HOKA NAZ Elite Coach Ben Rosario Talks 2020 Marathon Trials Expectations, Shoe Technology, Jim Walmsley, & Even Galen Rupp

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By LetsRun.com (sponsored by HOKA ONE ONE)
February 4, 2020

February is Marathon Month on LetsRun.com as the month ends with one of the greatest events on the athletics calendar, the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials, on February 29 in Atlanta. From the contenders to the dreamers to the mountain men and women, HOKA ONE ONE has 17 athletes competing at the Trials, and LetsRun.com is partnering with HOKA to profile all of them. Recently, LetsRun.com caught up with HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite coach Ben Rosario to get his thoughts on the Olympic Trials, shoe technology, Jim Walmsley, Galen Rupp and much more.

Rosario will have six athletes — three women and three men — on the start line in Atlanta. For the women, Kellyn Taylor (2:24:28), Aliphine Tuliamuk (2:26:50), and Stephanie Bruce (2:27:47) will have the 6th, 10th, and 11th best PRs on the start line, while his top two men, Scott Fauble (2:09:09) and Scott Smith (2:11:14), are seeded 3rd and 10th (Sid Vaughn qualified with a 63:30 half marathon). Four years ago, the HOKA NAZ Elite team showed up in a major way as Taylor led the women’s race early on and finished 6th and then came back to place 4th at the Track Trials, while Matt Llano was 6th in the Marathon Trials, and Fauble 4th at the Track Trials.

Our talk with Rosario last week lasted one hour. You can listen to the whole conversation as a podcast here, but if you don’t have that type of time, we have typed up highlights below. Heck, we actually transcribed the entire podcast for you as well — more than 10,000 words (full transcript can be found at the bottom of this article or by clicking here).

This content is sponsored content for HOKA, but not approved by them.

Rosario reflects on the devastation of the 2016 Trials and explains his group’s approach to and goals for the 2020 edition:

HOKA NAZ Elite’s Kellyn Taylor and coach Ben Rosario

BR: I thought we’d [have someone make the Olympics] last time. I mean, if you don’t, if you don’t believe that in your core, it’s not going to happen. I was devastated last time when we didn’t make it, internally. I don’t care what people thought.

I couldn’t even watch the replay of that race for a year. I just believed the same thing at the track trials when Kellyn got fourth. I was shocked that she didn’t make the team, you know. I thought she would make the team, but that’s how you have to be. I will say now, now four years removed, I guess you could say, it is amazing that I had that level of belief because now Kellyn is so much fitter and so much more prepared and we’re so much better and more in such a better position. But yeah, my belief is just that much stronger, I suppose now…

[And making the team] that would be getting better. We were fourth twice last time at the Trials on the track and sixth twice in the marathon. So I don’t know what else our goal would be, besides making the team.

And I told the athletes, if you really study the Trials — the marathon but also, pick an event, 5000, steeple, 10,000, 1500, whatever. Watch those races, the people who try to win end up on the podium, the people who try to get third end up fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, etc. So of course folks, try to win, of course Aliphine should try to win. You try to win, maybe you win, maybe end up second, maybe you end up third, but I think if you go in with an attitude of “I’m going to try to sneak onto the team. I’m going to try to do some cute thing where, you know, I start out in 12th and I slowly move up.” Those are fantasies. That’s not what really happens.

It’s like NCAA cross country. There’s no secret to NCAA cross country. You get out and hammer you put all your five guys up as high as you possibly can and your five ladies and you compete up front. And that’s how you make the podium in the NCAA. And that’s how you’ll make the podium in Atlanta. You, go for the win, you know. Why wouldn’t Fauble think he can win? He was just, he’s just running stride for stride with the best guys in the world at Boston for 22 miles and giving them all they can handle, so I’m glad that they’re saying that.

When we asked Scott Fauble “what would you be doing if you weren’t a runner?” he said it’s hard for him to imagine what he’d be doing as he’s all-in on running and never really had a Plan B. Rosario feels similarly:

BR: Yeah, I don’t do the Plan B [either]. There’s a great podcast I listened to a couple years back with Bob Bradley, the former US men’s national team coach (in soccer)…And somebody asked him about strategy. And they said, “So you go into the game with Plan A and then what does Plan B look like?” He said, “What are you talking about with Plan B? There’s Plan A, that’s it. That’s the plan.” He’s like, if there has to be a Plan B, I’ll figure that out on the fly. So that’s, like that strategy and that philosophy.

Rosario on the condition of Fauble, who since finishing as the top American at the 2019 Boston Marathon in 2:09:09 hasn’t done much and was just 11th at the US 10-Mile Champs on October 11:

BR: 11th (at the US 10-mile champs) is terrible, but that wasn’t him.

Scott Fauble (courtesy of nazelite.com)

It’s a good thing we didn’t run a fall marathon because after Boston he was dinged up. His hamstring and back were messed up. You know, Boston’s hard. It‘s hard to train for and it’s hard on the body, and when you run as fast as he did, it’s almost 50-50. Sometimes you come out of it like Jared Ward (who also ran 2:09 in Boston and went on to finish 6th in New York in November) did but sometimes you come out of it a little banged up.

It was a weird injury because he could run, but his form was off and you could see it. I was trying to tell him that but it was hard to articulate because I couldn’t put my finger on it, but he just didn’t look right. And he was really struggling up hills. He wasn’t popping off the ground like he was before Boston and so we were trying all these things and he’s so darn tough. And at Beach to Beacon he was [still the top] American and he beat Chris Derrick but he was really not on his game. And I think he got exposed later on as the races got longer. He dropped out of the [US] 20k (in New Haven on September 2) because his back hurt. And then at the 10-mile he was just 11th and at a (US) road race championship, he’s usually in the top three.

That was kind of the final straw — because it was like, “Okay, now it’s so clear that you’re not yourself. We got to get this fixed.” So he took three weeks off. And he saw a specialist on biomechanics in Portland. And this guy was amazing. He gave us a 30-minute analysis on tape. We saw Scott running on the treadmill, we saw all the little data points, he had the alignment on his back and he showed us how he was leaning too far one way, then too far the other way, too much rotation. And so we took that to our physios here in Flag[staff], and he’s been able to work specifically then on those issues he was having, and I’m telling you, everything’s fine. Everything’s totally fine. The workouts he’s done to this point, or just before the flu, I would say he was in a better spot six and a half weeks out from the Trials than he was six and a half weeks out from Boston. There’s no races to you know, tangibly show you that but yeah, he was crushing. So it’s all good with Scott Fauble.

Rosario on fellow Flagstaff resident and HOKA runner Jim Walmsley (whom Rosario doesn’t coach), who will be making his marathon debut at the Olympic Trials:

BR: Jim is awesome. I’m a huge fan of Jim. I think he’s done an amazing job creating a brand for himself in a very authentic way. And he’s an absolute superstar in the ultrarunning world. I mean, he gets mobbed all over the globe when he goes to these ultrarunning events. And he’s an incredibly valuable athlete. I’m really happy that he’s doing this because it’s bringing a lot of new eyeballs to the road marathon world via you know, all these ultra fans that he has, so that’s great.

Yes, I do see him around town a lot. He comes to the Bagel Run a lot on Thursday mornings. And I usually get a little chat in with him there. I was super happy to see him run well in Arizona. I think his training is going really well. I think he’s doing it his way. He has not jumped in on anything with us except one fartlek down in Scottsdale when we were down there for a HOKA athletes’ summit. Other than that, I just hear through the grapevine things that he’s doing. And, you know, like I said, he’s doing it his way and why wouldn’t you? We’re doing it our way. That’s what he should be doing…

This is what I think. I think he’ll run much better than some of the naysayers would have you believe, but maybe he won’t run quite as well as some of the ultra fans would have you believe. I think it’ll be somewhere in the middle. But I do think he’ll be a factor [at the Trials] and I do think he’ll be in the race for a long, long time.

Rosario on his women’s recent half marathon performances (Aliphine Tuliamuk ran 69:49 for the half in Houston; Steph Bruce and Kellyn Taylor crossed the line together at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half in 69:13 on a course that was a little bit short, but estimated by Race Results Weekly to be equal to a 70:14 half marathon):

Aliphine Tuliamuk (photo by Paul Ward)

BR: Aliphine had the green light to just go and race in Houston and just kind of find that top American pack mostly, and that’s what happened and she ran with Molly Huddle and Katy Jermann and a number of others. Sara Hall kind of pulled away from that pack. But yeah, Aliphine did fine — she tied her PR on a (record) eligible course. I think she had run one 69:16 on a downhill course, a few years back, but yes, she’s in great shape. And then Steph and Kellyn were supposed to run conservative for nine miles and then rip the last four, which they did. That mess-up on the course was between nine and 10. But the 10-mile mark was correct. So from 10 to the finish, they ran 15:35 for their last 5k. So they were crushing coming home. So yeah, all three of the ladies are very, very fit.

Rosario on what it’s been like to have his three women all on the same marathon training cycle for the first time:

BR: Over the course of the last few weeks, I think they’ve gotten to really trust one another.

Look, they all know that they’re good. I mean, their PRs in every distance are so similar. I think their 5k [PRs are] like 15:17 (Bruce), 15:18 (Tuliamuk), and 15:19 (Taylor). So they’re super close together and they’ve all run, you know 1:09 or 1:10 low for the half and they’ve all run between 2:24 to 2:27 in the marathon, so they know they’re good and they don’t have any bitterness or jealousy towards one another. I think it’s probably gone better than I had expected. There’s been little times when maybe Aliphine pushed at the end when maybe she wasn’t supposed to, but I think it’s all been good and coming down the stretch, I think it’ll be more of the same.

Rosario on what it’s like to have three women training for the same goal when only three women can make the Olympic team:

BR: I think there’s a belief and an understanding amongst the group that one way or another, [someone] will make [the Olympic team], but you know we don’t know who it’s going to be. I think though, if you balance the pros and cons, you’d rather have the situation that we’re in, particularly if you think about it on race day. They’re all going to be in the lead pack, all three of them. And so I think that’s a big advantage because no [other training group] has that.

And, they’ll know each other’s strengths and weaknesses sure, but I think that’s going to give them confidence. Let’s say Aliphine makes a big move at 22 miles, I think Kellyn and Steph will know that they can go with it. Whereas if it’s somebody else, there’s a little bit of uncertainty. Olet’s say Kellyn makes the move, you know Steph and Aliphine would know that they can go [with it] because they’ve been finishing every single workout together. So there’s a fearlessness that comes with the knowledge that they’re all super fit.

They’ve always been good about that. When Steph won the US 10k title in 2018, she passed Aliphine with a km to go and instead of Aliphine being bitter about it, she just kind of said, “You go girl,” when Steph passed her.

They’re very, very tight, those three. You know, there was a workout a couple of weeks back — 15 by a mile. It was really hard and really draining and Kellyn had just gone through something in her personal life that was really, really tough. And on the cool down, they kind of all broke down together and kind of hugged and cried together about something that was very personal. That’s how tight they are. So I think I think any cons about them training together are far outweighed by the pros.

There are five women — Jordan Hasay (2:20:57), Amy Cragg (2:21:42), Sara Hall (2:22:16), Des Linden (2:22:38), and Emily Sisson (2:23:08) — with PRs much faster than anyone on NAZ Elite (Kellyn Taylor leads the way at 2:24:29). We asked Rosario why he thinks his women can compete with them:

BR: I mean, first of all Des’s to 2:22 is from 2011. In Des’s most recent marathon (2019 New York), she beat Kellyn by six seconds. So I think that’s more relevant. Amy Cragg hasn’t run a marathon since Tokyo 2018. Jordan Hasay dropped out of her last marathon (2019 Chicago). Just putting on my old journalism cap — because I was a journalism major in college — I think it’s very short-sighted to just list off their PRs.

If I were you I, I would do like a Runner A, Runner B comparison and forget about their names for a second and look at Kellyn’s last three or four marathons versus let’s say Molly [Huddle’s] or let’s say Emily’s, well Emily only has one. Kellyn’s last four marathons, she ran to 2:24 solo, she ran 2:26 in Prague going out in 1:11, so she tested herself big-time and then ran the rest of the race in no man’s land. And then she ran 2:26:52 in New York, which is the fifth-fastest American in New York ever and she lost to Des by [six] seconds and ran faster splits than her coming home. Des just you know made that really risky move, which was good for her. But I mean, look, Kellyn should absolutely be right there [in the] top tier.

Sara’s run in Berlin was awesome, absolutely awesome, but Kellyn didn’t get to run in that race. Berlin was perfect conditions and I think a lot of people would have run 2:22-2:23 there — including Kellyn, including Emily Sisson, and probably Molly Huddle would have too. In the marathon, the times need to be contextualized. And you need to look at a person’s history and Kellyn’s consistency is almost unparalleled among the favorites…

I would also say that it is one day and you have to be ready on that day and you have to be ready for that course and we’ve been very good at [doing that]. Take a look at the USA 10k [from this year] for example. All the talk before [the race] was it’s the Molly and Emily show nobody else can compete. Well Molly, Emily, and Marielle Hall, nobody else can compete with those three as their times are so much better than everybody else’s.

And what was it? It was Molly, Emily, Steph, and Kellyn all the way to the finish (Editor’s note: Kellyn Taylor finished 3rd, Steph Bruce was 4th, and Marielle Hall was 5th). I mean if you have a history of being ready on the biggest days, then I just don’t put much stock in all these other things. I put stock in our ability to be ready for it, for the course on the day. And I want to say that that’s no knock on everybody else. Of course those three or those five you mentioned, they’re great, and they could absolutely beat us. But you know, I’m just not worried about that. If I was worried about that, I wouldn’t have the level of confidence I do. I just have to worry about us.

Rosario’s thoughts on the men’s field at the Trials:

BR: The field is going to be good, just like on the women’s side. I got fired up [when talking about the] women’s [field], but again, that was not me knocking those other women. They’re super good and super awesome people. And same thing on the men’s side. These guys are going to run really fast and we’re just going to run really well. [Well] I don’t know how fast they’re gonna run, but they’re going to run really well. And we’re just going to assume that everybody’s bringing their A game.

But, you know, the reality is, it’s kind of like Brooks Koepka, the golfer we talked about last year in [terms of how to win a major]. He’s like, “Oh, the majors are the easiest to win, because half the field overdoes it in preparation. Half the field is too nervous and they choke. And then I only have to beat whoever’s left. And that’s not that many people.”

And I’m not saying that about this field. There’s a lot of people and I really think they’re going to run very well. But it’s sort of like you were saying [earlier in the podcast], just being realistic. All three of our people aren’t going to make the team, right? You’re just being realistic. I’m being realistic about the men’s field. All those people are not going to run well, you know, and so it’s not maybe as crazy as it looks on paper. It’s ultimately going to come down to a pack of, you know, eight or so guys. I don’t know who those eight are going to be. I have no clue. But I do believe our guys will be they’re very late. And, you know, I like our chances.

Rosario on what he thought when his good friend Mike Smith — the head coach at Northern Arizona University — agreed to coach Galen Rupp:

BR: It did surprise me. Galen is not in town. Mike’s coaching him online. Galen is in Portland. So I don’t know if there are plans for Galen to come to Flagstaff or not. What I did not do was give my opinion publicly or to anyone until I spoke to Mike. So Mike and I spoke a couple of weeks ago for about 90 minutes and we shared a lot of different thoughts, and you know, Mike is someone I have a ton of respect and admiration for. And I like to believe that that admiration is the same on his end about me.

And we don’t necessarily agree about everything, but we respect one another. And I believe Mike’s heart is in the right place with that decision. I believe he did a lot of soul-searching before he decided to take on that project. And, you know, he’s a great guy that hasn’t changed. He’s the same guy that he was before he made that decision. And I believe that Mike’s a really good person.

Rosario on shoe technology and what he thinks of the Vaporfly controversy (we did the interview before World Athletics issued its new shoe rules):

BR: I think that the innovation side of things is great. You know, it’s great that everybody’s innovating. I think I told one of you guys in an email that I certainly can’t complain about innovation. I mean we’re sponsored by the company that’s been the most innovative of all over the last decade. From an overarching perspective, certainly.

I think that my concern, though, and this may sound cliche, or like, I’m avoiding [the topic], but my concern has to be our own shoes. You know, my concern has to be working with HOKA to make sure we have the best shoes we can possibly have. And that we’re not in any sort of disadvantage, and I can tell you from speaking to Mike McManus, our global sports marketing director, and from speaking to people that are on the innovation team, they’re super pumped and really confident in what we’ll be wearing at the Trials and I’m really confident about what we’ve been wearing [in the past].

HOKA’s Carbon X

You know, we had carbon plates in our shoes back as early as — [for] testing anyways — ’17. And we were racing in them as early as ’18 and we’ve been racing in them ever since. Now [that] doesn’t mean every performance we’ve been wearing those [carbon shoes]. I mean Kellyn wore the HOKA Tracer for her 2:24, which is a very basic flat. I think even Hoka would tell you that. But now, we’re confident in the new shoes that we have.

I think the fact that Nike has made a shoe that is very innovative is not a bad thing. Now, I will say this: I can be really happy about our shoes and I can be okay with the Nikes and all that stuff, but I can still say I’m not opposed to regulation. You know I’m a big sports fan overall. And all the sports I follow have regulation when it comes to equipment. You can’t give Tiger Woods one of these long-drive clubs. He’ll be driving the ball 450 yards and it won’t be fun to watch. You can’t let Mike Trout hit with an aluminum bat and the examples go on and on, and the analogies go on and on. So I think if there were to be regulations, I wouldn’t be inherently opposed to that idea. Now, I think there’s a lot of work that has to go into making sure that those regulations are fair and proper and they [must] come from a good place. And you know, that’s probably above my pay grade to figure out what those things might be, but I’m not inherently opposed to regulation either.

And I think you can be on both sides of the argument. I think you can think, “The shoes are awesome. They’re great. I’m glad it’s so awesome to have all this innovation.” But then you can also say, “But if things get out of control, we need to consider regulation.” And that’s kind of where I stand on it. I just want things to be fair, and if that means regulation, so be it….

You know it does make me a little bit — I don’t know if you would say angry — but I find it interesting that so many people saw those Vaporflys and acted as if all those ideas and concepts were brand new. That’s exactly HOKA’s concept, you know. They took what they learned from the minimalist phase and put it together in a much better format where you had cushioning, you had absorption, you had energy return at a new level, you had stack heights that were different. You had foams that were different. Yeah, they might have looked a little funny, but they were producing better results. A lot of the things that you see in these new flats — this increased stack height and some of the different foams that being used — I mean, to me, it all seems very HOKA-esque. All of those things are in the HOKA DNA.

And I don’t want to go outside of my lane here because I’m not a shoe expert by any means, but I’m just kind of saying, “Hey, you know, a lot of these innovations that you see are innovations that we’ve had the fortune of using for a long time now in our regular HOKAs.”…

[Our athletes have run great in a wide variety of shoes]. I mean Kellyn ran 2:24 in the Tracers. She ran 2:26 in New York in the Carbon X. Alihpine has run 2:26 in the Tracers. Steph’s run 2:27 in the Carbon Rocket. Faubs ran 2:09 in the Carbon Rocket. Scott Smith ran 2:11 in the Carbon X. So yeah, we’ve done all kinds of different things.

But what do I think will happen come the Trials? Well, we just got the newest version of the Carbon Rocket…I think the people who liked the Rocket [before will like it again] as I don’t know yet if it’s all that different. It [appears to be] a new iteration of that shoe. So I’m hopeful that it rides a lot like the old Rocket because we’ve liked that. So I think the Scott Faubles of the world and the Stephs who have really liked the Rocket [in the past] will like the shoe. I think the others will have to try it and see if they like it better than the [Carbon]   but you know, I think that says something about the shoes though if we’re all wearing different ones, they must be doing a good a good job because we’re producing good results in all of them.

Coach Rosario on why he’s had run marathons in Rotterdam and Frankfurt, rather than solely sticking with the major US marathons in New York, Boston, and Chicago:

BR: There’s a couple of big things.

One, you’re trying to give these people experiences and opportunities to compete on a global stage. I do have their long-term interest in mind. You know at the end of the day, it’s very cool for them to say, I ran at Rotterdam, I ran at Frankfurt, ran at Berlin, those are awesome experiences.

Number two is the business side of it. The East Africans do the same thing. [If] you go run fast at Rotterdam or Frankfurt, then you can get a bigger appearance fee in Chicago or Boston or New York because you have that faster time next to your name. So it can be sort of calculated in the sense that it’s a step in their career that they need to make, where they need to put up that fast time so that they can get the appearance fee at the marathon in the States and then prove themselves there. And there’s something to be said for the lack of pressure when an American runs in Frankfurt or Rotterdam or whatever it might be because you’re not really paid attention to. So you can just go do your thing and run fast and then come back over here and you’re a little bit more prepared for the hubbub that you experience at the Bostons and the New Yorks and the Chicagos.

Note: That’s the end of the highlights. You can listen to the full podcast here or read the full transcript below.


Full Transcript

LetsRun.com (LRC): Ben, how do you feel 33 days out [from the Trials]?

Ben Rosario: I feel great. Everybody’s healthy. So that’s number one. Obviously, you can’t make the team if you’re not on the line. And we’re just trying to take it one workout at a time.

LRC: Actually that was somewhat of a misleading question. [What we really meant to ask was] how are you, personally, feeling? Something big happened this month just a few days ago. The big 4-0 (Rosario turned 40 on January 13).

BR: That’s true I turned 40. I feel good. I’m probably healthier this year than I was a year ago. I don’t know if it’s the 40 thing but I did try to make a concerted effort to be a little bit healthier this month both for the 40 thing but also for the athletes. I did want to be you know, I did want to have as much energy as I could heading into the Trials so tried to cut out beer — I cheated a couple times, but I did better than I have in the past and have been running a little bit more than I have in the past and playing basketball. So I’m trying to be healthy.

LRC (Wejo): Let me interrupt here. Back on the podcast in May, you said you’d run a marathon as kind of like self-torture if LetsRun’s Jonathan Gault didn’t think Kellyn Taylor had a chance to make the Olympic marathon team. I’ve got good news for you. Jonathan confirmed today on our weekly call that he thinks Kellyn Taylor has a good shot of making the team so you don’t have to run a marathon at 40.

BR: That gives you an indication of how confident I am in Kellyn because I do not want to run a marathon.

LRC: Let’s start with the women. You’ve got three of the top 12 seeds based on their qualifying time and you say they’re healthy and all three of them recently ran a half marathon earlier this month. (On January 19), Aliphine Tuliamuk ran 69:49 for the half in Houston and Steph Bruce and Kellyn Taylor crossed the line together at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half in 69:13 on a course that was a little bit short, but estimated by Race Results Weekly to be equal to a 70:14 half marathon. What did you think of those performances? Was that what you were looking for? Did you tell them to run a certain pace?

HOKA NAZ Elite’s Kellyn Taylor and coach Ben Rosario

BR: Yeah, Aliphine had the green light to just go and race in Houston and just kind of find that top American pack mostly, and that’s what happened and she ran with Molly Huddle and Katy Jermann and a number of others. Sara Hall kind of pulled away from that pack. But yeah, Aliphine did fine — she tied her PR on a (record) eligible course. I think she had run one 69:16 on a downhill course, a few years back, but yes, she’s in great shape. And then Steph and Kellyn were supposed to run conservative for nine miles and then rip the last four, which they did. That mess-up on the course was between nine and 10. But the 10-mile mark was correct. So from 10 to the finish, they ran 15:35 for their last 5k. So they were crushing coming home. So yeah, all three of the ladies are very, very fit.

LRC: On the May 22 podcast, you said you were kind of excited about this because it would be the first time that all three women were on the same marathon training cycle. So how has that been going? You said that back then that they were all a little bit different, that I think that Stephanie Bruce is sort of the best at running relaxed and chilling a little bit in practice whereas the other two like to really push things. Have the three of them been doing identical training and the same workouts? As a coach, has it been hard to get them all on the same page?

BR: Yeah, [all three have] done the same workouts.

We are fortunate in the sense that Ben Bruce, our assistant coach (and Stephanie’s husband), is willing to pace them quite often. So they’ve been helped by him in many workouts where he’s setting the rhythm and all they have to do is sit behind him. So that’s been good, I think. And over the course of the last few weeks, I think they’ve gotten to really trust one another.

Look, they all know that they’re good. I mean, their PRs in every distance are so similar. I think their 5k [PRs are] like 15:17 (Bruce), 15:18 (Tuliamuk), and 15:19 (Taylor). So they’re super close together and they’ve all run, you know 1:09 or 1:10 low for the half and they’ve all run between 2:24 to 2:27 in the marathon, so they know they’re good and they don’t have any bitterness or jealousy towards one another. I think it’s probably gone better than I had expected. There’s been little times when maybe Aliphine pushed at the end when maybe she wasn’t supposed to, but I think it’s all been good and coming down the stretch, I think it’ll be more of the same.

LRC: One of the things that our staff writer Jonathan Gault wanted us to ask you was, you’ve got three elite women and three elite men training for the same goal. Now, there are three spots [on the Olympic team up for grabs] at the Olympic Trials for both genders, but the odds of you guys sweeping all six spots are pretty small. Is that hard in the sense of like, you know, they’re trying to help each other in practice, but ultimately in the race there may only be one spot that they could take and one of them may place third and one of them place fourth or fifth? How do they approach that psychologically? On a college team or high school team, there can only be one winner too, but you’re all sort of still scoring and helping the team. This is a little bit different in the sense of, it’s kind of a zero-sum game and the fact that there’s only three spots.

BR: It’s hard to answer in the sense that we haven’t talked about the race strategy yet, because we’re trying to take it one workout at a time. But I think philosophically, we definitely realize what you’re saying. I think there’s a belief and an understanding amongst the group that one way or another, [someone] will make [the Olympic team], but you know we don’t know who it’s going to be. I think though, if you balance the pros and cons, you’d rather have the situation that we’re in, particularly if you think about it on race day. They’re all going to be in the lead pack, all three of them. And so I think that’s a big advantage because no [other training group] has that.

And, they’ll know each other’s strengths and weaknesses sure, but I think that’s going to give them confidence. Let’s say Aliphine makes a big move at 22 miles, I think Kellyn and Steph will know that they can go with it. Whereas if it’s somebody else, there’s a little bit of uncertainty. Olet’s say Kellyn makes the move, you know Steph and Aliphine would know that they can go [with it] because they’ve been finishing every single workout together. So there’s a fearlessness that comes with the knowledge that they’re all super fit.

They’ve always been good about that. When Steph won the US 10k title in 2018, she passed Aliphine with a km to go and instead of Aliphine being bitter about it, she just kind of said, “You go girl,” when Steph passed her.

They’re very, very tight, those three. You know, there was a workout a couple of weeks back — 15 by a mile. It was really hard and really draining and Kellyn had just gone through something in her personal life that was really, really tough. And on the cool down, they kind of all broke down together and kind of hugged and cried together about something that was very personal. That’s how tight they are. So I think I think any cons about them training together are far outweighed by the pros.

LRC: How important is it to you, the team dynamic?  I know on the last podcast you said you spend a lot of time on finding the culture and finding people that want to show up to practice (and we’ve read how Scott Fauble said there’s something about logging 100-mile weeks that creates lifelong bonds with people)…But do you really think that there’s sort of a synergy in the team dynamic as it seems like that’s something that you’ve really focused on?

BR: Yeah, we focus on it. It’s a constant — it’s fluid. Culture is fluid. You can outline it at the beginning of the year, but if you don’t work on it — it’s like a marriage. If you don’t work on your marriage, your marriage is going to fall apart. And that’s harsh to say, but it’s true and it’s the same thing with a culture on a team. You have to be working at it.

We just met today with the Trials crew and had a little meeting and just kind of recapped where we’ve been so far and had a little bit of a look into where we’re going here over the next five weeks, and we kind of highlighted some of the athletes that have done a great job here at these recent workouts and why. It’s not always about the performance [in the workout]. It’s not always about the result of the workout on paper. Sometimes it’s about the way they were leaders.

Scott Fauble (courtesy of nazelite.com)

For example, Scott Smith and Scott Fauble both caught the flu bug and couldn’t run Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona like they were supposed to, and I kind of called them out as a positive example of how to deal with adversity, because a lot of people would have flipped out six weeks out from the Trials getting the flu, but they were totally professional about it. They understood the context, they understood they’re very fit, and they just need to get through this thing and they need to just get healthy and they don’t need to worry about the first workout back being a home run. They just need to kind of get through this little stretch here and then they’ll be fine. And those are the kind of things that we learn from one another. And we like to highlight those things because that’s our culture. Our culture is one of confidence and professionalism.

LRC (Rojo): Wow Ben, I wish you’d been coaching Weldon in college. He hurt his back about 10 days before the conference meet his senior year in cross country and decided that he could not afford to miss a few days so he got on the bike — which he had never ridden before — and did like two-and-a-half-hour workouts and then screwed up all those muscles and did pretty poorly.

Back when I was coaching (at Cornell University), I used to tell the guys (most of whom were very driven and committed) that the easy thing is to run through an illness or two. Sometimes the most difficult decision is to take time off when you’re that driven. So if they were able to think, “You know what, we’re both sick, we have a flu. We can’t run.” That takes maturity.

BR: Scott Smith couldn’t run at all the first day. And then I said, “Why don’t you try four miles?” And then he texted me after his run. He said, I could only make it two. But that’s so great, right? Because so many runners would have just grinded through four. And he was like, “Nah, I can’t do it.” And so that shows a lot of confidence. And that’s something to be admired, I think.

LRC (Wejo): I’m glad Robert is selling me out here. But when I was thinking about Olympic Trials for myself, [I know] if I got the flu six weeks out, that would have been it for me [psychologically]. I think a lot of runners, they need to realize like, you’re gonna have ups and downs, you’re gonna miss some time. You’re fit, you’ve just got to go with what you’ve done. There’s no bonus points for doing a workout on February 20 and that sort of thing.

Back to the women real quickly. They’re all on the same page and they’re training together, which is great, but they’re still individuals [with different] strengths and weaknesses. I’m curious, how did you decide for Aliphine to go to Houston and race it and for Stephanie and Kellyn to stay in Phoenix and do [it as more of a training run] with a harder part at the end? What was the reasoning behind that?

BR: Well Aliphine, before she joined the team, she raced a lot. She really raced a lot. Part of that is because when she first came out of college, she didn’t have a sponsor, so she had to race a lot as prize money was her only source of income. So she got used to racing quite often. And we’ve kind of pulled back on a little bit of that, but I want the athlete to feel comfortable, and I don’t think it would have been comfortable for her not to have an all-out race during the whole segment. Plus, she didn’t get to race at all over the summer, or in the fall except for the New York City Marathon, because she had been hurt early in the summer. So she was just lacking overall races for the year and so that’s why she got to do it. [As for] Kellyn and Steph, I think they were much more keen to stay home, stay close to family, do it as a glorified workout, and get right back down to business. So it was just kind of worked out where it was just personal preference but it also sort of aligned with what I thought was best for each of them anyway.

LRC: We know that the three women are healthy and training pretty well and they just all put up a pretty credible result, [so let’s turn to the men]. Scott Smith ran a PR in Chicago [in October] and ran 2:11. That’s the good news. The bad news is he was only the sixth American in the race [and we haven’t really] seen Scott Fauble [much] since he ran the 2:09:09 in Boston. I think he’s only raced twice since then. I think he was 11th in the US 10-miler in October and I think he’d run Beach to Beacon (in August) and was like 6th — so nothing really impressive from him since [Boston]… And 11th is not really that good for someone of his caliber…

But you [told me before the podcast] that the training is going well except for this illness. [And from reading an emailed Q&A Fauble sent me], it sounds like it’s going really well. So what’s he been up to? How he’s doing?… Can you tell us what the plan was initially after Boston as you purposely didn’t run a full marathon?

BR: 11th (at the US 10-mile champs) is terrible, but that wasn’t him.

It’s a good thing we didn’t run a fall marathon, because after Boston he was dinged up. His hamstring and back were messed up. You know, Boston’s hard. It‘s hard to train for and it’s hard on the body, and when you run as fast as he did, it’s almost 50-50. Sometimes you come out of it like Jared Ward (who also ran 2:09 in Boston and went on to finish 6th in New York in November) did but sometimes you come out of it a little banged up.

It was a weird injury because he could run, but his form was off and you could see it. I was trying to tell him that but it was hard to articulate because I couldn’t put my finger on it, but he just didn’t look right. And he was really struggling up hills. He wasn’t popping off the ground like he was before Boston and so we were trying all these things and he’s so darn tough. And at Beach to Beacon he was [still the top] American and he beat Chris Derrick but he was really not on his game. And I think he got exposed later on as the races got longer. He dropped out of the [US] 20k (in New Haven on September 2) because his back hurt. And then at the 10-mile he was just 11th and at a (US) road race championship, he’s usually in the top three.

That was kind of the final straw — because it was like, “Okay, now it’s so clear that you’re not yourself. We got to get this fixed.” So he took three weeks off. And he saw a specialist on biomechanics in Portland. And this guy was amazing. He gave us a 30-minute analysis on tape. We saw Scott running on the treadmill, we saw all the little data points, he had the alignment on his back and he showed us how he was leaning too far one way, then too far the other way, too much rotation. And so we took that to our physios here in Flag[staff], and he’s been able to work specifically then on those issues he was having, and I’m telling you, everything’s fine. Everything’s totally fine. The workouts he’s done to this point, or just before the flu, I would say he was in a better spot six and a half weeks out from the Trials than he was six and a half weeks out from Boston. There’s no races to you know, tangibly show you that but yeah, he was crushing. So it’s all good with Scott Fauble.

LRC: [We emailed a questionnaire out to all the Hoka Olympic Trials qualifiers and Fauble said the following about his training:] “So far the training has gone well, the only thing we’ve changed a little bit is that we’ve pushed the mileage up and condensed the segments. So we had a little six-week block where we had a ton of huge workouts back to back to back. So I haven’t felt as poppy as during the other segments and the splits haven’t been quite as fast, but I think the work as a whole is better than any other segment I’ve had.”

So he seems very encouraged by that…

But one question I have about training [is]: are the men’s workouts and the women’s workouts the same?

BR: Yeah, they’re the same. The only person that’s doing less is Sid Vaughn. At the top of the [podcast], you said it was his debut but he actually ran CIM before he joined the team, but it didn’t go very well. But anyway, since he’s not as experienced as the other five, he’s had a couple sessions that are different, but yeah, the men and women do the same workouts. Kellyn probably gets the most mileage of anybody, men or women, but the workout volume and the structure of the workouts is exactly the same.

LRC: So speaking of the volume, I’ve been reading these Q&A’s that are coming in [and am wondering if you purposely have your women run more than your men]…  Sid Vaughn — he’s pretty young (26). He said he was there right around, I think about 100 miles a week. I think that’s where Fauble was as well. But the women’s seemed to be higher. Aliphine said she’s up at 120. And you just said Taylor’s higher than that. [Do you have a] philosophy that the women should run more than men because they’re women or just because they’re better at handling mileage? Explain that.

BR: Each athlete is just their own individual athlete. Kellyn responds really well to high mileage. Faubs, he tends to get real grumpy if it gets too high. He likes to feel a little poppier on the big sessions. Scott Smith seems to respond really well to the high mileage. Scott Smith and Kellyn probably respond best to the really high mileage. Fauble and Steph I think are a little lower. They tend to respond well to feeling a little less heavy on the big workouts, little poppier. Aliphine I think could probably handle just as much as Kellyn, but I’ve just given her a couple miles less here and there because she did have an injury last year. So just trying to be careful.

But once you get to the pro level, and you’re talking about the marathon, I don’t see why women would run less. You know, obviously, I believe some can run more. It just depends on the individual. I don’t think women have a higher rate of injury from high mileage. I don’t think mileage is ever the cause of injury. Well, it can be depending on how you’re doing it, but I think easy mileage is easier on the body than hard intervals on the track. So, you know, we’re just running nice easy miles on the dirt roads of Flagstaff if we’re not doing a workout, so it’s pretty safe.

LRC: One of the things I know (my brother) Weldon used to tell everyone was when he was in college running in the streets of New Haven, he iced his knee every day for four years. Then he moved to Flagstaff and was running on the soft surfaces he no longer needed to ice his knee. So how much does Kellyn actually run? What are we talking here?

Kellyn Taylor in Houston in 2016

BR: Just 120. She runs 120, but you know [how] athletes are — if they run one 120-mile week, they say they’ve been running 120-mile weeks.

I think Kellyn really has been running 120-mile weeks, but most of them have been under that. I don’t think we go crazy on the mileage really. We’re really big on the volume of the sessions — the big workouts.

LRC (Wejo): And since you guys share all your workouts, your team can’t lie about their workouts like everybody else. There’s the whole mental game, however, like with boxers. I’m sure you guys had this discussion about keeping stuff private, but I know a lot of kids and other people training, they love seeing the workouts. Is that why you guys [share] it? Hey, it’s an open book. Maybe you can learn from this.

I don’t think a lot of people are going to try to copy the workouts, but if they can take nuggets of wisdom, I think there is stuff to learn there.

BR: Yeah. 100%, it’s for the fans. And it’s for our marketability. I mean, it’s a business. It has nothing to do with our competitors. I would be shocked if our competitors were reading those. I mean, they’re not going to change their workouts. They believe in what they do just like we believe in what we do. So it’s really for the fans. And I do think we take some confidence from putting it out there because it’s kind of like, “Hey, here’s what we do.”

You know, what you think of it isn’t going to change our fitness level.  And we don’t think we’ve ever gotten beaten because we put our workouts out there. If you’re fitter than us, and you beat us, so be it, but I don’t think we’re at any sort of disadvantage for putting it out there.

LRC (Wejo): And speaking of marketability, you guys are a fairly new group. I feel like you’ve caught on very quickly and had a lot of success, but you’re like the young guys on the block — even if maybe you’re not that young anymore (the group started in 2014). But the outside world judges everything on the Olympics, right? So do you feel extra pressure this year? Does the team feel extra pressure of you’ve got to put someone on the Tokyo [team]? [Do you] embrace that? Can anyone approach the Olympic Trials like [just any other] race? Or maybe you don’t want to approach it like another race, but sort of talk about some of the beauty and pressure of the Olympic Trials?

(Rojo): On thing from the [podcast last May] that really struck me when I was re-listening to it this week was, you said that when you started the team out in 2014 you used to have really concrete goals like “we’re going to make this team” or “we’re going to run this time.”

And one thing that really struck me [was you said] we don’t really do that anymore. “We just want to get better.” That’s the goal: get better.

You said you didn’t even mention the 2:09 to Fauble before Boston, and he almost ran 2:08. But now obviously, [with the Trials], it’s hard not to think about top three, and make the Olympic team and [it’s clear from reading the emailed responses we’ve gotten from your athletes that their goals are either to win the Trials or at least finish top 3 as they’ve written that flat-out]. They are definitely focused on making the team, so how have you stuck to your mantra of [we just want to get better.]

BR: Well that would be getting better, right?

Well, [making the team] that would be getting better. We were fourth twice last time at the Trials on the track and sixth twice in the marathon. So I don’t know what else our goal would be, besides making the team.

Aliphine Tuliamuk (photo by Paul Ward)

And I told the athletes, if you really study the Trials — the marathon but also, pick an event, 5000, steeple, 10,000, 1500, whatever. Watch those races, the people who try to win end up on the podium, the people who try to get third end up fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, etc. So of course folks to try to win, of course Aliphine should try to win. You try to win, maybe you win, maybe end up second, maybe you end up third, but I think if you go in with an attitude of “I’m going to try to sneak onto the team. I’m going to try to do some cute thing where, you know, I start out in 12th and I slowly move up.” Those are fantasies. That’s not what really happens.

It’s like NCAA cross country. There’s no secret to NCAA cross country. You get out and hammer you put all your five guys up as high as you possibly can and your five ladies and you compete up front. And that’s how you make the podium in the NCAA. And that’s how you’ll make the podium in Atlanta. You, go for the win, you know. Why wouldn’t Fauble think he can win? He was just, he’s just running stride for stride with the best guys in the world at Boston for 22 miles and giving them all they can handle, so I’m glad that they’re saying that.

LRC: One of the questions we asked [Scott Fauble] was, “What would you be doing if you weren’t a runner?” He says it’s hard for me to imagine what I’d be doing. I’m all in on this. I’ve never really had a plan B.

BR: Yeah, I don’t do the plan B [either]. There’s a great podcast I listened to a couple years back with Bob Bradley, the former US men’s national team coach (in soccer)…And somebody asked him about strategy. And they said, “So you go into the game with Plan A and then what does Plan B look like?” He said, “What are you talking about with Plan B? There’s Plan A, that’s it. That’s the plan.” He’s like, if there has to be a plan B, I’ll figure that out on the fly. So that’s, like that strategy and that philosophy.

LRC: I was doing research and realized the Hansons-Brooks team had an athlete make the Olympic marathon team at its third Trials in 2008 after starting in 1999, but it sounds like you’re focused on making the team this year at your second Trials, so there’s no thought that it’s a three-cycle thing or anything like that?

BR: I thought we’d make it last time. I mean, if you don’t, if you don’t believe that in your core, it’s not going to happen. I was devastated last time when we didn’t make it, internally. I don’t care what people thought.

I couldn’t even watch the replay of that race for a year. I just believed the same thing at the track trials when Kellyn got fourth. I was shocked that she didn’t make the team, you know. I thought she would make the team, but that’s how you have to be. I will say now, now four years removed, I guess you could say, it is amazing that I had that level of belief because now Kellyn is so much fitter and so much more prepared and we’re so much better and more in such a better position. But yeah, my belief is just that much stronger, I suppose now.

LRC: Looking at the other women’s contenders. You’ve got [Jordan Hasay (2:20:57), Amy Cragg (2:21:42), Sara Hall (2:22:16), Des Linden (2:22:38), Emily Sisson (2:23:08)], those five are all several minutes faster than any women on your team. Then you’ve got Molly Huddle, who’s a 2:26 marathoner, but she’s been third and fourth in New York. So what makes you think your athletes compete with these women who have run, you know, two to four or five minutes faster than your athletes?

BR: I mean, first of all Des’s to 2:22 is from 2011. In Des’s most recent marathon (2019 New York), she beat Kellyn by six seconds. So I think that’s more relevant. Amy Cragg hasn’t run a marathon since Tokyo 2018. Jordan Hasay dropped out of her last marathon (2019 Chicago). Just putting on my old journalism cap — because I was a journalism major in college — I think it’s very short-sighted to just list off their PRs.

If I were you I, I would do like a Runner A, Runner B comparison and forget about their names for a second and look at Kellyn’s last three or four marathons versus let’s say Molly’s or let’s say Emily’s, well Emily only has one. Kellyn’s last four marathons, she ran to 2:24 solo, she ran 2:26 in Prague going out in 1:11, so she tested herself big-time and then ran the rest of the race in no man’s land. And then she ran 2:26:52 in New York, which is the fifth-fastest American in New York ever and she lost to Des by [six] seconds and ran faster splits than her coming home. Des just you know made that really risky move, which was good for her. But I mean, look, Kellyn should absolutely be right there [in the] top tier.

Sara’s run in Berlin was awesome, absolutely awesome, but Kellyn didn’t get to run in that race. Berlin was perfect conditions and I think a lot of people would have run 2:22-2:23 there — including Kellyn, including Emily Sisson, and probably Molly Huddle would have too. In the marathon, the times need to be contextualized. And you need to look at a person’s history and Kellyn’s consistency is almost unparalleled among the favorites.

LRC: You made some very good points there. But I think the counter-argument might be, well there’s five or six or seven really good Tier A people in terms of credentials already. The odds, you know, of  three of them running like a 2:23:00 type [performance at the Trials, now obviously the time won’t be the fast given the hilly course] are pretty high… [If the third person at the Trials] produces the equivalent of a 2:23:00 on a perfect course, the question is, can Kellyn Taylor, can Stephanie Bruce, can Aliphine Tuliamuk run a 2:23:00 equivalent-type performance? It sounds like you clearly think they can.

BR: Yeah, I know Kellyn could for sure with some of the fitness she’s been in and Stephanie and Aliphine look really good.

I would also say that it is one day and you have to be ready on that day and you have to be ready for that course and we’ve been very good at [doing that]. Take a look at the USA 10k [from this year] for example. All the talk before [the race] was it’s the Molly and Emily show nobody else can compete. Well Molly, Emily, and Marielle Hall, nobody else can compete with those three as their times are so much better than everybody else’s.

And what was it? It was Molly, Emily, Steph, and Kellyn all the way to the finish (Editor’s note: Kellyn Taylor finished 3rd, Steph Bruce was 4th, and Marielle Hall was 5th). I mean if you have a history of being ready on the biggest days, then I just don’t put much stock in all these other things. I put stock in our ability to be ready for it, for the course on the day. And I want to say that that’s no knock on everybody else. Of course those three or those five you mentioned, they’re great, and they could absolutely beat us. But you know, I’m just not worried about that. If I was worried about that, I wouldn’t have the level of confidence I do. I just have to worry about us.

LRC: [That’s a good point. It reminds me] in many ways [how] people didn’t realize the fact that Scott Fauble was just a few seconds behind Jared Ward [in New York in 2018], because he didn’t get to the top American honors.

BR: It was just four seconds back.

LRC: But then when he beats Jared by a few seconds at Boston and runs 2:09 everyone notices what the Hoka NAZ Elite team is doing. [But let’s stop talking about the past and look ahead and talk about the Olympic Trials course]. This isn’t going to be Rotterdam. This isn’t gonna be a Chicago. This isn’t going to be a flat course.

You have seen the course in person. How hilly is it, and what would you compare it to? And have you changed the training specifically to address it because it is so hilly?

BR: Yeah, it’s very hilly. It’s very hilly. It’s hilly the whole time. It has more up than Boston. It has more down than Boston, and it’s more consistently up and down than Boston. You know Boston has a stretch from, I’d say like probably 4 miles to 13 [or] 14, that really aren’t that hilly at all [and] is pretty much flat.

Same as New York, you’ve got sections like Brooklyn that are pretty flat [with] slight ups and downs, but [Atlanta] is always pretty significant up or pretty significant down each mile and then the last four miles all a net uphill. They have downhills mixed in, but net uphill each of the last four. So we’ve been preparing for that type of race [with] a lot of pace change.

Stephanie Bruce and Aliphine Tuliamuk via NAZ Elite Facebook

[You’ll need to have] a lot of confidence in yourself and your ability to handle your internal rhythm and not rely so much on splits. So we’ve been running courses that are difficult and that give us feedback that isn’t so fun and sexy. You know, it’s fun to run courses where you know you’re going to get mile after mile at you know 5:10 or so [for the men] up at altitude or for the women 5:40 or so up at altitude. But to run a course where they’re going to have to look down at their watch and see a 5:25 for the men or a 5:55 for the women, that’s really difficult to handle mentally. But if you can get used to it, and if you can kind of wrap your mind around and be okay with it and then begin to start to embrace it as something that you’re really good at, then when you go to Atlanta and you see a split during the race, [say] on the men’s side and you see a 5:10, you can easily say, “Oh yeah, but that was uphill, it’s no problem.” Then you’re a step ahead of the people who it’s so ingrained in them to have constant positive feedback [from seeing fast splits]. That’s just not going to happen in Atlanta.

LRC: [Speaking of courses], in the past you’ve sent some of your athletes to Rotterdam and Frankfurt, [when] so many groups just go New York, Boston, Chicago — they stick to the American marathons. What made you branch out of three big US races and send somebody to a race that doesn’t get a lot of publicity in the United States?

BR: There’s a couple of big things.

One, you’re trying to give these people experiences and opportunities to compete on a global stage. I do have their long-term interest in mind. You know at the end of the day, it’s very cool for them to say, I ran at Rotterdam, I ran at Frankfurt, ran at Berlin, those are awesome experiences.

Number two is the business side of it. The East Africans do the same thing. [If] you go run fast at Rotterdam or Frankfurt, then you can get a bigger appearance fee in Chicago or Boston or New York because you have that faster time next to your name. So it can be sort of calculated in the sense that it’s a step in their career that they need to make, where they need to put up that fast time so that they can get the appearance fee at the marathon in the States and then prove themselves there. And there’s something to be said for the lack of pressure when an American runs in Frankfurt or Rotterdam or whatever it might be because you’re not really paid attention to. So you can just go do your thing and run fast and then come back over here and you’re a little bit more prepared for the hubbub that you experience at the Bostons and the New Yorks and the Chicagos.

LRC: A month or two ago, I emailed and asked you if there are any key workouts that you do and as of two months ago, you said you’re planning a big workout on February 1, which would be this Saturday, where you go 10 miles fairly steady, and then 10 miles at marathon effort or a little bit faster. Then the following week the plan is for a 26-mile long run with the first 11 on a super hilly road, and then miles 18-24 will be marathon effort. And then two weeks out, you’ll do 15 miles at marathon effort on Lake Mary Road. How important are these signature workouts and do you think they are critical for them physiologically or maybe more so, psychologically? Do they really gear up for these and think, “Okay, I gotta hit this one big on Saturday”?

BR: I think it is a little bit of both. I think they’re not necessarily harder than what we were doing before but we’ll have a little bit more pop in our legs because we’ll pull back a little bit on the midweek workouts. I think you said Fauble had mentioned that the block before this was really condensed, which is the word we use for, you know, the block where we really pile one workout on top of another and they’re all really big, so you don’t feel quite as good, but that’s by design. And then and now we pull back a little bit so these workouts, they’ll feel a little bit better and they can really crush them and feel quite good. So yeah, I think it’s mental and physical. And I think these workouts will feel a little bit more like race day because they will be a little fresher. They won’t be as fresh as they will be on race day, but a little fresher than they were when they ran some of these sessions in the previous block, even fresher maybe than they were when they ran those half marathons. So, yeah, they’re big, but you know, a couple people will probably screw up and not run great on one of them, but that’s okay. They’ll be okay with that. They know that one bad workout does not a segment make. So we’ll just try to do the best we can.

LRC: Do you have any [intra]-team competitions planned? We asked [Fauble] his favorite workout and he said, “I really enjoyed this one session where we did 12 by 1k in 2:58. Then we did a 5k time trial with our whole team — men and women. The women got a 1:46 headstart, and we had to chase them down. It was super hard. We had a big group, good energy, and we beat the women after a week of trash talk.” So it sounds like a fantastic idea for camaraderie. Whose idea was that? Did you come up with that and how did you come up with the 1:46 headstart?

BR: Yeah, well, when I was on the Hansons team, we did this once or twice with Kevin and Keith, we did a 3000-meter time trial where the women got a head start. So that’s where I got the idea.

And then we did a 5k last year before US cross and it went pretty well and was a lot of fun. And then this fall for Kellyn when she was getting ready for New York, I added these workouts where she would do these 5ks at the end of the workout to try to prepare for the end of the race. And so I thought, “Well, let’s just combine that with the time trial.” And then 1:46 was the difference between Steph Bruce’s PR (15:17), which is our team record, and Matt Baxter‘s PR (13:31), he has the fastest 5k PR on the team. So it was just the difference between those two PRs.

LRC: But now Baxter has just set a new PR  indoors, congratulations (Editor’s note: Matt Baxter ran 13:27 on January 25 in Boston).

BR: Yeah, now he’s at 13:27, so I guess we’d have to change [the head start]. It’s an indoor New Zealand national record. That was the first national record for the team. Rory Linkletter came sort of close to the Canadian half marathon record in Houston. He ran 1:01:44 in Houston and it is 1:01:28 — so he’s knocking on the door, too.

LRC: We talked about the other women’s competitors, but we haven’t really talked about the men’s race. Scott Fauble is obviously seeded number three. Maybe we should say he is a co-number three with Jared Ward since they’ve been finishing so close to each other. But we’ve got Galen Rupp at 2:06:07 and then Leonard Korir made his debut at 2:07:56. What are your thoughts on the field there?

BR: It’s going to be good. The field is going to be good, just like on the women’s side. I got fired up [when talking about the] women’s [field], but again, that was not me knocking those other women. They’re super good and super awesome people. And same thing on the men’s side. These guys are going to run really fast and we’re just going to run really well. [Well] I don’t know how fast they’re gonna run, but they’re going to run really well. And we’re just going to assume that everybody’s bringing their A game.

Stephanie and Ben Bruce

But, you know, the reality is, it’s kind of like Brooks Koepka, the golfer we talked about last year in [terms of how to win a major]. He’s like, “Oh, the majors are the easiest to win, because half the field overdoes it in preparation. Half the field is too nervous and they choke. And then I only have to beat whoever’s left. And that’s not that many people.”

And I’m not saying that about this field. There’s a lot of people and I really think they’re going to run very well. But it’s sort of like you were saying [earlier in the podcast], just being realistic. All three of our people aren’t going to make the team, right? You’re just being realistic. I’m being realistic about the men’s field. All those people are not going to run well, you know, and so it’s not maybe as crazy as it looks on paper. It’s ultimately going to come down to a pack of, you know, eight or so guys. I don’t know who those eight are going to be. I have no clue. But I do believe our guys will be they’re very late. And, you know, I like our chances.

LRC: An interesting development for US distance fans is that obviously Alberto Salazar is no longer coaching Galen Rupp. He has picked Mike Smith, the NAU coach, who is in Flagstaff like you. I think you and Mike are fairly friendly, right? Have you seen Galen around town? What did you think of Mike’s decision to coach him? Did that surprise you? And is that something that you would ever consider?

BR: It did surprise me. Galen is not in town. Mike’s coaching him online. Galen is in Portland. So I don’t know if there are plans for Galen to come to Flagstaff or not. What I did not do was give my opinion publicly or to anyone until I spoke to Mike. So Mike and I spoke a couple of weeks ago for about 90 minutes and we shared a lot of different thoughts, and you know, Mike is someone I have a ton of respect and admiration for. And I like to believe that that admiration is the same on his end about me.

And we don’t necessarily agree about everything, but we respect one another. And I believe Mike’s heart is in the right place with that decision. I believe he did a lot of soul-searching before he decided to take on that project. And, you know, he’s a great guy that hasn’t changed. He’s the same guy that he was before he made that decision. And I believe that Mike’s a really good person.

LRC That’s great to hear. I think one of the things that’s really been lost in the modern world is [the idea that] you can respect somebody but don’t have to agree on everything. People can have disagreements. We need to learn how to do them in a civil manner. The other side isn’t always evil. All the groups need to respect each other.

But the other controversial topic [in running these days] — and I don’t let a LetsRun podcast go by without [talking about it] — is shoe technology. It’s changed drastically in recent years and the Nike Vaporflys may or may not be banned (Editor’s note: World Athletics announced on Friday that the current version of the Vaporflys, the Next%, will not be banned. The version Eliud Kipchoge wore in Vienna — “the Alphaflys” — appear to have been banned). What do you think about the Vaporfly shoes? Are you worried that the Nike-sponsored athletes will have an advantage or do you think that the other companies are catching up? What are your thoughts on that?

BR: I think that the innovation side of things is great. You know, it’s great that everybody’s innovating. I think I told one of you guys in an email that I certainly can’t complain about innovation. I mean we’re sponsored by the company that’s been the most innovative of all over the last decade. From an overarching perspective, certainly.

I think that my concern, though, and this may sound cliche, or like, I’m avoiding [the topic], but my concern has to be our own shoes. You know, my concern has to be working with HOKA to make sure we have the best shoes we can possibly have. And that we’re not in any sort of disadvantage, and I can tell you from speaking to Mike McManus, our global sports marketing director, and from speaking to people that are on the innovation team, they’re super pumped and really confident in what we’ll be wearing at the Trials and I’m really confident about what we’ve been wearing [in the past].

HOKA’s Carbon X

You know, we had carbon plates in our shoes back as early as — [for] testing anyways — ’17. And we were racing in them as early as ’18 and we’ve been racing in them ever since. Now [that] doesn’t mean every performance we’ve been wearing those [carbon shoes]. I mean Kellyn wore the HOKA Tracer for her 2:24, which is a very basic flat. I think even Hoka would tell you that. But now, we’re confident in the new shoes that we have.

I think the fact that Nike has made a shoe that is very innovative is not a bad thing. Now, I will say this: I can be really happy about our shoes and I can be okay with the Nikes and all that stuff, but I can still say I’m not opposed to regulation. You know I’m a big sports fan overall. And all the sports I follow have regulation when it comes to equipment. You can’t give Tiger Woods one of these long-drive clubs. He’ll be driving the ball 450 yards and it won’t be fun to watch. You can’t let Mike Trout hit with an aluminum bat and the examples go on and on, and the analogies go on and on. So I think if there were to be regulations, I wouldn’t be inherently opposed to that idea. Now, I think there’s a lot of work that has to go into making sure that those regulations are fair and proper and they [must] come from a good place. And you know, that’s probably above my pay grade to figure out what those things might be, but I’m not inherently opposed to regulation either.

And I think you can be on both sides of the argument. I think you can think, “The shoes are awesome. They’re great. I’m glad it’s so awesome to have all this innovation.” But then you can also say, “But if things get out of control, we need to consider regulation.” And that’s kind of where I stand on it. I just want things to be fair, and if that means regulation, so be it.

LRC: It’s certainly it’s an interesting topic. You talked about you think over the last decade that HOKA has led the way in innovation, and when you said it, I was like, “That’s actually totally true.” I mean, HOKA only started 10 years ago, right? 2009. Before that, HOKA didn’t even exist… And they came out right at the height of the minimalist phase with these huge shoes. [And when I saw them, I thought], “I want to run in a shoe like that. It’ll be like running on a cloud.” And I must finally confess, I’ve finally got [my first pair], a HOKA Bondi 6, which I’m very happy with. 

BR: Let me just interject and say that, you know it does make me a little bit — I don’t know if you would say angry — but I find it interesting that so many people saw those Vaporflys and acted as if all those ideas and concepts were brand new. That’s exactly HOKA’s concept, you know. They took what they learned from the minimalist phase and put it together in a much better format where you had cushioning, you had absorption, you had energy return at a new level, you had stack heights that were different. You had foams that were different. Yeah, they might have looked a little funny, but they were producing better results. A lot of the things that you see in these new flats — this increased stack height and some of the different foams that being used — I mean, to me, it all seems very HOKA-esque. All of those things are in the HOKA DNA.

And I don’t want to go outside of my lane here because I’m not a shoe expert by any means, but I’m just kind of saying, “Hey, you know, a lot of these innovations that you see are innovations that we’ve had the fortune of using for a long time now in our regular HOKAs.”

LRC: One of the things that was interesting [about the responses to our emailed Q&A was the fact that] a number of your runners race in different shoes. So do you pretty much let them you know, figure that out themselves — okay, try this shoe on, try this shoe on? Do you let them handle that and how many different racing shoes do you think they’ll be in when we they toe the line on February 29?

BR: Yeah, that’s a good question. HOKA doesn’t give us any mandate and nor do I. We try everything.

I mean Kellyn ran 2:24 in the Tracers. She ran 2:26 in New York in the Carbon X. Alihpine has run 2:26 in the Tracers. Steph’s run 2:27 in the Carbon Rocket. Faubs ran 2:09 in the Carbon Rocket. Scott Smith ran 2:11 in the Carbon X. So yeah, we’ve done all kinds of different things.

But what do I think will happen come the Trials? Well, we just got the newest version of the Carbon Rocket…I think the people who liked the Rocket [before will like it again] as I don’t know yet if it’s all that different. It [appears to be] a new iteration of that shoe. So I’m hopeful that it rides a lot like the old Rocket because we’ve liked that. So I think the Scott Faubles of the world and the Stephs who have really liked the Rocket [in the past] will like the shoe. I think the others will have to try it and see if they like it better than the X,  but you know, I think that says something about the shoes though if we’re all wearing different ones, they must be doing a good a good job because we’re producing good results in all of them.

LRC: There is on other HOKA athlete whom people seem to be obsessed with but who is not coached by you: Jim Walmsley, the ultra guy. He lives in Flagstaff and he’s going to be making his marathon debut at the Trials. Do you ever see him around town? Have you given any advice [on how to run a marathon]? Does he ever hop in a workout or two with you guys?

Jim Walmsley

BR: Jim is awesome. I’m a huge fan of Jim. I think he’s done an amazing job creating a brand for himself in a very authentic way. And he’s an absolute superstar in the ultrarunning world. I mean, he gets mobbed all over the globe when he goes to these ultrarunning events. And he’s an incredibly valuable athlete. I’m really happy that he’s doing this because it’s bringing a lot of new eyeballs to the road marathon world via you know, all these ultra fans that he has, so that’s great.

Yes, I do see him around town a lot. He comes to the Bagel Run a lot on Thursday mornings. And I usually get a little chat in with him there. I was super happy to see him run well in Arizona. I think his training is going really well. I think he’s doing it his way. He has not jumped in on anything with us except one fartlek down in Scottsdale when we were down there for a HOKA athletes’ summit. Other than that, I just hear through the grapevine things that he’s doing. And, you know, like I said, he’s doing it his way and why wouldn’t you? We’re doing it our way. That’s what he should be doing…

This is what I think. I think he’ll run much better than some of the naysayers would have you believe, but maybe he won’t run quite as well as some of the ultra fans would have you believe. I think it’ll be somewhere in the middle. But I do think he’ll be a factor and I do think he’ll be in the race for a long, long time.

LRC: I guess I’ll conclude with this. [Fast forward and it’s] the week of the race. I assume you’re going to have conversations with your athletes. Are you going to have it in a group setting? Or just individual settings? Or do you do both? And what do you think you’ll say to them, sort of for a race plan or will it vary based on the individual?

BR: I was just thinking about this today actually. I do think we’ll do both. I think we’ll have a group session and in that session I think I’ll tell them I’m very proud of them, you know, and I’m very proud of all the work they’ve put in and the belief they’ve given to the program and to each other. And that, look, I love them either way [whether they make the team or not]. You know, I think it’s going to be an awesome day and I’m just excited, you know, for what they’re going to do so that that session will be, I think more a little bit of a chance for us to kind of bond and just say, “Hey, we’ve done all we can. Now let’s go, this is the fun part.”

[With] the individual sessions, I think they will be a little bit more about race strategy and tactics, because there will be different tactics, you know, [because] they have different strengths and weaknesses. And I think there’ll be different parts of the course and different sections of the race that one person might be a little bit more suited for than the others and we’ll discuss that. It’s not that I’m trying to hide anything from the others, but I think I think there’s something to be said for sitting down individually with each person and letting them know what I believe their best chance to make the team is.

LRC: Do you try to tell them, “While I know that you are feeling a lot of pressure, in 20 years you’re going to look back at this and think, you know what, I was competing for an Olympic spot. Whether you make it or no, how cool was that?”

BR: It’s so cool. I mean, it’s so cool. I gave them all a log, an old school training log. Well, it’s not super old school as it’s Lauren Fleshman‘s log, but it’s the six-month one. And it’s just really basic. And I gave them a pen with it and I said, “Look, we do so much for the public. We share the journey with everyone and all our fans. But I said this isn’t for the public. This is for you guys. You’re going to remember these six months, like no six months in your life, they’re going to be so fun, trust me, you’re gonna want to document this.” I said just take this pen and after every run, just write something down and it might be “10 miles with Kellyn and Steph, it sucked.” Or whatever. But just document it and do it for yourself and it’ll be so fun because I agree with you 100%, whether or not they make the team it’s going to be a really amazing portion of their life.

LRC: Well good. Good luck to you and hopefully someone makes it and if not, enjoy the journey. 


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