For most of his career, Matt Tegenkamp has been one of America’s best track and cross country runners, winning national titles at 3,000m and 5,000m, running in three world championship, making two Olympic teams and setting an American record (8:07.07) for 2 miles outdoors.
But a few years ago the Wisconsin grad began dabbling in road races, winning two national titles at 20K and finally debuting in the marathon at Chicago in 2013, placing a respectable 10th in 2:12:28. Now he’s cementing his move to the macadam by running his second 26-miler over America’s iconic race in Boston, a move that’s perhaps a little surprising since he didn’t make the decision to run here until mid-February.
“At the turn of the year Jerry [Schumacher, Tegenkamp’s coach] sat down with everybody and said ‘Regardless of what our focus is going to be late spring early summer, we need to take this time to put the body through a marathon cycle,’” Tegenkamp said.
That meant more volume and longer runs, a noticeable difference from the Chicago buildup, which Tegenkamp referred to as the “Clif Notes” version of marathon prep. “Leading into Chicago it was more like training for 18 to 20 miles,” he said.
“It was like ‘We’ll get you to 20 miles and then it will be kind of a coin flip to see how you do.’ I was definitely fit in Chicago, no doubt about it, but the marathon is like 60 percent fitness and 40 percent fueling and shit can happen.”
What happened was that Tegenkamp didn’t get the nutrients he needed and wound up hitting the wall the last stretch of the race. “It was a little chaotic going through the water stations,” he recalled. “One stop my bottle got knocked over. By the time I got to 35K I was so screwed I was totally depleted, seeing stars. I was afraid that taking fuel constantly throughout the race was at some point going to jack my stomach up and what it actually showed was I needed to take in way more. So this buildup, we incorporated that into my training.”
Tegenkamp is also adjusting to the different mindset of planning a marathon training segment. “The way the marathon process works, you have to announce yourself so early you’ve got to line everything up to match what you’ve said you’re going to do. It’s not the way I’ve ever operated my career; I thought about getting the fitness first then lining up the races.”
Tegenkamp certainly believes he has the fitness to do well in Boston on Monday. “My training is no different than what Shalane’s [Flanagan] has been in terms of the general philosophy,” the Lee’s Summit, Mo., native said. “I think Jerry five years ago was a young coach in the marathon but now he’s confident and we’re confident coming in and executing on race day.”
To boost that probability Tegenkamp did longer workouts and higher mileage this buildup than he’s ever done, including long runs of 2 1/2 hours in duration. The speed and strength components came from tempo runs and repeats at all distances. “The general philosophy was going from race pace to sub-race pace, to get used to the surging and changes in terrain on the course” he said.
To familiarize himself with Boston’s tricky topography Tegenkamp came in three weeks ago to run the course. “I did 16 miles from 6 to 22 on the course, broken down into four 4-mile tempos just to get a feel for it,” he said. “The day before I ran the first 8 in the morning then in the afternoon ran the last little bit to see everything. I got a really good feel for what the course is going to be like.”
One thing he couldn’t simulate on those recon runs was the cheering crowds that figure to line course on Patriots’ Day.
“Boston is absolutely all about the atmosphere,” he said. “I have to keep telling myself ‘patience’ 1,000 times. I don’t want to get caught up and use the adrenaline here in a negative way that winds up screwing me late in the race, but want to enjoy being part of one of the spectacles of the sport.
“If everybody goes out hard it will be the hardest thing for me to do, but I need to approach Monday very differently than what I have ever done on the track or any previous road race. I’d like to get through 10K not even realizing I’ve run it then settle in and grind it out for a while, then get ready to work at the end of the race. If I can run some guys down over those last miles, it will be a good day.”