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An Interview With America's Unkown 3:56.00 Miler- Steve Sherer

Posted Thursday, February 7, 2008 -
LetsRun.comís Robert Johnson caught up with 26-year old American Steve Sherer on Tuesday night (Feb 5) with a half-hour phone call.

Sherer certainly isnít a house-hold name. Weíll admit to having no idea as to who he was prior to last weekend. On February 4th, running at the University of Washington, Sherer turned heads and got not only our attention but probably the attention of all American distance running fans when he broke 4 minutes in the mile for the first time by running a sparkling 3:56.00 (race results here or race video here).

Sherer was a tennis player early in high school and didnít go out for track until his junior year at Saline High School in Michigan. As a senior, he ran 1:52.21. After graduating from high school in 2000, Sherer ran collegiately at Michigan State where he enjoyed sporadic success. As a sophomore he was All-American in the indoor 3k. As a red-shirt junior, he was All-American in the mile. He graduated in 2004 with a degree in psychology before earning a masters in kinesiology in 2005. His collegiate PRs were  14:02 for 5k, 7:59 for 3k, 4:01 for the mile, 3:45.99 for the 1,500 and 1:52 for 800 (his HS pr). Done with collegiately eligibility, Sherer joined the Nike Farm Team in August 2005. Sherer struggled mightily with the volume of the strength-based Farm Team training. Indoor results included an 8:28 3k as well as a 4:15 full mile that he ran almost exactly two years before his 3:56.00.  A 37th-placed  4:01.89 finish in the 1,500 at the Oregon Invitational at the April 21, 2006 told him that enough was enough. On May 1, 2006, he was done with the Farm Team and training on his own. Amazingly, within 5 weeks (on June 4th) he'd run a 3:41.21 1,500. In 2007, Sherer improved his 1,500 pr to 3:41.05 once again and also added a big  800 pr - dropping it from his HS pr of 1:52.20 to 1:47.76.

This year, being an Olympic year, Sherer moved from his native Michigan to Los Gatos, California as he has historically struggled to run in cold weather. In Los Gatos, the unsponsored Sherer works approximately 25-30 hours a week as a  personal trainer at Courtside Club.  He also is the high school track coach at Los Gatos High school as well as doing some additional work for Vector Marketing.

Much of an interview's feel gets lost in print as itís hard to get across tone and things are edited, so if you want to listen to or download  the interview, please click here. Rojo certainly enjoyed talking to Steve so we hope you enjoy the interview below. Messageboard thread on Sherer here.

LRC: Steve, thanks for being with us.  Obviously we are talking to you because you ran the 3:56 flat mile - that's what grabbed our attention - but when I first saw the results, I was wondering who is this guy. I was wondering, "Is he American? Maybe he's Canadian." So let me start by asking, who is Steve Sherer?
Steve Sherer: I graduated from Michigan State recently. I was All-American a couple of times. I never really did anything on the big scene though. I went out to California and joined the Farm Team (After college) but it never really worked out for me. I got to USA Nationals a couple of times. I just never had the huge breakthrough like I did with the 3:56.00. That was pretty big (laughs). I mean I did run 3:41 and 1:47 (last year) which is pretty good but a lot of people do that.

It just all came together for that race. I felt really fresh and really good.

LRC: After I started looking around, I did realize you were a pretty good college runner, an All-American.  You did run 7:59 as a sophomore in college but not a whole lot after that and you just said the Farm Team wasn't great for you. It looks like up to two years ago your 1,500 pr was 3:45. How do you explain the big break-through. Most guys don't even try to keep going after college unless they are top 2 to 3 in NCAAs, and it's very unusual to be doing it on your own so how did you make it to the next level?.
I'm kind of a picky athlete (laughs). Coaches don't really like me too much in all honestly - certainly coaches that have it as a their way or the high way (mindset). A
ll through college, I don't want to speak badly about anyone at all and I won't, I just needed a different style of coaching Ė (one that is) much more personalized than most athletes. I always thought I could do much better on my own, especially because my high school coach (David Medley), who I thought was a genus in my mind, got me to running 1:52 in only my second year of running - a 1:51 relay split.

I just kind of did some things that he did with me and I've studied some runners like Seb Coe, El Guerrouj and Bob Kennedy and other guys, and kind of put my own training together and started running a lot faster (laughs).

It's was pretty nice (to run 3:41 in 2006 and 2007) and that got me kind of inspired to keep on trying. This year, I (moved out to California) to do coaching and personal training and I recently added an advisor - I guess Iíd call him a coach - Willie Harmatz.. I bounce ideas off of him but I still write all of my own workouts and my own schedule, but he does come out and time me and he is a very smart guy for sure. That really has helped me to have someone to bounce ideas off of, to watch me and keep me motivated. All of those things kind of came together and then I just felt REALLY good in that mile.

LRC: Do you work out by yourself?
Yeah. It's kind of nice being a personal trainer as a lot of runners get injured in college because a lot of coaches don't know how to lift to keep the athletes injury free. And you can only get better if you stay healthy so that's been a big difference as in college I was pretty much hurt every year with something. I didn't really know how to lift or how to stay healthy. I finally learned how from just researching it a little bit. I don't know why I didn't do it a lot earlier. I've been injury free for the last 2.5 years and that's been a huge benefit.

LRC: What would you say are the key aspects of your training philosophy?
There's a lot to it. I don't do anything slower than race pace on the track. And I do everything aerobically off the track. That was one of things I kind of stole from El Guerrouj. He did everything pretty quick on the track and everything aerobic off the track. All sub 60 or goal 800 pace - fast stuff on the track.

And one thing that I tried differently for this race was to taper the week before and then I worked really hard the week of the race so I still had a taper in but wasn't dead-legged or flat from tapering. I think that helped me out as I'd never done that before. That was a big change too.

I guess my philosophy is quality is way better than quantity - we'll say that. I don't like the whole American coach that says you need to run over 75 miles a week or that you need to have a long run even. I don't do long runs. I don't really run over an hour - ever.

Editor's Note: After the main interview, Sherer told us the specifics of his taper. If you want to learn about it, please click here as we didn't type up that part of the interview.

LRC: Your speaking blasphemy - violating all of my coaching philosophies at Cornell - maybe I should mute the rest of the interview. - I'm kind of kidding.

I know as I said, coaches hate me (laughs).

LRC: Whenever someone says to me that El Guerrouj did this or that, I say "How do you know he was clean as I'm not so convinced he was."

Well I can't do his workouts that's for sure. I just kind of steal his philosophy.

LRC: How much mileage do you do?
I probably tap out at about 70 max on a higher week, but I normally don't go above that. But I'll do like a 5 mile run at 25:50 but I don't do ever really run more than 6 miles at once. Sometimes I'll do a tempo up a mountain and then keep going down so it takes a while. Thatís the longest I'll ever run - a little bit over an hour just because I have to get down the mountain.

LRC: Going into this year, obviously it's an Olympic year and you've had some minor breakthroughs the last few years, but prior to the race last week, what were your goals for the year?
My goal was definitely to make it to indoor nationals as I'd never done that before - besides college - so that was nice to make it.

Worlds is now the goal for this season. (Outdoors) this year I'm probably going to focus on the 800 a little more but I'm not entirely too sure on that. I guess we'll see how the rest of the year plays out. I might even do both (800 and 1500). I don't really know. I guess definitely my goal would be to make it to the finals as I've never done that - I kind of always blow up in the semis. I really want to race smart and do well in the final for sure.

I mean obviously the end goal would be to make an Olympic team. I never want to go into a race thinking I am going to lose. I'm not going to go into that race thinking I'm not going to get top three.

LRC: Prior to the race in Washington, had you done anything that gave you an idea of where you were? Time trials or anything? What were you thinking you could do going into that race?
I did a couple Los Gatos High School meets for fun and sort of for practice. I did an open 400 in 50 point in one meet so that didnít really tell me anything (laughs). I did an 800 in 1:52, another 50 point quarter, and then a 4 x 400 relay with my high schoolers.

I really had no idea in all honesty due to my workouts. I mean I've had a lot better workouts honestly in the past. I really had no idea (how I was going to do) which is probably why I waited a bit longer than I should have (to kick). Looking back on my race, I probably should have gone a little earlier but I waited a bit too long as I didn't know where I was in all honesty as my workouts were in little Las Gatos meets.

LRC: Beating high schoolers isn't necessarily the best indication that you are ready to run 3:56 (is it?).
(Laughs) I did win by a lot. It's kind of a confidence booster.

LRC: Looking at the race video, it looks like everyone else is almost standing still when you start to kick with 400 to go. Describe that feeling. Could you sense that you were absolutely destroying the field or did it just feel like a normal race? Coming down the stretch, did you realize how fast it was going to be?
I actually thought they were right behind me. I didn't know I was going that far under 4. I thought it was going to be pretty close and I thought I was going to do it so I was getting pretty excited but I was kicking like they were on my heels.

But it felt really, really good - the whole last 500 meters except for the last 100 meters when I tied up a little bit. But I felt really good and I'm excited for my next race as I have an idea of where I am and I can go in there with confidence. Hopefully - the Tyson Invite in Arkansas is my next race. We'll see.

LRC: That was what I was going to ask you about. You are a personal trainer. Do you even have an agent, are you sponsored, how do you make a living?
No. Willie Harmatz - the guy that times me and the guy I bounce ideas off of - he gives me free shoes and I wear an Athletic Performance (jersey) (Athletic Performance is the name of a running store owned by Mr. Harmatz) so I send everyone to him for shoes in Los Gatos. Smith Barney kind of helps me out with travel as I worked with them last summer. But I never signed anything with everyone and I don't have an agent yet, but I have been contacted by some people. But I've never had an agent or been contacted by anyone before this race.

LRC: How many hours a week do you work?
Way too many (laughs). With the personal training - probably 25 to 30 hours - and then I coach too and train between that. I also have some sales jobs that I work on too so I'm really never ever home.

LRC: What brought you out to California? Where were you before?
I was in Michigan. I actually lived with Nick Willis. I thought he'd be a great training partner. He's a great guy but we just don't do the same things at all. He's more of a long distance kind of guy - a 16 mile long run and all that fun stuff. It works well for him but I can't do that type of volume that he does and be sane. It didn't end up as good as I thought it would be. We didn't really ever train together ever. And it was way too cold for me in Michigan. I don't know why but I get really cold limbs when I run outside - I don't really produce much heat. I can't go very long outside.

I decided if I wanted a good shot at the Olympics, and I really did (want that shot) that I'd have to move out here. I just kind of did it solo - no team or anything. I just knew that if I wanted to train in the winter and get a good base, I'd have to come out to Cali - someplace warm - but I have a few connections out here thanks to the Farm Team so it wasn't as stressful as it could have been.

LRC: Nick Willis, that is pretty good company. He's one of the top milers in the world. How did he end up being your training partner?
He and I were involved in Athletes in Action - a Christian Ministry in college. After a race in college, he said to me "Hey do you want to live with me and be my roommate?" It worked out pretty well but we just had different training philosophies.

LRC: What do you think went wrong with the Farm Team? Is it kind of a college system where the workouts are forced on the guys - there are like 10 guys and the two best survive? That happens with a lot of teams.
You can't really individualize with a team . That's the problem especially for the guys in the back - you can't get the individualized training that you need.

Iím kind of a princess with my training (laughs). It has to be perfect.

I just can't be thrown into the mix- hammering the base runs, and then doing extraordinarily high volume workouts with moderate intensity on the track. It just didn't work out well for me. It worked great for some of the guys and they ran phenomenally -they had (Jonathan) Riley, (Chris) Estawanik - some really great runners - Kevin Elliott. It worked out great for them and they ran very well off that kind of training, but I just couldn't do it - train with that particularly style and run well off of it.

I was running pretty slow - like 4 minute 1500s and 9 minute 3ks. I was like "I can't do this anymore. I really like the guys. I really respect the coach (Gags), but I just can't do this kind of training anymore. He (Gags) just can't personalize as he has too many guys that want to be on that team - to personalize the training program for every runner would be impossible for a coach on a team like that so I decided I had to do it myself.

I have a lot of people who I can bounce ideas like Ed Burke - who was an 84 Olympic Hammer thrower - who has a lot of ideas about increasing your V02 max even though he didn't run that much. He was actually pretty helpful in (me developing) my training philosophy. Willie (Harmatz) too. He's got a lot of interesting workouts that I use. My personal training background and masters in kinesiology helps out too as well. All those things. I have a lot of advisors.

(Editor's Note: Ed Burke also owns Los Gatos Athletic Club which is where Steve has been working as a personal trainer.  Also note that we couldn't find the 9 minute 3k that he ran online, but we did find an 8:28 3 as well as a 4:15 full mile that he ran almost exactly two years before his 3:56.00 as well the 4:01 1,500 that resulted in him leaving the Farm Team.. We also found it interesting that in every meet he ran for the Farm Team - his name was missppelled as Scherer. Clearly the training wasn't being tailored to him if they weren't spelling his name right)

LRC: Pretty interesting stuff. Did you ever think about giving it up? 4 minute 1500 after college is pretty bad.
I definitely did. That particularly season I was pretty close to throwing in the towel. I mean I love running; I love racing people; I love the athletes; everything about it is fun for me. I wasn't really enjoying it as much as I should have and I was a little bit afraid of the track. I was close to throwing in the towel, but then I just decided if I really want a shot at this, I need to refocus my training and try something different as this just wasn't working out for me. And I knew I was better than that. I mean my first 5k ever after two weeks of running I ran an 18 flat. And my second season ever, I ran 1:52 so I (knew) was gifted. I just had to put it together with training.

LRC: Do you think the fact that you are on your own and that you made the move out California played a big role in your breakthrough? I know with my twin brother (Weldon) the year he quit his job, moved to Flagstaff and was on his own, the breakthrough was unbelievable (he went from 29:50 to 28:27 in the 10k). People to this day still ask him what was different. Looking back on it, I sort of think that itís partially a matter of knowing ,"This is it, I'm on my own, I have to do it so you do it."
Yes, it definitely takes over your life for sure. You move across the country - away from all your friends and family and put your life on hold for uh running (laughs) and you're not even getting paid for it - you'd better focus as yeah you are giving up a quite a bit for a sport that doesnít necessarily given anything back.

LRC: You talked about running the 800. How fast are you for 400? You talked about running 50 point for those races, that doesn't seem very fast too me.
Nick Symmonds kind of inspired me. He gets out in the back of the pack and closes really well on the 2nd lap. He races brilliantly every time. I figure I could probably due that given my endurance background.

As for my speed - I was always a 48 guy in high school so I have a lot of natural speed. I haven't been doing a lot of speed recently. I mean I always do fast stuff on the track but nothing like 23 (200s). I think that it will come around but I haven't decided anything for sure. I need to see who (else) is in what event - to see what my best options are.

Last year, was the first year that I really ever ran the 800 as kind of even the main thing - well it wasn't really the main thing. But I ran 1:47 which was a huge pr for me. I figure if I made it my main goal and focused on it a little bit. I could probably run 1:44 to 1:45. Like I said, in college, they kept moving me up. The mile the first year, then the 3k, then the 5k and then 8k and 10k and then I was just done - distanced out. I figured I should go back to my roots be a 4-8 guy - train like it and see what happens.

LRC: If you could give advice to anyone who is struggling with their own running and wondering if it's worth it, what would you say to them?
Do it if you enjoy it and find what works for you personally as everyone has their own things that they like and that they believe in and that the know works for them. So focus on those things. A lot of people will be like "I hate long runs but I have to do them or I hate doing speed on the track but I better do it" when they should just focus more on their strengths and do what they like more - do what they are good at it. Don't necessarily think that because Nick Willis runs 18 miles at 5:30 pace or I don't run a long runs that there is a perfect (person) for everybody to base their training off of.

LRC: I agree (with focusing on your strengths) but it's still bizarre to me that you get advice from a weight thrower.
Yeah but he's brilliant (laughs). Definitely a smart guy.

LRC: I'm sure all the cynics on the messageboards are going to be like, "Wait - he's got a masters in kinesiology, associated with a weight thrower.Ē They are going to be suspicious.
(Laughs). Oh yea (I see what you're getting it). I don't care. You can drug test me up the wazoo. All I take is a cup of coffee in the morning.

LRC: Well I know my brother viewed the drug accusations as the best compliment that he could get. Anyway, it's a great story. We're certainly drawn to the guys doing it on their own. I mean that's why we started the website in the first place as that's where we were. My advice is to "Have fun with it." You can always go back and watch that race on tape. Thank god it's on video.
Thatís the nice thing about running. All you have to do is run it once and I'm a 3:56 miler for the rest of my life.

LRC: You should have leaned and you would been 3:55.
I know. They said (that it was 3:55.9) on the (PA). I thought I'd run 3:55 for the longest time and then I saw the results and I was like "Oh come on." But I'll take 3:56.

If you want to listen an additionally audio clip where Steve describes his taper in detail, please click on the appropriate track below as weíre tired of typing. Click here to download the interview

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Messageboard thread on Sherer here.
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