Wednesday, April 14, 2010

mzungo exclusive: Nick Stanko

Nick Stanko continues our sub elite series today. He is already qualified for the trials but has bigger goals than that.

Again, if you want to share your experiences about being a sub elite runner, please let us know. Guys and gals (!): keep it coming, we and our readers love it!

Nick, please give our readers some background on your career, how it all started etc.

Growing up I was very active and tried most sports. I wanted to play high school football, but my gym teacher/wrestling coach advised me to give cross country a try. I weighed 115lbs. soaking wet so my future in football did not look too bright. I really started to focus on running at the end of my sophomore year of high school.
During my junior and senior year I started to run all year and train 2x/day. At Roosevelt High School in Wyandotte, MI Jay Kershenbaum was my cross country coach and Floyd Wells was my track coach. They really opened the door for my running. Jay was all about making it fun and doing your best. Floyd was about competition and hard work. It was the perfect combination.

After high school I ran for The University of Michigan from 1999 to 2004 for Ron Warhurst. Since then I have been self-coached. I really enjoy the art of coaching and trying to figure it out so I have tried to educate myself as much as possible. Just recently I have started to seek out some help because I was starting to get frustrated with having random great performances and then not being able to improve from there.

With 2:19/1:05 you are already qualified for the trials - congratulations! You told us though that you would want to PR until then and go sub 2:19. How do you plan to achieve that?

Thanks! Going into the '12 Marathon Trials it would be nice to have a marathon under my belt closer to 2:15. My 1/2 marathon and 25k PRs both equate to a sub-2:16 marathons, so I don't think it is out of the question. In the past I typically have tried to force workouts that would result in running a 2:15 and I would end up over training myself. Over the past year I have been trying to let the workouts come to me and not force them so much.
This past summer my wife Theresa, our 4-year old daughter Claire and I spent a month in Boulder, CO and I was very lucky to get in a handful of workouts with Steve Jones's sub-elite group he coaches. We ran our Tuesday workouts based on time. He is big on running by feel. Some days you might be running 4:20/mile pace and others it might be 4:40 pace. This really helped to turn that switch on for me. Since '09 I have made more of an effort to not force things and as a result I set new road PRs in the 5k, 15k, 10m, 25k, and Marathon... and came close to getting a few other PRs. Even though I might be able to go out and hammer a workout that I feel I would need to complete to be able to run in the low teens for a marathon it would probably set me back too much. I'm learning to not force the workouts all the time and have faith that in time I can get down to running a faster marathon.

Do you see yourself as a runner in the low 2:10s one day?

I try to not set limits on myself so running in the 2:10 range is not out of the question. That's one of the beauties of running, you just never know where the road will take you. My PR for the 1/2 is 1:04:01 and if you use the trusty McMillan Running Calculator that equates to a 2:15:01. 2:15 is well below my 2:19:37 PR in the marathon so right now I'm taking it one step at a time and trying to get my marathon PR to match my 1/2 marathon PR.

What would you suggest a 2:30 guy who wants to become a sub 2:20 guy?

I think for all distance runners aerobic development is huge and often times misunderstood/underrated. Also, the law of specificity (race pace economy) is important. Aerobic development would be training at around marathon race pace (MRP) up to MRP+1:00. In my book 3 effective ways to develop this system is 1. Steady Long Runs (MRP+1:00 or under), 2. Progression runs of 10+ miles (based on effort), 3. Tempo/LT runs. One can get great results from focusing on aerobic development and it should always be in the picture throughout the year. The variable that changes is the law of specificity and training at the pace you want to race.

In my book for a 2:30 runner that wants to run sub-2:20 I would focus developing their aerobic system which is not developed to run a sub-2:20 yet. This cannot be forced and running by feel will be a major piece to this puzzle. Steady is a good description of this pace. Run your long runs, progression runs and tempo runs at a steady pace. You can keep splits but don't look at them on your run. Run by feel. After the workout check your splits and keep track of your development. You can't force your aerobic development and try to hit certain time splits because one day this pace will be different from another day depending on how your body is feeling. 2 to 3 days a week can be devoted to this.

1 day a week should be devoted to the law of specificity. Specific to the marathon, if you want to run sub-2:20 you have to start working on running sub-5:20/mile MRP and sub-5:04/mile for 1/2 MRP to develop your running economy at race pace. If there are other race distances that you will be racing, use the McMillan Running Calculator to find out what pace is equivalent to a 2:20 marathon and work on running at that pace. All other days should be recovery days and pace should not matter. Overtime one should try and add more volume during their recovery days, but not at the expense of decreasing quality on quality days.

Every runner is different and will develop at different rates, but using the above variables should be a good start if they are looking for a change or more direction. It takes years of consistent running to develop the aerobic system and it can't be rushed.

What's the plan for the rest of the year?

For 2010 I would like to focus on running in as many of the US Road Championship races as possible. Running in these races is really rewarding and the competition is always top notch. If I can keep improving my finishing place at these races then I know my running is still headed in the right direction. I ran in the US 1/2 in January and the US 15k in March. The US 25k is next up in May. After that I have not committed to any of the other races, but am looking at running the US 10k and 10 mile in the summer. It would be nice to run a marathon in December '10 or January '11.
What keeps you training hard day by day?

If I had to narrow it down to one thing it would be the challenge running provides. I feel I have had moderate success with my running over the years and I am still figuring out how to get to the next level of success. It's a rewarding journey to be on from one day to the next and I don't know what I would do without the challenge of sports in my life.

Do you cross train? Drills? Stretch? Get physio?

I throw in some cross-training (swimming, biking, etc) when I am coming off a break from training. After my final race for a training phase I take a week off from all activity. This happens about 2 times a year. When I resume training I'll start with running and cross training to get back into things for a week or two. After that I don't do any cardio type cross-training, but do some weight lifting and body weight exercises 3-5 times per week. I try to focus on strength exercises that are specific to running.

I do drills and strides after my runs 1-3 times a week and before my quality sessions and races. I used to do static stretching before my runs, but over the past year I have switched to doing a dynamic warm-up. I see a sports massage therapist every few weeks and in between I use a foam roller. If I could see him a couple times a week, I would, but right now it's just not possible.

Are you training on your own or do you have running partners? If the latter, who are you training with and what level are they at?

I pretty much do all my running on my own. I teach high school art at Haslett High School so I have to get in my longer/quality sessions in the morning starting at 5:30AM before work. Monday-Friday after work I'll run 6 miles and sometimes I do this with the high school cross country/track team my wife and I coach at Haslett High School.

Training alone is not a problem for me. One could look at this as a good or bad thing. I try to focus on the positives as much as possible in life. To some degree training with a group can get me into trouble. In a group it's hard for me to listen to my body and run easier on a quality day, when I should be backing off a little. Doing my quality sessions alone allows me to adjust my training when needed. I still find it hard to back off some days, but I'm learning to find a happy medium so I don't dig myself into a hole.

Have you ever gone crazy on mileage just to see what happens?

Well crazy is a relative term and changes from one year to the next... I have topped out with mileage in the 140's, but I think in terms of racing and setting PRs mileage is not the answer. When you increase your quantity, your quality must go down. When your quality goes down too much then you are running too many miles. Every now and then it's good to challenge your max for quantity (mileage) and your max for quality (tempo, intervals, hills, etc.), but most weeks should be a good mix of quality and quantity. If your training is balanced you should be able to increase your quality and quantity from one year to the next to set new PRs. The next time a challenge my quantity limit it will probably be in the 150's.

What shoes are you training and racing in?

I have been very fortunate to have the support of Brooks since 2005. I currently train in the Adrenaline and ST Racer. I have raced in the T-series for a number of years now and they treat me pretty well.

What's your favorite training session?

I enjoy any day that has a quality session in it, whether it's a tempo run, intervals on the track, repeat hills, a steady long run etc. If I had to narrow it down to one it would be a tempo run of 5-10 miles. I seem to respond well to this training and after I am usually not maxed out. Then a few days later I am ready to do some more quality work.

What's your favorite running route?

My favorite running route would have to be "The Res" in Boulder, CO. I have only spent two summer there, so it's not often that I get to run there. The terrain is the perfect set-up for a challenging steady long run, the views are amazing, and their are tons of like minded athletes out their challenging their limits. At home in Haslett, MI my favorite run is a long steady run in the country on rolling dirt roads. The rolling hills are challenging and it's a peaceful setting to focus on running at a steady pace.

Have you ever trained in Kenya? If not, would you like to?

My "Bucket List" would contain training in Kenya. If I ever had the opportunity to train in Kenya I would definitely try to make it work out. I think I have all the training resources I need in Haslett, MI to reach my full potential, but I'm sure I could learn a lot from some time in that kind of setting.

How peculiar are you with food?

I do my best to keep things consistent. For races I'll usually bring my own breakfast so it's one less thing I have to worry about in the morning. I'll bring some instant coffee, a bagel, peanut butter, and honey. In general from day to day I focus on eating unprocessed foods. If I could eat nothing that was processed that would be ideal. I get pretty close, but I don't stress about it if I have to eat something out of a box/wrapper every now and then. My wife is an amazing cook, so that definitely helps.

Do you use supplements?

I have tried taking different vitamins over the years, but looking back I don't think there is one supplement that is perfect. I currently take a liquid iron supplement 3 times a week. I seem to always test on the low side for iron so it's something I have to be aware of. I have been trying some Adaptogens to help with recovery, but once I have exhausted my supply I'll take a break from them to see if I feel any different. After my quality sessions I'll have a recovery drink right when I am done with my cool down. I notice a big difference with recovery if I don't get something in my system right when I am done.

What's your marathon nutrition looking like?

For every marathon I have raced I have tried to tweak my race nutrition a little. I have never had any major problems. In the morning I will have some milk/instant coffee and a bagel/peanut butter/honey. Before the starts I will have a GU and water.

During the marathon the minimum I have tried is taking 1 GU around 18 miles with a little water and water/Gatorade at most stations. The maximum I have tried is a GU every 5 miles (4 total) with Gatorade and then a little water at some stations.

The five races you want to do before you die?

That is a tough question because there are so many great events out there.
1. Represent the US in an international competition.
2. Boston Marathon
3. London Marathon
4. NYC Marathon
5. A XC race in Europe

How much can you bench?

I have not benched anything in a long time. This past winter we alternated push up and pull up competitions with the kids that were running in the winter with the Haslett Running Club. I did 76 consecutive push ups one day and 13 consecutive pull ups on another. At the University of Michigan a teammate and I got into benching and I maxed out at 185lbs. It did not have a positive effect on my running... or anything else, so it was kind of worthless.

Have you ever thought of doing a Triathlon or even Ironman?

I have done 3 triathlons in the past, 1 in high school and 2 in college. They were all in the summer, and the 2 in college were at times when I needed a break from just running. They were a lot of fun and I enjoyed the training. I had some experience in the swim and bike because I swam my junior year of high school and raced BMX bikes growing up. They were all smaller/local races, but I placed 2nd overall in the 1st tri I did and I think I was in the top 5 in the other two. Once I feel I have gotten everything out of myself in running I would like to do an Ironman or two, but I hope that won't be for awhile.

Which sports do you follow?

My favorite time of year for sports would be March Madness. The intensity of college basketball at that time of the year is just great. Everything is on the line and you never know how a game will end. When I get the chance in the fall I also enjoying watching college football. Go Blue!

What's your favorite internet site other than

There are other Internet sites besides [Ed.: he got that one right, no doubt.]

What's on heavy rotation on your iPod or car stereo?

A local station run by Michigan State University called The Impact 88.9 always plays a great mix. They play a lot of Indie music and have introduced me to artist like Jordan 'O Jordan and Man Man. Modest Mouse, Dispatch and O.A.R are some of the more well know artist that I enjoy.

Thanks for sharing all this Nick and best of luck for the season. We'll be watching you at the trials!