Vail confident entering NYC Marathon

Hard training, forging connections important to rising American star

Updated: October 30, 2013, 12:26 AM ET
By Mario Fraioli | Competitor.com

With only two marathons under his belt, 27-year-old Ryan Vail feels he's an amateur when it comes preparing for 26.2-mile races, but his race results and current training regime are reason to believe otherwise.

The Portland, Ore.-based Brooks athlete turned heads at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in Houston with a 2:12:43 (11th place), ran a personal best of 2:11:45 at the Fukuoka Marathon in December -- a Plan B race four weeks after the New York City Marathon was canceled -- and will make his long-awaited Big Apple marathon debut in this year's NYC Marathon. 

Vail's 2013 racing season, which has been marathon-free until this point, has been nothing short of stellar.

In February, he finished sixth at the U.S. Cross Country Championships, good enough for a spot on the U.S. team at the World Championships in Poland.

Vail finished third at the U.S. 15K road championships in March, and followed that up with a 17th place finish at the World Cross Country Championships later in the month, helping the U.S. team to a silver medal.

Turning his focus to the track in April, he notched a personal-best 27:44 in the 10,000m at Stanford's Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, and finished sixth in the same event at the U.S. Outdoor Track & Field Championships in June. In his buildup to New York, Vail won the Rock 'n' Roll San Jose Half Marathon in early October with a strong 62:46, just 42 seconds off his personal best for the distance.

Impressive race results aside, Vail's training has been something to behold. The former Oklahoma State All-American updates his blog regularly, providing details, insight and commentary around his preparation for New York, which includes training weeks as high as 150 miles, with many of those miles run under a 5:00 pace.

We caught up with Vail after his win in San Jose to get his thoughts on the marathon, talk about his training for New York and discuss the importance of the dialogue he's created with fans through his blog.

Mario Fraioli: You've been pounding out 150-mile weeks in training, with a lot of long workouts and a solid 62:46 effort at Rock 'n' Roll San Jose. Talk about your training heading into New York and how it's different from anything you've ever done to this point.

Ryan Vail: Yeah, this will be my third marathon so I think each time we're trying to progress a little bit in terms of the volume, in terms of the length of the workouts and speed of the workouts, taking baby steps like I've done my whole career, and I think I've definitely taken another step forward compared to my training last year before New York. I didn't get to test it out at New York last year, I tested it out at Fukuoka, which was a month later, so it's hard to say how our plans lined up.

We're still kind of amateurs when it comes to the marathon preparation and that's part of the reason I started posting my blog, to start a dialogue with other runners because I'm sitting here and I feel like I'm working hard but honestly I don't know compared to the other marathon runners until I talk to them, so it was kind of a way to start a dialogue with other guys out there.

MF: You've run close to 62:00 flat for a half-marathon. Talk a little bit about your progression as a runner, to be able to run less than a minute off your PR after a 150-mile week and four weeks out from a marathon. As far as your career trajectory goes, are you where you thought you'd be at this point or have you sort of adapted your expectations as you go?

RV: It's hard to measure a race like this (San Jose). I haven't run this course before, but I think any time you can go out there and run 4:48 to 4:50 and really feel easy, that's just a great sign for a marathon, coming into it fatigued and then being able to close off of that. I feel like I'm as strong as I've ever been before. I feel fresh after the race, I feel like I definitely could have run faster in a different situation, so I'm really pleased with where I'm at. I'm strong.

MF: After New York's cancellation last year and the events of Boston this past spring, what does it mean to you to go back to New York this fall?

RV: I think it's going to be kind of a celebration for everyone, for the athletes to get to come back and be able run the race, hopefully for the citizens that were affected by Hurricane Sandy, hopefully it's going to be kind of a resurgence, a lot of people rebuilding. It sounds like people are on the right track there.

After Boston, obviously a major marathon event like that affects every marathon, so that's going to be noted with security, the attitude of the spectators and the runners. It's going to be an emotional event and it's exciting to be a part of it.

MF: You said earlier you're still trying to figure out the marathon, but I think it's safe to say your attention has been turned to the longer distances now. Where do you see yourself in two or three years, even six or seven years?

RV: Yeah, I'm definitely building toward the Olympic trials for 2016, but I still like to mix in some of the shorter stuff, and when I say shorter stuff I mean 10K on the track, half marathons, 15Ks. I think that's good for your marathon progression to not get into a rut of constant year-round marathon training. I still plan on throwing a few track races in there and a few shorter things, but definitely the long-term focus is the marathon.

MF: Just how tough is it going to be to make the next two Olympic teams?

RV: You had to be a 2:09 guy at these last trials to make the team and I don't think that's going to be any different the next two times around. I think I'm going to have to be a 2:09 guy by 2016 to really put my name the hat, and I think you have to think that way now. You have to raise the bar. It's not 2000 anymore, where you can get away with running 2:12 and go to the Olympics.

I've gotta be shooting to catch these guys. I've gotta make several big steps by 2016, and I think I'm on pace to do that, but there's still a lot of work to do. It's going to be extremely competitive. It's not going to get any easier for me.

MF: You talked about posting your blog online in order to create dialogue between runners. How important is it for professional runners, whether you're the Ryan Halls or Ryan Vails of the world, or someone just out of college, to connect with fans who are trying to follow the sport? How important is it to have that regular presence?

RV: I think it's really important. I think that most people, including myself, when I think of Ryan Hall, I think he's got this super-secret plan, I think he's got this incredible and complex training system, and so I think putting this kind of stuff out there lets people see that they're not doing anything special. There is no secret recipe. They're out there pounding out miles just like we are and they've got all day to do it.

And so I think it brings that connection that they're doing the exact same things, just at a higher level. There's nothing secret about it. The goal is to make it really human. There's not a big gap that's there anyway, but to bridge that small gap, especially with college guys who are trying to take the next step. Because when I was in college and when I left college, I was really lost. And same thing from high school to college, so I hope it can just help bridge those small gaps.

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