Ryan Vail: The magic is in the work, by Cait Chock

Ryan Vail runs 2:10:57 at London, photo by PhotoRun.net

Ryan Vail: The magic's in the work

By: Cait Chock

Two months after running a 2:10:57 PR in the London Marathon, Ryan Vail stepped to the line of the USA Outdoor Track Championships 10k. His workouts had been going well, but one never knows with utter certainty how recovered the legs will be. When Vail finished in third behind Rupp and Chris Derrick it was cemented, his legs had recovered just fine.

"I was happy with it, you just never know, this was the first time I've done two marathon blocks in a row with New York and London, I wasn't sure how fast it would come back getting back on the track," explains Vail, "it came back a lot quicker than I thought." If anything, he wishes he would have been a little more confident to cover some of the big moves in the race. But, hindsight is always 20/20 and he still has a couple more races left this season and an eye on a 5k PR. "One of my weaker PB's is my 5k, [getting] that's more a personal thing...it's good for my development heading into a fall marathon."

Track for Vail is the short of the long. He established himself as one to watch in just his first marathon, finishing 11th at the 2012 Olympic Trails (2:12:43). "Ideally we would have liked to wait a little longer, but the Olympic Trials were a great opportunity to come out and race with a bunch of guys who I will be running against for a few years," says Vail, only 28. He knew he could still come back for a later track season, he already was handling large training volumes, and rather than chance being stuck in no-man's land at a different marathon he knew there'd be no shortage of men at his pace. 

Vail mastered the transition to the distance just as well as the one of graduating, moving away from Oklahoma State yet staying with Coach Dave Smith. Remote coaching isn't something every athlete can handle, let alone continue to improve under. For Vail and Smith the situation works so well because they first were able to create such a strong connection while he was at Oklahoma State. "I wouldn't have been able to do it at this level without having those years with David in person. He knows what kind of a runner I am and I know what to expect from his workouts so it's easy, it's been really smooth." Vail is also the only post-collegiate Smith coaches so he has, "a unique one-on-one relationship in that regard."


Ryan Vail, RNR San Jose, October 2013, photo by PhotoRun.net

Now back living where he grew up, training in Portland, OR, Vail may be the most open elite athlete in regards to what he's doing. Namely every workout, mileage, paces, all shared along with his thoughts and how he felt on his blog (http://ryanvail.blogspot.com/). An idea that actually started because of how helpful other coaches and runners were to him when he reached out asking for advice for his first marathon. He brings up a good point that, in general, most runners are more than willing to share about their training if you ask them. It's just that Vail's blog is preemptively sharing. 

That resource is something that's lead to a strong fan following as well as an outpouring of training related questions from other runners. Vail explains the mystery some runners create surrounding elites, "'I wonder what the pro's are doing?' and the way they talk about it is like they have these special workouts and [I'm] trying to explain to them they're doing the same thing they're doing...it's just a lot of hard work, nothing magic about it, it's progression." 

After fielding in depth training questions, something Vail was happy to do, he was inspired to go one step further and venture into the coaching business himself. In just hours after launching PREVAIL Coaching( http://prevailcoaching.com/) he filled six of the 10 available slots. It will be tough having to cap it at ten, but it's important to Vail that each runner get the individualized attention needed to really thrive. Achieving feats beyond what you previously thought possible is one of the most rewarding feelings, and that which our sport hinges upon; to guide others to that experience is something special. Vail knows the rush of a PR himself and is excited to be able to now share that with his own athletes.

Though let us not forget Vail is still PR'ing himself. This track season is a short speed season for him, ultimately his sights are set on the 2016 Olympic Trails. Between now and then lie a fall marathon, another full track season next spring, then an earlier fall marathon in 2015, which will be a prep for Los Angeles.

Running professionally for Brooks, Vail's a bit unique also in the amount of travel and places he's run in. His wife grew up in the Czech Republic and the two lived there for a year and half after graduating college and before heading back to Portland. After each of his marathons, Vail really capitalizes on his two week breaks, heading off to explore other countries. An American runner who's run in perhaps the greatest ranges of terrains, countries, and most beautiful locales.

But Vail is an American runner, and one of America's top marathoners at that. There's no 'super secret' workouts making him the best, nor others, it's more the tenacity and drive to nail them. 


Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004 and previously ran for Nike. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.

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