© Copyright – 2011 – Athletics Illustrated
Zach Whitmarsh toils on the Jack Wallace Memorial, Oak Bay High School track in Victoria, BC. Marley his dog canters back and forth from the infield to the start area and back, taking splits. “What breed mix is Marley?”
“Marley is a pound dog. As far as we can tell he is a Shepherd-Collie cross. There may also be a bit of Burmese in him, he’s a big-pawed dawg and he’d probably weigh another 20 pounds if he didn’t get in the 50 miles per-week he’s gotten used to”, says Zach.
Meanwhile some local, longer-distance ectomorphs gut out a low-key invitational race, looking smooth in their attempt at sub-30 for 10, 000m (others drop at halfway or at the 3,000m mark – they are here just to check fitness), they appear fluent, until Zach starts his sprint workout.
Whitmarsh re-defines the everyday runner’s paradigm of what is fluid motion. He runs his repeats ostensibly faster yet effortless than what non-runners think humanly possibly. The first time I saw Zach race at the Victoria International Track Classic, he didn’t so much as shift gears in the final turn, completely humanizing the field, he exploded. The crowd stirred collectively as he launched from the pack, completely separating himself. The field otherwise was inextricable; finding themselves suddenly faced with anonymity.
Recently, while standing in line to pick up our race packages for a local event, I asked him if he would sign my poster, he wrote something to the effect “I must run because I love to run” …something…something…Zach.” So when I interviewed him I came to realize that, that was not just a fleeting frame of mind that he was in. He does love running; he embraces it, which makes for compelling conversation.
Three-time Provincial 800m High School Champion
Two-time Provincial 1500m High School Champion
Four-time Southern Conference Men’s Indoor Track Champion East Tennessee State, 1:50.92
Bronze – 800m – 1999 Pan-American Games
2000 Sydney Olympic Games competitor
Five-time Canadian Champion – 800m
800m personal best 1:45.94
Christopher Kelsall: I understand you may be into XBox 360 a fair bit. Are you a big-time gamer? How about online poker? If so what is your current addiction.
Zach Whitmarsh: I don’t know if I qualify as a big time gamer, but over the last 6 months I’ve gotten right back into video games. Training full time again has afforded me a little more time on the couch. It amazes me how far that industry has come since the good old days of Super Mario and Duck hunt and my old time favorite Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. I got into the online poker for awhile, won a few tourneys and thought I was better than I was. I got up about 1000 bucks in the first month and lost most of it the following week and very quickly realized it was not something I should be trying to do seriously with the little money that I have, ha ha. Now I play less, just dollar tourneys to kill time when I’m bored. My current addiction is definitely Tiger Woods ’08. I play a lot on line, if ya want a game, look me up, Gamertag DR REEFERMAN…I only play tour mode, suckas!
CK: What about golf in the physical world? Do you get much golfing in? If so, what is your handicap?
ZW: I love to get out on the course, but I don’t get out as often as I’d like, got that handicap down to 16 a few years ago, but would probably be pushing to break 90 these days.
CK: Your racing season is coming up shortly. You appear, from seeing you on the track to be in decent form. What kind of shape are you in right now?
ZW: Ya, I’m getting back into pretty good shape, I’ve had some good workouts up here at altitude (Flagstaff). My speed is as good as it’s been in 4 years, but I can tell my endurance isn’t as great as it used to be, but that’s to be expected coming out of my semi-retirement. I figure another month or two chasing my buddy Gary (Canadian 800m record holder Gary Reed) I should be able to get pretty damn close to the Olympic standard.
CK: What are your expectations for this coming track season.
ZW: Really just take it as it comes. Run a handful of races and get ready for trials. At this point I’m really just doing it for fun to see what happens. I think if I can get within a couple seconds of my pb I’m doing pretty well. I’m half Finnish so even if I don’t make the Olympic team, I can go back to Helsinki and compete for a club (Laden Ankera) who I used to run for back in the day. It’s a pretty good situation, as they’ll take care of expenses and gives me a chance to pick up some good money and then wind the season down and party with friends and family in the homeland. My mom was the only one in her family that left so it’s nice having a lot of family over there and I’m pretty tight with a few of my cousins.
CK: Are your Finnish relatives into running or other sports, like hockey?
ZW: Ya, they’re all big sports fans. It’s a different culture over there; they get 20, 000 people out to their athletics championships, it’s crazy!
CK: Do you guys ‘hockey’ trash talk each other? If so do you pull their sweater over their heads and pound them.
ZW: Ya, a bit of trash talking, although mostly over our pathetic tennis games, haha.
CK: Who are your current sponsors?
ZW: Nike stopped sending me gear so I hooked up with Frontrunners, and yes I love the Adidas. In the end I decided to go with whoever is sponsoring the Victoria International Track Classic, that’s were my heart is.
We really do have the best meet in Canada right there!
CK: I know the late and very great Arthur Taylor was a coach of yours for some time. What training method did Taylor utilize as a coach?
ZW: Arthur adopted and refined the ‘Arthur Taylor’ training method. Sure he was fan of all the greats Lydiard, Cerruty, the Russians, etc. He took this and that from everywhere and everyone. There was a real scientific approach to the programs he put together and he had great understanding of the physiological effects of training and the different systems that are involved in developing a runner.
CK: It appears you seem to enter a fair number of road races. Do you enter them for the love of running and racing or are these specific workouts?
ZW: Probably more a social thing and I generally do it only when it fits in with a light tempo training session.
CK: Every interviewer at some point asks every middle distance runner when they are going to move up in distance. I notice you have run 10k and ½ marathons. So here is the proverbial moving up question. Is it going to happen?
ZW: I’ve run some distance before, but it was always to build strength for the middle distance track races. I really have no desire to move up and try and be competitive in longer races. I’ll always run whatever for the social aspect of getting out there and staying fit and having fun, but I’m old enough now and getting to the end of serious competitive track running to know, you should just do what you love. So as I get older, you’ll probably see me moving down in distance! I bet as a master you’ll see me running everything from 200m to the marathon 🙂 why not! 🙂
CK: If that’s the case, which marathon do you think you would most like to enter.
ZW: Oh I don’t know, I’d imagine I would be the tourist type marathon guy, Hawaii or perhaps Brazil, I’ll make it worth my while.
CK: Who is your coach now, or are you self-coached?
ZW: I train mostly with Brent (Brent Fougner University of Victoria coach) and guys up at UVic, but as the season progresses we work in a lot with Wynn’s group (Wynn Grimtroski) it’s been easier getting in shape this time around chasing my buddy Gary Reed.
Back to Arthur. He was great! I’m the runner and the person I am today because of Arthur. It was more than just coaching philosophy and techniques, even though I’ve yet to come across anything I wasn’t first exposed to by him. More than anything he instilled a real belief and love in the pure simplicity and ideal of running. I learned to love to run because of that crazy old commie. I’ll be a runner for life and love it, because of him!
Arthur Taylor, held a love for all things running and shared it with all who he coached. Some of his 50+ age group records are truly amazing:
Canadian Distance Records:
- M50 5000m 15:42
- M50 10,000m 33:47
- M50 Steeple 10:18
- M55 Mile Indoors 5:03
- M50 3000m Indoors 9:10
- M45 Marathon 2:26:35
- M50 Marathon 2:27:17
Canadian Masters Championship Meet Records:
- M50 5000m 15:54
- M55 5000m 17:04
- M50 Steeple 10:41