If there was an award for Most Improved Runner in Minnesota, Brian Peterson would probably run away with it - both literally and figuratively. Consider this, at the 2009 TCM, the 25-year-old Minneapolis resident, PR'd by 23 minutes when he ran 2:58. Then he PR'd by another 22 minutes this spring when he won the Olathe Marathon in Kansas in 2:36. He simply followed that up the following week with a victory at the Trail Mix 50K in 3:16. Brian’s improvements may not be typical, however, it shows what can happen when you put in a lot of hard work. It’s the kind of story I like to think about every time I read the latest how-to-run-fast-on-3-days-a-week article. Read more about his progression as a runner below, including the first-ever Running Minnesota personal ad. (Photo courtesy of Brian.)
How did you first get involved with running?
I was a tennis player in high school, and didn’t pick up running at all until about halfway through college. I ran the 2006 Fargo Half Marathon as my first real race. Since I’m a pretty hard working, stubborn, and committed guy by nature, I decided distance running just might be worth a shot.
Since you’re relatively new to running, can you give us a brief recap of your rather rapid marathon progression?
I was 22 years old and a senior at the U of M when I ran my first of six marathons so far – the 2006 Twin Cities Marathon. I had no idea what to expect, ended up running a 3:48, and was happy to finish. Each of the three marathons that followed over the next year and a half was a little better than the one before. The second was the 2007 Fargo Marathon in 3:38, the third was the 2007 TCM in 3:33, and then I went back to Fargo and ran 3:21 in 2008.
Then after about a year and a half, a lot of miles, and a few 50 milers and 50Ks, I gave another run at TCM last fall with the optimistic goal of breaking 3 hours, and somehow hung on for 2:58 with the pacing help of a couple good friends. Then, just this past April I ran a 2:36 at the Olathe Marathon in Kansas.
Do you realize it’s not really normal for a sub-3 hour marathoner to drop their PR by 22 minutes – especially in just 6 months? What do you attribute your improvement to?
Yeah I think those days of marathon PRs by 20+ minutes have come to a very abrupt end, but the last couple races have been a blast for sure. I feel like my improvement so far can be attributed to three things, the first of which I think have made the next two even possible:
1. Just over a year ago at the Chippewa 50K, I ran for a while with this random guy named Erik Lindstrom. Before he ran on ahead, he invited me to run trails with his buddy Joe’s Group on Friday mornings. Now a year later, I can honestly say most anything I ever accomplish in running I will attribute to this really great group of guys who took me under their wing, make training fun, and help me out more than they know.
2. Volume. This was the one-word piece of advice I got on a training run last June, and I have just been racking up miles since then. It turns out that the six or seven months of 80 to 100+ mile weeks and running every day really pays off.
3. Keeping running fun and loving the sport for all its perfection and simplicity is what makes it all worthwhile. Sure some days are harder than others to roll out of bed, but I can’t say I’ve ever once regretted going for a run. So I just do it more often now.
Your 2:36 win at Kansas is impressive, however, running 3:16 at the Trail Mix 50K the following weekend is even more impressive. Even with your increased volume, did you know you had those kinds of performances in you?
I had no idea if I could hang on to the pace for those races, but I told myself there was only one way to find out.
Olathe was my one shot at a marathon this year, so I was pretty determined to go all out and see what I had. My training told me I had a long-shot at low 2:40s, but logic told me I was a 2:58 marathoner and that it wasn’t possible. It never even crossed my mind that sub-2:40 was in play, but I just ended up going out faster than planned, felt good, kept it steady, enjoyed it, and held on one mile at a time.
As for Trail Mix, I signed up a few days before the race as a long training run, but turns out that’s easier said than done when the race is on. It was a perfect day, the course was a bit faster this year, and I apparently recovered much better than I had expected.
You told us about your marathon progression. How about your ultra progression, what’s that been like?
I am still really brand new to this ultra stuff, so hopefully I have a lot of progressing to do in the next several years. I ran my first ultra at the Superior 50 Mile in September 2008. I literally had no idea what to expect or if I could even finish. I started off real slow in the back half of the pack, and somehow ended up in first place by about mile 40 or so and held on for the win. It was the first time I ever even considered running to be something I could possibly be competitive in at any level; the thrill of the race and competition definitely got me hooked.
I’ve done five 50Ks and two more 50 milers since that race. I know I’ve gotten better, but it will be really hard to measure improvement until I start doing the same races multiple times. I still feel like I have a whole lot to prove to myself in ultras, and the next four months should be a good test for me at varied distances and types of courses and trails.
Do you prefer the trails over the roads?
Even though the road running over the past few months has been more fun than I could have ever imagined, I think there will always be something about the trails that can’t be replaced. I am planning to spend a lot of time running in the next many years, and I can’t think of a better way to do it than on some of the most challenging trails in the most beautiful places in the country.
What’s your favorite road race? Trail race?
I haven’t done very many road races, but so far it has got to be the Twin Cities Marathon. It was my first marathon and first sub-3 hour marathon, both of which will always be great memories.
The Superior Trail 50 Miler is my favorite trail race. For some reason – despite all the rocks, roots, relentless hills, falling down, etc. – that trail will always have a special place in my heart.
What races do you have planned in 2010 and what are your goals?
I’m planning on most of the rest of the year to be spent on the trails. Here is what’s still to come that I know of so far:
· Superior 50K (May 15)
· Kettle 100K (June 5)
· Afton 50K (July 3)
· Voyageur 50 Mile (July 24)
· Superior Sawtooth 100 Mile (September 10-11)
As for time goals, I really don’t have a clue. It’s hard to set specific goals for distances and courses I’ve never done. I am just going to keep having fun training, run a lot of hill repeats, and come race time run as hard as I can.
What are your PRs?
I haven’t even done a 5K or 10K yet, but here are the distances I’ve raced so far:
· 50 Mile: 8:26:00
· 50K: 3:16:51
· Marathon: 2:36:49
· Half Marathon: 1:53:35 (it’s been a while)
· 7 Mile: 39:15
· 1 Mile: 5:10
What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
One strength is that I seem to be pretty durable so far. I’m always a little paranoid about getting injured, but so far have never even had so much as a blister. Another is that I enjoy the training now more than ever and seem to have the patience and right mindset for the sport.
As for weaknesses, I don’t have very good form, am probably not the most efficient, and have never considered myself to be much of a natural-born athlete. I guess I’m sort of a scrappy runner.
If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
Well, she’d have to be single, somewhere around 25 years old, easy to talk to, fun and adventurous, loves to run. Apparently though, long trail races and 5 AM training runs are not helping my chances…
In all seriousness though, one Minnesotan who I would enjoy going for a run with is Alan Page. He’s been a dedicated tuba-playing fan for those three great adventures through at TCM. More importantly though, he was one of a couple people who inspired me to run my first ultra. He probably wouldn’t remember this, but I was at a dinner with him and a few others a couple years ago now, and he was telling me stories then about running marathons while in the NFL, and this crazy long race up north called the Edmund Fitzgerald. About a week later, I sent in my registration for the 2008 Superior 50 Mile.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
I think figuring this sport out as you go is all part of the fun, but I have learned a couple things that will hopefully help me in the future. First, I have realized that you are only as good a runner as you let yourself believe you are, and the best way to race is to not think too much, run your heart out, and see what happens. Most importantly, I have learned the importance of finding ways to make running fun and loving the sport. For me, that really started a couple years ago when I discovered the trails, and has continued with a great group of friends I am lucky to train with and luckier to know.