The unheralded 24-year-old turned some heads with a 2:13:41 debut at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
If Ricky Flynn wasn’t on your list of runners to watch at last month’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, you’re likely not alone.
The 24-year-old Flynn, a 2009 graduate of Lynchburg College, a small Division III school in Lynchburg, Virginia, had never run a marathon prior to last month’s Trials in Houston. He made his 26.2-mile debut one worth remembering, however, crossing the finish line in 2:13:41 to place 12th on American marathoning’s biggest stage.
A seven-time All-American at Lynchburg, Flynn captured the NCAA Division III cross country title in 2009. Upon completing his undergraduate studies, Flynn enrolled in a two-year grad program at his alma mater, earning his MBA last spring. For the past two-and-a-half years he’s been working 35 hours per week at Riverside Runners, a specialty running store in Lynchburg, while focusing on increasing his training load and dropping his personal bests. Last spring Flynn posted his fastest times ever on the track, running 13:59 for 5,000 meters and 29:21 for 10,000. He qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials with a 64:15, seventh-place finish at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon last October.
Competitor.com caught up with Flynn a couple weeks after his impressive debut marathon and got his thoughts on the race, a look at his preparation and a preview of what’s next on the up-and-coming marathoner’s agenda.
Competitor.com: Has your 12th-place finish sunk in yet?
Ricky Flynn: It’s definitely sunk in now. I’ve had some time to reflect on it and I’m still pretty excited about how it went and I’m very, very happy about my first marathon. Nothing really went wrong as far as hydration or any issues like that. It just kind of opened my eyes up to what’s possible over the next four years.
How did you recover from the race and what have you been up to since then?
I don’t think [the race] affected me all that much. I know my legs are probably still pretty beat up. I know if I were to go run a race I’d realize how bad my legs hurt, but I was able to run the day after the race and the day after that. I just ran 30 minutes those two days to kind of shake the legs out, then I took about a week off of no running. I started back up again and just did every other day, a few miles. I’m back into it now five days a week. I think I recovered nicely. I was in the pool swimming a week after and I let my legs feel a little bit better from the water and I’ve been icing a lot and doing the things that were necessary. I think that helped a lot. I’m back to running now on a normal schedule.
Let’s take a look back at the race. It was your first marathon. You had nothing to go off when you took to the starting line. What was your plan of attack heading into the race, what were you planning to hit for a pace, what was your mindset going in, what was your goal and how did those plans compare to what actually happened?
Going into the race I really just wanted to have an overall positive experience for my first marathon. I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself with it being the Olympic Trials and go out there and just kind of, for lack of a better word, shit the bed. I just wanted to have a good experience and enjoy it and get some good experience under my belt. I basically wanted to go out and run 5:10 to 5:15 pace for as long as I could because I knew that would put me anywhere between 2:15 and 2:18, which I thought if I had a good day I could run 2:15 and if I had an OK day I could run more like 2:17, 2:18. I knew anywhere in there was possible based on how I had been training. So, I went into the race and the first mile was around 5:15 so it felt pretty comfortable and I thought, “This is comfortable, I’m just going to try and keep the pace up,” and after that first mile I don’t think I hit anything over 5:15 again. The second mile was 5:02 and I was a little bit nervous that I had started out a little faster than I wanted to, but I felt fine, I didn’t panic or anything like that and just kind of kept that overall effort up, pretty similar to the second mile, and just started clicking off anywhere from 5 flat to 5:10 those next few miles. It felt comfortable so I just told myself I would stay in this rhythm for as long as I could and if I started to feel weak or feel like I’m going to hit the wall then I’ll back off a little bit, but it never really happened. I got really, really deep into the race and started dropping 4:55 and 4:53 and 4:58 and stuff like that and my second half was a lot faster than my first half, so it ended up going pretty well. I felt it at 24-25 but never really hit that wall.
When you started reeling off those faster splits later in the race, were you starting to gain confidence as you began to pick people off?
Yeah, definitely. Just being able to see my mile splits every mile and getting further and further into the race. I never raced anything over a half marathon, so after 13 miles every mile that I clicked off that was consistently equivalent to the mile before or faster just gave me that much more confidence. I was at 14 miles and I was like “Wow, I’m going faster than I was at 13.” And I’m at 18 miles and I’m going faster than I was at 15. I got to 22 miles–and I’ve never been there before–and I’ve been told that I’m going to hit the wall at 22, and at mile 24 I ran a 4:59. So I never really hit that wall, so it was really exciting during the race.
It’s often said that everyone learns something from their first marathon. Now that you’ve had a couple weeks to let things process and reflect on your race, what did you learn from your first marathon at the Trials?
I think I learned a lot on how to prepare for a marathon. Looking back I think I did a really good job in the days leading up to the marathon and making sure I was hydrated, making sure I ate enough, and ate more than I probably should, just making sure I had enough nutrition in me. I ate relatively healthy but more so I was just putting the calories in because you know you’re going to need those calories on race day. [I was] hydrating, not just with water but with Gaotrade and juice, basically anything you can get your hands on. And just preparing my legs for that taper the last week and making sure I took rest days and taking my runs nice and easy. I didn’t taper too much because I found if I end up tapering too much I end up racing worse. I did about 70 miles the week leading into the Trials and put a couple workouts in earlier in the week. Nothing crazy, just some pace stuff, because I wanted to make sure I was comfortable at that 5:10 pace. I learned a lot about what I did right preparing for the race and I think in my next marathon I’ll be a little bit more aggressive. I was very, very cautious [at the Trials]. Even though I was ahead of pace, I was very cautious about putting in surges or going with a certain guy, whereas in my next marathon I’ll put a little bit more risk on the line and see if I can’t hold on. And if I hit that wall, I’ll hit that wall. It will come when it comes, I guess.
What’s your training and racing focus going to be this summer?
It’s pretty common knowledge that if you can lower one PR in one distance you can probably do better at another distance, and it seems that for a lot of guys when they lower their 10K time they lower their marathon time and vice versa. I got my marathon time down pretty good so I’m hoping I can get that 10K time down to at least an equivalent performance, and hopefully that will help me in my next marathon too. So the focus is to try and see if I can’t qualify for the track Trials in the 10K and run a 5K as well and see if I can improve on that time, too.
Have you started thinking about your next marathon yet?
I’ve done a little thinking and yeah, this fall or next spring is an option. I kind of want to find a marathon where I can run really, really fast. I could do New York, and that course is a little bit harder, but it would be a really cool experience because my family lives in New York. So that’s an option. But then again, do I want to go run a flat one like Chicago, or who knows where. If I can get my time down it will help get my name out there a little bit more. I’ll have to see how the track season goes and see how I feel, recover after that, and if I’ll have enough time to put one in in October or November. And, if not, I definitely want to do one late winter or early spring next year.
When you were in college at Lynchburg, you were an outstanding cross country runner. Did you ever think that the marathon would be your best event or where you’d have the most impact?
If you had asked me in high school or my early years in college if I were going to be a marathoner I’d probably have told you that you were crazy. But as I got older and more mature I made that step up from the 5K to the 10K my junior year of college and that went really well. If you asked me then I would have told you “yeah, eventually I’ll do a marathon and see how it goes” and that I might have the potential to be a good marathoner, but it all depends on how the training goes and how well my body adjusts. About a year ago I kind of realized that if I want to take a shot at this the marathon is going to have to be my event. I was just biding my time until I was ready and my body was ready and I was mature enough. It happened to be an Olympic year so I figured I’d give it a shot by running a half marathon. If I didn’t qualify [for the Trials at the half marathon] it wouldn’t have been a big issue and I would have just broke it down and tried to lower my PRs in track and then maybe do another one a year or two down the road. I was able to put in the mileage and adjust to the training very well so I was happy about that.
Who is coaching you and what kind of mileage and workouts were you doing as part of your marathon buildup?
Well I pretty much coach myself and I get a little bit of feedback from my brother who coaches at Bridgewater College in Virginia. He helps me out some, but it’s pretty much myself doing it and bouncing ideas off him and going back and forth here and there but I do a majority of it. As far as mileage I’d never been a really high, high mileage guy in high school or college. I think in college I got up to maybe 75-80 miles [a week] training for 10K and that was pretty much it. But ever since college I’ve been progressively adjusting to higher mileage, making that transition very smoothly and very slowly. I was able to get in up to 115 [per week] about 6-7 weeks out from the marathon and that was pretty good. I did have a little bit of a stress reaction in my shin but I was able to take a couple days off and bounce back very nicely. I was hovering between 80 and 100 miles [a week] for a majority of the training and as far as workouts go I did a lot of long tempo runs, a lot of longer runs of 20+ miles. I was able to hit the 26-mile long run at least once during the training so that worked out well. And I also did a lot of strength-based workouts, long intervals obviously, as well as some hills combined with tempo workouts.
Were you training mostly by yourself or did you have training partners to push you day in and day out?
For the most part by myself. I still live here off campus from Lynchburg College and my roommate still runs for the team, so I’ll run with him on easy days every now and then, but for the most part the workouts were by myself. He’d be nice enough to join me for the first part of my long run then I’d do the other half by myself, but yeah, a majority by myself.
Based on how well your first marathon went, what do you see as possible for you in the future? And what will it take for you to be one of the top Americans four or eight years from now?
It’s really hard to say. Four years, eight years down the road is so long from now, so who knows what can happen between now and then. I can get injured, I can just not have the dedication or motivation anymore and I could just give up on the sport. I don’t see that happening but you can never rule that out. I think if I can stay healthy, which is the biggest thing for me, I can train consistently, and that’s why I think I’m having all these big breakthroughs and big PRs. So I think if I can continue to stay healthy there’s a lot that’s possible and I’ll have great potential in the marathon. Specifically, as fas as numbers are concerned, that’s hard to say, but with running a 2:13 on my first one, I definitely feel like I could have run faster if I was a little bit more experienced at the distance. In the 2:12s, low 2:13s was definitely not out of the question in my first one if I had run my perfect race. But four years down the road, and if everything goes well, in order to be in contention for an Olympic spot four years or eight years down the road I’m going to have to be running at least 2:10, 2:11 by then. There are a lot of guys out there who are better than me now and there’s gonna be a lot of guys who are going to be moving up to the distance who aren’t even there yet, such as Glen Rupp and those guys. It’s definitely not going to be easy but I think if I can play my cards right I’ll put myself in a good position to at least be competitive in 2016, 2020.