Sometimes you see an interview with a guy and you just get the feeling he’s probably a great dude. I got that feeling the first time I saw and interview with Nike Trail runner Alex Varner. Winner of this year’s Lake Sonama 50 miler, Alex is one of the best among the best American ultra-runners today (and with a 2:28:14 at Boston this year, he’s no slouch on the roads either). While Alex is clearly in another league from middle of pack guys like myself, there’s still plenty to learn here. Thanks for taking the time to fill this out!
Name: Alex Varner (Nike Trail, Picky Bars, Victory SportDesign)
Age (at the time of first BQ): 25
Weight (at the time of first BQ): 135lbs
At which marathon did you get your first BQ? What was your finishing time? Tell us a little about the race.
I got my first BQ at the San Francisco Marathon in 2011. I ran 2:35:00. It was my first marathon, so my main goal heading into the race was to finish. I ran 1:21 for the 1st half and 1:14 for the 2nd half (the 2nd half of the course is also considerably easier than the first), so I was really happy to finish feeling strong.
How long had you been running when you ran your first BQ? Did you run in college or high school?
I’d been running for probably 12-13 years at the time. I started running cross country in high school and ran cross country and track at Davidson College.
What was your approximate lifetime mileage at the time of your first BQ?
Uhhh…. Maybe around 13,000 miles? That’s what my log tells me, but it’s far from complete/accurate when I look back that far, so probably more.
How many miles did you run in the year before your first BQ?
In the 12 months leading up to my first BQ, I ran around 2,800 miles.
Approximately how many races did you run in that year?
26 races in the 12 months before my first BQ.
Did you follow a canned program? If so, which one? If not, can you give us an idea of what your training philosophy was?
No, I didn’t follow a canned program. I was pretty much self-coached and was training for shorter races (under 10k). I wanted to run the marathon because it’s such an iconic distance. Heading into the race, I focused on going a few more long runs, but I wasn’t running any specific workouts for it. The way my training played out that year, I was actually coming off a 2 week break and only had 2 weeks of solid training under my belt before the race.
Did you run with a running club or utilize a coach?
I was running with a running club (Bull City Track Club – at the time, I was in school in North Carolina but spent the summer at home in Marin, which is why I ran the SF Marathon). They had a coach, but I basically just ran what I wanted when I wanted so I’d say that I was “self-coached.”
Did cross training play a role in your training? If so, how?
No. I generally only cross-train when I’m injured.
Did speed work play a role or specific workouts play a role in your training? If so, how?
No, not really. As I said, I was coming off a 2 week break following 3 weeks of trail racing (Dipsea, Woodminster, Double Dipsea), so I had been training for those races and was able to rely on the fitness that carried over from the spring. But for the marathon itself, I didn’t run any specific workouts.
Any other thoughts you would like to share with those of working towards a BQ?
Keep trying! Consistency is key. And not just over one training cycle or season… it builds over several years. Being able to stay healthy and running at a manageable level over a long period of time (years!) will serve you very well.
Alex on his way to a 2:28:14 at Boston this year.