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Catching Up With Garrett Heath

Published by
Scott Bush   on Oct 15 2013, 03:17 PM

If road miles were an Olympic event, Garrett Heath might have an Olympic medal. We're kidding...kind of. 2013 was the year of road miling success for Heath. First, he won the USA 1 Mile Road Championships in Des Moines. He then came back after a strong European track season to win the Bupa Great North 1 Mile over a stacked field, while concluding his season with an impressive third place finish at the NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile. Heath proved his fitness this past season was at an all-time high and looks for even bigger things in 2014.

We caught up with Heath recently, talking over his season, his road race successes, what his current training situation is like and much more.

Scott Bush (SB): Congratulations on a terrific season, especially closing it out on such a high note with a third place finish at the Fifth Avenue Mile. How do you feel the race unfolded for you and what does it mean to close out your season on such a high note?

Garrett Heath (GH): Fifth Ave is always an awesome event to end the season with because of the great atmosphere and competition there, so being able to make the podium this year made it only that much more special. My parents were also out for the race, so I guess that may have given me a little extra motivation out there as well.

Because the field was so big this year, as the size of the elite American miler class continues to grow, I really just wanted to settle in through the first half of the race and then basically look to follow the moves on the downhill from 800 to 1200.  I've had a tendency to sometimes get carried away in the first half of the race in the past and pay for it later on, so I really just focused on staying relaxed and trying to key off Nick Willis when he eventually made his move a little before 400 to go.  He is exceptionally fit and looks to be in mid-season form right now, so ultimately I wasn't able to push him all the way to the line but felt strong until the last 50.  

I didn't really know where everyone else was at that point and made the mistake of looking over my shoulder in the last few strides just as Lagat went by. I was disappointed to let him by, but was happy to be able to hold things together enough to hold off a few other guys who were also charging hard at that point.

Overall, I think the main difference for me this year was really that I felt like I still had something left in the tank, as far as the racing season goes, while in the past there have been a lot of times where I've come into the end of the season really feeling like I was straining to squeeze out the last few ounces of fitness left from a long year of racing. I think a lot of this probably had to do with being able to re-focus in the middle of the summer between European racing seasons and get in another solid block of training. This was also definitely the best year that I've had injury-wise, and thus, I never had to take a day off from December through September.

SB: You won the USA 1 Mile Championships earlier in the season. How much confidence did that meet give you for the rest of your season?

GH: Although I wasn’t trying to peak for that race, it was definitely a good confidence booster for me early in the season to run well there. I had taken a lot more time off than I usually do while I coached at Stanford in the fall and consequently wasn't as confident in where my fitness level was early on. I had also been doing a lot of training on my own up at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs over the winter, so the race both gave me a good gauge of where I was at after not training with anyone for a while as well as the confidence that the altitude training was working.

SB: To top it off, you won the Bupa Great North 1 Mile against an Olympic caliber field. What was that victory like and what's with you and road miles?

GH: Haha, yeah, I'm not sure what it has been about the road miles this year. For one reason or another, that just seems to be where a lot of my best races have fallen. Hopefully I can transfer that success over to the track this next year. I do enjoy the fact that all road miles have different courses though, and thus require many more different strategies than the track. It helps provide a little change of pace throughout the year from the track.

The Great North race was a great experience in general with the race taking place down along the river in the middle of Newcastle and the huge number of fans that show up to watch. Having a few hills in the race and the last 150m on track surface was also a different experience than any other road mile I've done before. I'm not sure if it helped, but the hills and the cool temps really made it feel a lot like my high school running days back in the Midwest.

Going in, my goal was always to win, but I don't think the possibility of it really settled in for me until the last 150m or so when I heard the announcer say that it looked like I was going to hold on. That being said, given how I felt at that point, I still wasn't really sure he knew what he was talking about, especially with the world champ and a bunch of other high caliber guys right behind me, and probably should have been focusing more on the race than his voice at that point. Either way, I couldn't have been happier to finally cross the line still in front. Also, the craziness that was the Sunderland-Arsenal soccer match that we got to attend that afternoon only made the experience that much better.

SB: You're right on the cusp of being a member of Team USA in the World Championships and Olympic Games. With your season now concluded, looking forward what do you need to work on to take that next step forward?

GH: I definitely feel like I made a ton of progress this year with PRs in everything from the 1500 to 5k and am the fittest that I've ever been, but I still feel like I'm lacking an element of that last gear of finishing speed that's consistently needed to make it on the podium and win the big time races that often go out slow. I've already put a lot of focus into this part of my race and have seen some improvements this year, but there's still a ways to go with it.

SB: There have been a few questions marks surrounding the Bay Area Track Club as of late. What's your current training group status? Are your plans to stay in the Bay Area?

GH: My plans are currently a bit up in the air.  I'm at least pretty settled where I'm at in the Bay Area through December, as my brother (Elliott) is currently down finishing his masters at Stanford and gives me a great person to train with. We actually just rented out a cottage together in the area, so we'll be seeing plenty of one another outside of training this fall as well. Beyond that, I'm not completely sure at the moment. As I just reluctantly found out again with this most recent lease, the rental prices in the Bay Area aren't very conducive to the lifestyle of a professional runner, but it's hard to beat the weather. I'm also currently on leave from the Stanford PhD program and doing some start-up work in SF, so those will also factor into my plans going forward.

As far as the BATC, we have a great group of athletes and coaches, but this year has unfortunately been pretty hard for me to meet up with them as much as I would have liked. I spent a lot of time going back and forth between the Bay Area and Colorado Springs for altitude stints, and really ended up doing almost all of my training on my own. This last fall was also nearly impossible to get together even though I was around, as I spent most of my time coaching at Stanford and squeezing in my own runs either late at night or early in the morning. Tom Kloos has really been great at keeping me involved though, so I'm hoping things work out a little bit better this year.

SB: You've had a long season and now it's time to rest. What does the typical first two or three weeks of the off-season look like for you?

GH: Mainly trying to do as much golfing, cooking/BBQing, and feeding of the coffee addiction as possible. That, and watching football all weekend, but I guess that doesn't really change once I start running.

SB: Okay, a little off topic, what would you think of a professional 1 mile road race series in the United States? What idea(s) might you suggest to make it a success?

GH: Sounds great!  I think road miles are a good way to involve communities more in what we're doing and generally build interest in running.  Based on what I've seen at races both here and in Europe, I think some of the best ways to make it successful would be: (1) Involve local kids as much as possible in the event and races, (2) Have open races for adults and find ways to build competition amongst them (age group waves, PR guessing, etc), (3) Offer alcohol for spectators and make it as social as possible for them (maybe even a band or something afterwards), (4) Find as many ways as possible to let the crowd get to know the elites (small scale gambling, (i.e. $1 bets), face signs (used in Pittsburgh road race), etc).

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