RBR Interview: James Carney, Distance Runner, by Larry Eder

James Carney, 2010 Fortis Rotterdam Marathon photo by PhotoRun.net.

James Carney ran the 2010 Fortis Rotterdam Marathon on Sunday, April 11, in a time of 2:15:50, a personal best by 1 minute, four seconds. With personal bests at 10,000m of 27:43, 20k on the roads at 59:10 and the half-marathon of 1:02:21, Carney has the tools to run very, very fast. This interview was done a few weeks ago, over the web. My process is, sending questions, giving interviewee the time for answers. He answered the questions on March 30.

Part of the act of observation of distance runners, for me, is to try and understand their motivation. Carney is what I would call, (a complement), old school. Two a days, run hard, race hard, sometimes good races, sometimes not so good. Get back up, knock the dust off, train again, race again.

To be successful at distance running, one must enjoy the training, and one must understand the quiet. That quiet contentment that comes finishing a 20 mile in the snow, that quiet contentment one feels doing repeat 1,000s or miles, knowing one is getting stronger and stronger.

I like James Carney. I have watched him race several times. Like many of the up and coming Americans, James is looking for that perfect race. I hope to see that race. Enjoy his interview, it is the longest one I had done, and James was a worthy interviewee...

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RBR, 1. How did you get involved in the sport?

James Carney: I initially got into running as a way to condition for wrestling. As skinny as I am I still had to be very conscious of my weight in order to make sure I could make my weigh in.

RBR, 2. What was your first race like?

James Carney: My first race was a complete disaster. I had trouble just covering the 5k distance at first. I remember vividly it was a dual meet against Elizabeth Forward HS at Round Hill Park about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh. I think I barely broke 30 min and wore a pair of Andre Agassi tennis shoes.

RBR, 3. Did you like cross country best at first, or track?

James Carney: That's tough to say. I loved XC mostly because running in October is one fine month to run in Pennsylvania. However, I had marginally more success in track and everyone loves doing things at which they are successful.

RBR, 4. Tell us about your high school running?

James Carney: My HS career was lackluster at best and I never really cared about running until my senior year when I figured out I was a better runner than wrestler. I think my junior PR in the mile was 5:15 and when I was a senior I ran 4:27. Not great numbers.

RBR, 5. What was biggest mistake you made in high school running?

James Carney: Not believing in myself and not truly committing myself to the sport until late in my HS career.

RBR, 6. Tell us about your college running?

James Carney: I first attended Millersville University and slowly developed throughout the years until finally as a senior I took my 5000 meter time all the way down to 14:00 and my 10000 down to 29:15. Today that wouldn't mean much but 10 years ago that meant you were one of the top guys in college. This gave me hope to keep following the sport and seeing how good I could get. I was fortunate enough to have great coaching in Keith White - someone who is passionate about the sport and my running career. It's invaluable having that kind of support. Millersville was a good collegiate choice since it eased me into the collegiate system without being thrown into a big time program. After I graduated, I ran for Penn State while attending graduate school.

RBR, 7. Biggest mistake in college running?

James Carney: My biggest mistake in college running is the same mistake I make today. I try to do too much and over train. Training to my max is a double edged sword. It has gotten me to where I am now but sometimes it can be almost detrimental. Finding that balance between over training and optimal training is very difficult.

RBR, 8. Tell us about your high school and college coaches? Different relationships as you got older?

James Carney: Well my HS XC/track coach was also my wrestling coach (Bob Weaver). He's a great guy and a real fitness freak. His motto is "I will never ask you to do something in training that I'm not willing to personally do." That really helps on the HS level to motivate kids.
Collegiately, I ran for Keith White at Millersville and Harry Groves at Penn State. Keith and Harry have completely different coaching styles. Keith is really about development and nurturing the talent he gets at the small school. Keith and I had a coach/athlete relationship when I entered college and as my college career ended it had blossomed more into a friend relationship that we still enjoy today. Harry was more of an "old school" coach. He had us running hard all the time with high mileage - only the strong survived while the pretenders quit, joined a frat, or cried and went home. It was no nonsense and a tough transition, but in the end it was a necessary transition that got me to the next level.

RBR, 9. Do you have a coach now?

James Carney: Currently, I'm in between coaches and writing my own schedule.

RBR, 10. What is it like being a professional runner?

James Carney: I always tell people it's stressful and not stressful at the same time. On a day-to-day basis, there is a fair amount of downtime to rest between sessions so that's relaxing, but when it's time to perform, you better perform. Running is truly a dog-eat-dog world and if you aren't on top of your game, someone is going to take your spot.

RBR, 11. What is your training like? Fall? build up? sharpening?

James Carney: In general, my build up consists of a ton of drills, circuits, core, and mileage and as I build toward competition I back off the drills, circuits, and core while my mileage stays fairly high. I feel really flat if I back off too much.

Dathan Ritzenhein, James Carney, 2009 U.S. Champs, 10,000m, photo by PhotoRun.net.

RBR, 12. Your 10,000m at the US champs was brilliant, tell us about that race?

James Carney: I wouldn't say it was brilliant. I just missed the team...again. However, it was a good race. I knew I was in good form heading into it. I had a good race at the Bolder Boulder a month earlier and was in CO Springs training at the Olympic Training Center leading into USAs. I felt really fit going into it and had the mindset that I'm going to stay in the top 3 as long as possible. There were a lot of pace changes where we would sprint the straights and practically walk the turns. Eventually Dathan Ritzenhein and Galen Rupp hooked up and really started battling. While I tried to go with it and was in great position to cover the moves, I just couldn't quite go with it. Tactically, I think I was bang on.

RBR, 13. What have your road experiences been like?

James Carney: I have really loved my road experiences because it's so close to doing hard tempos in practice which I love doing. I love being able to just go for it and the tactics get thrown out the window. Most times the track is a lot of sitting and kicking or pace changing which I could do without.

James Carney, 2008 Aramco Houston Half Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net.

RBR, 14. What is your favorite distance so far?

James Carney: I like that 10 mile to half marathon distance because you can really get right on that edge and almost go over it and still get to the finish. I like the idea of the marathon but I haven't had a ton of success at it yet. The marathon is the flagship though. I love the challenge of trying to conquer something that requires an incredible amount of work.

RBR, 15. What is it about events like Cardinal invite or Mt. SAC?

James Carney: Cardinal and Mt Sac are places with electric atmospheres, perfect weather, and great competition which breed success and fast times. Every time I have been to either of those places the air has been perfect. It would be like a speed skater skating on crisp ice or a water skier on placid water.

RBR, 16. How fast can you run over 10,000 meters?

James Carney: My best is 27:43 but I feel like I will be able to get under 27:30 before my career concludes.

RBR, 17. What do you like about distance running?

James Carney: I love the simplicity of running - not to mention how you really get out of it what you put in.

RBR, 18. How is your training going now?

James Carney: My training has been up and down this year. I have had some really good stretches of training where I felt like I was flying, followed by unfortunate events such as sickness or muscle strains. Luckily there hasn't been anything serious at all, but enough to disrupt training for 3-5 days.

RBR, 19. Where will we see you race?

James Carney: I'm running the Rotterdam Marathon on April 11th.

RBR, 20. What would you tell young runners about keys to being a good distance runner?

James Carney: I always tell younger runners that 99% of being good is wanting to be good. A lot of younger runners say they want to be good but deep down their fire isn't running hot. You have to want it so badly that you will run through a brick wall if success is on the other side.

RBR, 21. Who are your heroes?

James Carney: I like anyone who really tests their limits without having someone massage their toes every 5 min. This is just to name a few off the top of my head.
Old school:
Bronislow malinowski
Rob de castella
Rod Dixon
Dick Quax
Steve Ovett
Dick Beardsley
Peter Elliott
Matt Centrowitz
New School:
Ryan Hall
Anthony Famiglietti
Meb Keflezighi
Shalane Flanagan
Brian Sell

RBR, 22. What do you train in? Race in? Do speed work, tempo stuff in?

James Carney: I usually train in the New Balance 758 for easy days, the New Balance 1063 or New Balance 905 for faster days and the New Balance 205 for races.

RBR, 23. Do you listen to music when you run?

James Carney: I used to listen to music but lost my iPod shuffle somewhere in Providence.

RBR, 24. Long runs, how far do you go, how long?

James Carney: For this marathon build up, I have really focused on the long run. Almost every single week since December (last 14 weeks) I have run a minimum of 2.5 hours and up to 3 hours and 10 min. and usually I throw in fartlek or a tempo within the long run. In the past I would rarely run over 2 hours.

RBR, 25. Core training? do any? What?

James Carney: Prior to the last few weeks I was doing core 3 times/week for 30-40 min but wouldn't really touch the weights. I do planks, sit ups, v ups, push-ups, med ball work, etc.

RBR, 26. Stretch, do any, what?

James Carney: I do very little static stretching anymore. I mostly do all dynamic stretching including drills, lunges, leg swings, and a variety of other stretches.

RBR, 27. How long will you pursue running at the elite level?

James Carney: I plan on competing for a few more years. I want to go through 2012 and make one more attempt at making the Olympic team.

James Carney Wins 2008 Aramco Houston Half (US Champs), photo by PhotoRun.net.

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