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Top Five Or Bust: Exclusive Interview With David Jankowski

ZAP Fitness runner hopes for top-five placing at USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships 10K.

David Jankowski is hoping for a top-5 finish in the 10,000 meters at the USA Track & Field Championships at the end of June. Photo:

ZAP Fitness runner hopes for top-five placing at USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships 10K.

Interview by: Matt Fitzgerald

Former Oklahoma State University star David Jankowski placed fifth in the 10,000m at last year’s USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Eleven months later, his training is focused on improving that placing—and perhaps achieving an Olympic Trials qualifying time of 28:30 or better—at this year’s championships, which will be held in Eugene, Ore., June 23-26. “Janko” now represents the ZAP Fitness team of emerging elite runners based in western North Carolina. Competitor’s Matt Fitzgerald is currently visiting with ZAP, where he conducted the following interview. The field for this year’s 10,000m championship is shaping up to be stronger than last year’s. How does that affect your goal setting?

David Jankowski: I really haven’t even looked at the list yet. The difference of who’s in the field based on names or what they’ve done recently doesn’t make a huge difference to me, just because it all depends on the day. There were a lot of guys in last year’s race who, for whatever reason, didn’t finish as well as they should have—like Scotty Bauhs or [James] Carney. Guys like that finished farther back than you would have anticipated. Granted, there are guys like Galen Rupp, who is going to be there [i.e. up front] every time.

For me, who’s there doesn’t really change what I’m going to try to do, which is really to make the smartest moves, run the most intelligent race I can, and maximize position. I’d just like to improve on what I did last year as far as place, regardless of who’s  there, because I’m definitely more fit than I was last year. Whoever’s in the field, I feel I should still be able to be in the top five on the right day.

You’ve anticipated my next question, which is, How does your fitness compare? You’ve already said it’s better. Can you expand on that?

After being in a system for a year, you start to adapt. And the biggest thing is, I’ve been healthy for almost three years now. Just being healthy pays dividends. And the 15K [that is, the Gate River Run/USA 15K Championship, in which Jankowski finished 7th this year with a time of 43:51], if you look at the people who have run under 44 minutes there, almost every one of them runs under 28 minutes for 10K. So that definitely bodes well for 10,000 meters for me—that or they shortened the course this year!

Your current PR is 28:27. Do you consider that quite soft?

Again, looking at the 15K, I’d say I’m ready to run close to 28 minutes, maybe even under. So I think I can bring it down by 30 seconds. But again, it all depends on the day.

You can say, so-and-so isn’t any good, just look at his PR. But that doesn’t mean anything. Just look at Ryan Sheehan last year. I think his PR is something like 28:40, and he finished fourth last year at the USA Championships in the ten. So you can’t always look at what someone has done in the past. Sometimes people just knock it out of the park on a certain because they’re just ready to roll.

What kind of race are you hoping for? What suits you best?

As long as it’s not a sit and kick at the last lap, I don’t think it really matters too much. I used to think a steady kind of grinding race would be best for me, but last year’s race kind of changed my mind. I think a race that’s really uneven or slow at the start and picks up in the last half—I could be fine with that, with a lot of pace changing. A steady race, obviously, I’ve always felt that was my strength.

And last year in Europe I learned that I could close pretty fast too. I closed a 1500 in a seven-second 800-meter PR. Granted, my PR was 2:02! Still, to close in 1:55 told me that I could close in under 58 seconds in a 10K off a hot pace if I need to. The only race I would be scared of is one that’s really slow and then the last lap or two we have to go 1:55 to close it.

The pattern in the race that past couple of years has been a really erratic pace. I saw you do an interesting workout this morning that seemed to mimic that, where you were changing your speed and the gradient every minute on a treadmill for 40 minutes.

Yeah, that was [coach] Pete [Rea’s] plan with the one-minute cycles on the treadmill. He likes to do a lot of those gear-changing workouts, especially this time of year, because like you said, the 10K’s have had pretty erratic pacing. They make you feel uncomfortable at weird times and make you dig a little deeper than you normally would in the middle of a workout, to make you feel that discomfort that you would feel in an erratic race.

So, we have an Olympic Trials year coming up. Are you aiming to run both the marathon in January and the 10K in the spring?

Yeah, assuming I get the 10K qualifier, because I haven’t one run yet. I would like to do the ten more than the marathon. If I could make both teams, I would choose the ten. But I do think, the way the marathon is, there’s more room for error, which makes it more wide open. It creates an opportunity for someone like me to sneak in there.

Next year, if things keep going in the right direction, no injuries, everything is perfect, I can run 27:30, 27:35. The problem is, you’ve got guys like Chris Solinsky, who ran under 27 minutes. You’ve got Galen Rupp, who’s got to be thinking he’s going to run under 27 minutes. He’s already run 27:10. Bobby Curtis just ran 27:22. Matt Tegenkamp, Tim Nelson—these are all guys who have already run under 27:30. So there’s no guarantee. The 10,000 is a little scarier because I feel like there isn’t as much margin for error. The wrong day in the marathon means minutes. The wrong day in the 10K means five or ten seconds.

The marathon’s more open for me. I haven’t even begun to realize what I can do at that distance. My training for Twin Cities [Jankowski finished fourth in the 2010 Twin Cities Marathon in 2:16:15] was not ideal, nor was the way I raced it. I’ve got a lot of room to improve there, and I think that’s exciting.