Garrett Heath graduated from Winona High School in 2004 as one of Minnesota’s most decorated high school athletes. Last fall, as a redshirt sophomore, Garrett helped lead Stanford to a 4th place finish at the National cross-country meet. Competing as a junior in track, Heath ran an 8:01.96 3000m on 1/26/07 and followed that up 2 weeks later with his first sub-4 mile, clocking 3:59.60. He finished up his indoor season at Nationals by running the 1200m lead-off leg of the victorious Distance Medley Relay (DMR) team and placing 4th in the mile. (Photo courtesy of Alison Wade at eliterunning.com)
You just wrapped up Indoor Nationals, can you tell us a little about your meet?
Indoor Nationals went extremely well for both my team and I. In terms of the DMR, we went in with high expectations and had really been focusing on it all season long, as we had hit the qualifying time early on. It was something that we knew we could win if everything went well for us, but having the mile prelims prior to it made everything a bit more nerve racking. I was probably the most nervous for those prelims as they were the first race and something that shouldn’t be too hard, but also had the potential to really mess things up. They ended up going fine though and I was able to win my heat. After that, it was just a matter of trying to relax and recover during the 2 hours between prelims and the DMR.
I was the first leg on our DMR and ending up splitting 2:56. This was a little slower than I would have liked, but I was a little tired from the earlier race and it was a bit tactical. Our 400m and 800m legs ending up splitting 46 high and 1:48 for us respectively to really step up and carry our team that day. They were PRs for both of them. Our 1600m leg was also coming back from the mile prelims, but he was still able to have a great kick and hold off Cal for us in the last straightaway, as their team also put together a strong performance there. It was an amazing thing to be a part of and win by such a small margin.
The next day in the mile was just like icing on the cake. I was pretty sore from the night before, so I sat back for most of the race, and then tried to make my move in the last 300m. I think I ended up splitting 56 for the last 400 and got 4th. It was a great experience all around for me and really got me excited to keep it going outdoors.
Earlier in the indoor season you ran your first sub-4 performance. Congratulations. Was that your goal heading into the race?
Thanks, breaking 4 minutes in the mile is something that I have always wanted to do, even when I considered myself strictly a distance runner, so the fact that I’ve been creeping closer, has made me focus on it even more. Last year, I started to transition into more of a middle distance guy than I used to be and ran a sub 4 split on our DMR, so I knew that I could do it if I focused on the mile this indoor season. It was just a matter of getting in the right race, staying healthy, and having everything come together on the same day. I’ve told myself in the past that if I ever broke four, I was going to stop running. I guess I’ll probably reconsider now, but it has definitely been one of my biggest goals up to this point.
How’d the race play out?
The rabbit ran exactly what he said he was going to; 58-59, 1:58 - but we gave him a little gap, so we came through the first 400 around 59 seconds and then preceded to run in that line until 800 where we came through around 2:00. Right around 1200, where we came through in about 3:02, people starting getting anxious and three guys passed me. I made my move with about 250m to go, moved up into second place behind my teammate [Russell Brown] with 100m to go, and finished in the same position about a half stride back.
What other goals do you have this year for Outdoor track?
I am looking to focus more on the 1500m this year, rather than the 5000m like I have in the past. I haven’t really considered all my goals yet for the outdoor season, but I’m sure a big one will be getting to nationals for the first time outdoors. It is a longer season than indoors and just staying healthy for the next three months or so will also be key to running well at the end of the season. Right now I’m just getting back into the groove of things again after taking a little down time to shake the legs out and get them feeling fresh again following indoors.
What do you consider your best event/distance?
I used to consider myself purely a cross country and distance runner with my best event being the 5000m, but I think now my best event is the mile. I loved the shorter distances in high school, and didn’t really begin to consider the mile anything more than just an occasional fun race to mix things up until last indoor season, where I surprised myself with some faster splits than I was used to in the DMR. After that I tried to switch back and focus on the 5000m outdoors again, but had a minor injury and was never able to get the base that I needed to run fast in that. After finally training for the mile this indoor season I think I’ll probably stick with it outdoors and see how things go.
This is your third year at Stanford. Are you happy with your choice of schools? What other schools did you consider?
Yeah, I love it out here. I miss a little bit of snow to ski on occasionally, but other than that, it is great. I can’t say that I don’t like the warm weather for running year round, the team is great, campus is beautiful, and I enjoy the major I’m in (Management Science and Engineering). When I was looking at schools I really considered Minnesota, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Princeton, and here. They were all great schools for different reasons, but in the end I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come out to Stanford.
Next year, your brother Elliott will be joining the Cardinal. How much input did you have on his decision?
I really tried to not influence him very much, as I wanted him to make the best decision for himself, but in the end I couldn’t help but be very supportive of his decision to come out here for school. I tried to give him honest and unbiased advice throughout the process on what I thought about the other programs and teams he was looking at. I think he had an extremely hard time making the decision between a couple schools, but in the end, I think it helped our cause here at Stanford that he and I are really close. I couldn’t be happier with the decision.
Speaking of brothers, are you and Elliott ever compared to Luke and Jake Watson?
I don’t think so as far as I know. Luke and Jake are both great guys though, so if we were, I’d be cool with it.
As a fan of the sport, I get a sense that U.S. distance running in gaining momentum. Whether it’s a couple of medals at the Olympics, Ryan Hall’s sub-hour half marathon or all the post-collegiate teams, something seems to be working. Do you get that sense and is it something you hope to be a part of in the near future?
Yeah, I think that U.S. is finally building a strong base of distance runners again and to see things like Ryan breaking the hour barrier for the half marathon is inspiring. I think everyone here in the U.S. gains confidence with a performance like that because it proves that we can make an international impact again and it gives more people reason to continue training post-collegiately to see what they can do. We might not be able to win a gold at the Olympics yet, but we’re making progress. In terms of myself, it’s too far off to say what my plans for after college are. If things go well, I may try to pursue track, but I also wouldn’t mind getting back into some skiing and biking, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
In high school, you dominated your junior and senior years, winning 6 state titles in each of those years (1 in cross-country, 3 in skiing and 2 in track – 1600 & 3200). How many races did you lose in that time frame and what do you attribute your success to?
I remember losing three races in that time, but that’s not to say that there weren’t more. In terms of skiing, I know that I lost the skate portion of the pursuit race at state senior year to Joey Sem, so I really only won 5 titles senior year, and also losing another ski race in the middle of the season sometime junior year I think. Other than that, I know that I lost to Hans Storvick in the 800m at our conference meet senior year 1:52.40 to 1:52.42, or something like that - something that Hans still likes to remind me of. It was a PR for me at the time though.
Fellow Minnesotans, Forrest Tahdooahnippah [Minneapolis Southwest] and Shannon Bergstedt [Hopkins] are now teammates. How are they doing?
Forrest had a great cross-country season this year and ended up being our 3rd guy at nationals. He really improved all throughout the season and was a big part of why we were able to get 4th at nats. All in all, he’s been running great, and I think that he’s looking to focus on the 10k outdoors and qualify for nationals in that. Shannon is starting to look good again as well, and will probably get back into a regular racing schedule again here soon, as she is healthy and has a strong base. I think that she is going to have a good outdoor season and then really make an impact next cross country season for the team.
You actually started skiing before running. Have you been able to ski at all since high school? Do you miss ski racing?
I really only get a chance to ski once a year when I come home for Christmas break now. I still love it as much as ever and could see myself getting back into it sometime in the future, as I do miss the meets and the whole atmosphere that comes with them. I was never one for the rollerskiing though, so I don’t mind only running and biking in the summers these days. I also noticed this last winter when I was back home skiing that I’ve lost a bit of upper body strength from those skiing days that I would most likely have to build back if I ever got back into it.
Finally, how’s the weather and how’s your golf game?
The weather out here has been amazing this year with a shorter than usual rainy season. As of late it’s been mid 60s to 70s and clear skies, but I haven’t been able to hit the links too much recently. Last time I was out was probably a month and a half ago and I think I ended up shooting around 41 for nine holes, but generally my game is pretty up and down, one day is great and the next day nothing will go straight. Other than that, we live next to the range here so I usually make it out there every once in a while to hit a couple of balls with my roommates.