Ryan Vail of Portland, Oregon will be competing in the 2014 Virgin London Marathon Sunday, April 13th. This will be his fourth attempt at the distance. He currently owns a personal best time of 2:11:45, which he ran in the 2012 Fukuoka International Open Marathon Championship in Fukuoka, Japan. He has also competed in the 2012 London Olympic Trials, which was his debut at the distance. He finish 11th overall in 2:12:43. Vail was the first American finisher at the 2013 ING New York City Marathon. At London, he hopes to take the next step in the distance.
He graduated from Oklahoma State University, where he had an excellent NCAA Division 1 career. He was a five-time All-American. The 28-year-old has also competed four times in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. His best result was a 17th place finish in the 2013 edition that took place in Bydgoszcz, Poland, where he helped the U.S. to a team silver medal position.
3km indoor 7:52.17
15km road 43:43
10mi road 47:13
Half Marathon 1:02:04
Christopher Kelsall: You are originally from the Portland area, yes?
Ryan Vail: Yes, I grew up in a suburb of Portland called Gresham.
CK: Did you grow up active and running much? What other sports did you play?
RV: My aunt used to take my brother and I to local 5k’s for fun when we were young, but I started running competitively in middle school. I really only started because my friends were doing it. To be honest, I wasn’t that good my first year. I’m not sure why I stuck with it, but after a couple of years I was making big jumps. My focus was on football until my junior year of high school. It sounds strange, but I was doing track originally to stay in shape for football during the off season. It wasn’t until the second half of high school that my track coach was able to talk me out of football and put me on track with what I actually had a talent for. I put a huge effort into football, but I just didn’t have the tools. Once I started putting that same effort into distance running full time, the results became apparent almost immediately.
CK: At what age did you discover that running is your sport and that you would focus on it, going-forward?
RV: I didn’t make the jump until I was 16. That was the first year I stopped playing football in the fall and wrestling in the winter. I trained the entire year and took 45 seconds off my 3000 meter PR, dropping it to 8:30 as a junior. That is when college began to reach out to me, and I realized I had a future in the sport.
CK: I assume when you say “football” you are referring to American football and not soccer, yes?
RV: That’s correct.
CK: What position(s) did you play?
RV: I played safety on defense and wide receiver on offense.
CK: Are you getting an opportunity – or will you use your B.A. in Political Science from Oklahoma State University in your future?
RV: I’m not currently using any of my degrees really. I double-majored in Spanish and Political Science, and I got an M.S. in International Trade and Development; however, as of right now my attention outside of running has been put toward learning the running retail industry and a potential future in coaching. Everything depends on when my running career will end. As of right now I’m having the time of my life, and I am confident that my marathon career is still in its infancy. My plans after running are very hazy right now.
CK: Who were (or are) your running heroes?
RV: When I was a kid, I actually didn’t really follow the sport. I showed up to track practice, and that was about the extent of it. It wasn’t until later high school that I started to pay attention to NCAA and professional running. I would say that the first time I was amazed by a runner was watching Kenenisa Bekele in France at the World Cross Country Championships. He won the short and long course convincingly and looked easy doing it. I got to see it with my own eyes as a member the US Junior team. I would say my current hero is Meb Keflezighi. His marathon time is a long ways off the world’s fastest, but he has been 2nd and 4th at the Olympics, not to mention winning New York. He knows how to show up when it counts, and it gives me hope that even though I will never run a 2:05, I could still be competitive on the world stage.
CK: How do you know if you will never run a 2:05?
RV: I suppose I don’t know, but it is so far away right now that I’m not considering it. I’m going to work on cracking the 2:10 barrier first, and when I do that I’ll let myself reassess my goals.
CK: Speaking of 2:05s and Bekele, how about his marathon debut in Paris? Did you watch it? Did you expect him to debut with a 2:05:02 and run 10 seconds faster than the course record?
RV: I was following the race on twitter. I expected a fast debut just based off his unbelievable talent, work ethic, and support team, but I was a little skeptical he could get so close to breaking 2:05 in Paris. The course isn’t the fastest and the conditions did not seem to be ideal. I will not be surprised if he can go under the world record in the not so distant future.
CK: Given the course and headwind of Paris, what do you think Bekele could run a windless Berlin, Rotterdam, London or Chicago?
RV: I think he has a great chance at taking the world record on any of those courses. We’ll see if he looks to gain more experience in the marathon first or if he goes for it his next time out.
CK: Would you suggest that your 2:13:23 New York City Marathon in 2013 is at least as good a performance as your 2:11:45 at Fukuoka in 2012? Is there a 90 second difference in course difficulty?
RV: On that day I would almost argue it was worth more than Fukuoka. Not only is the course generally challenging, but that particular day had a pretty fierce headwind for the majority of the race. Seeing Yuki Kawauchi run three minutes faster than he did in New York four weeks later gives me confidence that maybe I could have run 2:10 on a different day.
CK: And Kawauchi now has an easier job, perhaps if he also runs more strategically, he can make a new leap in times?
RV: He’s already run very fast, but he’s young, so there is no reason not to believe he can get better. We’ll see if running 10 marathons a year catches up to him.
CK: Based on your training before your two prior marathons and now being this close to London, do have a sense of your potential finish time?
RV: The marathon is always difficult to predict, but I can say with confidence that my training has taken another step forward. Workouts have been a little faster, long runs have been a little faster, and easy days have been a little faster. I’ve done a better job of not just getting big miles in, but getting more quality miles in.
CK: What are your paces now for the shorter long run and the long run?
RV: I still go by feel so they can vary quite a bit depending on how I’m feeling. If I’m feeling good I’ll get down to 5:30 pace, and if I’m not feeling too fresh I’ll still try to get to 6 minute pace. Every once in a while though I have days that I can’t manage that due to fatigue and I back off.
RV: That’s difficult to say. I have run faster on the track every year since I was 13 years old. I don’t see why I can’t do that again this year after London. I plan to continue alternating between marathons and shorter distances for a while longer, so I hope I can still knock a good chunk off both times, especially the 5,000. Obviously I think I have a lot of room for improvement in the marathon, but I’m young and I have time to bring that time down gradually.
CK: You suggested that the 200s (200m repeat sessions) you were doing in preparation for the New York City Marathon – being done on hills – was safer than working with weights in the gym. It is also run-specific – do you run through a hill phase? Have you used 200s again for London?
RV: I have continued to use a combination of 200 meter hill repeats and flat repeats for this marathon build-up. I think there is a place for strength training, but when I try to incorporate it while I’m try to knock out some of my best workouts, I dig myself into a hole. Hill repeats are a great way to build strength and still be able to train normally. If I’m tired, I simply run the hills slower. I have a much better idea of how to temper hill repeats than I do weight lifting.
CK: You have been described as an aggressive runner. Has running marathon tempered your early race enthusiasm?
RV: I’m kind of surprised that I’ve been described as aggressive. I feel that one of my strengths has been patient running. Sometimes it has been a flaw as I’ve had too much ground to cover in the latter part of the race. I think in the marathon my patience has been and will be an asset. The race really doesn’t start until the last 10 – 12 km. I am working on being more aggressive the second half of the race and that comes with confidence through experience.
CK: It appears that you average about 130 miles per week in training, with an upper limit of 150. Is 150 about as much as you can handle in a single week? These distances resemble your mileages before your other marathons, so what would you say is the biggest difference in your training this time around?
RV: I haven’t gone beyond 150 miles in a week, so I’m not sure how much I can handle. There is a difference in getting in 150 miles a week, and getting in 150 quality miles. I’m satisfied with my volume at this point, but I have room for improvement in the quality. This is not for a lack of effort, but the more weeks of high volume I put in, the better I adapt, and the faster I can run. Each block of training I have experienced a noticeable difference in my ability to recover and push during these high weeks. I’m trying to take a small step forward each training block, and I hope this will lead to a long marathon career.
CK: What are you up to after the Virgin London?
RV: My wife and I will go back to the Czech Republic to spend time with her family. During my week of down time we will make a little road trip to Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest. It’s always nice to have something to look forward to after the race other than just recovering.