By Jonathan Gault
February 26, 2018
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Olympic 1500-meter champion Matthew Centrowitz. After Centrowitz’s injury-plagued 2017 season came to a disappointing end with a last-place finish in his first-round heat at the World Championships in London, Centrowitz elected not to defend his World Indoor title this year, instead choosing to spend the winter getting (and staying) healthy before departing next week for three races in Australia and New Zealand. He also decided to relocate from Portland, where he spent the past six years as a member of the Nike Oregon Project, to the Washington, D.C., area, where he grew up. Though Centrowitz is still a member of NOP and receives training from NOP coach Alberto Salazar, he has been working out under the watchful eye of his father, Matt Centrowitz, the former American record holder at 5,000 meters, who now coaches the District Track Club and is the author of the book Like Father, Like Son.
On Sunday night, the 28-year-old Centrowitz raced for the first time since Worlds, splitting 1:49.0 in a 4×800 relay at the Boston University Last Chance Meet. As he stretched out after the race, I had the chance to catch up with Centrowitz, who discussed his decision to move back East, his belief that it’s important for athletes to have input in their training, and his desire to add “American record holder” and “Diamond League winner” to his resume. You can watch a video of the interview at the bottom of the article.
JG: First race since Worlds, right?
MC: Yeah, long time.
How’d it feel out there?
Felt like the first race since Worlds. Little flat, obviously didn’t really freshen up for this race and just kind of put this on the schedule last-second. It was fun to come out here though, get a little something in before I head down to Australia and get some more racing in.
And how has working out been? How has training been going for you recently?
Yeah, it’s been going really well since the New Year. Been able to string together healthy weeks of pretty solid training. Haven’t had any setbacks since the New Year. Just been enjoying being back East and having my dad now back in my corner. We’ve had a really mild winter so that’s been super nice. And I noticed, I think Oregon got some snow again. And so definitely not — I guess I want to run in the 75-degree weather days we’ve been having in D.C., so it’s been good.
You didn’t run an indoor season — I guess this is your indoor season right here, this race. But normally you run one. What was the decision-making not to do it?
Simple. I was just way behind. I had a setback. I had really good months of September and October and just the week of doing the USA 5k champs in November in New York City, I had something come up. It was just kind of like, my hamstring and a sore leg. [I] Just kind of like said you know what, I’m in really good shape, let’s back off. And then that thing ended up actually taking quite a while to kind of come around and feel 100% again. So that kind of sucked a little bit, just taking off, pretty much, November-December. And so once I knew that — the indoor season this year especially was really early, I think Millrose was early February with Worlds and everything being pushed up — so that kind of just eliminated any, really, indoor early-season races.
And so I wasn’t going to do this at all or any type of indoor racing. [But] once I had a pretty good solid block of training out East, I said hey, why not come out here? And it’s a fun event, do the 4×800 with my dad’s track club and just kind of get something under my belt, just something to start with and move forward from.
I’m sure the last year was probably pretty frustrating for you with injuries. What’s the biggest thing you learned, though, from the 2017 season?
I don’t know. I mean, I wouldn’t say anything I learned, I knew what I was doing in terms of coming off of the Olympics and such a high and [I] just wasn’t doing all the right things that I might have been doing the year before. We tried a few new things in training. I kind of backed off a little bit with the strength and conditioning, some of the lifting I was doing. We thought that maybe that would help me slim down a little bit. Whereas some of my competitors were a lot thinner and skinnier and we thought maybe I was building up a little too much mass. So I kind of eliminated that and I felt like that actually had helped me more than [I had thought] the year before. I don’t think I was gaining that much mass from it. So that was something we experimented a little bit and looking back, probably wasn’t the best thing to do.
And then also, a lot of distractions. Making some different appearances across the country, visiting friends. You know, just things I wouldn’t normally do the year before with the Olympics and everything like that. So just don’t think I was quite as focused as the year before. And also I had some setbacks as well in 2017 that kind of just set me back. It was a pretty inconsistent year.
And now heading to Australia next weekend.
Yeah, less than a week. Saturday. So I’m pretty pumped about that.
What does your racing schedule look like down there? Do you know yet?
Yeah. First race will be in Sydney, the 17th [of March]. And then I’m going to head to New Zealand for a race on the 21st or the 22nd and then go back to Australia and finish up in Brisbane and do a race on the 28th, I believe. So probably do about three races, probably plan on doing the 1500/mile all those races. Just continue building from each race, just something to kind of get me going before I get the outdoor season going over here in the U.S.
And the move to D.C. Why leave Portland and come back East?
I’m 28 years old now. I’m old enough to know what I need and being an off year, just wanted to get back, back East. This year especially with everyone kind of bopping around, everyone doing their own thing, Galen [Rupp]’s now up with the marathon, and Eric [Jenkins] being back on the East Coast, and I just figured this was a good year to get out of Portland, mix it up a little bit. I kind of felt like I was getting a little stale in there and [I’m] just happier this year just back East with some family and friends. I think joining those guys for training camps and altitude camps is all I’ll need moving forward and [I’ll] get what I need out of it.
Eric’s back here as well, is he?
Yeah, he’s kind of like, mainly in I think, Portsmouth [N.H., Jenkins’ hometown], or something like that. But yeah, he joins us for training camps, he goes back to Portland as much as is possible too.
The Oregon Project, I feel like from when you joined it, it’s a pretty different group now because Mo [Farah] left and Galen’s pretty much just a marathoner now. Did that have anything to do with it, getting that new influx of guys like Clayton [Murphy] and [Yomif] Kejelcha and those guys, did that impact your decision at all?
Not really. I think before any decisions were made, I kind of, in the back of my head, wanted to move back East anyways. And like I said, I’m 28 years old, I’ve been out in Oregon now for 10+ years between college and being with the Oregon Project. And at this juncture of my career, Alberto and I have 50-50 dialogue and influence in my training and so I figured just being back East, and him and I speaking over the phone as much as possible and just being on the same plan. At this point, again, I kind of know the same routine building up, getting into the season. I know some staple workouts. There might be a few workouts here and there where maybe we disagree on. But we find this compromise and instead of, you know, 10 quarters, it’s eight. You know, maybe I think six, he thinks 10, we settle on eight or whatever. So it’s not rocket science here.
And again, having my dad out there administering the workouts and having him with a stopwatch and having some input too, it just kind of seems like a great situation for me. You know, I’m pretty confident with, I’ve always enjoyed having my dad in my corner just for even just a mental aspect. So yeah, having him, it’s just been a lot of fun. And that’s what I figured that I needed, what is gonna make me run the best, just enjoying going back to the small things, the basics, and just really enjoying the training. And so that’s what I’ve been doing.
So you sort of talk about the workout with Alberto and then your dad administers it…
It’s a joint thing. All three of us, we all speak. Like I said, we’re not reinventing the wheel here. You get your tempo run in every other week, you get your long run in every week. We have staple workouts, 600 breakdowns, workouts that Alberto and my dad did back in the Oregon days, workouts that I did with my dad back in high school, and workouts that I’ve done with Alberto the last handful of years. It’s just a mixture of all that. And again, Alberto’s not gonna, you know, if one day — and that’s what’s great about having my dad there — you know, one day it’s a really windy day, we have to adjust the workout, obviously Alberto trusts my dad and I to make the right decision.
Like I said, I’m 28 years old. I think Galen, Mo, anyone at my age or older can pretty come up with 90% [of the training]. They can figure out going into the week, like, okay, what this week is going to be like. If you have any kind of sense of — if you have any kind of, I guess input, or you’re involved in your own training, I think that’s the biggest thing. And I think every athlete should have some kind of say, whether you’re in college or out of college, in terms of what you need, what you think is gonna better your training, better your racing. And I’ve always felt like I’ve been involved in my training, even through the Oregon days. And so I feel pretty confident moving forward, having those [two] and me coming up with the majority of the workouts is what’s gonna be best for me.
Does it make you feel like you’re sort of hitting the second half of your career here, now that you sort of know what to do? You’ve obviously got several more years left.
I don’t know about in terms of second half. I don’t know where I am in my career. Maybe it could be last quarter, it could be, again, maybe halfway. I don’t know. But certainly I know at this point what my goals are, what I want to do. I want to run fast. I want to break American records. And so that’s what this kind of training has been built for right now. And that’s what the main focus [is] and what we’ve been talking about in training.
Goals for 2018. What are they?
Get an American record, whether it’s in the mile, the 1500. And just, even records put aside, just having a positive — I’d like to go back to USAs, win that as well. And just kind of work on some things that I haven’t been able to, I guess, do well in the past. Which is compete in Diamond League meets and run fast and just kind of push those middle laps where I tend to get out pretty well in these races, settle in, and when the time the kicking’s going, I’ve settled in and moved back from that good position I might have established early on in the race and now I’m kicking for 10th and 8th and whatever, 7th. So I think this year is just sticking my nose into it, just getting stronger. And we’re kind of already starting to do some of that stuff in training that I feel like maybe in the past, I might have been geared to more championship racing instead of time-trial racing.
You can watch the full interview in the videos below