Gary Reed is one of the fastest 800 metre runners in the world. Currently he possesses a personal best of 1:43.68, which happens to be the Canadian record and a time that is considered fast by anyone’s measure. He also owns a fourth place performance he achieved at the 2008 Olympics from Beijing, China and a silver medal from the 2007 IAAF World Track and Field Championships that took place in Osaka, Japan. The world record by his hero, Danish (by way of Kenya) runner, Wilson Kipketer still stands at 1:41.11 from August 24th 1997.
I remember watching Reed racing in the Worlds; I was emotionally moved to a standing position to the front of the television. I found myself yelling at the TV, cheering for Reed to hang on. It was an exciting moment in Canadian track and field history. His efforts resulted in a silver medal at an event, which is on par with any other international track and field race, including the Olympics. He was just nipped at the line by Kenyan, Alfred Yego, in what must have been a most Herculean of efforts.
Gary Reed’s performance revitalized hope in the waning Canadian track and field scene. Reed continues to carry that torch even though the greater Canadian running landscape has improved since. The next big performance for Reed is the 2009 IAAF World Track and Field Championships taking place Berlin, Germany.
The few times I have had the opportunity to speak with him he has been nothing short of friendly, unassuming and honest. During my first ever video interview, which I hope never sees the light of day, he displayed a high level of diplomacy during my amateur shenanigans, to that: here is my written interview with Canada’s brightest track star.
CK: Recently when we talked at the Track Classic in Victoria, British Columbia the day before your under-distance 400m race, you said that you are going to “go hard, then crawl off the track”, which is a solid character statement in itself.
In 2008 you ran the 800m in Victoria and then 800m at the Harry Jerome Track Classic, the results were both about a half a second faster than this year’s 800m race that you ran at Harry Jerome. How is your fitness compared to last year?
GR: My fitness is the best it’s ever been. This year of training has been great. I think sometimes it’s important not to get caught up in any one time. I try and focus on racing and just let the time come…
CK: Were you surprised by your 400m last week? Beforehand you said that “I am in over my head” but you finished in a tight cluster for 3rd?
GR: Well I mean over my head is not always a bad thing, I mean I honestly thought that race would be a lot faster, but it wasn’t. I haven’t run one in a few years, so it was a nice change and stimulus.
1 Barrett, Dewayne Jamaica 47.17
2 Byron, Justin Virgin Island 47.45
3 Reed, Gary Canada 47.53
4 Ikwakor, AK Nigeria 48.27
5 Findlay, Adrian Jamaica 48.77
6 Barton, Jason United States 50.28
CK: You said your winter training adds up to about 70 miles-per-week. Can you describe a typical off-season week?
GR: My coach (Wynn Gmitroski) is a master of change, so nothing is really typical; it is always changing. However, long runs are Sundays and that is pretty stapled. We have at least one hard tempo session off track that most of the time in the fall comes on Thursdays.
Editor’s note: Although Wynn is a master of change here is a sample week taken from an Athletics Canada interview from 2007:
-Running sessions – 2 times a day (hard session in the morning, recovering session at night).
-Strength training 2 – 3 times-per-week
-Flexibility session (yoga) 1 – 2 times per week
-Massage 2 – 3 times-per-week
-Physiotherapy 1 – 2 times-per-week
CK: You mentioned that you are looking at running in the 1:42 range. Is achieving this ‘academic’, in that you probably could have already done it if the circumstances presented themselves on the right day.
GR: I think running 1:42 is all about timing. Usually the period in the season, going into a Major is when you will usually see guys running 1:42s, then again that’s a special time and it takes a special athlete to run that so all the stars have to be in line for that to happen.
CK: Switching gears, what’s on your iPod right now?
GR: I have over 70k of songs so literally everything. Now if I am really hurting on a run I look forward to a dance song to come on and pick me up something by Tiesto will usually do it.
CK: Do you still have freezing cold showers before your races? And more importantly, why?
GR: Yes I do and it’s mainly to wake my body up for what is coming.
CK: You said in your Star.com 2008 interview with Randy Starkman, that when you first arrived in Victoria, you had one chair and that was it. “No risks, no rewards, right”?
Hopefully, you now have more than one chair, but as for no risks, no rewards go, does that risk-taking attitude come out in your racing? I assume you lean more to the side of tactical when racing.
GR: Well I mean risk does not involve making bad decisions in my world. I still try and push out of my comfort zone because that’s where I have had the most success in my career. With racing it’s no different for me, I try and make the smartest possible decisions the difference is I usually only have .1 of a second to make those decisions.
CK: Again from the same interview: “It’s like turning a valve on and lighting a fire for a minute and 44-something seconds and then turning the valve off. … You can’t let it all out until you hear the gun.”
So are you in a constant state of carrying on about your business in forced control, keeping a handle on that emotion. Does the emotion come out in other ways, outside of running?
GR: I don’t think so. Running seems to really bring this out in me like nothing else I think that’s why I love it so much. Away from the track I am not super competitive, but I am focused on goals in my life.
CK: Wilson Kipketer said pretty much the same thing, during his post-retirement interview with Chris Turner of the IAAF – Is this what you are referring to:
Chris Turner: What will you miss about not being on the circuit?
Wilson Kipketer: What I will miss is the way I felt when running 800m, the way I felt when controlling the race, the feeling of leading a race, the atmosphere…this is what I am going to miss.
CT: What would you like your legacy to the sport be?
WK: I want this inner feeling to be known by the younger athletes, so they understand what that love of running is all about, I want to pass on my love and feeling for running.
GR: I would want people to look back on my career and realize no matter where you are born where you live and no matter what your circumstances they can become a world class athlete or anything they want in life. I want to be an example for all the underdogs in this world and people who are scared to take the road less travelled that if you make good decisions and stay focused good things will happen.
CK: Coe talked of the passion:
Sebastion Coe: “You have to have the vision, too. Vision is a romantic thing. We have got into ‘talent identification’. I am much more interested in passion – finding people who are really excited about doing something.”
CK: Training requires long-term vision. On a day to day basis, especially in the off-season, how does passion manifest itself?
Vision in a way is more important than anything in sport. You have to be able to lay in bed at night and see it and almost feel it. You should be able to paint a clear picture in your head about where you are going and what you want to achieve or in my opinion it will be very hard to get there.
CK: In your description of winning Silver at the World Track and Field championships, you said it was a feeling you never had before and that you didn’t know whether you should laugh or cry and that you didn’t know how to express whatever the feeling was you were experience in that moment.
Is that what drives you now, being in touch with or chasing that feeling?
GR: Yes after having a global medal as a goal for my whole life, it was very surreal to have achieved that feeling. That level of satisfaction was life changing for me and only made me want more.