were just planning on taking one more crack at 2:22 at Grandma’s. Now you’re planning to run Houston in February. What spurred that decision?
The first three days after dropping out of Grandma’s were brutal. But the recovery after that was fantastic. I took it easy for one week and then my mileage didn’t go down for 9 weeks. Even the weeks of the three races you mentioned I ran 87, 92 and 100 miles.
Increasing my mileage and decreasing my racing over the summer led to my decision to run Houston. I figure if I tank I’ll still have a shot to throw it down at Grandma’s or another spring marathon. When you have a large base, you really only need 12 or 13 weeks to build up to a marathon.
When you’re bumping your mileage, are you adding more runs or just running longer? How many times a week are you running?
I just add more miles to the runs. Right now I’m running 7 or 8 times a week.
Are you coached or what type of program do you follow? What’s the plan for Houston?
I don’t have a coach, but I still talk with Sean (Sean Hartnett, Jason’s college coach) a little. I basically run how I feel and do what I feel. If I feel like hills, I’ll run hills. If I want to run a tempo run, I’ll run a tempo run.
A little bit of my program is in conjunction with Ryan and Mike. I’ll ask what they’ve got planned and tell them what I’m thinking. If we’re on the track, we might not all be doing the same thing, but we’ll go at the same time.
I have 9 weeks before I have to start my taper for Houston. I want to run between 105 and 115 mpw.
Will you add two-a-days to get that kind of mileage?
Yeah, in order to get 105 miles or more, I’m going to have to add more runs. But it does help that my long runs are getting so monsterous. This Sunday (Nov 5th) will be 24 and next Sunday (Nov 12th) will be 25.
Will that be your longest?
Yeah, I started at 20 and added a mile per week till 25. Then I’ll work back down to 20 by decreasing a mile per week.
How do you approach training for a winter marathon while living in Wisconsin?
If it’s just mileage you go out and you just run slower. You’re out there longer, but it’s time on your feet that matters. You just make the best of it. This will be my first winter marathon so I’ll have to see how it goes. If this winter is like the last couple, I may be able to be on the track through the beginning of January.
Do you have a benchmark workout that you like to do leading up to a key marathon?
I love doing 3 x 3 miles on the track at just faster than marathon pace. The rest is like 2:00 – just enough to get a drink and walk 200 meters. I’d like to do this workout more often but I’m afraid I’d end up hammering the pace.
What kind of strategy will you use in Houston? “Bank” some time early, even splits, ease into it, etc?
I recently read where someone was talking about putting a “cap” on their splits. I like that idea, so my plan is to run nothing faster than 5:19 and nothing slower than 5:25. I want to stay right there because anything in that range will be sub-2:22.
This summer you switched from a retail job to a desk job. How’s that going?
It’s great. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to increase my mileage. Every weekday I’m able to run at 5 PM. The consistency is crazy.
Finally, if you could run with anyone (past or present), who would it be?
Is there a limit? Definitely Roger Bannister, of course, Pre and Frank Shorter.