Thursday, July 16, 2009

Christopher Raabe: full-time working 2:15 marathoner heading to NYC

Thanks Runner's World!

Christopher Raabe, 30, won Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota in June in 2:15:13, a victory by three minutes. His first prize was $10,000. Having grown up near St. Cloud, Raabe became the first Minnesota native to win Grandma's in 27 years and he was the first American to win the men's division since 1995. Raabe ran as a North Dakota State undergraduate and studied physics at the graduate level at George Washington University. He is now a patent examiner in Washington, DC and competes for The Running Company. Raabe's earlier marathons included a 2:17:36 for sixth in Duluth in 2008 and a 16th at the U.S. Olympic Trials in November of 2007 in 2:17:01.

Was the first marathon you did the 2:20:58 in Baltimore in October of 2006?
Christopher Raabe: Yes

Up until that point, what roadracing had you been doing? Had you at least gotten up to the half-marathon?
CR: I'd done a few halves. I'd been hoping to run a marathon maybe a little earlier, but as evidenced by my halves, training wasn't progressing as well as I might have liked, so I didn't really feel that I was ready before then. And at that point I wanted to get in a qualifier for the Olympic Trials. I was hoping to get under 2:20 (the 'A' standard), but 2:22 was the "B" at the time, so I had to settle for that.

You must have finally had some encouraging training or race results to figure you could do that well.
CR: Six months before Baltimore, I kind of planned out what I needed to do, and it ended up working out.

Well, it's interesting, when you won Grandma's, I thought "who's this guy, I never heard of him before..."
CR: ... A lot of people thought that (laughs).

But you had two 2:17s by that point, and frankly, in this country, there are people running for so-called professional teams that aren't doing that well.
CR: But I think some of them are faster at the shorter stuff, which I've had no success in. And they're working their way up in the marathon. I'm sure they'll start running to their potential.

Besides the marathon, what have been your best performances? Have you run a fairly decent half by now?
CR: I ran just over 65 at Philly (a 1:05:06 at the Philadelphia Distance Run in 2007). That's my best so far in the half. I don't really do a whole lot of racing. I do maybe two marathons a year and then maybe a half or a ten-mile as a prep race to see where I'm at six to eight weeks out. But other than that, I don't do much racing in shorter stuff.

Were you thinking in terms of a 2:15 at Grandma's in June?
CR: I was a hoping to maybe be able to at least consider running New York in the fall (as an invited athlete) and I thought I'd probably have to run maybe 2:13 to do that. And I thought I had 2:13 or 2:14; I didn't think I'd have enough for the win. But I got one (the win) and didn't get the other (the time) so I think that worked out alright.

Have you heard from any of the fall marathon people since your win?
CR: Almost right away. It was actually kind of nice. I didn't have to beg my way into races. I got e-mails from Twin Cities in New York, which is good (the ING New York City Marathon is a USA Men's Championship, and Raabe easily meets the qualifying guidelines, described here). I'm thinking probably New York. That's the way I'm leaning. I think that extra month will be nice, to give me a little more time to ease into my training for the fall.

Again, a 2:15, despite what Ryan Hall or Dathan Ritzenhein might be doing, ranks you fairly high in this country. You're taking prize money, but you're basically a part-time runner and still holding down a full-time job...and happy doing that, right? Would you like to be in a situation where you could devote more time to running and more time to recovering ... and getting 20 massages a week?CR: That wouldn't be bad. If I were three or four minutes faster and ten years younger, that wouldn't be a bad way to go. But I don't think that's in the cards for me. I think a 2:13 is what I have right now, if I were to have a decent race on a good day. Of course, you always want to run faster, I wouldn't mind running faster than that either. And who knows, 2:15 I'd like to think as a stepping stone in the right direction, but that might be as fast as I run ever.

Well, you've had a steady progression from 2:20 to 2:17 to 2:15. It seems like it could keep going.
CR: Again, I'd like to think so. But who knows?

It sounds like you manage to fit in pretty decent mileage. Are you hitting over 100 a week?
CR: For most of the spring, I had eight to ten weeks where I was hitting 145 (per week), something like that. I backed it off a little bit for six to eight weeks before Grandma's. I was running 125 to 135, something like that.

And your job is pretty much a nine to five one?
CR: Those many hours, but I have a little more flexibility in terms of scheduling, which is nice.

How scientific do you really try to be in training? Is it mainly slogging out hard miles on the road, or would you do track workouts akin to what we think the top guys would do?
CR: For me, it's mainly routine, doing week after week of the same stuff. Tuesday mornings, I do a workout on the track. Fridays are fartlek and hills. If I'm doing hills, I'll also do a tempo on Thursday and just a long run on Sunday. If I'm doing fartlek, I won't do a tempo on Thursday but I'll do a progression run on Sunday.

And what does the Tuesday track workout tend to consist of?
CR: Just repeats, varying from 400s to 2000s.

Do you have a team or training partners?
CR: I run for The Running Company (which has a handful of stores in the Northeast). But as far as regular training partners, not too much. I was training with Wilson Komen, a guy around here, for 2006, but he's been hurt off and on so it's been a little more sporadic. So most of it's on my own, but occasionally I'll get some people out to run, so that makes it easier.

Is the patent examiner job something you got right out of college?
CR: I came out here (to Washington DC) for grad school and then I had a year where I bartended, and then I got the job.

Can you explain a little bit about what you do as a patent examiner?
CR: People apply for patents and they want to explain what their invention is, and I examine what they're claiming for novelty and non-obviousness, essentially.

It's a serious job, but do recall the most preposterous application you've come across?
CR: I don't get too many of those. I don't get garage-type tinkers. I get your Samsungs and LG and stuff like that. Mine are pretty run of the mill.

Going back to the beginning, you went to the Grandma's Marathon as a kid to watch it, correct?
CR: My dad ran in high school and then he let things go a little bit after that, but he got back into running in 1988 or so, and I watched him do that, watched him run marathons and things like that.

And this June, you didn't anticipate winning, but you ended up winning easily, by about three minutes...
CR ... Yeah, I think that goes back to people not knowing who I am. They kind of let me go (in the race), thinking "this guy will come back." I was actually thinking that for most of the time I was out front, that I was going to fall about and they would put on a decent surge and hopefully I would only let two or three guys pass me.

And now you're the first native Minnesotan to win Grandma's Marathon in 27 years and the first American male champion since 1995. That's pretty epochal.
CR: I think the people lining the course enjoyed that a little more than they have in the past however many years.

The first prize is $10,000. Does that change your life in any meaningful way? Do you make any big acquisitions?
CR: It'll go towards a down payment on a house, hopefully. I'm gradually working towards that.

Between now and your fall marathon, do you have any racing plans?
CR: I'll do one on Labor Day weekend. There's Virginia Beach (a Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon) and there's that New Haven race (the USA 20K). Somewhere around there, I'll do one to see what I have to do between then and the marathon.