By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
ALBUQUERQUE (15-Feb) — Two and a half years after joining the Seattle-based Brooks Beasts Track Club, six-time NCAA Division II champion Drew Windle is definitely running happy. The 25 year-old 800-meter runner from New Albany, Ohio, has settled into the rhythm of the Beasts’ training program under coach Danny Mackey, running three times under 1:45 last summer and posting strong indoor personal bests of 2:20.95 for 1000m and 1:45.53 for 800m this indoor season. Those marks rank him #3 and #5, respectively, in the world this indoor season.
Despite his successes, Windle is still looking for respect in advance of the USATF Indoor Track & Field Championships here this weekend at the Albuquerque Convention Center. Although he finished third at last summer’s USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships, made it to the semi-finals of the IAAF World Championships in London, and ran a 1:44.63 personal best, some see Windle as not quite yet in the top tier of American half-milers. That bothers him.
“It’s kind of frustrating,” Windle told Race Results Weekly in an interview here today. “People, I think, kind of look at it and say, like oh, you got on the team last year because Clayton (Murphy) didn’t run in the final. I work just as hard as anybody else does, and I’ve had this really steady progression ever since I started running in high school. I think some people don’t take me as seriously as they should. I just want this year to be proving that last year wasn’t just a fluke. I’m an elite 800 runner in the United States; people should be worried about me in every championship.”
Windle is coming off of a five-week training camp here where Mackey had 11 of the Beasts’ athletes preparing for these championships. Residing in two different houses at approximately 2000m elevation, the Beasts have bonded, grinding out the miles in the thin air but also doing more speed work than they would normally do at this time of year because these championships are two weeks earlier than last year. The schedule had to change because the IAAF World Indoor Championships are the first weekend of March in Birmingham, England.
Mackey likes bringing the Beasts to Albuquerque, and has everything dialed in.
“We’ve been staying in this one place for five years straight,” Mackey said, sitting across a wooden dining table from Windle in the lobby of a downtown hotel here. “It’s in the high part of the Sandia Mountains. It’s in the middle of nowhere; it’s almost built out of the side of a mountain. The cell phone service is terrible. The internet is really, really bad. You have to be careful with flushing a toilet and having a sink going at the same time.”
Windle is at a nearby house, and said that although his body resists it at first, altitude training really helps him.
“It’s kind of funny,” Windle observed. “I come up here, sleep terribly and it’s just generally harder to recover. But, I seem to come off it really well. Last year, I came out of camp and ran a PR at the time, 1:45.0 in Georgia, that was like a couple of weeks after camp. Yeah, I really like it up here.”
Mackey emphasized that the training isn’t radically different from prior years, but his athletes are doing more intense work geared towards near-term racing.
“We had a little bit more speed and specific work,” Mackey explained. “By a little I mean three or four workouts more. That’s between December 10th and the beginning of February.” He added: “It’s not super-convenient to have the championships at altitude. I don’t like it, I don’t agree with it [but] it is what it is.”
Windle’s first year with the Beasts, beginning in the summer of 2015, was challenging, he said. It was a big change going from an NCAA Division II program at Ashland University in Ohio, to a professional team. Windle had to make a number of adjustments.
“In college I was talented enough at the Division II level that as long as I was healthy on the starting line I was probably going to win,” he said. “So, I came pro, joined the Beasts, kind of struggled a little with the transition and had a lot of injuries pop up my first year just due to some changes in training and focus on mechanics, changing up some of those things a little bit. But, once I got over that hump of the transition, things with Danny and I really clicked.”
The 800m competition here will be held in two rounds, but using an unusual format. In the first round, there will be three heats of eight athletes and the winner of each heat, plus the next three fastest losers, will advance to a six-man final where only the top-2 will be selected for Birmingham. Windle is in the first of three heats, so he will be at a two-fold disadvantage. First Murphy, the Rio Olympic bronze medalist, is in his heat. Second, he won’t have the advantage of knowing what mark will be needed to be a time qualifier like the runners in the the last heat. Windle said he was still thinking about his strategy.
“The heats just came out for the prelims so I haven’t thought about it a whole lot,” Windle said. “Clayton and I aren’t really the guys you think of as guys who would try to make it fast so we can both get through. So, the nice thing that I have in my back pocket is I went out in 52-point at Millrose (52.37 seconds) and ran 1:45 off of that pace. So, it doesn’t need to be incredibly fast at the beginning for me to run a fast time should I not win the heat.”
Training here for the last five weeks gives Windle an extra confidence boost. Racing at altitude is daunting for an 800m runner, and running regularly here may give him a little edge.
“I’m not one hundred percent sure, but I’m pretty certain that I’m the only 800 guy who has been up at altitude for longer than a couple of days,” Windle said. “So, yeah, that benefits me. I have a little bit more of a strength background than a lot of my competition. So, rounds plus altitude, I think that benefits me more than most 800 guys.”
Windle, who is the youngest of four children of Kenny and Karen Windle, has always depended on the support of his family. During his college years, his parents only missed of of his races, often driving long distances to his competitions. They’ll be here in Albuquerque, but skipped the long drive this time from Ohio.
“They fly in tomorrow,” Windle said. “Yeah. I think they’re done driving.”