I first heard of Katie McGee in the mid-90s. It was during the William A. Irvin 5K, which is held in conjunction with Grandma’s Marathon weekend. During the race it seemed like everyone was cheering for this Katie gal that I was running near. Now Katie Koski, the 35-year-old Duluth resident remains a fixture in the 218 running scene – that’s the area code for those living along the North Shore and is often referred to by many of the runners from that area. At this year’s Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, Koski finished in 5th with a time of 1:18:29 and in the process took home awards for her age-group, first Minnesotan and first local finisher. My guess is if they had a Miss Congeniality award, she’d take that home too.
In addition to her own running, this spring Katie helped other runners prepare for Grandma’s Marathon and the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon when she taught a course via Lake Superior College. During that process she even created her own You Tube Channel where she talks about why she runs, describes things like strides, and demonstrates various core strengthening exercies. (Photo courtesy of Wayne Kryduba)
First off, congrats on your performance at the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon. What were your goals heading into the race and were you happy with your performance?
My main goal was to not be so pathetically slow and completely depressed post–Grandma’s, like I have been the past two years. More optimistically, I wanted to get the local record for the half, which was 1:19:00. My good friend and training partner, Kari Robertson, whom I have always looked up to as a runner held the record before me.
You’ve been running really well lately, winning the Firefighters 10-mile (59:40) and placing 3rd at the Brian Kraft 5K (17:31). Is your fitness the residual effect of the training you did while trying to earn an Olympic Trials qualifier?
I was really fit heading into the Shamrock Marathon on March 15th. I was sure I would get the trials qualifier. We didn’t have a good day—25-35 mph headwinds in the middle of the race. It was hard to watch the trials online race day. I thought I would be able to handle it, but as soon as I saw the runners on the course, I burst into tears. I was shocked by my response. Rather than keep moping and drinking so much stout, I decided to try and salvage a racing season to have something to show for all hard training in the dead of winter. I have also been working on my speed since December. I think too many marathons and running the Ed Fitz made me a slug the last few years. Suddenly, instead of being able to run in the low 17’s for 5k, my times were in the low 18’s. The loss of speed translated to poor performances all the way up to the marathon. I have been doing more speed training this year and it has helped me feel like a stud-muffin miler–chick instead of a plodding ultra runner.
Unfortunately, after qualifying for the marathon trials in 2000 and 2004, where you finished 65th and 54th, respectively, you failed to reach the 2:47 standard this time around, running 2:51. I get the impression, while you may have been bummed out; you’re not the type of person to let it keep you down too long. And I would not be surprised to see you at the 2012 trials.
I am going to try to make another trials, and I think I will do it. The last two trials I made the standard at Grandma’s and didn’t need to race another marathon. That strategy didn’t work this time around because we had two warm Grandma’s in a row. I waited an entire year to try and qualify again and then had to play the race-every-few-months game, chasing a qualifier. Of course I’ll do Grandma’s to try and qualify, but I will find a winter or fall race when the window is open if the qualifier doesn’t happen at Grandma’s.
What goals do you have for the rest of the year?
I want to run a PR in the marathon and break 5 minutes for the mile. I have run 2:42:33 at Grandma’s in 2002. I believe I can run faster than that. I know I am older, but my times are improving again. I had a great working relationship with Charlie Mahler when he was up North, and I set my PR in the marathon. But it got to be too difficult for both of us to work together long distance now that he lives in Northfield. I have a new coach, Vern Johnsen, and it has really helped to have someone whom I can meet for workouts and talk training with on a regular basis again. We both believe, at 35, my best running days are ahead of me.
When and how did you get involved with running? Did you run in high school and college and if so, where?
I ran for Duluth Marshall in high school. I started running in the 7th grade because a senior girl, Theresa Swanstrom, encouraged me to come out and would run with me on our distance runs. Like most people who are still at it, running became a part of my daily life; I could never imagine not doing it. After HS, I went to Connecticut College for a year and a half and was a Division III All-American. The East Coast was not a good fit for me, so I finished up my eligibility at Montana State University. Our team went to cross-country Nationals in ‘95, and I was the Big Sky Conference Champ in track in the 5k and 10k in ‘96 for MSU. I think Duluth’s running community has kept me going too. There are fewer of us than in the big city, but everyone is pretty committed. I can usually find a training partner to head out the door with me even on the worst winter days.
How would you describe your training philosophy?
I have always followed some adaptation of Lydiard Training. I love to do miles. I am never happier than when I am stringing together 100-mile weeks.
Do you have any key workouts that you like to use as a benchmark or your fitness?
I like to use local races or the Minnesota team circuit races to gauge my fitness. I guess that is because I am usually gearing up for Grandma’s as my main race every year. Also, I can never push myself in a workout like I can in a race, so races always give me more confidence than workouts.
What are your PRs?
Mile 5:00.00 (shit... no sub-5)
5k 17:01 (again... just over that minute barrier)
10 mile 57:50
Half 1:18:29 (PR at Grandma’s half this year!)
100k 8:00:28 (!#&!@!... just missed sub-8)
What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
Endurance is definitely my strength as a runner, and I think I am pretty tough mentally. Also, I love to train—which may be my weakness too because I never feel like I am doing enough unless I leave a run or workout exhausted. Extremes seem to be my thing-I’m working on it though. It is part of the reason I need close contact with my coach. Another weakness is I have asthma. There are some days when I will just not be able to have a good performance because I can’t breathe—hot and humid weather is the worst. It is hard to accept, but I am dealing with it by not putting myself in situations where I know my asthma is going to be an issue.
What is your fondest running memory?
Grandma’s 2002. My PR. I ran a negative split by over 2:00. Downtown Duluth I was so revved. I felt like I couldn’t run fast enough to make myself tired. Races like that are the trip we all crave. I haven’t had that experience for 6 years, but I still head out every day training, jonesing for another race like that.
Have you ever “Shhhh’d” a spectator that was about to cheer for you so that a competitor wouldn’t know you were sneaking up on them at the end of a race?
I have a lot of dirty tricks up my sleeve so watch out. But what I love about all my competitors in Minnesota is after the race we’re all good buddies.
Given that 2-time Grandma’s Marathon Champion, Doug Kurtis, once referred to you as, “That Grandma’s Gal,” is it safe to say that Grandma’s Marathon is your favorite local and/or national race?
It is my favorite race and yes...I’ve been getting a lot of grief about that title. Probably you noticed all the "Blah, Blah, Blah Grandma’s" in the previous answers. But I really do think we have a great race in Duluth. Running Grandma’s is something I look forward to every year. Even after a great half marathon, I wished I had run the marathon. I headed out on my bike on the course to watch the marathoners this year. When I saw Jenna Boren go up Lemon Drop, I got all choked up. She looked hot and miserable but her resolve was steely. The marathon is poetry; it is the real race, the true test of what you got. Grandma’s is special because it is my hometown race and because it runs along Lake Superior. I have that course in my bones. It was really hard not to go out there and gut it out this year. The half felt like a rip off; I hardly suffered at all. But, I wasn’t ready for Grandma’s after all those marathons, trying for the qualifying standard.
If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
I would run with Jan Ettle. I have so much respect for her and what she accomplished. She is the toughest woman I know, and the training she was able to do during her peak years was unbelievable.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
I wish I knew how many races I would run and how much I would love the sport. It would have saved me from puking in the woods my whole first cross-country season because I would get so nervous before races. Also, I wish I would have known how fast Kara (Wheeler) Goucher was going to get. I would have tried harder to beat her in at least one race in high school. It would be something to brag about even though she was only a little pencil neck 8th grader back then.