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August 31, 2011

Garrett Heath

Written by Dena Evans
570699_MtKykPVADTHlBevXEPII_fwGarrett Heath runs professionally for Saucony and is an Olympic hopeful in the 1500 meters.  With personal bests of 3:37 in the 1500 and 3:55 in the mile, he is among the sizable group of American men's middle distance runners who have the ability to make the metric mile one of the most interesting events at next June's Trials. 

Garrett is a Winona, Minnesota native, where he graduated from Hopkins High. He and his younger brother Eliott (2011 NCAA Indoor 3K Champion) both attended Stanford, where Garrett earned several All-American awards, currently serves as a volunteer assistant coach, and is enrolled as a PhD candidate in the Stanford Technology Ventures Program in the Management Science and Engineering Department.

As a professional runner, you've primarily focused on the mile, although you have had very good performances at 5K in the past. Most people go up in distance, so how have you decided to zero in on the 1500m at this point in your career?

I’ve really been focused on the 1500m since my junior year in college.  Prior to that I had always been a longer distance guy and considered myself more of a cross country runner than anything else.  During my sophomore year I got injured in outdoor track and had a horrible finish to the year at regionals in the 5k after trying to make a late come back.  I had always wanted to try some of the middle distance stuff, so that next year I convinced my coach to let me give the mile a shot indoors since a couple legs on the DMR the year before had gone pretty well for me.  After having a solid year in both the mile and DMR that year indoors, he decided to let me keep going with it outdoors and I’ve never really gone back to the longer stuff.  That being said, I’ve had a few shots at both the 3k and 5k at Cardinal Invite and over in europe the past few years, and I’ve really enjoyed the change in pace and switching things up for a race or two.  At this point, I feel most comfortable sticking with the 1500m as my main focus at least through the Olympic year, but a lot of my training is still distance based, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I started transitioning back into some more 5k and distance races the following year.

2.  As a high school athlete, you did other endurance sports.   How do you feel that has helped your running career?

I think cross training in general has been a huge asset for me and really contributed to what I have been able to do in both high school and college over the years.  Besides running cross country and track in high school, I also focused exclusively on cross country skiing in the winter and supplemented a lot of my summer running training with biking.  Although both of those activities have continually become a lesser part of my training over the years as I have become more serious with running, I believe they both helped provide me with much of my initial aerobic base that I could then use to build on with more specific running training.  Beyond that, the cross training not only gave me a mental break from always running, but it also allowed me to stay healthy by taking some of the stress that comes with the pounding of running off my legs.  I still use biking as a way to progress back into training and get some more hours of base training in early in my training cycle.  This really helps provide a solid foundation to build on the rest of the season for me.

3.  Unlike many pro athletes, you have chosen to continue along your other career path, studying for your PhD as a candidate in the Stanford Technology Ventures Program in the Management Science and Engineering Department.  Up to this point, how have those graduate study experiences impacted your running and vice versa?

Although the being apart of the graduate program definitely adds another level of intensity to the amount of work that you have to do every day, I have really found it to be a nice complement to running.  Most importantly for me, school has allowed me to take some of the pressure off focusing exclusively on one activity.  That way, if running isn’t going well or if I’m trying to battle through an injury, I can fall back on the school a little bit to help take my mind off the obstacles that I may be facing in running at the time.  This has worked the other way around as well.  Beyond that, graduate school has helped force me stay focused and maintain a more structured schedule in order to be efficient enough to have time to both run and finish my school work.  Overall, even though it’s been tough work at times, the school and running have really provided a good balance for me these past few years.

That being said, I’ve decided to take this next year off from the PhD program in order to focus all of my energy into running and the Olympic trials this next year.  With this, taking a year off is mainly a product of wanting to make sure that I do everything I can to get better this year.  Probably the hardest part of the PhD this past year has been that there are occasionally some of the extra drills and core that I have had to sacrifice when I have a big paper or project due for school.  I’m also hoping to do some altitude training this fall and winter, which would have been much harder if I was still in school.  The 2nd year is also an important year for the Phd, so I wanted to make sure that I had enough energy to devote to that as well and decided that would be hard to do this year.

4.  Your brother has developed into a tremendous runner in his own right.  What advice have you given him, and what have you learned from watching his growth?

It been extremely exciting these last few years watching him progress.  More than anything it’s been a lot of fun being able to train with him and push each other in workouts along the way.  While I can help him with some of the speed stuff and help him work on his kick, he’s a bit more of a distance guy than I am and has really been able to help me work on my endurance these past few years.  Beyond that, just having one another to train with year round has been great.  In terms of giving him advice, we already both think very much alike, so it’s been a lot less giving him advice than just debating and talking through situations with him.  Back when he was in high school, I tried to provide him with a bit more guidance, but since settling into college training he’s probably given me with almost as much as advice as I’ve given him.  Since we’re a lot alike in what works well in training for us, watching him develop has also helped me discover some new aspects of training that I can use to help to improve my fitness as well.

5.  This month, we are talking to our athletes about tapering for their goal races.  What have you learned about tapering for championships races?  What has been a key to staying fresh and ready when the big race rolls around?

I think more than anything, tapering is helpful in mentally preparing for a championship race.  Feeling good going into a big race can help build some confidence and really let you know that you’re ready to go.  Beyond that though, I’ve found that the actual act of lowering my miles substantially or getting too caught up in routines leading into a big race isn’t necessarily as important as I may have one time thought.
Most recently, I’ve really found that traditional tapering hasn’t necessarily been an important aspect of staying fresh for me as much as just making sure that I feel mentally ready and comfortable with what I’m doing.  I’ve had some of my best races when I’ve been in the heart of my training or when everything seems to be going wrong leading into a race (this can be especially prone to happening when racing over in Europe).  I think it really comes down to knowing your body and what works best for you.  I’ve seen a lot of runners feel great off cutting their mileage in half the last few weeks leading into a race and others who have their best races off running 100 mile weeks like they have been doing all year.  Personally for me, I feel the best dropping my mileage by about 20-25% leading into a championship race and really just focusing on getting a lot of sleep the week leading into the race.  Beyond that, just eating a good diet and being confident that I’ve done everything I can to prepare myself for the race are probably most helpful things for me at that point.

6.  What are some of your goals for the next year or two, and what races do you have lined up for the fall?

Obviously the Olympics are the biggest event on my radar right now.  Really everything else is just preparing for that right now.  The first big goal in terms of preparing for the Olympic Trials is hitting the A-standard.  Without that heading into the trials, you don’t have much of a chance of making the team.  The times to qualify have dropped significantly over these past few years, but I feel like I’m ready to drop a few seconds off my pr and definitely capable of hitting the time given the right situation.  I just finished up my European season about two weeks ago and have two road races left this fall before taking a little time off and starting to get ready for next year.  I’m heading out to Hawaii on September 17th for a road mile there and then am finishing up with the 5th Avenue road mile in New York on the 24th of September.  That one usually has a lot of the best milers in the US at it and is a good final chance to test yourself before heading into the off season.

Last modified on September 23, 2011
Dena Evans

Dena Evans

Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.

From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.

From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.

Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.

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