Although he had already placed in the top-5 at five different championship events this year, ranging from 10K through the half marathon, it’s unlikely that many people picked Jason Lehmkuhle to finish in the top-5 at the Olympic Marathon Trials. However, the 30-year old Minneapolis resident did just that when he dropped his PR from 2:16:27 to 2:12:54.
Prior to the race, Lehmkuhle, one of the charter members of Team USA Minnesota and his coach, Dennis Barker, received some nice press from Runner’s World online. The recognition has continued afterwards with this podcast. (Photo courtesy of Alison Wade)
First off, congratulations on your 5th place performance at the Olympic Marathon Trials. Having the 47th seed time, people have referred to it as a Trent Briney-type performance [Note: in 2004 Briney PRd by 8 minutes to finish 4th at the Trials] where you came out of nowhere. In reality, you’ve been running really well the last two years, including PRs at 10 miles, 20K and half marathon this year – all in 2:12-2:13-type performances. Would you say it was more of a breakthrough marathon than a breakthrough performance?
You're probably correct in the sense that I had certainly run some intermediate (10K-marathon) races since last summer that would predict a 2:12ish marathon. However, I'm certainly not going to correct someone for calling it a breakthrough "performance". It doesn't offend me. I hadn't proven anything in a race of that magnitude. There are not a whole lot of people, myself included, that were willing to bet any money on me finishing in the top 5 at the Trials... It has been frustrating. Even if you took the tune up races out of the equation, we (Dennis and myself) really thought the training I was doing in the build-ups for Twin Cities last fall and Boston this spring showed I was in 2:12 shape. I don't remember where I heard it or who to attribute the quote to, but someone called the marathon a "fickle mistress". I love that line. I'm not the first and I won't be the last person to struggle figuring it out.
Did the slow early pace help with your race plan?
I don't know that it specifically helped. I didn't want a "slow" race. I was just hoping the whole front pack didn't start out at Ryan Hall's goal pace. The first 10K split looked slow, but that was all in the first 2 miles. We were crawling out of the start. I'm not a very patient racer. Normally, when guys are looking around, stopping and trying to cajole someone into getting out and making it honest, it drives me insane. That was mistake number one (out of at least 10) I made at Twin Cities last year. I was so irate after the pack ran a 5:30 opening mile that I rushed to the front and ran a 4:45. The pack caught back up around 10 miles, and I settled back in. The damage had already been done though... My plan during the trials was simple, be patient, let the race play out and don't cover any moves that would force me to redline early on.
What were you thinking when five of the race favorites broke away just after 10K?
Honestly, I thought that pack was where the team would come from. In a break where that many of the favorites are involved, you can count on one or maybe two guys coming off the back, but not three... For myself though, I knew covering it would almost certainly spell disaster for me later. They went away hard, and, in spite of what that first 10K split might lead people to believe, we weren't running slow when they made the break. I had just split my last two miles in 5:00 and 4:56 before they moved. My decision to stay where I was certainly was buoyed by the fact that I was running in a group with Alan Culpepper, Brian Sell, Pete Gilmore and Khalid. If they thought, it was crazy to cover it. Then I would have had to be an idiot too.
You’ve had some difficulties during the late stages of your last couple of marathons; at the 2006 TCM you went through the half in 1:06 before finishing in 2:19 and at Boston this year you ran 2:38. Were thoughts of those races in your head during the last 10K of the Trials?
Not "blowing up" was really the only thought in my mind for a lot of the middle of the race. With one lap to go (21 miles) though, I really felt like I was going to hold together... Of course, 20 miles into TCM last year I "really thought" I would hold together too.
What does it say about the state of distance running in the U.S. when the silver medallist from four years ago wasn’t able to make next year’s team?
Remember the "fickle mistress" line? Meb's a phenomenal runner, certainly not the 8th best marathoner in the country. It speaks to the harshness of our qualifying system, one race with just the top three qualifying. However, as you said, it also speaks to the state of U.S. distance running. Having been in it for 8 years (since college), I've seen the transformation. It is SO much deeper than it was 8, 4 or even 2 years ago. The major difference in ‘08 is that, as a favorite, you can't have an off day and still make the team.
After the race, who was the first person you told you came in 5th and what was their reaction?
It's funny. After the race, by the time I had rubbed out my cramping hamstring, gone to the press conference and then to finish up at drug testing, about 2 hours had passed. At that point pretty much everyone had seen the results or talked to someone who had.
Prior to the race we heard a lot about the tough five-loop course through Central Park and a lot of the athletes were talking about course-specific workouts. Where and what kind of workouts did Dennis have you doing to prepare? Were you able to visit NYC to view the course prior to race weekend?
I did a lot of workouts down in Eagan on a loop with some long rolling hills. We did most of our specific marathon pace and long runs out there. The hills on the loop where a little longer and bigger than what was in Central Park but I thought is was great preparation. After the New Haven 20K, I did get a chance to stay in NYC for a couple of days and run on the course. I did a 25 or 26 mile long run on the course.
Now what? How close are you to obtaining a 10,000 meter qualifying time?
I definitely want to get back on the track in the spring. I don't have my 10K qualifier yet, but I'll give myself a couple of shots. I really think I could have run 10K PR on the track at any point this summer or fall had there been an opportunity. I should be able to run something around 28 flat in the spring if I'm healthy.
Finally, you and Ryan Shay both run for Saucony, he’s raced in the Twin Cities on numerous occasions and you spent some time training together in Arizona. Do you have any thoughts or stories you’d like to share about him?
I recorded a few of my memories about Ryan in my blog at the NYRR site. Ryan was an inspiring guy to be around. He was more focused, more driven and probably the hardest worker I knew. My thoughts and prayers go out to Alicia (his wife) and Ryan's family. He will be missed.