Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I know, I know, it’s about time I interview a woman. Actually, I’ve never met Tracy Hirigoyen in-person. However, email correspondence during the summer was enough to realize that she had a terrific year. How’s PRing at 5K, 10K, half and 25K sound? Oh yeah, top that off with a 3:08:50 at the Chicago Marathon, which lowered her PR by 14 minutes. She might not be willing to admit that she’s moved up a level in the local ranks, but I’d be willing to bet that her competitors are taking notice.

When did you get started running and how’d you get involved? Did you run in high school or college?
I started out as a sprinter my freshman of high school. I wasn’t very good, but I had a lot of fun running the open 400 and 800 meters, as well as the 4X400 meter relay. I joined cross-country on a whim my senior year. It was the longest race distance I’d ever run and I remember it seeming so horribly long. But I caught the bug.

While at UW-Madison, I joined the Wisconsin Track Club. It’s not officially connected to the university but it is made up of students, as well as young professionals in the community. The club has both a sprint and distance coach, as well as structured workouts and team runs. We competed in Division III meets in the region.

Being around experienced and talented runners - as well as being in Madison, an awesome running community - was pretty inspiring and got me hooked on distance running. My senior year, I took a marathon training course for credit and we had to run a marathon to get a grade. I signed up for Grandma’s and ended up getting injured and not running it. I ran Chicago in the fall as a make-up and have been running marathons ever since.

Can you talk a little about your history prior to this year? What were your PRs, what was your training like, etc.?
I guess my progress has been steady but nothing spectacular. I was a very mediocre sprinter in high school. Once I got to college I just started adding miles, as a result of working out with the club, and I moved up in race distances too. I ran cross county and indoor track and outdoor, where I focused on the 800 and 1500. My 800 PR was in the low 2:30s, and I can’t remember my 1500 PR…it was nothing special. I did a lot of 5Ks on the roads, where my PR was 19:45. I think I got up in the 40-45 mpw range during those years with a ton of quality work – lots of track work, as well as some tempos and fartleks.

In general, I’ve just always prided myself on putting forth a decent effort and working hard. I’ve never been a standout athlete with exceptional talent. But I’ve pretty consistently trained with others who were very talented, so I was always aware of what was possible.

You told me earlier in the year that you’ve been working with coach Michael Aish. How did that come about?
It was totally a chance thing. In the spring of 2005, I stumbled across his online coaching service, which he had just started. I was looking for some sort of coaching situation where I could get some guidance and advice for my training. He obviously has awesome credentials and experience, so I contacted him and he agreed to take me on. He doesn’t have the official coaching service anymore. However, I was fortunate in that he said he’d continue to write workouts for me. Plus he still offers a lot of valuable advice and guidance.

What PRs have you set this year?
5K - 19:19 at Fort Snelling Relays
10K - 39:56 at Guidant
Half Marathon - 1:32 (during City of Lakes 25K)
25K - 1:49 at City of Lakes 25K
Marathon - 3:08 at Chicago Marathon

I kind of wish I’d run a 5K road race, just to see how I’d fare there and so I could take another crack at lowering that PR. Hopefully next season!

Those PRs also mean you’re basically running with the next level of women runners in the area. Can you speak to that a little? Do you think; “Man, I’m running with so-and-so” or does it not even cross your mind. Do you feel confident, overwhelmed, etc. when you’re running with them? Is this something you look forward to building on next year?
I would really hesitate to put myself in the same category with most of the “next level” of runners around here…I think it will take more races like I had this summer and more consistency before I start to even come close to approaching that category.

That said, I’ve definitely had a few instances during races where I look around, realize who’s around me and wonder if I’m running beyond myself and belong where I am. This is something I’m trying to change, though - I think all too often you can get in a mental rut where you run in your expected place or position. I’m trying to get out of the habit of caring who’s around me.

I think to a certain extent it’s good to be aware, because competition can be very motivating. However, if you’re hyper-aware of positioning within a race and where you think you should be, it can hold you back. This summer I tried to be more of a “passive observer.” Yes, I did think, “huh, that’s so-and-so, and she’s pretty fast,” but I didn’t let it intimidate or overwhelm me and cause me to hold back.

If I can get even better at doing this, I think it will be exciting to build on and it will help me continue to improve. Racing is a mental game and I need any edge I can get!

It appears the relationship with Michael is working. Obviously, I don’t want to give away all his secrets, but can you pinpoint some of the key differences in your training before working with him, compared to after?
One of the biggest differences is definitely the fact that there’s more variety in the types of workouts that I do. Simply put, everything has a purpose. My training’s been a lot more segmented this time around; we work on really developing and honing speed first and then move on to typical marathon training.

When I first started running marathons, I lost a lot of the speed I’d developed in college when I was training exclusively for shorter distances. I would just work on the strength-related stuff and my speed suffered. I’ve noticed a difference this time around in that my training has a better balance to it, which has allowed me to regain some speed, while also building my strength for the longer stuff.

Part of this training variety is racing. I raced more this summer than I have in years and it added a whole new element to my training and preparation. It gave me an edge I hadn’t had before. There’s something about racing that can’t be replicated in day-to-day training.

On my own, I incorporated more strength training into my routine, which I think helped mitigate some nagging aches and pains I’d dealt with in the past. I felt a lot more durable from it and was able to better handle the workouts and volume.

Also, I think I’m driven, but I’m human - before, when I tried to train on my own, I definitely didn’t push myself as hard as I do now that someone is assigning me workouts. When I tried to train myself, I was a lot less likely to do certain types of workouts that are not so enjoyable, even if they are extremely beneficial. Accountability is a powerful thing! My training now covers all bases - from track work and threshold runs to hill repeats and long progressive runs.

Going into my last marathon, I felt eerily calm because I had faith in all the training behind me. For the first time ever, I didn’t think I should have done more tempo runs or long runs. I felt like all bases were covered and I felt extremely prepared.

There are so many little things that just add up, I think, when comparing differences between before and after. I can be impatient and want results right away. I’ve learned to think about the big picture and to have faith in the training - it may take a while before I see results, but it’s just a matter of training smart and letting it all build.

What was your history with the marathon before running Chicago?
My history with the marathon has really consisted of a few small, personal successes and a lot of flubs and other mistakes along the way. My first marathon was Chicago in 2002. I was coming off a stress fracture, so my training was really limited. I was stubborn and went ahead and plunged in anyway. The race was quite a debacle…I hardly remember the miles after the halfway point. I finished around 3:57. Afterward I really wanted to give the marathon another try because the race had felt like such a comedy of errors and I knew I could do better.

I ran Grandma’s in the spring of 2003 and qualified for Boston. I ran New York in the fall of 2003 and Boston in 2004 when it was hellishly hot! I also ran Grandma’s in 2004 and 2005 and Twin Cities in 2004, where I set my previous PR of 3:22.

Before this last marathon, it had been about a year and a half since I’d last run one, but I’d actually trained for and/or attempted three other marathons in that time period. I pulled my hamstring a week before TCM in 2005 and didn’t run. I was hung up on not letting my marathon fitness go to waste, so I signed up for the Whistlestop Marathon on a whim (two weeks after TCM). I made it through mile 18 before dropping out - definitely not my finest or proudest marathon moment. I then trained that winter and spring for the 2006 Grandma’s Marathon but came down with mono about a month before. So I feel like this Chicago Marathon was a long time coming for me!

You ran an incredible 14-minute PR at Chicago to get down to 3:08. I know you want to savior that race, but what are your goals for the next 12 months? Do you just focus on getting faster at all different distances or try and focus on the marathon?
As I mentioned, the training I’ve been following focuses on all aspects - speed, strength, etc. So if it continues to work for me and I can build on it, I hope I can get faster at all distances. I think it all goes hand-in-hand…if you want to run a sub-three hour marathon, for example, there are corresponding times you better be able to run at other distances. It sounds obvious when I read that back to myself, but I hadn’t really paid enough attention to all aspects before. I think doing so is what’s going to make me improve all-around, especially in marathoning.

Specifically, I think I’d like to run Boston in the spring. It’s such a hard course and I hesitate to say I’d like to run another PR. I think just racing and not dying, like I have in my past two attempts, would be a big enough accomplishment in itself. That race is just a beast.

In any case, I’m always looking to lower my PRs across the board. I’d like to take aim at 3:05 in the very near future. That’s my next goal. I’d also like for my current PRs to become times that I can run easily and consistently and then improve on. I’d like to break 19 minutes for 5K and run in the low 39s for 10K, and then break 39 minutes. I guess why put limits on those times, though? If this summer taught me anything, it’s that when you train well and are fit, you can run well at any distance.

At 26, you’re still young, especially in the sense of marathoning. Has 2:47 entered into your mind at all?
Yes and no. As an immediate goal, no. That’s a long way to go and I know that the faster you get, the harder it is, typically, to shave off time. The people I know who have run that time aren’t just on another level - they’re a different type of runner altogether. But again, why put limits on anything? My next goal is 3:05. From there, who knows? I’m just going to keep setting goals and see how far I can take it. I’m constantly learning and discovering new things about training and racing. There’s so much I don’t know and so much I have to learn. My 3:08 marathon was the easiest marathon I’ve ever run -something I would have NEVER expected - so I guess anything’s possible with the right training and some luck.

What are your most and least favorite workouts? Did you do any type of benchmark workout leading up to Chicago that you’ll do in the future too to gauge your fitness?
I like one-mile and two-mile repeats on the track. I did 3 X 2 miles on the track about a month out from the marathon – I think they were at slightly faster than half marathon pace - and I thought that workout was extremely beneficial. I remember getting all geeked out and being really excited when I finished. I think maintaining focus and intensity can be a challenge for me and that workout really zeroed in on those two things.

Tempos on the roads are a challenge, just because it can be hard to know splits and pace and I often go out too fast. These are the kinds of workouts that get me the most jittery and anxious beforehand, but I always feel the best when they’re done! 10 days out from the marathon I did 2 X 3 miles as part of a 10-mile loop. When I was done I knew I was good to go.

What was your taper like for Chicago?
It was pretty similar to what I’ve done for past marathons. I ran a 21-mile long run three weeks out and then cut my mileage by about 25 percent that next week (down from my peak of 80 miles). My midweek workout that next week included a 90-minute run with the first half at an easy, relaxed pace, and then the second half at a gradually faster pace every 10 minutes with the last 10 minutes at sub-marathon pace, which for me was sub-7s. Two weeks out, I ran 15 miles for my long run.

About 12 days out from the marathon, I came down with a cold, which turned into a sinus infection. It was nerve-wracking since it was so close to the race, but it did make me slow down and get lots of rest, which I often have a tough time doing. I did the workout mentioned above 10 days out and ran about 8.5 miles that weekend for my “long” run. The Tuesday before the marathon, I did 3 X 1 mile on the track in 6:30s. The rest of the week was real easy with easy runs every day, concluding with an easy 2 miles on Saturday before the race.

Do you have a favorite local race?
The female-only Guidant Heart of Summer 10K was a lot of fun. It’s a different feeling racing against only women. Plus, the race draws a lot of big names. So I found myself stretching out and doing strides alongside runners like Katie McGregor and Marla Runyon, which was nuts.

Do you prefer running alone or with friends?
I like to have a mix of both. I run before work, so I’m usually out by myself during the week. But I definitely try to meet up with others on the weekends to help break up the monotony.

What's your favorite place to run locally?
Along the river between St. Paul and Minneapolis and on Summit Ave. in St. Paul. I like running anywhere along the TCM course, actually.

If you could run with anyone (past or present), who would it be?
The people I’ve been training with for the past year or so – my St. Paul group and my friends from GEAR. I’d pick them again and again. They’re awesome training partners and I’ve had countless great discussions on runs with them, too!
Also, John Naslund – at least in future races. I ended up running with him for much of this year’s City of Lakes 25K and he kept me entertained with running stories and great conversation. He was the ideal person you’d hope to end up near in a long race like that.

You’ve mentioned that you enjoy the history of the sport too. Who were/are your running heroes and why?
Definitely the current crop of local Masters women - people like Laurie Hanscom, Sonya Decker, Janet Robertz, Gloria Jansen, Kate Davis, Kelly Keeler…the list is very long and the number of women running at a high level is truly inspiring.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
You have to be willing to experience discomfort in order to improve, but you also have to be smart and patient and know when to ease back in order to fully recover. A lot of the injuries that occurred when I first started running - especially marathon training - were the result of over-training and trying to do too much at once.

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