Luke Puskedra ran a 61 minute half marathon about three years ago. His move to the marathon was to be a no-brainer, but, running 26.2 miles is barely ever that. In his debut in the marathon, Luke ran a less than expected 2:28.
So, he stopped running completely...
And, after a few months, with the support of his wife and his college coach, Andy Powell, he found running again, for the right reasons.
Puskedra's marathon performance is the story of a thoughtful runner, with the support of those who care for him, who took the time to re-examine his running and rebuild his confidence.
Luke's 2:10:24, a pb by five minutes, is the number three qualifier for the U.S. Olympic marathon Trials, to be held in Los Angeles in February 2016.
It is amazing how things turn out.
Well, in the case of Luke Puskedra, a fine collegiate runner, who dreamed of making an Olympic team (still does), the first tastes of the world of elite marathoning were bitter.
A less than spectacular first marathon, plus feeling much pressure, were what Luke Puskedra mentioned as causes for his time away from the sport.
"At first, I would agree to come out and time workouts," was how Luke Puskedra commented on how Andy Powell, coach at Oregon, would get Puskedra to come back to running.
"Then, I was running five days a week," noted Luke.
The job of a coach is many fold: confessor, cheerleader, listener, sales person, and knowing when to just let momentum build. Having observed Andy Powell since high school, I believe that Powell is one of those coaches who truly gets it. An attention to detail and confirmed belief that Luke Puskedra has some podiums to stand on before his retirement all play into the quixotic return of Mr. Puskedra to our sport.
Luke also mentioned his wife, Trudie, who, as Luke noted, is as committed to his running as he is. Perhaps more. When one is committed to another person, part of the package is understanding what makes them tick. While Luke was away from running, he noted that Trudie let him make his own decisions.
A recommittment to running is an awakening to how an element of one's life is like, well, breathing.
Last Friday, I overheard Luke being interviewed by a member of the media. I liked his introspection, and his deamenor. I noted, in the simple text fly paper that is my brain, that Puskedra has the brain of either a short story writer or a marathoner.
The dearth of pace making in this race was a bit strange for many of the top athletes.
Marathoners like Dickson Chumba, Sammy Kitwara, Sammy Ndungu, Girmay Gebru have run few marathons in their careers without pacemakers. Wes Korir has ONLY won races without pacemakers.
Luke Puskedra had run the Grandma's Marathon this past summer. " That race was tougher than this one, as a bunch of guys wanted the course record (2:08), and a bunch of guys wanted to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials. "
Again, let's digress into the coaching world again. For his return to marathoning, Andy Powell had Luke work in his longer runs, building endurance and some confidence. His 2:15:27 was a nice return to marathoning and a 13 minute improvement over NYC.
"After Grandmas's we changed up my running a bit. I was doing alot on the track, like 1000 meter repeats and some 200 meters as well. I know it sounds strange, but shaking it up was good. Still, I came into this race with little confidence."
After Puskedra ran well at the USA 20k in New Haven, where he took fourth in 59:30 in a four way sprint to the finish, " I asked Dathan Ritzenhein for Carey Pinkowski's phone number."
"I decided to run the marathon three weeks out. That gave me a lot less time to obsess." noted Puskedra after the race.
The race went out like a championship race: light on the pace.
The pack of 18-20 hit the mile in 4:58 and the 5k in 15:27. Luke Puskedra and Fernando Cabada, two Americans who were a foot taller than most in the field, stood out in the group. Elkanah Kibet, a new US runner who races for the US Army, was in his first marathon and took a lead, builtind to 8 seconds by 8k in 24:36.
Wes Korir, Dickson Chumba, Sammy Kiwara, Sammy Ndungu, Abera Kuma were all there, with Lukas Puskedra right at the back of the pack of 12 that was seen at the 10k, hit in 30:30.
Again, back to the coaching. Powell learned his craft from some of the best coaches in the world. Among them, Vinn Lannana, and the many others he has studied. Shaking up one's training regimen might have been just what Puskedra needed. Running repeat 200 meters means that a five minute pace is a snorer.
Luke ran this part of the race like a seasoned veteran. He stayed out of the lead, out of people's feet and legs and conserved energy. The real race was 75 minutes away.
As the pack hit 15k in 45:59 and 20k in 1:01:42, Luke Puskedra was out of trouble, in tenth place, playing the accordion as the lead pack dwindled and Puskedra did only what he had to do to stay in the lead group. When he hit the half in 1:05:11, I was now excited about his chances.
Elkanah Kibet played out in front, and then was caught in the pack. Chumba, Kitwari, Ndungu, Kuma were all there, as was a very relaxed Wesley Korir, 2012 Boston champion.
At fifteen miles, hit in 1:14:45, the men were down to ten, and Puskedra was still there. This is where the going starts to get tough.
This one, with the slow early pace, was starting to build.
" I figured that there would be a long drive over 12k, then, a long drive over 10k. For the last 10k, I was sprinting, all out." noted a smiling Puskedra.
25k was passed in 1:17:23, with Filex Kiprotich leading the pack of ten: Luke Puskedra, Elkanah Kibet, Lucas Rotich, Sammy Kitwara, Dickson Chumba, Wes Korir, Abera Kuma, Gimray Gebru, and Sammy Ndungu.
The pack started to wither between 30k, hit in 1:33:13 and 35k, hit in 1:47:50, which was where the peddle went to the proverbial metal. As Chumba, Kitwara and Kuma took off, Ndungu, Gebru and Puskedra were the chasing pack.
The 5k between 30 and 35k was moving, with the leaders running 14:37 for the 5k split.
" I was sprinting the last 10k. I was thinking about Usain Bolt, and sprinting like him, but I was sprinting like Luke Puskedra."
The last seven kilometers were about Luke Puskedra being cogniscent of his placing, knowing he was running very fast and knowing that he had to hold on.
In the final seven kilometers, as Chumba, Kitwara tried to batter each other had Abera Kuma.
Kuma started to fall apart about 23 miles and finished tenth. Gimray Birhanu Gebru moved into third, with Sammy Ndungu and Luke Puskedra not far behind.
" I was all out the last 10k. I was sprinting."
Running his last 10k in 30:53, Puskedra moved up one more place to fifth.
Running with him, Sammy Ndungu went by Puskedra and caught Gebru at the finish, Ndungu taking third behind Dickson Chumba's win (2:09:24) and Sammy KItwara's second (2:09:50).
Luke Puskedra held his form, as the tall, strong American took five minutes and three seconds off his Grandma's Marathon PB of 2:15:27 with his 2:10:24.
Smiling at the post event press conference, Luke thanked his wife, Trudie, and Andy Powell, his coach. He also made it very clear, that he will line up in Los Angeles for the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in February 2016.
With the third best qualifying time, Luke Puskedra has changed his current standing in the sport and opened the way to fulfilling his dream.
"I have wanted to make an Olympic team before I leave the sport." noted Puskedra.
Dream on, Mr. Puskedra.