Training at the elite level is both art and science. Garrett Heath over-trained for 2016, and took a break. Now, he is back to training, and racing, and he likes running once again. Learning and coming back from over-training is quite difficult.
In this feature, Cait Chock writes about the unique position that Garrett Heath found himself in, how he redirected his focus and how he is training for 2017.
Garrett Heath is one of my favorite athletes and interviews. I have watched him race hard, race well and have some not so good races. That is part of distance running. Watching Garrett focus on the 1500 meters and mile this year will be fun.
Enjoy this piece on Garrett Heath. Thanks to Garrett Heath for his honest and to Cait Chock for her interview.
Updated February 20, 2017.
Garrett Heath ran 3:39.72 in the 1,500 meters at Muller Indoor GP Birmingham. He looked good, and should be ready for the roller derby race that is coming in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the USATF Indoors March 3-5. Watch for RunBlogRun's live coverage from Albuquerque.
Garrett Heath: Back to the grind and more excited than ever
By: Cait Chock
If you'd told Garrett Heath last July that come January he'd be stepping to the line of the Boston New Balance Grand Prix excited to race, he more than likely wouldn't have believed you. Looking in the rearview mirror is usually a waste of time, so we won't stall there long. But, after the 2016 Olympic Trials Heath needed a break.
More correctly he'd needed a break about 10 months before the Trials, but again, hindsight being 20/20 and all that jazz.
The last five years Heath had been injury free, thanks to listening to his body, but with an Olympic year approaching he thinks he may have gotten a little overconfident in thinking, "as long as I don't break, I can push my body as much as I want." So he did.
"I went in with the idea that I was really close, I was fourth [at the 2015 USA Outdoor Championships], missed it by .04...I didn't have to do too much differently, just up the volume and intensity...[but] by the time I got to outdoor season, I never felt really strong in any workouts." Every workout felt like a grind from the beginning. A part of him knew that was a warning sign, but another part of him knew how important the year was.
"More than anything else, it was an Olympic year. So I was okay pushing through a lot of potential warning signs, when I may have otherwise stopped or rethought things." So Heath told himself he'd surely feel better once he started tapering for races.
He didn't. After the races didn't feel like they should, he told himself he just needed to pop one good race and everything would click. When that race didn't come and he's looking straight into the face of the Olympic Trials, he did the only thing anyone in that kind of situation could do: he lied to himself and said surely things would line up at the Finals, they had to. I mean at that point he had no other option, "I'm at the Trails at that point, there's no turning around, if I don't have it here, well, you're just out of luck."
We all know how the rest of that story plays out, so let's not linger here hung up on the shoulda, woulda, coulda's because that's pointless. The bottom line is, by the end of July Heath needed a break. "I kept trying to tell myself that I was okay, but looking back on it, you've got to work hard, but you've got to make sure you're still recovering, no matter how fit you might be. It's easy to run yourself into the ground...eventually you're just too tired."
I like to say our sport is beautifully cruel. Heath had been working for years to get to that final round. He'd ground out mile after mile visualizing that race and Olympic birth. On paper he was one of the few poised to make the Team. But, he'd been working too hard. Irony at it's finest and the constant plague of a distance runner.
"I just needed the break. My motivation was low, I had kind of built-up for that big milestone for so long." He went through what every runner does upon falling short of their goal, he questioned everything. "Should I still be doing this? What was I doing this for?"
Heath had the sane of mind to realize he needed a break. More than just those scant two weeks off between seasons; no, a real break. From the months of July to November Heath did some running but it was unstructured, infrequent, and completely stress free. He traveled with his brother, went on hikes, rode his bike, and went on adventures. He lived.
He knew he'd always run because he loved it, but he didn't set any timeframe or goals on his return to competitive running. As the months passed, the sting of the Trials wore off, fading in the rear view mirror, and around November he started to get antsy.
"It took until November until I thought, 'Okay, I can start envisioning racing and getting that fire back'." Heath returned to some loose workouts, fartleks and tempos at first, nothing that left him chained to the stopwatch and focusing on the minutia of seconds and milliseconds. His fitness returned; fast.
More importantly, his hunger to race returned.
Heath hit the 2017 Great Edinburgh Cross Country Championships. Having won the previous three years before, he was a favorite going in. In a race that all track nerds pegged as one between Heath and Mo Farah, it was surprise Leonard Korir who ended up winning. Though, if this writer may point out, Heath basically took five months off last year up until November, so to go in and place sixth in early January is pretty damn incredible. More importantly, Heath won a different victory...he was back, spiked up, and eager to race. A victory which, in the end, is infinitely sweeter.
He had thought about extending his cross season, but after Bend, Oregon (host of the USA Cross Country Champs) got a ton of snow dumped on it, he decided to reevaluate and switch gears to an indoor season. He's now focusing on miles and 3k's.
"This time of year, there's a little bit of uncertainty where fitness is at...there's always a little uncertainty until you step on the track and see how things feel. But I'm looking forward to it, it makes things a little more exciting."
Getting back to the 'grind' of training, this time he's eager to race, not dead tired heading into every workout, and back in touch with why he loves running. "Ultimately, making the Olympic Team, that's never been what running at the core has been about, but it's still something. Those [goals] are the most tangible things where you can motivate yourself." But they are motivation, not passion. He got the passion back by, "just going back to having fun with it for a while."
Keeping that at the forefront of his mind, that regardless of times and places, he runs because he loves it, Heath is back and reaching higher than ever.
Coming off his cross season and straight into indoors, Heath is doing a major gear shift down to the 1500m and mile. He's honing his speed, because, we're now at a time when the US distance men are some of the best in the world. Even if you're racing a 5k up to a marathon, you better be able to rip a fast mile and have the closing speed to match. This is an honor not lost of Heath, when I pointed out he's among those leading the resurgence of American distance running, he got a little quiet and shy, humbly saying what an honor it was.
It's that kind of character that makes you want to see Garrett Heath succeed. He's hard working, even to default, and at the end of the day a genuinely good guy. Now one of the veterans of the Seattle based Brooks Beasts, "I'm the old man now," Heath jokes, he is embracing his role model status and is incredibly excited by the talented new arrivals to the team. You can hear the excitement in his voice as he talks about the bright futures for the likes of the younger Izaic Yorks, Drew Windle, Matt Hillenbrand, and Dorian Ulrey. "These guys are fit and kicking my butt on the speed stuff." Heath pulls them along on the longer grindwork, but jokes even then they aren't that far behind him.
If he had any words of advice to give the next crop of professionals straight out of college, "One of the biggest differences between college and professional running is starting to figure out what works for you and kind of internalizing workouts...a huge part of being a professional is figuring out what exactly works for you so you don't break down over time, because you have a lot of freedom. You have all that free time during the day and you can overthink things. You can overthink your running." Heath warns that doing more for the sake of doing more isn't always the best route. Instead, you need to learn, "how to listen to your body...working harder all the time isn't always the key to success."
He's come to find what works for him, and for Heath that's two hard workout days a week, a weekly long run, and mid-week longer run, sandwiched between double day recovery days. Mileage varies depending on the season; capping off cross he feels his sweet spot is 85 miles per week and feels most confident coming into this time of year off of a solid 8-10 weeks at that volume.
Now it's indoor season and he's got speed on the brain. Mileage drops and the paces heat up. Heath is back focusing on the minutia of 400 meter splits, times down to the tenth, and most importantly he's at a place mentally where he's good with that.
Upon writing, Heath was Boston bound to race the New Balance Grand Prix Meet (editor: Garrett ran 7:46.34 for 3000 meters in Boston, 1/28/17, taking seventh). After that his indoor schedule is tentatively set, depending most on how he feels. He's thinking Millrose (editor: Garrett ran a PB for 2 miles, in 8:19.62, for sixth, in a tough race) and maybe a 1500 in Birmingham (editor: Garrett ran 3:39.72 for a seasonal best), and then of course, the USA Indoor Championships in Albuquerque. He, along with all the other Brooks Beasts will stay in Albuquerque for a 6-7 week altitude training camp before hitting outdoor season. Outdoor track season we'll see him at Payton Jordon where his main goal is to rip a fast 5k before USA Outdoor Championships. From there, hopefully London.
Taking to the line back at the track, before the gun even goes off, Garrett Heath is victorious. Far too many a talented runner have looked burnout dead in the eye and never came back. Heath has. He pulled himself back from the edge and rediscovered his passion for running. A passion that far and away surpasses the minutia of times and splits and comes back to the most basic act of putting one foot in front of the other.
Driven by passion, Heath's a more lethal competitor than ever.
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 comedian, you can see more of her work on her website, Instagram @caitchock, and Twitter @caitlinchock.