Riley Masters Interview: How To Go From 4:06 To 3:59 In The Mile In 1 Race

February 22, 2010

On Thursday, February 18, 2010,'s Robert Johnson caught up with Maine sophomore Riley Masters, who inspired the running world on February 13th by defying limits and going from 4:06 to 3:59 in the mile in one race. LRC caught up with Riley on the eve of the 2010 America East conference championships. The interview is presented in its entirety below.

LRC: So I guess we'll get right to it and ask you the question everyone wants to know: "What's the secret for going from 4:06 to 3:59 in the mile in one race?"

RM: (The tape recorder failed during the first part of his answer, but Riley said that he knew he was fit (when he ran 4:06, 2nd place was 4:13)). So when I was in the race, I just wanted to make sure I put myself into it. I knew my workouts were going well; I didn't know they were going well enough to run sub-four, but I knew I was going to be able to run a fairly decent time and I was hoping for a two or three second PR.

But when I was in the race, I guess I tried to put myself into it, give myself a chance to be at least close to Brad Miller when we came to the end of the race. When I saw all the splits, I knew I was on pace for it and I guess it was at the 1,200 mark that it really stuck out to me and that's when I made my move. So with 400 to go and I saw three minutes, I knew I could close under 60 like I'd done before earlier this season, so I just took off and tried to close hard.

LRC: What was it like when you saw 3:59 come up on the scoreboard?

RM: To be honest, when I crossed the finish line, I was so scared that I didn't do it. I saw 3:59 before I crossed the line and I was like, "Oh, no. It's gonna say 4 minutes when I look." But I heard the crowd just explode and so I was a little scared, so I peeked over at first and when I saw 3:59, I just threw my arms out and - oh, I was so happy.

LRC: Taking a step back, coming into this season, it looks like you ran 3:48 and a 14:23 as a freshman. What were your goals heading into the year?

Our school record was 4:04, so that was my big plan was to try to break that. That was one of the harder records on the board to break (click here to see the Maine indoor records), so that was my big goal. But it was also frustrating because I was injured during cross-country. I had a pretty good freshman season and I ran some big PRs. But yeah, I was injured, so I came in and I started pretty slow. I wasn't able to work out with the guys for quite awhile and I was trying to jump into some speed workouts and things kind of just went my way. But I guess my main goal was to stay healthy and then really go after than mile record.

LRC: What about the fact, though, that there's already like 18 guys that have gone sub-four? Is it upsetting to realize that you might not go to NCAAs even though you're a sub-four guy?

RM: It was pretty frustrating. I thought I had it in the bag when I saw the "3" on the 3:59. I was like, "Oh, okay, sweet, I'm gonna go to Nationals." But, yeah, I got a phone call from Erik van Ingen (who runs for Binghamton and is also a 3:59 guy in the unheralded America East conference) later that day and he told me that like 10 guys had broken four out in Washington and I was like, "Aw man. I'm gonna have to do this again and try to lower the time."

But I guess I didn't really have Nationals in mind this year, so I'm not too upset about it. I'm still pretty young, so I know it'll be there later on. But also I am gonna try to go after it in another race and try to hit the auto time. But yeah, it was definitely - it was frustrating, but at the same time, I couldn't be upset because I did run a pretty big PR.

LRC: Exactly. Seven seconds. Taking a step back, I was trying to figure out what you did in high school. I saw that you won the Maine State Meet in 4:17 and 9:38 and I tried to look up some cross-country results and all I could find was 145th in New Englands, which isn't too hot, but what were your PRs in high school and how did you do there? What were the highlights?

I didn't really start training until my senior year. Junior year, I broke 4:20 and my senior year, I ran 4:16 at New Englands. And just under 9:40 was my best in the two mile. In cross-country, I think my PR was like 16:09 my senior year, so that's all I really had in high school. So I wasn't really recruited too hard by anybody, so that's why I ended up in Maine.

LRC: Well thanks for sharing that with us, as I was going to ask you how you ended up at Maine as I think that's one of the interesting things about the story - you're running fast, but you're at Maine. Did you only run track your junior and senior year? When did you start running?

RM: Actually, I started running my freshman year, but I was like a 13-minute two miler and just wanted to be like a high jumper. I guess I kind of hit a growth spurt my junior year and my team was pretty good that year, too, so I guess I wanted to help out the team, and I kind of took off.

We had a nice training partner on my team with me and that helped quite a bit. It got me to drop my time dramatically in the mile and two mile and that's really when I started running seriously and started thinking maybe I'll do this in college.

But I guess when it came time for recruiting, I talked to some bigger schools - Iona called me and stuff like that - but I guess I always talked to (Maine coach) Mark Lech and he was always at my home meets and stuff like that. I clicked with him, so it was nice. I kind of trusted him and he really helped me get through my senior year, too, so I guess I'm glad I'm at Maine.

LRC: Yeah, you're doing quite well. I wouldn't be complaining.

RM: Yeah, Mark's a great coach.

LRC: Good. What was your training like in high school in terms of mileage and what's it been like at Maine in your first two years, year-and-a-half, I guess?

RM: (In high school), we didn't take it too serious, so I did like 25 miles a week, a lot of really obscure workouts like just go run as fast as you can for 10 minutes, stuff like that. So when I got into college, I didn't know what to expect. I knew ... everyone's telling me you have to go out for 10 mile runs, so I got a little nervous, but I adjusted pretty quickly. Freshman year, I ran about 45 to 55 miles a week during cross-country and then actually got down to about 45 during track and then this year, I was injured during cross-country, so I wasn't doing much then. And now I'm up to about 55 to 60 miles a week this year and it feels great.

LRC: And who do you train with? I didn't look too closely at the Maine roster, but I noticed the week before you ran sub-four that you ran a 1:54 in the 800 and were part of a 4 x 8 that ran 8:17. I doubt too many people get ready to break four by doing that. So is there anyone on the team that can even push you or do they have guys who are rabbiting for you in practice or how does that work?

RM: There's a lot of 800 runners that (help me out). I'll do my mile intervals while they do their 800 intervals. And we have another guy who's run just under 1:55 for the 800. But it's actually interesting. The week before I broke four, that was the first time I've ever broken two as well. I knew I could do it, but my coach put me in the 800 that meet just to kind of give my legs a break and that was actually my first time breaking two.

LRC: That's pretty funny. Break two one week and break four the next. And looking ahead, you're at the America East, which is this weekend. America East, you know, has got two sub-four minute milers. Are you in the same race as Erik? What are you running there and what are you hoping to do there?

RM: I'm actually not racing Erik this weekend. Our plan the whole season was to run the 3k at America East, so that's what I'm gonna do, run that. I ended up winning it last year, so I'm gonna try to repeat in that and give myself a break from the mile and I guess go after an auto time maybe next week. (Editor's Note: Masters dominated the 3k at the America East championships, winning by 7.34 seconds in 8:14.66).

LRC: Well, very good. I guess that's it, really. I'm trying to think of anything else obvious. Anything else you want to say?

RM: Well, not really, I guess. I'm just kind of shocked that I got a phone call (from

LRC: Well, I've coached a ton of 4:06 kids at Cornell and never a sub-four (so I had to call you). We were driving back I think from the Armory last week and one of the 4:06 or 4:07 guys on the team said to me, "Did you hear about this kid from Maine? He went from 4:06 to 3:59." I was like,"No way!" It's definitely a good story. Someone then showed me ... I guess it was an article in the Maine campus paper that had some quote from you. I didn't realize at the time it was the same quote from Flotrack, but I liked the interview where you were sort of like, "Yeah, I saw the time on the clock (at 1,200) and went for it." It was pretty refreshing. I think a lot of runners limit themselves as to what they can do.

RM: Obviously, everyone's goal is to break four. If you're a miler that's under 4:10, you should be (thinking about eventually trying to break 4). I figured when I broke 4:10 for the first time, I was like, "Well, I might as well think about breaking four eventually." So I guess this was the first race where I really went after it and attempted it.

As far as limiting yourself, I didn't want to limit myself and tell myself I couldn't do it. You know, 4:06 ... yeah, that was a ways away, but I guess I kind of broke it down in my head and I was like, "Okay, I'm gonna have to run a half second faster on average every 200." I didn't think it was going to be too difficult, but obviously felt like a lot more work than I thought it would be.

LRC: I guess one last question. Down the road, have you given any thought to what your future might hold? I mean, 14:23 on 45 miles a week is pretty darn fast in the 5k as well. So 1,500? 5k? Where do you see yourself in the future?

RM: Yeah, indoor, I'd like to focus more on the mile, 3k, stuff like that. But I guess outdoor, I'm gonna try to pick up the mileage and focus a little bit more on the 5k and see how that goes. But yeah, I guess the next goal is to try to break 14. I felt like last year, I was a little burned out when I got to outdoor track, so maybe this year I'll feel a little more fresh, and we'll see. See if maybe I can get under the 14-minute mark.

LRC: What was your injury in the fall?

I had an inflammation in my knee, so it was a ... knee injury, I guess you'd say.

LRC: And how did you do in cross-country as a freshman for Maine?

I was Maine's top runner, but I finished like 16th at America East and I was like 45th at Northeast Regionals.

LRC: How did you do that when you were only like 145th at New Englands in high school? Was that a bad race for you at New Englands?

Oh, yeah, yeah. I had a terrible race my senior year. I finished like 44th, I think, my junior year. I actually ended up falling like twice at that race my senior year.

LRC: Oh, okay. Well, thanks for taking the time. Good luck this weekend.

Alright, no problem. Thank you very much.

To watch Masters' sub-4 race, click here. To see Masters' post-race interview, click here.


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