For this month’s athlete profile, we talked with Patrick Reagan who represented Team USA in the IAU 100k Championships in November and finished third overall. But Pat’s win did not come out of thin air. In college, he was a two time NCAA Division II Cross Country All-American and five time NCAA Cross Country and Track/Field National Qualifier. This past year, Pat finished second with a time of 6:35.56 in the USATF 100K Road National Championships and qualified for the Olympic trials in the marathon.
Needless to say, we were pretty stoked about talking to Patrick.
You recently won third place in the world's 100k Championships. Tell me about that experience.
I had a chance to represent Team USA in the 100k World Championships which is organized by the IAU (International Association of Ultrarunners). That's technically one of the majors of ultra running so it was really cool to compete it [and] I just had a really good day. In most races I do, I run as even as possible and this was a race that was very similar to that [strategy] with some negative splits. So I was really happy with the race's performance.
I came through the 50k in about 30th place and ended up third in the race. I cut down a lot of guys in the last 50k, especially in the last 30. I think it was maybe at 70k I was still in 13th, so I caught 10 additional guys in the last 30% of the race. To be podium was so cool. And that didn't happen until 94K which was when I pulled into third place. And that was awesome! I ran my last 5k hard, as hard as I possibly could!
You train mostly on road. How does that translate over to racing on trails?
Well, it doesn't necessarily translate so far, since I haven't competed in a lot of trail races. I've mostly stuck with flatter trails so far since this is my first year of trail running. Up until February of this year, I was focusing on just road marathoning and road half-marathoning.
The whole year was essentially built on road ultras, but that's not necessarily my plan for every year. I did Ultravasan 90k this year and that experience was so cool: running from Salen to Mora in Sweden. It was beautiful. There's only 3,000 feet of elevation gain, so it was very flat, almost negligible. But there was a nice bit of technical trail around the 9k mark to the 25k mark and then the last 60k was just non-technical dirt roads and doubletrack trail.
I like fast terrain as much as I like more challenging elevation gain and technical terrain. I'm just not as practiced on that type of racing yet. There will be a time when I get more used to a lot more elevation gain and technical trail, but this year was very focused on the skill set I currently have and the environment I'm currently training in.
How did you get into running initially?
I had been in team sports most of my life, but up until high school, I had never run a mile consistently. But my father was a pretty avid runner and race director in his 30's for about seven years. So the exposure from my father and walking away from team sports early on in high school, pushed me to running. Like a lot of high school runners, I ran a gym-class mile. I ran 4:57, keying off the senior best cross country runner in the school. I was a pretty fit individual because I was an avid skateboarder and basketball player. I remember the way my gym teacher looked at me when I crossed the finish line in the mile. He was like, "You need to try track and field." So that year I tried track and I became relatively obsessed with it before cross country.
Collegiately, I went to a school in West Virginia for a year, before transferring to Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania where my career took off. There, I was couple time All American in cross country in the NCAA. I ended up being 12th in the NCAA Division II in 2007. I had a relatively successful career there in track. I ran 14:20's for the 5k and 30:00 for the 10k. I developed that love for the 5k and 10k. If there had been a half marathon in college, I probably would have run it.
Now you coach at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), plus post-collegiate runners on the side. Tell me a little about your coaching philosophy.
I guess from a collegiate perspective, the way I coach is way more individually-based. Some of my best women are running 60-70 miles a week and some of my best women are running 20-30 miles a week and doing a lot more cross training. My goal is to keep the runner happy and healthy so that when they get to the end of their collegiate career they will still want to compete post-collegiately.
It's so much about the mind. Even for collegiate cross country, if you are physically and mentally committed to your training program… that’s the hardest and first step in being able to build a successful team. Once you have a group of individuals who are on board who feel like a family, who act like a family, it's so much easier to get everyone to grasp performing at championships, performing as a team when it counts.
For someone who is running post-collegiate, motivation has to be more intrinsic because you no longer have the team aspect. It's really cool to work with an athlete to develop that athlete-coach relationship. The coach learns so much from the athlete as the athlete learns from the coach. And I think once you learn how to work together on a personal level then you're able to craft a training program that works, both in terms of motivation for an individual but also how to get them even more passionate about the sport.
But even the most motivated athletes go through waves of motivation, right? Where sometimes you're just having a down time mentally, physically, spiritually in life and you're not connecting what the running like you feel on most days. Then it's time for some little down time. As important as training everyday is, time away from the sport is important as well, so you can get a little more perspective on how involved you are and is your involvement healthy? Can I better balance my life so that I am actually running fast, running better, accomplishing more, completing all the events that I registered for, rather than keep on grinding and not develop a good rest and hard work balance.
How did you transition from cross country 5ks to the 100k?
I took off four years [after college]. I didn't run seriously for three of that four. I toured around the country a little bit with a small band and had the chance to go to about forty-five different states. I loved that and did that for a few years before moving to Savannah.
When I moved here, it was three years into my no-running between college and now. I volunteered with the track and field program at SCAD while I was a Pedicab driver in Savannah, and I became interested in running again. I had a really great mentor here at SCAD and at the end of the year he stepped down, so I applied. And that's when I say my running started taking off again. I got my first couple of recruiting classes at SCAD that motivated me I think as much as I motivated them. So at that juncture I started doing road halves and 10ks.
I guess I wasn't feeling extremely passionate about [running] in the half marathon to marathon perspective like I am in the ultras. I ran a 50k trail race last fall and I just loved it. I love being out there for three hours. There was something about it that I felt like, “Man, I kind of want to go further." There's something so invigorating about these long races that take you to a different place emotionally, physically, spiritually, that a 10k and half just don't do for me. Not that I don't love running those races. I love going as hard as I can for 30 minutes or an hour. And that's fun in a different way, but now that the spectrum’s open, I can run a hard four mile road race or I can go run a controlled pace for six and a half hours at a world championship in the 100k.
It’s so enticing to be able to experiment with that entire spectrum. I think that's what keeps me motivated. It gives you time to say, "Now for six months I'm going to concentrate on my leg speed and I want to do some fun cross country races, and when I come back to ultras it's going to be fun. I'm not going to be worn out. I'm going to have a different skill set from the last time around. It'll be interesting to see how I perform a 100k at better leg speed at 8k, 10k.” That's my personal approach to running. I don't want to limit myself to one speciality.
What are your goals for 2017?
I want to do my first hundred, but I don't want to do a big, technical mountain hundred really. The focus on the first half of my year, for right now, is Comrade's Marathon in South Africa on June 4. It's in Pietermaritzburg which will be a big challenge for me, given it'll be 6,000 feet of gain uphill as opposed to the downhill here. Then the back half of the year I'm going to focus on Ultravasan 90k in August and Javelina Jundred in October in Arizona. Those are the three I really want to focus on. I have a couple along the way. Next up is Black Canyon 100k in February in Arizona.