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First Time’s The Charm: Exclusive Interview with Andrew Carlson

The sixth-place Marathon Trials finisher talks about what makes his 2:11 debut special—and why you should have seen it coming.

The sixth-place Marathon Trials finisher from Team USA Minnesota talks about what makes his 2:11 debut special—and why you should have seen it coming.

As the saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed . . .”

But Andrew Carlson, 29, for all intents and purposes, did succeed at first. On January 14, at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston, Tex., the Fargo, N.D., native and Team USA Minnesota athlete put a solid race together in his first attempt at the distance, finishing sixth in 2:11:24. His time is the seventh-fastest American debut marathon in history.

A 2005 graduate of the University of Minnesota, Carlson was a two-time All-American in cross country and set the school record in the 5,000 meters (13:44.64). Post-collegiately, he joined Team USA Minnesota in 2005, and won the USA 15K road championship in 2008. He was also a member of the 2011 U.S. squad that competed in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain. From 2008-2010, Carlson trained with the McMillan Elite training group in Flagstaff, Ariz., — during which time won the 2010 USA 25K title — before rejoining Team USA Minnesota and coach Dennis Barker late in 2010.

Carlson sat down with the week following his impressive marathon result, talking about the journey, the Trials race, and what’s next. You had probably had the most noteworthy debut of the Trials, but you’d originally planned to debut at the Twin Cities Marathon, and had to pull out. How did you mentally refocus your energies toward the Trials?

Andrew Carlson: Well, the Trials has always been the goal. But I’ve always wanted to run Twin Cities Marathon, you know, going to school in Minnesota (and) growing up in Northern Dakota. But on my last long run before the race, I turned my ankle and ended up tearing a couple ligaments. I tried to push through for another five or six days and it just became pretty clear it wasn’t in the cards this year.

I actually think that was a blessing in disguise because I trained for the marathon, so that gave me some experience when I went into my training for the Olympic Trials.

You’ve won the USA 25K Champs (approximately 15.5 miles), but what made you confident that this was the time to step up to race the marathon?

To be perfectly honest, I probably should have stepped up a while ago. So, unlike a lot of first-time marathoners, I felt like I didn’t have that thought in my head like “This is my first one.”

Well, you know what? I did. I had the thought that it was my first one, but I didn’t give myself that excuse because I’m 29 years old, I’ve run races up to 25K, (and) I’ve trained with great marathon runners. I had confidence going into it that maybe some first-time marathoners don’t have.

Why did you believe that the marathon was a distance you should be competing in?

Well, I guess I really didn’t know that until Saturday (laughs). It was kind of like one of those things where the unknown is still there. But I’ve always been more of a strength runner; I don’t have a lot of pure speed, but I’ve been able to work myself into a decent long-distance runner.

What were some of the “make-sure” things you thought when you were approaching your first marathon?

You know, it’s hard. I was actually trying to think of stuff this morning about racing, and I guess I didn’t go in with one expectation for the race; I played it out in my head a lot of different ways. There are some parts of that race, though, that I probably wasn’t prepared for—not that I didn’t prepare for them in training, but had I run a few marathons before, I might have been ready for what my hamstrings were going to do with eight miles to go and not freak out like I did. I feel like I learned a lot about myself while I was out there.

What was your nutrition preparation for your first race? And do you feel like you hit it accurately?

Going into Twin Cities, I practiced more with taking fluids on runs, and gels and stuff like that. This time I took a gel on a long run every now and then. I think I worked with fluids a couple times in workouts, but again, really I just put Gatorade in some bottles and taped some GUs to them (laughs). I just made sure I had enough out there. I told someone, “I feel like I’ve thought about a lot of the stuff of this race, and I feel like I’ve thought about some stuff way too little.” (laughs)

The training and the running is the major part; the other stuff is—it’s still important, but it just didn’t have the importance of the long run, the tempo runs, and all that stuff.

How do you improve upon your performance at the Trials for your second marathon?

To think about the next one isn’t easy at this point. Even when I’m walking around, every now and then my calf will hurt. It’s still there in my legs (laughs).

I think training for the marathon taught me a lot about consistency and focus, which is something that I’ve had trouble with sometimes in the past. If you’re running a hundred-and-forty mile week, you can’t have a five-mile day in there where you just don’t feel like running. Good or bad, you have to get yourself out the door.

Last question: What time did you go to bed the day of the race?

Well, I was eating a chicken quesadilla in my room at 1:30 in the morning, so . . . probably about 1:30?

That’s how the sixth-best marathoner in the U.S. celebrates?

I guess he did this time (laughs).


About The Author

Jon Gugala is a freelance writer based in Santa Cruz, California. His work has appeared in Running Times, Runner’s World, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @JonGugala.