One of America’s most underappreciated runners will attempt to make a statement in Sunday’s ING Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon.
Interview by: Matt Fitzgerald
Only ten Americans have ever run faster over 10,000 meters than Tim Nelson, who set a personal best of 27:31.56 at Stanford University earlier this year. Yet Nelson is less well-known than many of the runners who are close behind him on the U.S. all-time list for that event (Alan Webb, Bob Kennedy, etc.). Nelson himself is not too worried about not getting as much recognition as he deserves. He’s just focused on running even faster, knowing that if he does, the recognition will come.
A 2007 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Nelson, 26, now trains with the Nike Oregon Track Club Elite team under coach Jerry Schumacher in Portland, Oregon. Sunday he will race the ING Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon in hopes of lowering the PR of 1:02:11 he set for that distance in his first attempt at Houston in January. Like his teammates Simon Bairu and Shalane Flanagan, Nelson is using the race as a tune-up for the New York City on November 7.
We caught up with Nelson by phone as he enjoyed a reduced-mileage recovery week in anticipation of the upcoming competition.
Competitor.com: How fast do you think you can go on Sunday?
Tim Nelson: I haven’t really focused on any sort of pace. I’m just thinking about the competition that we have, just hanging on and trying to be comfortable with whatever happens during the race. So I don’t really have a time goal in mind. I’d like to PR. I’ve heard the course is faster than Houston. Then again, we’re not really training for a half marathon, so it’s a bit tricky, because we’re not really tapering much for the race and we haven’t done a whole lot of half marathon-specific training. A PR would be awesome.
So if you’re focused on competition, are you racing to win, or just trying to be competitive? Is there an initial pace that would be so aggressive that you wouldn’t even bother to follow whoever is setting it?
I just want to be competitive in the race. Probably most of the guys in the race are training for marathons. Some are probably a little further along in their training. We still have another six weeks before New York. Ryan [Hall] has three or four weeks before Chicago. If it works out that I’m there at the end and I’m able to get the win, that would be awesome. But like I said, Philadelphia is not our primary race of the year, so it’s not like a do-or-die situation.
To have your best possible race you need to be fit, but also fresh. How would you rate yourself currently with respect to those two factors?
I’m pretty strong, considering all the miles we put in when we were up in Mammoth Lakes the last six weeks. The altitude training and all that has contributed to feeling really strong. I’m maybe not as sharp for a half marathon as I could be. If we were training just for a half marathon I’m sure I could be a lot sharper. Also we’re just kind of training through the race. So I’m feeling strong but not terribly sharp and not that fresh, but still fresh enough to race and give it an honest effort.
How do you like marathon training?
I like it a lot. In Mammoth it’s hard not to like it, it’s such a beautiful setting to be training in. It’s really challenging on a lot of different levels. There’s the whole technical side, like learning how to take in fluids and calories. And then there’s just dealing with all the volume we’ve had to put in, and doing longer workouts. But I think years of training up to this point has really paved the way, and Jerry’s philosophy is pretty ideal for marathon training because it’s pretty high-volume anyway.
If I didn’t have that groundwork beforehand I probably would not be able to handle it very well. But luckily I’ve been putting in a lot of volume over the last two years to train for the 10,000 and I’m hoping it will also carry over to the marathon.
Do you have a sense yet of whether, as an athlete, you are well suited to the marathon? Do you think it might be the event you were born to run, or is it too early to tell?
I can’t make any predictions. From what I understand it’s an event that really needs to be learned and felt out, so my coach has confidence that I’ll be able to run pretty well. So I think I’ll be able to do pretty well somewhere down the line, if not in New York; maybe in my second or third marathon I’ll see my true potential.
Setting goals for a first marathon is tricky, because if you’re too aggressive you could blow up, but on the other hand, you don’t get many opportunities to run marathons, so you don’t want to waste one by being too conservative. How are you approaching goal-setting for New York?
Well, we just want to be competitive for the race. From what I understand, New York is a good race to be competitive in because there are no rabbits, so it’s just you against your competitors. So I’d just like to hold onto the other competitors in the race as long as I can and see where things go from there.
Is there a possibility that you will run the Olympic Trials marathon?
Yeah, a pretty strong possibility. That’s definitely one of my long-term goals, is to be able to run the trials in Houston.
There aren’t many Americans who have run faster than you for 10K, but you haven’t gotten as much recognition as your performance seems to merit. Does that bother you at all?
No, I don’t feel like I deserve too much credit. With the races they’ve been setting up at Stanford these past few years, I think it’s been more ideal than in the past for running fast times at 10,000 meters. There’s a lot of other guys who were in 27:31 shape who didn’t get the opportunity to do it. I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to run in an American Record-setting race. But I do feel more confident in my strength because I have run 27:31, and I think that will translate into the marathon.
Speaking of that American Record-setting race, do you feel that you have the potential for a Chris Solinsky-style breakthrough in you?
Yeah, I think it’s in me. I’m not going to make any predictions with the marathon and say I’m going to go out there and set an American Record or something like that. But I think I have a lot of room for improvement, and I was less than satisfied with my 10,000 time this year. Even on the track I can improve and run 10 seconds faster at least in both the 5K and the 10K. I haven’t given up on the track, and I think that marathon training will make me even stronger on the track.