If there's ever a break for Dennis Barker during the year, now is probably it. The Augburg College and Team USA Minnesota coach just finished up a busy fall of cross country and the Olympic Marathon Trials. With the track and field Olympic Trials scheduled for next summer, Dennis could have his hands full very shortly. Luckily, I was able to track him down and get his thoughts on Team Minnesota, yesteryear, and his best Henny Youngman impersonation. You can also get more of Dennis' thoughts by listening to this podcast from October.
The Olympic Trials Marathon was a month ago and you just wrapped up your college cross-country season. What are you doing with “all” your free time?
The Monday morning after the Trials I was working out with the rest of the Team USA Minnesota runners. All of the runners go through their training, racing, and resting cycles but because we cover a broad range of events throughout the year, there is always someone to coach. There is never a time when they are all taking a break at the same time.
The Augsburg Track & Field team also did a 24-hour Run-a-Thon. It’s a fund raising relay. The first snowstorm of the year began at the same time the run began. The team was undeterred though and covered 176 miles during the 24 hours, all outside. The throwers, sprinters, and jumpers all took their turns.
I also went to see No Country For Old Men, which I was looking forward to because the book was written by Cormac McCarthy, who wrote one of my favorite all-time books – Blood Meridian, and was produced by my favorite producers, the Coen brothers.
I’m also planning the next internal Team USA Minnesota training summit.
You received some nice press prior to the men’s Olympic Marathon Trials. You have to be pleased with Jason Lehmkuhle and Chris Lundstrom’s races?
Yeah, I’m pleased. The training worked and the plan was well executed. It was gratifying to see them both negative split and run so strong in the second half.
Heading into that race, what were your expectations for each of them?
Both Jason and I thought he had a chance to make the team. He put himself in position to do it late in the race and almost made it. I also thought he would set a significant PR, in the range of 2:11-2:13 depending on how the race went. I thought Chris could PR as well. He had a different challenge in recovering from the Pan Am Games Marathon in August and then getting in a short training period before the Trials. I think given the difficulty of the course, it was certainly close to a PR effort.
In addition to that race, 2008 will be a big year for Team Minnesota athletes. How do you continue building on what you’ve already established and resist the urge to work harder than normal, which could lead to over-training?
Except for Jason and Chris we were more low key this year both in training and racing just to be a little more hungry, under-trained and mentally fresh going into 2008. We also have built-in cycles that include down time, even when they don’t think they need it.
Team Minnesota definitely has a Midwest feel to it as many of the runners are from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio. Is that by design or did it just sort of happen?
Our priority has always been to provide promising distance runners from Minnesota and the Midwest with an opportunity to make the jump from collegiate to professional running. But if someone from California or Florida thinks they can handle it here, we would consider them.
Brooks-Hansons is another program that’s had success. Their men’s program is nearly twice the size of Team Minnesota. Is a larger squad something you’d like to see in the future?
No, we want to keep it at 12-15 with about the same number of men and women. That’s the size we feel is best to maintain a high quality program. Each of the major training groups in the U.S. does it the way that works best for them. Most of them have a revenue stream or are connected to a larger corporate entity. We’re a nonprofit. We want to be good, not big.
Could the Dennis Barker of yesteryear make the team?
My mind could have but my body wouldn’t let it.
What are your PR’s?
5K - 14:41
8K - 24:22
10K - 29:58
Marathon - 2:25:47
Who did you train with in your prime?
I trained on my own, which I think was best for me. I didn’t want someone trashing me when I was feeling bad or holding me back when I was feeling good. There were a lot of guys that I usually beat in races that I couldn’t have kept up with in practice (if they were telling the truth about their workout times). I was consistently a better racer than trainer. One of the few times I did a track workout with someone else I pulled my hamstring trying to stay with him. I did enjoy some long runs with John Hogan though.
Finally, is there a single biggest mistake that you see runners making with their training?
I don’t know much about most people’s training so take my wife – please (that was for all of you Henny Youngman fans out there). Anyway, her biggest mistake is that she doesn’t listen to me. No, I take that back. She listens to me too much. She overhears me telling people what to do over the phone and then goes out and does it the next day. But I never tell anyone to do anything easy over the phone, just hard, so she never gets an easy day. This has, however, led to the only Minnesota single-age record certificate ever being sent to our house. They didn’t have them when I ran. I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere for everyone.