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Moving On Up: Exclusive Interview With Lauren Fleshman

We caught up with the fastest 5,000m runner in the U.S. this year.

We caught up with the fastest 5,000m runner in the U.S. this year.

Interview by: Linzay Logan

With an outstanding performance at the recent World Championships, Lauren Fleshman has great momentum heading into the New York City Marathon in November. Photo: PhotoRun.net

“June 24: 8th in the USA. Sept 2nd: 7th in the world.”

This is how Lauren Fleshman ended her last blog post on her experience at the World Championships earlier this month. It’s representative of the 29-year-old’s positive, inspirational attitude. Her performance in the 5,000-meter final at Worlds not only solidified her position as one of the best 5,000-meter runners in the U.S., but also marked the beginning of her transition into completely new territory—the marathon.

On Nov. 6, Fleshman will run the ING New York Marathon—her first attempt at the distance. “I have no idea what I’m getting myself into,” she admitted when I spoke to her earlier this week. Even though she’s been focusing on shorter distances since middle school, her heavy workload over the past few years should serve her well come race day in New York City.

More from Competitor.com–On Top Of The World: Exclusive Interview With Lauren Fleshman

With just over six weeks left to train for the ING New York City Marathon, Fleshman spoke with me about her experience at Worlds, her transition to the marathon and how she can easily sleep more than most newborns.

Competitor.com Tell me about Worlds…congrats on an awesome race!

Fleshman finished fourth in her semifinal heat at the world championships in South Korea, earning a spot in the finals. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Lauren Fleshman: It was great! The trajectory of my year was incredibly steep improvement after nationals. Eighth was great but it wasn’t really where I wanted to be. I wanted to believe I could do better than that while also being grateful for being healthy enough to race.

My breakthrough in London and qualifying for World was very dramatic. All these factors had to happen for me to make it—people deciding not to run, others not running well. If I were religious I would say it was God’s will.

When I got the call that I had made it, I felt so validated for that small little belief that I had that I would make it. There was a little piece of belief that I wouldn’t let die. There was a lot of “just in case” going on—just in case I make it I should train like this or do this. I kept on thinking: Give me a lane. Give me the chance. Let me go!

At Worlds I got to measure myself against the best in the world. I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way or stop it from being a good experience. I kept telling myself that I have a lot of experience running and I’ve wasted my opportunity at Worlds before and didn’t want to do it again. I had my doubts, but I had to fight those battles and stay positive.

How do you stay so positive even in such a stressful situation?

I focus on what I want to achieve and try to think about it from a perspective from what I can control. I ask myself, how can I walk away from this race feeling good and feeling proud? That mindset forces you to differentiate what you can control and what you can’t control.

I also focus on giving 100 percent of what I can for that particular day.

You’ve really been able to step up your game and really improve in the last few months. Tell me about going from eighth in the U.S. on June 24 to seventh in the world on Sept 2nd.

I did it in eight weeks; that’s nuts. It wasn’t just all me, though. My coach kept on believing in me and kept right on board with my same attitude. I had him on my team—it helped a lot.

Plus everyone in the running community and on my blog are just so supportive.

Your blog has become quite a success. What gave you the idea to start asklaurenfleshman.com?

Fleshman competes at the Olympic Trials in 2008. Photo: PhotoRun.net.

I wanted to do something to give back to the sport ever since I was in college. But I didn’t have the means or the platform to do it then. My main goal was to make it so other women athletes could learn from the mistakes and successes of other athletes doing what they do. I don’t want it to be just about me; I want lots of women to chime in and share their experiences to prevent people from going through the same problems over and over again—to avoid the common sand traps and pot holes in the sport or to get out of them sooner and get back on track of loving their sport. It has turned out to be everything I’ve wanted from it and more. I wish I could write every single day.

This year has been such a success for you and it’s not even over yet. What do you attribute your success to?

Having a different mentality. Being more accepting of myself and of my strengths and my weaknesses and embracing the process more instead of looking at tough races as just a pain in the ass; they’re a necessary part of what I’m trying to do. If all of my races were easy, I’d be missing an opportunity to learn something.

Also, when you stop being so hard on yourself you allow yourself to dream about bigger things. I don’t judge myself as harshly as I used to.

Bigger things, maybe like the marathon? How is training for that going?

I did my first real long run just over two hours on Sunday. I’m adjusting and growing and starting to get into the swing of things. The workouts are really hard! The most I have ever run before is 22 or 23 miles. There was little bit of a lull after words when I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to this, but I’m staring to feel really energized and optimistic for it.

I have a tendency to over do it in training so this short training time is good for me. With only a few weeks to train, it forces me to take a baby step into the marathon. But if SkinnyRunner can run a marathon with just a few weeks of training so can I!

The toughest thing for me is setting a realistic expectation and being OK with it. I’m going to be compared to Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan and Desi Davila who all had incredible debuts. And I have to be courageous and approach the marathon with my own set of expectations and not care what anyone else thinks. No matter what I can still have a great time and get the things out of it that I want, like improving my 5K for the spring.

Why did you choose New York City?

I know the people that run it—New York Road Runners—and they have always fit in with my overall philosophy of the sport and they donate to post-collegiate running groups so people can continue to run after college. I have a personal relationship with the president, Mary Wittenberg, and she’s always been really nice to me.

And timing. I knew the only time I could do it was in the fall.

I’m going to write a blog post about how to prepare for the race. I have no idea what I’m getting myself into.

Lauren Fleshman winning the XTERRA Trail Nationals in 2009. Photo: Nils Nilson/XTERRA

What does your training look like now that you’re preparing for the marathon?

It’s just a tiny bit more mileage. I only run six days a week and I hit 80 miles last week. My hard days are a lot longer—14 to 16 miles.

I can’t do as much mileage as a lot of elites—I don’t want to get hurt.

I Ellipitgo for cross training for two to five hours a week, which ends up being the equivalent about 20 miles worth of running. Were lucky in Eugene that we have that a lot of bike paths and cycling friendly roads. I can take it anywhere—just not off a curb. I learned the hard way; you bottom out.

What does a typical training day look like?

I try to get as much sleep as I can get. I slept like 12 hours last night [laughs]. I wake up when I wake up and I listen to my body. I’ve heard I’m going to get a lot more tired once I start upping the milage on my long runs.

I eat a light breakfast and go for my first run which is usually six to, well, it could be a lot more since I’m training for the marathon.

Then I have lunch and work on Picky Bars, other work or blogging.

In the evening around 6:00 I go for another run or Elliptigo.

In the evening I stretch, cook, watch a movie or chill out.

And I try to spend as much time as I can with my husband. (Fleshman is married to triathlete Jesse Thomas).

How do you avoid burnout, especially since you are training for the marathon now?

I think its important to take a day off every week—I’ve done that since high school. Very few dedicated athletes do it, but I find if I take that day every week and fully charge my battery it is enough to keep my fresh each week and keep me excited to run. I take a longer break after a focal point of the season; I’ll take at least two weeks off and don’t run at all.

It’s really good to let yourself get out of shape, miss training and make you want it more.

The only year that I felt burnt out was when I didn’t take time off after the season.

It’s also good to have other passions.  If I didn’t have another job (Fleshman owns Picky Bars) it would be easier to not take breaks from running.

Your training diary was just released. Tell me about that.

It’s a project I created with Ro McGettigan. She’s an Olympic steeplechaser and we’ve been friends for years. I wanted to put the things I have learned about running into a training diary and walk people through the things that we do in our sport. The diary is a way to get people to record their training and be mentally engaged in their training and work toward a goal.

I wanted to make it the ideal book for runners to feel good about themselves and their training.

The training journal is available at www.believeiam.com

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