THE Jerry Schumacher Interview

by April 1, 2021 Shelby Houlihan, Matt Tegenkamp, Chris Solinsky, Shalane Flanagan, Evan Jager, Moh Ahmed, and Matthew Centrowitz. What do all of these great athletes have in common? All have been coached by Jerry Schumacher. Schumacher first rose to prominence coaching track and cross country at the University of Wisconsin, and since 2008 has coached a team of professional runners at Nike — currently known as the Bowerman Track Club. But for all his success, Schumacher has never been one for the limelight, which is why is very excited to present this exclusive interview. Jerry, at this point it’s almost a cliche to describe you as “reclusive,” so with that in mind, thanks for the interview.

Bowerman Track Club, Jerry Schumacher. (Photo by Talbot Cox)

Jerry Schumacher: You’re very welcome. I find it interesting that in this day and age if you aren’t constantly posting on social media and promoting yourself that you get labeled as “reclusive,” but I guess that’s the world we’re living in now. I’m excited for the chance to talk to you guys today. Most of my experience with LetsRun involves posting anonymously on the message boards. LRC: Wow. We’re surprised you are willing to acknowledge that. What’s your handle? JS: I change it up. Whatever strikes me at a given moment. Saladbariscrazy, formerd1coach, etc. LRC: What do you generally post about? JS: Training — generally I’m looking for workout tips. Once Alberto [Salazar] got banned, they assigned me the intern that read LetsRun for him, and she told me that Alberto got his key Boston Marathon workouts for Kara Goucher from the message board. I never knew there was such good information on there. It’s really been instrumental in our guys and gals running so fast. What do Moh Ahmed’s 12:47, Shelby’s 14:23, Fisher’s 13:02 all have in common? They all took place after Alberto’s ban, which is when I first started posting on there after the intern gave me the tip. My therapist tells me not to talk about Alberto but his ban has really been a godsend for me both personally and professionally. I no longer have to have security at meets and my coaching has gone to a new level. LRC: We’ll come back to Alberto later. But the first question we had prepared is somewhat obvious. It’s an Olympic year, yet we are still operating under pandemic-related travel restrictions. How is the team doing? Are there any meets you and the team are targeting ahead of the Trials?

The BTC women after setting the 4 x 1500 WR. Via @bowermantc on instagram

JS: Well that depends a little bit on the athlete and the event. Most of the team is focused on the Olympics. But some have more important things to focus on. For someone like Matthew [Centrowitz], there is obviously a lot of pressure and as a result of everything that’s been going on I can’t just throw him out there in a race as a rust-buster. He absolutely has to get a chance to shake off the rust off in two or three time trials before he races. Trying to defend the Olympic title is one thing but trying to defend your reputation from being slandered by a 4:14 walk-on is a whole other level of pressure. Carter Christman watch out, our move is coming soon. LRC: We look forward to seeing that, as your team has become known for how infrequently they race, even before COVID. In 2019, Shelby Houlihan set the American record at 1500, but barely raced outside of USAs and Worlds. Woody Kincaid ran 12:58 in a middle-of-the-night time trial, but didn’t get to go to Worlds as he didn’t have the 13:22.50 standard earlier in the season. Same thing with Josh Thompson in the 1500. Why have you come to focus so strongly on these time trial-type events as opposed to more conventional meets? JS: I hate to admit it, but I pretty much learned that from Alberto. When I was his assistant, he told me, “Always remember, there are only three things you can control at a meet — thyroid level, testosterone level, and weather.” I took that to heart. But instead the three things I focus on are fitness, weather, and pacing. When your athletes are fit, you don’t want to leave an opportunity to run fast to chance. Or at least, you want to leave as little to chance as possible, because you obviously can’t control everything. With Kipchoge breaking 2:00 in the marathon, we’ve seen just what is possible when everything is set up perfectly for the right athlete on the right day. LRC: Do you think it’s good for the sport to not have  your athletes compete more in the Diamond League or other meets in Europe where the conditions can’t be controlled to the same degree, but the level of competition is as high as it gets outside of global championships? Marc Scott, for example, just passed on a chance to represent his country at the European Championships in favor of an obscure time trial when he already had the Olympic standard. Wouldn’t Marc be best served by representing Great Britain in a big championship meet, and then using that platform to grow his profile among the casual fan?

Jerry Schumacher Hiding from the Press

JS: Okay, let’s get into this then. Who exactly is the casual fan of our sport? LRC: Well, even for a niche sport like distance running, you’re much more likely to garner attention and enthusiasm from the fans for a meet like the US indoor national championships or Europeans than a single-file time trial at Boston University in an empty building. JS: Yeah, but let’s be honest here. When was the last time you heard Joe Schmoe talk about US indoors? The crack addict readers of LetsRun, they don’t care where we race. I put on a time trial at BU, my runners get to hit their times and set PRs, I get to make a nice enough living, and you get to have your little rants on the message board. Everybody’s happy. LRC: Okay let’s move on. We briefly alluded to the so-called “super spikes” earlier. In your opinion, how big of a contributor are they to the fast times we’re seeing this year? JS: Anyone who has followed the sport for more than 15 minutes can see that they are having a transformative impact. LRC: Wow, I am somewhat surprised to hear you say that so strongly. Many of the athletes are saying it’s a combination of factors beyond just the shoes — that they’re well-rested and extra motivated after 2020, that they’re not socializing as much and sleeping more, and so on. JS: What do you expect them to say? All these runners are pretty delusional to begin with. They all want to believe they’re The Little Engine That Could. You’ve got Jakob Ingebrigsten and Sara Hall saying they aren’t talented. Give me a break. I mean, to some extent you have to be delusional to think you can be the best in the world at something, which is admirable in its own way. But now we have all these runners obliterating their PRs left and right, and they all think it’s because they’re sleeping an extra 15 minutes a night. Please. Nick Willis was so right about this. You have these runners who owe their livelihoods to shoe companies, who give them money in the distant hope that if they run fast it will somehow trickle down to all the hobby joggers out there deciding to buy a pair of Nikes instead of adidas. Then Nike comes out with a legitimately game-changing spike, and they’re all like, “Gee, I don’t think it’s the spikes.” I just smack my forehead every time I hear this. Let me tell you — and yeah I’m saying this as a Nike employee — the super spikes are amazing. My ego’s as big as the next guy’s, and I take a lot of pride in my accomplishments as a coach, but do you really think I’m good enough to turn Kieran Tuntivate into a 27:17 10k runner in just a few months? The last time he ran at NCAAs he couldn’t even break 15:30 or 30:00 (Editor’s note: Tuntivate ran 15:33 and 30:12 at NCAA regionals in 2019). Even if I gave him every supplement Alberto ever dreamed of giving Galen Rupp, he couldn’t come within a minute of that time without the shoes.

Jerry Schumacher

LRC: Speaking of Alberto, your relationship with him has been — JS: F*** that a******. LRC: Okay, we’re glad to see you aren’t pulling any punches today. JS: Well I know I brought him up earlier, so I can’t act like he hasn’t influenced me, but I just can’t believe how much people like you want to talk about him. Some days it feels like the first line of my obituary is going to read, “Jerry Schumacher, guy who didn’t get along with Alberto.” I mean, to be fair, he deserves a lot of credit for delivering on his original promise of the Oregon Project by putting American distance running back on top with great athletes like Mo Farah and Sifan Hassan. And he did somehow discover Galen, whose charisma and panache have elevated our sport to a whole new level in the eye of the American public. But seriously, what can I say about the guy that hasn’t already been said a million times? LRC: Well, you are an interesting figure in his story. JS: His story? You mean that book Win At All Costs? Did you read that book? LRC: Yes, we actually interviewed Matt Hart on our podcast. JS: Can you believe what a psycho Alberto was in that book? I’ve loathed him for years, and I didn’t know the half of it. Shipping an altitude tent overnight to Europe just so Galen doesn’t have to sleep at sea level for two extra nights? Nike shareholders should file a lawsuit against him! God, I hope his ban is upheld. LRC: So are you saying you think he’s guilty of the charges leveled against him? And even further, do you think his athletes have used illegal substances like testosterone? Or do you think it truly stops with the experiments on his son? JS: Oh, I don’t know. I just can’t stand the guy and don’t want to have to avoid him at meets anymore. LRC: Surely you must hear things given your role in the sport. JS: Yeah, I hear things. I’m sure you do too. LRC: True, but we aren’t the coach of someone like Matthew Centrowitz, who was one of Alberto’s greatest success stories. JS: When you start dating someone, do you immediately ask them for graphic details about every relationship they’ve ever been in? That would be weird as hell, right? What happened between Matt and Alberto is their business. LRC: I’m not sure that’s a fair analogy. If Oregon Project athletes were dirty, then they’re winning prize money and spots on teams that could be going to your athletes. It’s always puzzled me why someone in your position, who’s never been the subject of any meaningful speculation when it comes to PEDs, wouldn’t be more outspoken about this. JS: I thought you said you read Win At All Costs? LRC: I did… JS: (Sighs) Do I really have to spell it out for you? Follow the money, moron. If you’re a Nike employee like me or Pete Julian, it’s see no evil, hear no evil. Alberto’s never rubbed me down with Testoboost or whatever, so who am I to say what he’s up to? If you’re an athlete or coach for one of the other shoe companies that hasn’t effectively bought out USATF, then it’s just sour grapes, isn’t it? If you ask me: Did Alberto’s experiments with unregulated supplements, all in the name of getting massive testosterone boosts, not only violate “the spirit of the rule,” but also show total disregard for the regulation of PEDs in our sport? Then of course I would say “yes,” but what good does that do? (Pauses) Shit. John Capriotti is going to kill me when he reads this. Literally. Can we make that last comment off the record? LRC: I’m sorry. We can’t do that. We have to act like journalists once every four years so we can get free finish line tickets to the Trials and the Olympics. Jerry, you’ve been very generous with your time, and we thank you for your candor. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you today. Best of luck to you and your team this year. JS: Thank you. The pleasure has been all mine. Happy April Fool’s Day. None of what is written above is actually true.
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