To be at peace with a life in a bubble
Interview with Amy Cragg
She is the fifth fastest American marathon runner of all time with 2:21:42 from Tokyo 2018 and she finished third in the marathon race at World Championships in London 2017. This April, Bowerman Track Club athlete Amy Cragg came to Prague to run a half-marathon and we asked her a few questions about marathon training and running for the team.
Your marathon personal best is from Tokyo, the city of 2020 Olympics, it must be a strong motivation for you to come back next year …
Yes, that’s a part of the plan. After Rio, my very first race was Marugame Half-Marathon, also in Japan. I wanted to get comfortable racing there, which I feel I have done, and the big goal was the motivation, to start there and finish there in those four years, so that it becomes a full circle – I like the poetry of that. It was a special place to run and I love it there.
What is the place of Prague Half in your preparation for the marathon Olympic Trials? What is your goal for Saturday?
My goal is to run fast and to compete with the people around me – I think they’re going for the world record, which I’m not ready for, but I’d like to run as fast as possible and try to beat some people. I’ve heard a lot about the course and I saw the video of last year, so I know it’s really fast.
Would you like to run a marathon before the Olympic Trials next year?
I’m not sure yet. Originally, we were going to, but now they’ve changed some of the rules to get in, so we’re going to wait and see after this race, and figure out if we should do a marathon just to get the qualifying time.
What is the most difficult thing about marathon racing and marathon training for you?
I think the most difficult thing about marathon training is that you have to go into a kind of a bubble. You run so much and you’re so tired all the time that it seems like you just eat, sleep and run, and you have to be at peace with that being the only thing you’re going to be doing for a long time. But you get into a rhythm, and it gets easier. After a while, I actually enjoy it; I have a big goal and everything is geared towards that big goal, but at times it can be a little lonely, a little hard that you don’t have anything else going on.
What plays a key role in marathon training?
I think it’s a combination of things. On the track, you have one workout, and it’s so fast and looks so pretty, and you want to write down those times, and it’s really exciting. Whereas in marathon training, there’s not a single “wow” workout – every single day, there is a lot of mileage, it’s pretty fast, and you do it over and over again.
How do you prepare for the last fourth of marathon, for the race after 30 km? You were really strong in London in 2017 …
We worked on that a lot before Worlds in London. Months beforehand, my coach was saying: “I bet it’s going to be the last fast 10K.” Every time we’d be out training, we’d focus on making the last 25 percent of the workout the best. No matter what happened in the beginning and whether it was good or bad, I’d just try to keep it even, and for the last 25 percent of any workout I would turn my brain over and it was time to go. The first part could go up or down and we didn’t care – it was always that last part that mattered.
What is different in your training if you compare it with the training you did seven years ago when you won 10,000 meters Olympic Trials and finished 11th in London Olympics? Is there a difference more in the target race or rather in the coaching style of Jerry Schumacher?
The biggest difference is the amount of mileage I do. When I was training for the 10,000, I’d run maybe 100 miles a week. Now that’s a bare minimum. So I do a lot more miles; also, I’d never done a long run over 24 miles, and now I’ve done long runs that are 28 miles. I’ve run more marathons in practice with Jerry than I have raced (laughs). That’s a big difference – the distance doesn’t really seem that long now, whereas before it had scared me a bit. I think it’s a shift in mentality – but also we just do a lot more running (laughs).
You stay in Portland on the sea level. Do you have some altitude training periods during your preparation?
Yes, we do altitude training every year, at different times of the year depending on the races everyone is training for. We pick out the race and work backwards from there. For example for cross-country nationals, we were up in altitude and did a training block there, but for this race I haven’t been in altitude. It was more important to do faster long runs at sea level. But for cross-country, we just want to be as strong as possible.
You said for Track and Field News that when you started to run at high school you wanted to be a part of team. Is it still important for you?
It’s very important. In the last few years, I’ve had a big breakthrough, even though I’m older, and I think it’s because I’m a part of such a good team. At high school, I was a part of a really close-knit group of incredible team-mates who had a lot of success, and I had that in college, too. I thought that afterwards it was not so much of a team sport, until I joined Bowerman Track Club, which has the same feel as college, which is really special. I think we help each other a lot and we all become better.
You have a bronze medal from the team competition at the World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz 2010. How do you remember this race?
That was such a fun race. The women on the team were good friends: Shalane [Flanagan], Magda [Lewy-Boulet], Renee [Metivier-Baillie], Emily [Brown], Molly [Huddle]. Both before the race and after it, I felt like everyone was so happy and excited that we laughed all the time at really dumb things. Then we went out and wanted a team medal. Everyone bought into it; we knew Portugal was going to be very good, Kenya and Ethiopia … During the race, every single one of us at some point had a Portuguese woman, whom we raced, and that was really cool. Afterwards, we were all sitting there, and Magda speaks Polish and understood what was being said, while no one of the other teams or coached did, and all of us knew that we got the bronze medal. That was a cool moment, because we knew before the Kenyans knew they won the gold.
You have an incredibly strong team in Bowerman Track Club. How is it to run in the group like this?
It’s awesome and it’s fun. Across the board, we have 800-meter runners and marathoners, and ii the fall we all train together like a cross-country team, we do long intervals, I do speed with Kate Grace like 800-m or 1500-m, and with Shelby Houlihan, and they do long runs with me. Later on, we split off into event groups, but it’s real fun to be a part of that and watch the others.
Your roommate at Arizona State University was Desiree Davila, and later in Providence you trained with Kim Smith and Molly Huddle. What was it like to run with them?
Des was an awesome college team-mate, and we’re still friends. We’d go on runs together very early in the morning as it was very hot, so we were both sleepy, and then we’d wake up on the run and we were excited about how much we’d have done before the sun was up – that was cool. Seeing her having so much success has been incredible. Having Kim and Molly as friends is awesome, too. Molly was a really good and supportive team-mate, and it’s been great running with her.
What is the most important for young (high school) runners? Do you have some advice for them?
I think it’s important to find a group of people to be around, because there will be days when you don’t want to go running or you’re tired, and if you have someone or a group that you enjoy being around, that holds you accountable, that will get you out of the door. The hardest part is the first step – then it gets easier and easier and you never regret it. I’d just say put yourself around people who believe in you and hold you accountable and make you love the sport.
We know very little about your life beyond running. What will your life be after running?
I don’t know (laughs). I’ve been doing this so long. I’m not completely sure yet, but I’d like to stay in the sport somehow, make it better, maybe help younger athletes, maybe get young people out running. I know I’ll still be involved, I just don’t know exactly how.