The subtitle of this blog mentions interviewing top local runners. At the time I wrote that I was implying age-groupers, but that doesn’t mean I’ll pass up the opportunity to interview professionals with Minnesota ties. Luke Watson, 27, grew up in Stillwater. During his last three years in high school, the Ponies won three cross country team titles, with Luke finishing 14th and 2nd before closing out his high school career with an individual title. He went on to attend the University of Notre Dame and he continued to shine in both cross country and track. He is now an assistant coach at Notre Dame and he is currently training for the steeplechase at the Olympic Trials, which begin at the end of June. (Photo courtesy of Alison Wade.)
For some reason I think of you as a miler and steeple chaser, yet competed in the 2004 Olympic trials at 5000 meters, finishing 14th. Are you focusing on the 5000 meters again for the 2008 trials?
I have always had a hard time figuring out my best event. The mile is a great glamour event but I’ve never been too enamored with the 1500m. The 5000m is a brutal painfest when I try to run a fast time but I like tactical 5000’s. The steeplechase is most like cross country, where I’ve always been most successful, so I’ve returned to the steeple and will race it at Trials this summer. [Note: Letsrun.com recently posted their steeplechase rankings HERE.]
I haven’t seen your name in any results lately. How is your training/racing going now that the trials are less than a month away?
I had mononucleosis this winter, so I didn’t run a step from early December until the end of January. Coming back, I had to take it slow and didn’t race until the very end of March. I ran well at the Mt. SAC relays in mid-April, running my 2nd-best time ever in the steeple to place 3rd at 8:37.21. Then I placed 4th at the TC 1 Mile in Minneapolis, which was a good performance off zero speed work. Since then I’ve been training hard and the legs are pretty tired but hopefully I come around by Trials. My final tune-up will be at the Hanson’s Midwest Distance Solution on Saturday June 7.
You’ll be 28 years old this summer. Do you see yourself running professionally 4 or even 8 more years? And what are some of your long-term goals?
Are you trying to make me feel old? Because it’s working! Thanks to the generous support of adidas, I’ve been able to give running a serious go for the last 5 years and counting. For now, the steeple is one domain where I really feel I have a lot of improvement coming. I have run so many races (9, but who’s counting) between 8:36 and 8:39 and yet my PR is still just 8:36.12!!! I am hopeful that the consistency I have developed in that range, along with having decent PRs in surrounding events, will one day soon lead to a huge drop in time. So you could say that is my biggest near-term and long-term goal. I have thought about racing a competitive marathon or two at some point, but every time I actually go watch a marathon I think, “Why would anyone want to do that?”… so we’ll see. Other than that, I try not to think too far ahead, I just focus on what I need to do today to improve; I train hard, race hard, and try to enjoy it!
I’m starting work on my Ph.D. in Accounting at Penn State this fall so I know I’ll be busy, but a lot of the work is flexible, i.e. reading research papers and performing my own research, so I’ll continue training and racing. Coaching the last couple years has been a similar lifestyle: I’m busy, and there is work to do, but much of it can be done on my own schedule so I can fit my training in.
Maybe one of the reasons I think of you as a miler is because of your two TC-1 mile victories. This year you beat your course record by 5 seconds, yet only managed 4th place. It seems like that race is becoming one of the best road miles in the U.S.
Yes, you have to give the TC Marathon crew a lot of credit for building that race from the ground up. The field this year was stacked! I felt good about my race there, because I haven’t trained for the mile very much this year—it’s all been steeple-centric. It is a tough uphill course, but the adrenaline I had in the final 3 blocks with the crowd screaming was incredible! Road miles are so exciting and the most popular comment I heard after the race from spectators was that they couldn’t believe how fast we were going. To put the race downtown and have the fans right there creates a new perspective for them.
The list of sub-4 minute milers is rather short. I can’t imagine that there are many brothers on the list. If there are any, they’re probably twins. So it has to be really special to be on that list along with your brother Jake.
Definitely. That is one achievement, if you could call it that, that will be really special and lasting to me. The only other American brothers who have done this are the Jeffersons, Sean and John, from Florida, who ran for the University of Indiana, but they are twins. Outside of the United States there are some more non-twin brothers, but it remains incredibly rare. I was fortunate to be there when Jake ran sub-4 and it was just one of the coolest things to see it unfold.
In addition, I doubt there’s another high school that has three runners on that list, when you include Sean Graham. I guess it’s no surprise that your high school coach, Scott Christensen, was named to coach this year’s U.S. world cross country team.
I believe South Eugene HS (OR) has more sub-4 alumni, but yeah it’s a rare club. It all stems from Scott Christensen. He’s a fantastic coach with an uncanny ability to develop athletes so that they run well in high school and continue to make huge improvements into college and beyond. Scott is one of the best coaches there is at any level. I was really proud that he was named team leader of the World Cross team this year. It was validation of all that he has done over nearly 30 years training young men.
Normally, I like to ask about training philosophy, but you’ve written a great 3 piece series for The Lead Pack that covers yours thoughts on middle distance training. In addition, you wrote a fun introduction that’s worth reading. How did you get involved with this website and can we expect to see more articles in the future?
I kept running into Derick Lawrence, the founder of The Lead Pack at meets because he coaches at Indiana State, and we got in touch that way. I enjoy writing so it’s fun for me to churn out these articles when I have free time. My middle distance training series is a good overview of the speed work that I use with the Notre Dame mid-distance men, but it doesn’t really cover the aerobic stuff we do, which is obviously a huge part of the training. Maybe that’s an idea for a future article. I’m open to suggestions.
What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
My greatest strength is that when I’m feeling good in a race, no one can outkick me. My biggest weakness is that there are times when I’m not feeling good (usually because I have overtrained myself), or when I’m in over my head in a race, or I go out too fast. Sometimes all those things happen at once.
What are your PRs?
800m: 1:52.94 (I never run this event)
1500m: 3:42.42 or something
10k road: 28:59 (I have never run one on the track)
If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
It would be a group run.
Andrew Carlson - always has a funny, self-deprecating story to tell
Matt Gabrielson - he and I have shared many miles, many woes, and many highs
Jason Lehmkuhle - I think Lehm and I could talk all day about where to go for brunch after a run. And then he would start running tempo and it would get real quiet.
Jake Watson - sub-4 bro
Scott Christensen - keeps it honest and has endless running knowledge
Steve Hoag, Ron Daws, Dick Beardsley - old schoolers
Steve Holman - I met him on a flight to Philly once, would have liked to chat more
Adam Lindahl - he gave me a shout out once so hey Adam, let’s run…
Jordan Carlson- the future
Finally, as a former teammate and roommate of Ryan Shay, I’m sure his death was shocking for you. Could you share your fondest memories of him?
Some of the best times with Ryan were after college, when we trained up in Mammoth Lakes, California. I was studying for the CPA exam at the time, and Ryan would always get me away from the desk for an off-road study break. We’d take off in his pickup and go tearing up these mountain roads. At one point, we got out to the end of a one-way trail, near the summit of a 12,000’ mountain. In a classic moment of brash youthful exuberance, we simultaneously looked to the peak and said, “let’s climb it.” The peak looked so close, and there were big boulders that we could scramble up so we thought we could make the summit in about 30 minutes. Two hours later, we found ourselves clinging to near-vertical faces of rock, climbing straight up. Of course, once we hade made up our minds there was no turning back. Eventually, we arrived at the summit. I have some amazing pics of that climb—the views were worth it. I also have a great shot of Ryan clinging to the sheer rock wall. It was a classic day: a spontaneous adventure, a challenge we overcame, a difficult but fun experience.