Chris Solinsky, a University of Wisconsin Badger alumnus and current Nike Oregon Track Club athlete (also with Kimbia Athletics) pulled off one of the most stunning track races in US history, being the first American to run under 27 minutes for 10, 000m. He accomplished the record at the 2010 Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational at Stanford University. He also went sub-13 for 5000m with his 12:56.66 at the 2010 Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway.
Although he is from Wisconsin and will always be a Badger, he trains under Jerry Schumacher in Oregon with several top-level athletes, which include fellow national 10, 000m record holder (Canadian record) Simon Bairu, Matt Tegenkamp – no slouch himself and even Galen Rupp who is with Nike Oregon however, he is training under Alberto Salazar. Rupp also went under the previous American 10, 000m record, owned by Meb Keflezighi, which was 27:13.98.
Chris took time out of his hectic schedule to chat with me about his training and recent racing successes. Like the runner he his, it was difficult to keep up with him, hence this interview took place over a span of a several weeks.
Christopher Kelsall: For you, growing up smack-dab in the middle of Wisconsin how was the local running environment?
Chris Solinsky: It was actually great. Stevens Point has got a 26-mile loop around the city that is mostly gravel and winds through the city and next to the river, so there is great changing scenery. The University there, UWSP, has a nature reserve called Schmeekle Reserve and that has got some nice trails that you can make different sized loops from 1 mile to about 3 miles and is great for easy runs. We had two tracks relatively close to each other and where I lived, outside of town, I had a plethora of country gravel roads to run on. Plus there is a great running history in town, so people once involved have a lot of motivation to push the limits.
CK: Did you follow the exploits of former US 5000m record holder, Bob Kennedy and former University of Wisconsin Badger Tim Hacker back in the day?
CS: Certainly, both were big role models to me. I followed Hacker from my freshman year of high school on, because he was a legend in the state of Wisconsin, so I would always compare myself to what he did each year of high school and kind of use that to see if I was on pace to at least emulate what he did for his career.
The same thing holds true for Kennedy, when I was 3rd as a junior at Foot Locker, I saw that he was as well, and I also noticed he won the following year, so I was really motivated by that to try and do the same thing. I did not quite keep up, however, freshman year of college as he won NCAA Cross-country Championships as a true frosh, although I have caught up since.
CK: There has been much mention made of your size however, Bob Kennedy was 6-feet tall and Craig Mottram is a big guy, both are outstanding 5000m runners. Do you think bigger guys are just steered earlier in their athletic development to other sports therefore we see fewer competing in athletics?
CS: That could possibly be the case, because I think for a long time it was thought that distance running was for those who did not have too great of athletic abilities so they were pushed to running. If you look at Kennedy, Mottram, Tegenkamp, and others that are kind of breaking the model of the distance runner, they are all quite athletic and not just skinny twigs. I know I had the choice to run or play soccer, but I saw the potential in running so I chose running, but there was also much promise in soccer, but I felt that I could control my own destiny in running, rather than depending on others. Plus, the 5,000 is an event that is not just a distance event you also have to be quite the athlete as the training required is pretty intense and can be tough to handle the proper way of approaching it.
I mean you have to be a very solid 1500-meter runner as well as having great aerobic strength like a 10,000-meter runner. Your body has to handle that difference of workload and be able to excel at both sides of the spectrum. I mean this year the 10,000 record was purely a product of us trying to get stronger for the 5k, so that we can get to that bell and remain aerobic and on top of the run so we have the energy to use our speed. I would love to get in an 800 or 1,500 this year as well as I think I could pop a pretty good time in both.
CK: Well you were athletic, having grown up playing competitive soccer. World Cup ended recently. Who were you cheering for from the beginning and did you think Spain would get to the final?
CS: Ever since I gave up soccer for running I have tried to distance myself from it because it would make me miss it if I watched a match, but I always watch parts of the World Cup. Obviously, I was cheering for the US from the beginning, but when they went down I rooted for the underdogs of every match to see if they can climb the mountain and defeat the giant (favorite). I was rooting for the Netherlands towards the end mostly because we often go there for a training base in Europe, so there was some connection, so I was sad to see them loose.
CK: Since you mentioned middle distance, it was in poetic fashion - having a BA in History – ironically 52 years to the day after Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile, you did too, for the first sub-4minute mile ever to happen in the state of Wisconsin (actually second - in that race). At that time, did you suddenly start having visions of one day being a great miler?
CS: Well when I entered my freshman year at UW, I started out as a miler more to prolong the 5k, but it helped to develop some speed as a background for the future, but no, I never really had visions of being a miler. I am all strength; even that race was all strength, I just grinded out that 3:57.
CK: In his recent Sports Illustrated article, Tim Layden wrote about your training efforts as always being hard. So hard that sometimes guys like Tegenkamp and Bairu will avoid running with you on their easy days. What are we talking about for paces? What pace are you running those tempos at?
CS: Well to clarify, the only times that they tend to not go out of their way to run with me is the afternoon doubles or the days that we do not have to meet for core after the run. I have begun taking it upon myself to contact them rather than wait for them to call me up to run because otherwise it will not happen.
In regard to the paces, I am not all that sure because I have made a point to not have specific markers in terms of 400, 800, mile and so on, rather I have check points to know how the effort is in context to pace. However I try to not check them when I'm not feeling great as it will irritate me and make me push harder. I run my afternoon efforts purely by effort and that is why I avoid the splits. That being said I would guess I run in the 5:30-5:50 range on average give or take 10 seconds on a good or bad day.
CK: Sounds organic. Is the feeling-based tempo run a Jerry Schumacher thing?
CS: These runs are more of supplemental runs to the whole plan that Jerry plans for me, and therefore he has nothing to do with the effort or distance of these runs. I have been doing these types of supplemental runs (afternoon runs/doubles) ever since high school. When you run on your own you become much more in-tune to your body and how it reacts to certain paces. For example, when I push hard on those days I get more used to pushing that pain threshold and being at that threshold-line teaches my body familiarity to that pain so in races when I am riding the red line it is not foreign and I can hold it longer. This may all be in my head, but I feel it helps me.
CK: Running Times Magazine produced an article commenting on your 'huge aerobic base' and according to the article, that is why you are running so well. Yet you suggested that you might have over-trained as a youth. What indicators are there of your apparent over-training?
CS: I don't know if I would call it over-training while I was in high school as much as I got really lucky because I did not train intelligently and luckily because I am a bigger, sturdier runner I got away with it, while other athletes would get hurt. There definitely were times that I would be so fatigued that I was forced to back off, so if there was any over-training happening that was it. Again, I did not get hurt I just got worn down and had to take it easy for a week or two to recoup. This happens to me one or two times each year where I just get a little bit too greedy about volume and intensity and I have to take a step back for a little bit to let my body catch up. I think the Pre Classic was a product of this as I came back from Oslo super motivated to train hard and reach another level; I just over-did it the weeks leading up to Pre.
CK: Interesting that you opened your recent 5000m personal best race (12:56.66) at Bislett with a 2:32km and finished the race with a final 2:32km. Do you think if the race opened a little slower you would have run any faster in the end?
CS: Well I think that if it went out slower and we kept the pace consistent I may have been able to run faster, but I did close in 56, so I had running left at the end, I just doubted myself with 600 to go to get into better position. I am still kicking myself about that today. I feel that if we would have kept the pace more honest after 3k and leading to 4k (2:39) I could have gotten a few more seconds out of myself, but hopefully I will be able to get that kind of race later this summer when I finally get to come down in training and really let it rip.
CK: After the Pre meet and towards racing again - later this summer - are you running any specialized phase to refresh the aerobic system and get in the required quality so you will be ready, to let her rip?
CS: Yes, we basically went back to base mode after Oslo and wanted to have a 6-week block of high-volume and intensity training basically from Olso to a week or so before we leave for Europe to first of all, pull the body out of peak mode and make sure that when I come down again it will be for good and I will be able to hold this taper through September. Unfortunately, Pre took a hit, I really thought that I could do the training and still come out and really compete, but you know I think it cost me those last two laps as I just did not have the legs and just kind of ran out of gas. We have since started to gradually bring down the volume and begun getting ready to race and once I get to Europe I will just race and jog in-between as the races will serve as my workouts.
CK: At the Pre Classic you ran your 5000m in 13:08.11. Clearly you have had the best or one of the best stretches of racing of any American, ever. Are you satisfied with this result? What were your expectations going in?
CS: Actually I was not at all satisfied. I know that I am a better runner than that 13:08. Originally, early in the season we tabbed Pre as being the race of the year for us, but with Matt and Evan getting hurt and the way the year started we shifted it to August, where we have a chance to get into some really good races, so we made the call to kind of train through Pre and I think it showed as I just ran out of gas those last two laps. The positive that came from the race is that I can run a respectable time being pretty fatigued going into it, which I think bodes well for a 10k because you have to run close to a 13 minute 5k at the end being tired in global championship races. So long story short, I was hoping I could still have a great performance and be competitive, but in the end I would have benefited from more rest going into Pre.
CK: You seem like a thoughtful guy, on Canada Day you tweeted training partner Simon Bairu, "Happy Canada Day" and this on Father's Day: "Happy Father's Day to all the Pops out there. I was blessed with not only a great father, but a great friend, thanks for being there DAD!" Was he a big influence while growing up with sports?
CS: My dad was definitely a big supporter, as was my mom. They were both runners in high school and were really excited to see that I wanted to pursue running. They both support in different ways, my mom has always been the behind the scenes always happy to see me do well and there for me after tough days, but more than anything she just wants to see me happy.
My dad has always been very hands-on with my running as he was really into it when he did it. He actually got a partial scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, but had to turn it down to stay and help my grandfather on the farm, so he definitely has that love for it. He'll call just to talk about running, see how I am feeling and to see what the game plan is. If I am ever lacking for motivation my dad is always there with some cliché or saying that fits the occasion perfectly. If I did not know better he could have had a huge book of clichés sitting around that he looks at for every occasion.
CK: Ever listen to the song, Flight of the Bumblebee? Your father may have had something there.
CS: I have never heard the song, but that particular cliché-saying has certainly gotten him some attention. I keep telling him he should go on some kind of motivational speaking tour.
[Note: When his Chris was being hard on himself, his father would repeat the old saying about how a bumblebee may weigh too much to be able to fly, “but no one told the bumblebee that.” ]
CK: Because you were often considered too big for athletics and there were some doubts voiced. Like Bairu, it appears that when someone doubts you, you respond. Simon said that Jerry (Schumacher) knows the right thing to say to an individual to motivate them. Has he imparted any choice words of wisdom to good effect on you?
CS: I have told Jerry way too many stories about how my father and I interact and what my dad would say to me to get me motivated to push myself. Sometimes my dad would use reverse psychology on me that would just get me angry and I would be out to prove him wrong (exactly what he wanted) and Jerry tries to do that sometimes and I get so ticked, but most of the time it works.
There has been a few times that Jerry will question how much I want it or if he thinks I am getting too big for my britches he will call me a primadonna and that will set me off and for some reason I go and hammer my runs. This fall is a perfect example, I was home in the Midwest with my then fiancé and we were getting ready/planning our wedding and Jerry would call and tell me how far behind everyone I was going to be when I got back and how hard the workouts were going to be, or how fit everyone else was. This got me to train really hard in the fall and I came back just as fit if not more so than everyone else, so yeah I would say he knows what to say to motivate us. It helps that I have the mentality that if I am challenged or my size is challenged I am out to prove people wrong.
CK: I love the ‘Badger Miles’ way of measuring mileage. I am going to incorporate it immediately with my run group - takes the BS out of counting - you know all that bravado. Do you still use the Badger Miles method?
CS: Most definitely I 100% use Badger Miles. Even though I'm in Oregon and the OTC, I will always be a Badger and the mile system comes along with that. It is a great way to underestimate your training, even though you still know you're running more, it is still a good way to trick yourself that you're not.
[Note: Wisconsin runners estimate their mileage based on 7:00 pace, regardles of actual pace. They refer to this as Badger miles']
CK: You told Men's Racing back when you were with the Wisconsin Badgers that you were really looking forward to 10, 000m cross - moving up from 8, 000m. You missed making the Beijing Olympics in the 5000m. With your 10, 000m 26:59 AR, are you now going to settle on the 10, 000m as your distance?
CS: Well we have not completely decided because we have always said that we will go through the summer and see where the 3k, and 5k come along and if we think that the 5k is my best event then that is what we will focus on for the immediate future. However, if we feel that my strength is the 10k following this summer then that is what we will pursue. I have said it before, and it is still true, my heart is still in the 5k. Also, even though my first 10k went so well that definitely does not mean every race after will go as well or feel as easy, I fully expect to have some hardships along the way as I have with the 5k. There is an element of being naive that helped with the ease of the 10k.