At Grandma’s Marathon last June, Michael Reneau, 28, lowered his PR by 4-minutes to 2:20:28, thereby qualifying for next November’s Olympic Marathon Trials. Considering his father placed 10th at the 1968 Trials, it’s safe to say that Michael is following in his father’s footsteps. The Houlton, Wisconsin native holds PRs of 15:00 (5K), 24:42 (8K), 30:53 (10K), and 1:06:42 (half marathon).
In January, Michael will toe-the-line at the Houston Marathon. After that he’ll be moving to Rochester Hills, Michigan to train with the Hanson’s Distance Project. This is the first I’ve heard the news, so a huge congratulations to Michael. The local running scene will miss him, but we look forward to watching his progress on the National scene. (Photo courtesy of Wayne Kruduba).
First off, congratulations on your Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying performance at Grandma’s Marathon. Heading into that race, what was your confidence level that you would run sub-2:22?
I was confident that I had prepared myself to run the B-standard or better. After that, it was just a matter of executing on race day. Of course, there was still a healthy amount of doubt going into the race. There are too many variables in the marathon to be completely confident in any outcome other than pain and exhaustion. Those are guaranteed.
Would you say you were more relieved than elated afterwards?
I would say equal parts of both. I had tried for an Olympic Trials standard at the Twin Cities Marathon in 2005 and failed. When you fall short of a goal that has been the focal point of training for months - it is easy to start doubting yourself and your training. That was definitely the case for me after the TCM. So, it was a relief to prove to myself at Grandma’s that I was capable of accomplishing the goals I had set for myself.
I really liked your quote in the last issue of Minnesota Running & Track; “Less-than-ideal conditions are always less of a factor when you are feeling strong.” During that I race I saw you at mile 14 and you were leading the chase pack. You looked strong and confident at that point. Were you feeling strong the whole way?
Actually, I had let that group go early in the race. I was running with Corey Stelljes (from Wisconsin Runner) early on, and both of us backed off the pace when the group came through one of the early miles in 5:12. It wasn't until mile 13 that we were able to close the gap again. The chase pack lasted a couple more miles and then it was pretty much a solo effort.
And, yes, I did feel strong and confident at that point in the race. My splits were right on target - consistently in the 5:18-5:22 range - and I felt comfortable. Seeing those splits mile after mile built my confidence. It wasn't until the last 5k that I really started to struggle, but the spectators were a real lift at that point. One of the great things about the Grandma’s course is that, because of the layout, the spectators are pretty much confined to Superior Street, around the DECC, and in Canal Park - where you really need their support. And, they were great.
Was there a point in the race when you realized that sub-2:22 was “in the bag” or, because it’s a marathon, were you cautiously optimistic the whole race?
I remember thinking that if I could maintain pace through Lemon Drop Hill (mile 22), then the B-standard (sub-2:22) was pretty much in the bag. I also knew that I was still close to pace for the A-standard (sub-2:20), so I tried to press a little harder. Unfortunately, there was no speeding up at that point - the extra pressure just allowed me to maintain pace.
Prior to that marathon, you ran 2:24 at the 2005 TCM. What other history do you have with the event?
I also ran a 2:26 at the 2004 TCM. Earlier that same year I ran a 2:36 marathon at the Mad City Marathon. That race was basically the final exam of a marathon training class that I had participated in while finishing up my undergraduate degree at U of Wisconsin-Madison. It was my experience in that class and in that marathon that sparked my interest in the marathon.
Now what? You’ve got your qualifier but the race is still 11 months away (and 17 months after you qualified). Do you plan on doing another marathon before the trials or just stick with shorter races?
Yes, I will be running the Houston Marathon in January. I think it is important to get in the experience of running another marathon, and, hopefully I will run a bit faster so I can go into my last segment of training for the trials with more confidence and loftier goals.
After the Houston Marathon, I'll also be moving out to Rochester Hills Michigan to start training with the Hanson’s Distance Project. Those guys have proven that the team-based approach to training is the ticket - so I'm really excited to be a part of that program! Group training with Ryan [Meissen] (20th at the 2004 trials) and Jason [Finch] (2:23:20 at Grandma’s in 2005) has been the most important element of my training to date. I hope to build on that experience at Hanson’s where I'll have the opportunity to train with some of the best marathoners in the country every day.
The local running scene is winding down and winter is right around the corner. What do you do during the winter months? Do you run the (few) local races, hit the indoor track circuit or just look forward to building up a solid base for next spring?
This is the first time I've been healthy going into winter, and I intend to take advantage and train hard throughout. It'll be interesting to see what kind of quality workouts I can get in after it snows. In my experience, when running during the winter, the effort may still be there, but the times slow down a bit. So, I guess I'll just try to base my workouts more on effort rather then depending too much on my stopwatch.
Alright, let’s back up. I assume you started running because of your dad, Jeff Reneau, is that right? What is your dad’s marathon PR?
Yeah, my dad was a big part of it. His success was probably also why I started so late to the sport. I knew that if I was going to go for it, it would have to be an all-out effort, not something I could participate in casually. That wasn't because I felt the pressure to compete on the same level he did, but more so because I felt if there was a chance that I could be as successful - it would be a shame to only half-ass it and never realize that potential.
His personal best in the marathon was a 2:23 at the Kosice Marathon in Czechoslovakia. Pretty solid time when you consider that those were the days when there were only a couple water stops out on the course, races were run at high noon, the course layout wasn't always designed with fast times in mind, and the shoes - damn you should see what they used to run in! He also ran close to that time in the 1969 Boston Marathon where he was 11th. And, he ran in the first Olympic Trials race in 1968, placing 10th. When he married at 27, he pretty much quit the sport competitively.
I’ve read that your dad ran with the late Olympian, Ron Daws. Since I’m a huge fan of Daws (both his running and his writing) I’m curious if your dad has shared any good stories?
Yeah, he’s got a bunch of stories about Ron Daws and others he was training with. He’s also got some great pictures, training logs, etc. You’ll have to interview him sometime. He’s still training hard and should get some good races in next year.
Does your dad provide an advice on running or what to expect at the trials?
The classic dad quote (borrowed from Archie Griffin I believe) is that “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog” - which is probably applicable since there will be plenty of big dogs in that race.
During my research of Ryan Kleimenhagen I found out that rather than running track in high school, he played tennis in the spring. In your case you wrestled. Do you think that focus on something other than running helped your long-term development as a runner?
Possibly. I know that many of the most talented runners never make it beyond high school and college. It is hard to train and compete at a high level for a long time. And, I think the tendency for younger athletes is to push as hard as possible all the time - which lends itself to burn-out or injury at a younger age. I experienced the same thing with wrestling. After I quit the sport, it took me about five years before the desire to compete athletically in any capacity came back to me. I also think the transition to post-collegiate running is difficult for many runners - who are accustomed to a structured training environment.
And really, even though people are quick to point out the contrast between wrestling and marathoning, the two sports are similar in that they both require a ton of discipline and hard work. In that regard, wrestling was great prep for marathons.
Since you wrestled in college (at Wyoming) I assume you were pretty good at that too. Better than you were at running?
No, but I tried to be. I wanted to be a great wrestler, and I worked really hard at it. With average talent and an above-average work ethic, I still managed a 119-24 career record in high school, which is pretty respectable. However, I was in over my head at the Division I level. And, when I wasn't enjoying the competition anymore I quit. From that experience, I learned that hard training isn't always fun, but competing should always be fun or you may want to consider doing something else.
There have been some articles locally about your high school cross-country team that included you, Ryan Meissen and Jason Finch. Were you all in the same class? Did your team make it to state? How did you guys perform individually?
Finch was a year older than Ryan and myself, but we were all on the same team for two years. The second year, when Finch was a senior, we were pretty tough. We placed three in the top nine at the state meet, but had no depth, and ended up as the ninth team.
Since I ran with Finch in college, I can ask this. Have you ever put him in a headlock or body slammed him?
No, but the thought has crossed my mind. Of course, that would require lifting him above my head, which I could barely manage with bag of dog food these days.
It’s pretty cool that, up until recently when Meissen moved away, the three of you trained together. Do any of you guys have a coach? If not, is there a certain plan you tend to follow?
No. We are all pretty much self-coached. Ryan often played the role of coach though, especially when I was just starting. One of the great things about runners is that they are usually quick to share what they are doing for training if you ask. You can learn a lot after hundreds of miles of question-and-answer with someone. Beyond what I have gleaned from other runners, I rely on Daniels’ Running Formula pretty heavily. I have read and re-read that book probably a dozen times.
How frequently did you guys run together? Can you describe these runs (i.e. where they long runs, tempo runs, easy runs, hammer-fests, etc.)?
Up until Ryan moved, I ran with him almost daily and about 2-3 times per week with Finch. Yes, many of our "easy" days had a tendency to take on the feel of a workout and many of our workouts felt an awful lot like races. You see, Jason is a one-stepper and Ryan is the quintessential front-runner (something that they would both own up to). So, on many of those days I just tucked in behind and weathered the storm.
From what I can gather, each of you run a little different weekly mileage with you being the highest at around 120-130 mpw. Is that correct? Is that a peak figure during your marathon training or an average? Have you always been a high-mileage guy?
For the current segment, my mileage peak was almost 150, with an average for the last ten weeks of about 120. I am finally getting to the point where I feel like I can run around 120 miles per week on a regular basis without compromising the quality of my workouts during the week. Ryan puts in about the same mileage and Finch runs a bit less.
It has taken some time to get to that level, and I don't see myself cutting back on the volume anytime soon. It's just impossible to ignore the results guys like Dick Beardsley were getting from putting in a ton of miles. There may be guys out there with the talent to run great marathon times off of 80-90 mile weeks, but I definitely don't have that talent. The beauty of the marathon though is that you can close the gap on the guys with great talent by working harder and logging more miles, which is what I intend to do.
What other key components make up your marathon training (i.e. lots of tempo runs, marathon-paced runs, long runs, shorter races, etc.)?
Tempo runs, longer marathon pace runs (up to 10 miles), occasionally some shorter intervals (3 min or less), and short hill repeats (0:30-1:00). About every third long run, I'll finish with 6-8 miles at marathon pace. In my preparation for Houston I have added some strength training as well - with Luke Carlson at DiscoverStrength. I think the strength gains should help, but more importantly, I think the strength training has allowed me to train harder with fewer injuries, and recover faster.
Do you have a benchmark workout that you like to do leading up to a key marathon?
I'm big on specificity - so leading up to a marathon I like to do a lot of marathon-paced workouts. To simulate the fatigue you feel in the latter half of the race, I'll run 15-16 miles about a minute slower than marathon pace, followed by 6-8 miles at marathon pace. Another great workout I ran about a month out from Grandma’s was a 2 x 5 miles at about 10 seconds faster than marathon pace.
Do you have any secrets for nailing your taper?
I haven't perfected it yet either, but one of the mistakes I think people make is eliminating the quality altogether. Instead of coasting those last 2-3 weeks until the marathon, I think it is important to incorporate workouts into the taper - ending with a short marathon-pace workout 3-4 days before the race.
Do you have a favorite local/national race? Why?
Grandma’s Marathon and Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon. Scott Keenan and his staff know how to put on a race, Duluth is a great host city, and I love that lake.
If you could run with anyone (past or present), who would it be?
I've got a pretty good thing going right now with all my running partners, and I'll have a great group out in Rochester Hills, so I'm pretty content. Though, I wouldn't complain if Dick Beardsley showed up for a long run tomorrow morning.
Do you have any running heroes?
My dad, of course. He is a great runner, but that is only a small part of what makes him a great man. I've never had to look far for great role-models - my family is full of them. Dick Beardsley is pretty amazing as well. I have read his book for inspiration a few times when I'm frustrated with my progress or recovering from an injury.
Who is the toughest runner you've competed against?
Ryan [Meissen] is about as tough as they come. He's a pretty easy-going guy until the gun fires, after which all he wants to do is (as he would say) "step on your throat".
What's your favorite place to run locally?
It doesn't matter much if I have some good company. If I'm running solo, Willow River State Park in Hudson, WI.
What do you know now that you wish you’d know when you first started running?
After training and racing a couple years in the area, I have finally developed a really solid network of support - including chiropractors, PTs, massage therapists, coaches, race directors, training partners, and on down the line. Networking is as important in running as it is anything else. It would have been great to know all these people from the beginning. And there are plenty of great people to know in this community that love this sport as much as I do. I'll definitely miss them all while I'm Michigan, but I'll be back!
Finally, how do you balance running with being a Physical Therapy student? How much more school do you have left and what to you hope to do afterwards?
Actually, I haven’t even started the PT program yet. I have spent the past year and half taking the prerequisites I need to get into a PT program. Now, I’ve put off applying to go to the Hansons and prepare for the trials. So, in marathoner-speak I have “hit-the-wall”, albeit temporarily, in my PT studies.