High School Phenom Lukas Verzbicas Is Pumped To Go For Sub-4 Against Pros In Boston
Verzbicas Is Hoping To Join Alan Webb As Only 2nd US High Schooler To Go Sub-4 Indoors
February 3, 2011
As an employee of LetsRun.com, one of the great joys of the morning is checking the LetsRun.com email inbox, as one never knows what they'll find. This morning we had an email in there from high school sensation Lukas Verzbicas, who agreed to do a phone interview with us. On Thursday evening, we caught up with Verzbicas, the two-time Foot Locker Cross-Country national champion, on his cell phone (sorry, phone reps, we forgot to ask what model so you could start a high school craze) to talk to him about his race this weekend against the pros in the mile at the New Balance Boston Indoor Grand Prix.
During our fifteen plus minutes with the recently-turned-18-year-old Verzbicas (birthday was January 6th), we found him to be very charming, mature for his age and, perhaps most important of all, naturally charismatic. It's very refreshing to find a true talent who isn't afraid to race and realizes that a big part of the sport is putting on a show for the fans.
We hope you enjoy the interview below and hope that Verzbicas becomes just the second high schooler in the US to go sub-4 indoors on Saturday in Boston.
LetsRun.com (LRC): Thanks for talking to us. We know you must be busy, so we'll try to keep this to like five minutes (Editor's note: The interview ended up lasting more than 15 minutes). Let's get right to it; you are running a professional mile this weekend. What is your goal for Saturday?
Lukas Verzbicas (LV): I'm going to the race to get as much experience as possible because this is my only opportunity I have to run a mile with pros indoors and this is my first race at such a high, elite level. Also I want to run the fastest time that I can. I wish I could tell you a time but we'll have to see once I get there. I'm just going to get in there and hold on to everyone for as long as I can.
LRC: Obviously there is the four-minute barrier, which has only been done by one US high schooler indoors, Alan Webb. It sounds like you tried to not to mention that as the goal but that's kind of the obvious goal; is that what you are shooting for?
LV: Well I'm definitely shooting for it. We'll see how close I get. And Alan Webb himself is going to race it so I think (Lukas chuckled as he paused and pondered what he was trying to say next) it's very (surreal?) ... I don't know. I don't know how to explain it, but he's there and he's the only high schooler that has broken four indoors and I'm racing against him, so hopefully we have something special happen.
LRC: Let's say hypothetically you break four but finish dead last. Will you be celebrating in last place?
LV: Oh yeah, I'll be the happiest last-place finisher ever (laughs).
LRC: You haven't run any races so far this year. We're wondering how your training has been going. Have you done any big workouts or a time trial or anything to sort of gauge your fitness?
LV: Right after cross-country season, I took a little break - a week - a few weeks - and then got some really good training in. But these last couple weeks, the weather here (in Illinois) has been ridiculous. I couldn't even peek outside the last few days. Today was the first day I went outside for a real workout. It's been very tough with the weather here, so I'm looking forward to the nicer weather next year in Oregon.
But I think I've put in all the hard work. Everything has been done, so as long as I stay focused and don't get too hyped up, everything should go well.
LRC: Do you have access to an indoor track? How do you train in the winter there?
LV: (Laughs). We don't have an indoor track here so we're always outside. You even have to get on the treadmill. Being a Lifetime Fitness Member, you get these nice 16-mile-per-hour treadmills that you can do a speed workout on, so sometimes that helps. But you are just mostly outside. But with this type of weather, you can't always go outside, so it's very tough to complete all the training, but that only makes the athlete tougher. We'll see what the results show in two days.
LRC: What's your mileage been like recently? What would you say your best workout has been?
LV: Just recently, it's been very, very low as it's the mile and it's been more speed (oriented training) than mileage. Going a month or so back, it's been around 60. The most I got in was like 70 - no more than that - usually it's been between 50 and 60.
(As for my best workout), I don't know of anything real special but the only special, kind of impressive workout that I've done is a 17-mile run on a hilly course at 6-minute pace. That was probably my biggest workout. I don't know what else to tell you. Just recently, I've been doing speed work like 200s.
LRC: We heard you had been thinking about the 2-mile at Millrose but you didn't end up doing that. What was the reasoning behind that?
LV: Well, Boston is very, very important, and also I didn't want this to go out in the news, but I had a little knee issue which prevented me from racing there as well.
LRC: When Alan Webb broke four indoors, he did it with little fanfare. There was no buildup and then all of the sudden he was in the race and breaking four. You seem to be taking the complete opposite approach, as it's been announced for weeks and you are racing some of the top pros in the world. From a personality standpoint, do you sort of thrive on being in the spotlight, and being in a big moment? Do you think that will make you run better?
LV: Sure. Being in the spotlight puts pressure on me and I'll have no other choice to do my best possible. If I came into the race being unknown, I could just tell myself, "Oh if I have a bad race, nothing's going to happen - it's no big deal." But here, we've put (laughs) this pressure on me and I have no other choice but to do my very, very best. I can't do anything else. So I'll try a lot harder this way.
And it also gets others excited. I mean, we have all these people approaching me and telling me, "We're rooting for you and everything." I mean that is awesome. Why not get others excited about it? Not only is it better for me, it's also better for others (the fans) this way as well.
LRC: Well we've got to give it to you. It's certainly got us excited. I'm not sure when the last time we (here at LetsRun.com) interviewed a high schooler - maybe Ryan Hall? (Lukas laughs) It's been a long, long time that's for sure.
What about the rest of your senior year? What are your goals for your final year of HS running? Or is that hard to say this early in the season?
LV: Yeah, it's sort of difficult to say. Hopefully I find the best kind of races to get into. But I really haven't thought about outdoor yet. I'll definitely be racing, I know that.
I just want to try to squeeze as much out of my last high school year as possible. I'll just be training hard and racing as hard as possible and hopefully if I'm in good shape I'll be breaking records - that's the goal.
LRC: You are running the mile this weekend but two years ago, you burst onto the scene indoors running a 14:18 and 8:57 in the same weekend. Do you know what your ultimate event is? Are you a miler? Are you a 5k guy?
LV: Well, being in high school, I think you just have to experiment with it. Freshman year, I did the longer distances and was pretty successful with those and now I'm focusing on the shorter distances just to see how good I can be at them. Hopefully, we find a balance or find out which one I'm better off in. But I think also at this young age, I want to improve my speed as much as possible. I believe - and my parents who coach me believe - that your speed must be developed early on, so it's very important to run fast (in high school). So while I might better off in those longer distances, it's very important to develop my speed and concentrate on the mile and the 1,500 as such for now.
LRC: In terms of the college search, we know you signed with Oregon this week. How big of a relief is to have that done and out of the way?
LV: Oh, it's tremendous really. It just takes so much energy out of you to do all those visits and try to impress all of those coaches. You don't want to tell them anything bad, so you tell all of them you are considering them, but eventually you have to pick just one so it's just very, very tough. I thought at first about not deciding until the spring so I could make the best decision possible but (the process) just takes too much out of you. I was pretty wrong about that (waiting until the spring), so I decided early and it's a big, big relief.
LRC: We had heard that you looked into skipping college all together and just going pro. How seriously did you consider that option?
LV: That option was always open and we definitely looked into it just because I want to improve as fast as possible. I just want my performance to be at the highest level and to get there as quickly as possible so I thought maybe going pro would be the best option. Look at someone like Evan Jager - he went pro and has improved tremendously - so I thought like, "Wow. It worked for him. Why couldn't it work for me?"
But when we started to look into the colleges, it seemed like you could just develop more as an athlete and more as a person by going to college and we thought that was very important. So to just have a - I wouldn't say a college experience - team environment and everything was pretty important.
LRC: We definitely wouldn't trade our college experience for cash so that seems like a wise move. Going back to the race on Saturday, have the meet organizers told you what the pace will be like and what is your plan? To just race, to get in the back, to get in the middle, or to try to hit a certain time? Do you have a specific race plan yet?
LV: I do have a race plan. I mean, assuming everyone follows the rabbits, the race is going to go out (honestly). They are going to go through 1,200 in 2:58 and I'll just hang in there with the whole pack hopefully. I don't know how the race will go exactly - will it string out, will someone go early - but I definitely will say on that kind of pace and hang in there as long as possible.
LRC: We don't want to let you out of here too easily, so we'll try to rope you in a bit. If you had to give a percentage, what do you think the odds are that you break 4:00 on Saturday?
LV: (Laughs). I really can't tell (as I don't know). If I told you (a percentage), I might be totally off and then it's just going to create a lot of tension so we'll just have to see. What I can tell you is I'm going in with the highest of expectations - that's all.
LRC: That's good enoguh for us. We appreciate the time and wish you the best of luck. We definitely think everyone in the running community is excited about it. We always joke that running isn't about the present - it's about the future. If you break four, they'll be talking about some 8th grader who is the next Lukas, so enjoy it while you can. Have fun out there.