Q&A with up-and-coming U.S. distance runner Ryan Shay

Marathoner Ryan Shay
One of America's most exciting young running talents, Ryan Shay, 24, graduated from Notre Dame University in 2001 after earning All-American status nine times and winning an NCAA championship title at 10,000 meters.

Shay now trains with Team USA California, whose other members include American record holders Deena Drossin (marathon) and Meb Keflezighi (10,000 meters).

In February, Shay won the U.S. National Championship Marathon, held in Birmingham, Ala. He was the youngest winner of this event in 56 years. On June 7, he won the U.S. Half-Marathon National Championship.

Shay's next marathon will be the World Championships Marathon in Paris in August.

Active.com: How do you like training with Team USA California?

Ryan Shay: It's given me a lot of opportunities to race, train, and learn from other runners like Meb and Deena. The chemistry that the team has is something I probably couldn't find elsewhere. It has a very positive feeling.

Active:Are there other benefits?

RS: The opportunity to do altitude training is beneficial, and having Joe Vigil as a coach is a big plus as well. I've been using his training methods for a long time; they've worked for me in the past, and I think they're working for me now.

Active:What is his approach?

RS: He takes a pretty scientific approach to running. His bread-and-butter workouts are the tempo runs that we do and the longer intervals, like mile repeats.

Active:How do these workouts benefit you as a runner?

RS: The tempo workouts give you the ability to hold your lactate threshold pace for a long period of time. In order to maintain that pace, you need to be able to push lactate through your body so it doesn't accumulate and cause you to fatigue.

Active:What's your approach to the mental aspect of training and racing?

RS: I pay a lot of attention to the mental aspect of training and racing, and Coach Vigil does too. A lot of it just has to do with maintaining a positive mental attitude. The mental side of running is something I love as much as or even more than the physical side, because it instills a work ethic, discipline, and willingness to sacrifice. It's a spiritual thing. When you push yourself to your limits, you learn a lot about yourself.

Active:What do you do to promote recovery from all of the hard training?

RS: Recovery is hard for me. I tend to want to do too much. A good example is last fall, when I was doing altitude training for the first time. I was doing my recovery runs way too hard. The day before a hard, 12-mile tempo run I was running with Meb and everyone else and they were going so slow, so I said, "Forget this," and I took off. The next day everyone else had a great tempo run, but I quit after seven miles, and Coach Vigil said, "I hope you learned a big lesson." I did.

Active:Are you pretty serious about your nutrition, too?

RS: Yes, I am. I'm a big believer in using applied kinesiology to fine-tune my diet. Through muscle testing, you can determine which nutrients you're deficient in, which foods you shouldn't eat, and that sort of stuff. I've learned that some foods that other people have no problems with cause muscle malfunction or intestinal problems for me. Nutrition has to be a highly individual aspect of training, because each person's body is different.

Active:I understand you used a sports drink with protein in it when you won the U.S. Marathon Championship. How did that work for you?

RS: Yes, Accelerade. I love Accelerade. It's by far the best sports drink I've come across. I have it every 5K in my marathons and I can really feel a difference as far as the amount of energy it provides.

Active:When did you decide that you would like to run professionally?

RS: During high school. I always dreamed of being an Olympian. But I never put too much pressure on myself. I hoped that I would improve enough to be able to pursue running post-collegiately, but at the same time I figured that if I didn't, I would still have a good Notre Dame degree to fall back on.

Active:You raised a lot of eyebrows when you began focusing on the marathon straight out of college. What was your rationale for starting so young?

RS: I just felt the marathon is where my best potential lies, so I might as well get started. I'm still going to work on bringing my 5K and 10K times down, because that will help make me a better marathoner. But the marathon suits me better -- not just the event itself, but also the type of training.

Active:What are your goals in that event?

RS: I've always wanted to medal at the Olympic Games. The first step is to make the team, but down the road, I think I have enough potential to win a medal. That's what I'll strive for and we'll see what I can do. As long as I keep improving and getting better times, I'll stay in the sport.

Another goal of mine is just to help put American distance running back on the map. I want to get people interested and motivate younger runners.

Active:It seems like an exciting time to be in the position you're in.

RS: I think so. I'm really impressed with the number of U.S. runners who want to take on the marathon and who want to step up and challenge the best in the world. It helps me to have examples like Dan Browne, Meb, Alan Culpepper, and Abdi [Abdirahman], who have stuck their noses into some pretty competitive races and done well. It shows that there's a lot more light than people thought.

Matt Fitzgerald coaches runners and triathletes online through Carmichael Training Systems (www.trainright.com) and is the author of "Triathlete Magazine's Complete Triathlon Book."

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