It’s been a busy spring/summer for Elliott Heath, the recently graduated Winona high schooler. At the state track meet he defended his Class AA 3200 meter title in Class AA record time of 9:02.65 and placed fourth in the 1600 meter run in 4:10.88. Elliott then went on to finish third in the 2-mile run at the Nike Outdoor Nationals (NON) in 8:46:12. Heath wasn’t done yet as he won the junior men’s 5,000 meter at the USA Junior Track and Field Championships in 14:36.32 and followed that up with a silver medal at the Pan Am Junior Championships in Sao Paulo, Brazil with a time of 14:34.06. (Photo courtesy of Alison Wade)
Wow, where to start; another state title, a couple of national titles, silver medal at the Pan Am Junior Championships. What were your goals heading into the season? Are you happy with how the year has played out?
Coming into this years track season I had pretty high expectations because I felt like I had a much better base than years past after running all winter and because of the success I had in Colorado [winning the national junior cross-country title] this winter. Coming in to the season the main goals that I was focused on were trying to win state in the 1600 and the 3200 and being in the top three at NON. Overall I was very happy with the results of my season. I felt that I really started to peak at the right time and that everything fell into place at the end of the season.
High school runners usually plan their season around conference, sectionals and (hopefully) state. How do you and your coach alter your training/peaking, seeing that you ran 3 more important meets after your high school season ended?
Going into the season I discussed with my coach that I definitely wanted to run at NON, so we really focused my season around peaking for the two-week period of state and NON. My coach worked it out so that I started to peak a little bit for the section 3200 because we knew that I was going to have to run a fast time before state to make it into the fast heat of the 2-mile at NON. As far as running the 5000 at USA’s, that was a decision I made after I ran at NON. It was something that I had thought about a little bit throughout the year but I was just waiting to see how I felt after state and NON. After NON, I still felt pretty fresh and motivated to keep running so I decided to run USA’s and just see what happened. After qualifying for Pan Ams I was really excited and figured that it was just two more weeks of training so I decided to go for it. As far as training/peaking for all of these races, I ended up doing a lot of the same things for the last month of my season. After the section race I had about one week between each of my meets, so I just repeated the same taper training week over and over. Then after USA’s I had two weeks until Pan Ams so we adjusted a little bit for the first week but then went back to our taper week for the week before the race. Overall I think my coach’s training plan worked really well and I think not racing as much as I have in the past early on in the season helped a lot to keep fresh towards the end of the season.
This fall, you’re going to join your brother Garrett at Stanford. Have the Stanford coaches had any input regarding your recent training and/or racing schedules?
I have not really talked to my coaches at Stanford at all about my high school training or racing schedules. I just worked with my high school coach for training and my racing schedule this year really came down to what I wanted to do. However, I am very excited to start working with the Stanford coaches and start my summer training.
With the long track season, are you planning on running cross-country in the fall or will you red shirt?
I have not talked a whole lot to my coaches about this issue, but I think it will really come down to whether or not I am able to contribute to the team this year. The decision probably will not be made until later in the season because I probably won’t be in that great of shape until later in the season due to such a late start I have gotten this summer. If I am running fast and able to contribute to the team, I would love to run this year. Otherwise, I would be fine with red shirting. I will just see what happens when I get out to school.
Speaking of cross-country, in February you won the national junior championship 8K and earned the right to represent the U.S. in Mombasa, Kenya. You ended up not making that trip. Did that make representing the U.S. at the Pan Am games in Sao Paulo, Brazil more special?
Anytime you are able to represent the U.S. in an event, it is a tremendous honor. The decision not to go to Kenya was very hard for me because I was all set to go and then issues arose that made my family and I reconsider the decision to go. I was pretty disappointed that I did not go but looking back on it I think that it was the right decision for me at the time. So when the opportunity came to go to the Pan Am games I was really excited because of missing the opportunity to run against international competition this winter. However, I feel that if I were to make any future U.S. teams, the excitement would be the same.
What was your goal heading into the Pan Am meet and how do you feel about your performance in the 5000 meters?
Going into Pan Ams my goal going into the race was to make the podium and be in the top three. It was a little different feel going into the race because I didn’t have any idea about the times and racing styles of any of my competitors. I knew that the race would probably come down to a fast finish but even that I was unsure of. After the race I was very happy with the way it worked out. Given the very close race [Mexico's Diego Borrego won in 14:33.16 to Heath’s 14:34.06]. I felt like I gave myself a chance to win and I was happy to make the podium.
What would you say to people that are critical of your racing strategy and say you’re more concerned with winning than pushing the pace and running a fast time?
I’ve always believed that in big championship races you have to do what you think gives you the best chance at winning the race. Sometimes that means going fast from the start and sometimes that means sitting back and kicking at the end. I think a lot of times when you put fast guys together that fast times just happen naturally. This year at the state meet I sat back and waited for the right time to kick, but the week before at sections I went out hard from the gun to try and run a fast time. When it comes down to the championship races, it is all about racing for the win.
Garrett just ran a sub-4-minute mile earlier this year. Is that on your list of long-term goals? What else would you like to accomplish before hanging up your spikes?
Garrett’s accomplishment is really awesome and is definitely something I would like to do in the future. Some other goals that I have for the future include making the USA Junior Teams in both cross country and track next year, making the Olympic Trials, competing in Europe down the road and eventually hopefully run in the Olympics. I’m sure that many more goals will materialize over the next few years in college.
This year, with cross-country and track, you’ve run a lot of different distances, what do you consider your best event?
Right now I would probably consider my best event to be something a little longer like the 5K or something around there, but that could easily change over the next few years. I think at this very moment the 10K would be a little long but hopefully that isn’t the case at the end of this coming fall. Between cross country and track, I like cross country a little better and I think that I do well on the hillier terrain. Either way I like doing a variety of different races.
Distance running in the U.S. seems to be on the rise again. No place is that more evident than with the Minnesota boys’ high school scene. Competition seems to be at a whole new level with guys like Rob Finnerty, Hassan Mead, TC Lumbar, Ben Blankenship and Ryan Little, just to name a few. Is that something you guys are aware of and how does it feel to be a part of it?
I would definitely agree that distance running is on the rise again. I think that this has a lot to do with the competition level both in our state and around the country. I’ve always thought that competition makes everyone better. In Minnesota I think that the rise in distance running relates to guys running fast times, like when Rob [Finnerty] ran really fast and won state in both the 1600 and the 3200 as a freshman. I think that him doing that elevated the competition level because everyone saw him do that as a freshman and figured that the times were only going to get faster and figured that if they wanted to be competitive at state they were going to have to run fast times too. More than anything it is a mental barrier. It feels great to be a part of the rise of distance running again, but I think that this is only the beginning.