Since most people are very receptive to being interviewed for this site, I thought why not interview the best runners from my age-group. Maybe they’d share a secret or three that would help my running out. With that in mind, I tracked down Kelly Mortenson (no relation to Bruce). With such results, this year, as a 25:20 8K, 32:25 10K and 1:14:14 half marathon, the 36-year-old Minneapolis resident is currently in the top-25 in the Open Division of the Runner of the Year standings, while sitting at the top of the 35-39 age-group. (Photo courtesy of Curt Lyons.)
When and how did you get involved with running?
It all started about a hot girl. She was out for high school cross country and I had to meet her. I tried desperately to hang with her on runs but she destroyed me in practice and blew me off for the fast guy on the team. I still kept at it and that is how it all started. O.K., I wish that was how it all started but the reality is that I started running in fourth or fifth grade. I trained with my dad and two brothers for the local summer race, the Hat Daze 5 Mile in Canby, MN. I would train for about a month and then not train again until the next summer.
Can you tell us a little bit about your high school and college careers? Where did you run and what are some of your accolades?
In high school I ran for Canby, MN. I was an O.K. runner but never really excelled until college. I ran around 4:40 for the 1600 and 10:03 for the 3200. Once I hit college at Moorhead State my mileage really jumped. I went from 20 – 25 miles/week during high school to 65 – 75 miles/week in college. That really helped my development but I was still the 2nd – 3rd guy on the team. We had a national champ in the 5K on the team and a guy that could run 30:20 for the 10K. I still managed to be one of only two runners in school history to be a three time All-American in cross country. I also was All-American in the 10,000 meters placing 5th. Way back when I was running in college, Moorhead State competed in the NAIA and they had a marathon at Nationals. During my senior year in track I trained for and experienced my first grueling marathon. I finished third, capping off a decent college career.
And after college, I believe you ran in the Olympic Trials. What year and what event? And how was that experience?
Yes, after college I ran in the 2000 Olympic Marathon Trials. It was one of my greatest experiences as a runner. I remember running in about 70th place through eight miles and just feeling lousy. At mile nine or ten I suddenly charged up a long hill and just started passing people. I remember passing some of the best runners in the U.S. like Steve Plasencia, Todd Williams, and Joe LeMay. Passing them just made me feel even better and I finished up 12th with Rod DeHaven winning.
Where were you training at that time? Were you being coached at the time and/or running with a group?
Leading up to the Olympic Trials I was training out in Colorado Springs, CO. It was great out there. The city is full of trails with probably 85 – 90% of my running on them. About two months before the Olympic Trials I moved back to Minnesota to get in some faster, marathon specific training. During that time I was self coached but ran a lot with people from the Run-N-Fun racing team.
Now you’re 35-years-old and in, arguably, the weakest age group around (I can say that because it’s my age group too). How do you stay motivated?
Well, actually I am 36 now and still in the weakest age group around. But just think, in a few years it will be the toughest with Joey Keillor, Pat Russell, and Chris Lundstrom coming in. [Ed: Yeah, but I'll be 40 by then.] It is pretty easy for me to stay motivated. I just love running… nah, that is not quite true. I actually love competing and racing and the feeling I get after a good race or workout. I also stay motivated by running two – three days/week with members of the Run-N-Fun race team. Most of them are in their mid – late 20’s and still at the top of their game so it makes me feel good when I can keep up in a workout or long run. I just have to make sure I take a couple easy days after running with those guys.
With the number of top runners coming and going, you’ve been able to be one of the top local runners for a long time now. What do you attribute your longevity to?
I think that the main reason I have been around for so long is that I have been fairly lucky in not getting many injuries and have been able to get in consistent training for a long time. The only two injuries I’ve had have been recently. I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and took about five months off a few years back. Last year I had a bulging disc in my back and still do but have been able to keep it under control by stopping my weight training routine and mainly focusing on core strength and body weight resistance exercises like push-ups and pull-ups.
What are your goals for the rest of 2007?
My main goal for 2007 is to run well at the St. George Marathon on October 6th. My training has been going well so far this summer and I really think I can run 2:19 – 2:21 there. If I can do that then I would run in the Olympic Marathon Trials one month later. After that I would run the winter XC Nationals in December.
Another goal for the year is to beat Gear in the rest of the road circuit, as we are neck-n-neck right now with two races remaining. I think it is great though that other teams like Ford and Collegeville are getting more depth on their teams to mix it up with the Run-N-Fun and Gear/Runner’s Edge who has won the team circuit for a number of years.
When I interviewed Melissa Gacek, she mentioned that you were her coach. Can you outline, in detail, her complete training program? Just kidding. Seriously, you have to be incredibly happy with her results at Grandma’s Marathon as she ran 2:47:59 – keeping in mind that she “only” ran 1:22:12 and 1:23:00 half marathons 4 and 5 weeks out, respectively.
I was really happy for Melissa on her Grandma’s performance. Melissa and I both think that on a better weather day she could have ran a minute or two faster. She has run 2:45 in the past, before she had her daughter Vivian, and she is finally getting back to where she was before the 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials.
Are you coaching anyone else? Are you trying to build up your clientele?
Yes, I coach between six and ten people depending on the time of year. Locally, I am currently assisting Melissa along with Brant Hollenkamp, Julie Fiepke, Mary Ross, Ross Substad, Jeff Metzdorff, Trent Hatlevig, Chris Grossinger, Eric Hartmark and Mike Little. Eric and Mike have a great shot of making the Olympic Marathon Trials. Right now I am not really trying to build up any more clientele as I work full time at Run-N-Fun, coach 6-10 athletes and try to keep somewhat in shape myself.
While you may not actually coach them, it sounds like a number of the top local runners come to you for advice. Why do you think that is?
I am not really sure why people come to me for coaching advice. Maybe it’s because I am the old guy on the block and they think I am knowledgeable or because I’ve been around for a while and have had some success running/racing.
I don’t have a coaching certificate or any sort but have read probably every book on training theory and the exercise physiology of running. I have successfully coached some runners, especially in the marathon, and I think they just tell other runners about their positive experience. I’m pretty sure that everyone I have coached has PR’d except for one runner... I don’t want to name names but he once ran for NDSU and just turned 30 in July!
What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
I think my main strength is that I have been fairly injury free and have been able to run the miles it takes to be successful at the half marathon and the marathon. At my peak, when I ran three sub-2:20 marathons, I would do 2-3 high mileage weeks of 120-140 miles then a recuperation week to race or to recover from the previous training weeks. I knew going into a race that I may not be the fastest runner out there but I knew that I was one of the hardest and best trained runners.
I think my main weakness is that I have really no inherent speed. Back in college and after I was called “one speed Mort” so I had to make sure I had a substantial lead on anyone before the finish line or I was toast.
What are your PRs?
1 mile 4:17
Half marathon 1:05:49
What is your fondest running memory?
My fondest running memory has to be running in the Olympic Marathon Trials. It was such a great experience competing against the best runners in the U.S. and a memory that I will have for the rest of my life. Hopefully, though, I can make it to the Trials one more time even though I probably won’t do as well there as last time since the Olympic Trials are only one month after my qualifying race.
About the only regret I have is that I wish there would have been programs like the Hanson’s or Team USA back when I was in my prime. I think it is great that there are programs now where you can get 10-20 athletes of the same ability training together and striving for the same goals. I was one of the original members of Team USA Minnesota but was already in my early 30’s and starting the downward spiral at that point. I am grateful though that they gave my old legs a chance.
Do you have a favorite local and/or national race?
My favorite area race is the Mac-Attack 5K down in Rochester. It may have a different name now but the course is super fast and goes around Silver Lake. In all my times running that race I think I only ran slower than 15:00 once.
My favorite national race is the St. George Marathon in Utah. It is where I ran my PR of 2:19:20 and is a stunning course starting up in the hills west of St. George then running down through gorgeous red rocks as you come into town.
If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
There are so many great Minnesota runners now and in the past that it is hard to choose just one to run with so I’m going to choose two, one guy and one girl.
The first person is Ron “Dawsky” Daws. He ran for the U of M in the '60s and became a great marathoner making the 1968 Olympic team along with a couple Pan-Am teams. I chose Ron because he was not that great or talented of a runner back in high school or even college but he worked his ass off to be the best he could be and improved a lot by being consistent with his training. He reminds me of myself as I started out and worked hard to improve.
The second person I would like to run with is Carrie Tollefson. Not only is she a super talented Olympian, she is a great role model for lots of kids. She made the 2004 Olympics in the 1500 but I would say that her best event is probably the 5000. For being such a talented athlete, Carrie is remarkably humble about her accomplishments. She goes to many track/cc meets to talk to kids and help motivate them about their running. The kids think it is so cool to have someone of her caliber talk to them and also be so down to earth.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
That it takes more than just sitting on a street corner eating ice cream cones and dreaming about being a good runner to actually going out and becoming a good runner.