The argument could be made that Patrick Billig is having the best season of anyone on the roads in Minnesota. The 47-year-old Roseville resident has won his age-group at nearly every distance from 1 mile to the half marathon. At the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, Billig's 1:13:51 placed him a whopping 5:28 in front of his nearest age-group rival. His only blemish this year came at the hands, or legs, of Wisconsin's John Mirth at Get in Gear. It's no surprise that his performances have placed him squarly at the top of the ROY standings for 45-49 year olds. (Photo courtesy of Wayne Kryduba.)
When and how did you first get involved with running? Did you run in high school or college? What other sports did you play as a kid?
I did not play many organized sports as a kid. I do have nine brothers and three sisters, so our house was a gathering spot for pick-up games of football, baseball, basketball, etc. I also lived a block away from skating and hockey rinks, so I did a lot of skating and hockey in the winter. I played school basketball through 8th grade and intramural basketball in high school. I played tennis my freshman year of high school, and practiced all summer. I loved tennis, but unlike a lot of my teammates I actually liked the 1-2 miles we had to run before most practices. I decided to go out for cross country in the fall of my sophomore year and then went out for track in the spring.
Would you say you experienced success in running right away or did it take awhile?
I was successful in high school, setting the school record for the 2 mile and I participated on the 4X400 relay school record team. However, I significantly improved throughout college and continued to improve after college.
According to Athlinks.com, all of your early races this year were faster than last year. Actually, your 15:53 at Brian Kraft is your fastest 5K on the list. As a 46-year-old, that’s not typical. What do you attribute your recent times to?
After recovering from a hernia and some other injuries related to a down hill ski fall in 2002 (the year I turned 40), I had four years (2003-06) in a row from age 41-44 where I had great racing and training. My training in 2007-08 was fairly inconsistent, but I was healthy and felt good on my runs. This year my running has been much more consistent, which has led to better performances than the previous two years.
I also noticed a Neal Billig in the Brian Kraft results. Is that your son? If so, how do you handle his involvement in the sport without being an overbearing parent?
Neal is my son – he has always loved running, but also loves lots of other sports. He has played travelling basketball and soccer so he has been too busy to get over involved in running – mostly it has been just for fun. He will be a 9th grader at DeLaSalle HS and plans go out for soccer, basketball & track. My daughter Anne will be in 11th grade at DeLaSalle and has been on the soccer, basketball & track teams. My youngest Lindsay will be a 7th grader at St. Rose School and she participates in competitive gymnastics. I enjoy watching them all and love that they all have interests in athletics along with school and other activities. My wife, Kim also enjoys being physically active and has done many road races including some marathons and triathlons.
The Athlinks list also shows you run a marathon every 3 years or so, whether you need to or not. Do you prefer the shorter races?
Normally I prefer the shorter races – where I can put in lower miles and still be competitive. I have the Marathon bug again this year and plan to run the TCM this fall. I think the shorter races are more about the competition and the marathon is more about the big event and the training.
Last year you tied for Runner of the Year for 45-49 year old men with Peter Kessler. So far this year, you’re leading the way in your age-group. How much do these standing help motivate you?
It’s fun to see the close competition in my age group, where I’ve tied twice & won and lost in some years by 1 and 2 pts. However, I tend to focus my training on a couple of main races a year, such as Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon and TC 10 mile and also do the MN TAC team races. My Dad used to say “straights come to those who wait” in Yahtzee. For me this philosophy applies to the Runner of the Year standings, where I do better by focusing on running the races I normally would run rather than trying to fit certain races into my schedule that could potentially bolster my total score.
What are your goals for 2009?
Overall, my goal is still perform well in the overall Masters category (over 40) in addition to doing well in my age group of 45-49. One of my time goals was to get under 16 minutes in the 5K which I got at Brian Kraft.
In general, what is your training philosophy?
I believe in hard/easy training (sometimes when I am really busy the easy days are just days off). After a build-up phase, I like to incorporate long runs, tempo runs, hills, and speed workouts into my training.
A couple of things that I think have kept me healthy in my 40s is taking days off (I almost always take off Mondays) and running relatively low miles. I also started lifting heavy weights once a week (with Discover Strength) to strengthen my legs, arms & core.
What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
I can be a strong finisher in races and mentally tough in races. I once (in my much younger days) closed with a 2:00 for 800 meter in a 3000m race and only took off with 600 meters to go. It is tougher to red line and go deep into the well as I get older, but I appreciate the feeling of being fit and pushing my body in races.
I am not so good at running a solo effort – I admire runners that excel at solo efforts!
One strength is that a have not had very many long term running related injuries.
What are your PRs (all-time and Masters)?
1 mile: 4:12
1 mile: 4:31
½ marathon: 1:10
What is your fondest running memory?
I have many very fond running memories (some of these memories are related to the beer I had after the run). I have always loved running and especially the camaraderie of running with others. As I have gotten older, I seem to more fully appreciate the joy of training runs such as: on the beach in Hawaii last summer; in the woods through 4-6” of fresh winter snow; in the spring rain; in the woods in the crisp fall air with the crunch of leaves under my feet; in the moon light on a below zero calm winter night when no one else seems to be outside; in the summer heat around the Minneapolis lakes; in the mountains; and along Lake Superior.
I have also had lots of great track, cross-country & road racing experiences. One of my top racing experiences was when I ran the NAIA outdoor Track & Field Nationals in 1983 in the 5,000m. I was a junior and only 20-years-old, but this was my last collegiate meet, because I needed to transfer from Moorhead State to NDSU to finish my Electrical Engineering degree and would have to sit out my whole senior year due to NCAA rules regarding transferring athletes. I was 7th in the indoor NAIA Nationals 2-mile missing All American by one place. Also, my coach Ron Masanz always came back from indoor and outdoor nationals with at least one all-American (we had 10 indoor all-Americans that year). Because we had a pretty windy outdoor season only three people qualified for outdoor nationals. After our 400 meter runner stepped on the line and got DQ’d and our 1,500 meter runner placed 7th, this was the last opportunity for Coach Masanz to keep his streak alive and my last chance to get all-American. Before this race, the meet had been very hot and humid, but right before the race, it started to rain and then in the race it turned into a heavy down pour. In the prelims, the pace was sluggish and I did not feel good, but I made it to the finals. In the finals, the pace was very fast, but I felt great and with 800 meters to go I moved into 4th place and was gaining, I didn’t catch 3rd place, but I set my PR and earned all-American honors – it was such a great feeling the last 2 laps in the driving rain knowing that I was gaining and that I had all-American honors locked up.
If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
I can’t say one particular person. I have been blessed to be able to run with lots of great Minnesota runners, such as Dick Beardsley and other runners that although not as great, have made long runs, easy runs, and interval work outs very interesting and fun.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
There are lots of things, but the best thing about running is the journey, and I have enjoyed the journey so far including its ups and downs. I have discovered along the way that distance running takes patience and it is good to have gradual build-ups. Nonetheless, I really enjoy the challenge of going from being out of shape to race ready shape in a short time period. I also now know that large volume training can produce excellent results, but it can also result in poor quality workouts and possibly produce injuries which can lead to less consistent workouts. When I was younger, properly regulated sustained higher volume training could have led to improved performances, but in the Masters age group low volume training (mainly dictated by a busy schedule) has helped me stay healthy.