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Kopac's Corner

Mike Slinskey and the Olympic Marathon Trials

by Bob Kopac

On Sunday, May 7, Hudson Valley resident Mike Slinskey will be one of 114 elite runners competing at the U.S. Mens Olympic Marathon Trials in Pittsburgh, PA. Since his first big win at the 1995 Burlington Marathon, Mike has won several races in New England at various distances. He has become a dominant force in Northeast running. Now he will participate in the biggest race of his career.

Of the 114 qualifiers, 69 are "A" runners; that is, athletes who qualified for the Trials by running a marathon in under 2 hours 20 minutes. Mike is one of these top 69 runners, having run 2:19:57 at the Providence Marathon. Recently I interviewed Mike.

QUESTION: What are your feelings about the upcoming U.S. Mens Olympic Trials? How do you feel? Do you feel good about it?

MIKE: I feel a little nervous. I am ready. I am very ready. I am just excited. I have a few more days of hard training and then I am kind of coming down.

QUESTION: Did you do any different training right now than you usually do, or is it more of what you usually do?

MIKE: Well, my long runs are hard, at a hard effort. I do them fast-paced. I do fartlek and I do longer tempo runs than I used to do.

QUESTION: How long [a distance] are we talking?

MIKE: Between 10 and 13 miles.

QUESTION: What is your training for a typical day?

MIKE: I get up maybe about 6 AM and go out and run for about an hour, an hour and 20 minutes, which is anywhere from 10 to 13 miles. Then I come home and relax for a little bit, have some breakfast, stretch a lot. Somewhere around noon I go out again. Three days a week I do either track workout or a tempo run. The other days I will do a medium-paced 10-to-12 miler. Then I pick up my daughter around 1:30 - 2 PM from school and I have her until 6 PM.

QUESTION: Did you change the way you do your training versus how you trained a couple of years ago?

MIKE: I dont have to get up at 4 oclock in the morning. [Laughs] As soon as I qualified, I went down South in January. Since January I have not been working, so I do not have to get up at 4 oclock in the morning to do my morning run. But thats pretty much the only thing that has changed.

QUESTION: You used to always run for the mileage. Now you run more for the time?

MIKE: I think I kind of got away from the miles, just so I did not get caught in saying, "If I dont get in 140 miles this week Ill die." A lot of times, I know what pace I am running because of the courses I have been doing so many years. I know how far they are and how long it takes me. Most of the time I will do an hour, hour and 20 minutes, and I will know approximately how far that is. Some days if I am tired, I will still do the time but if the miles are not the same, its no big deal.

QUESTION: Do you have a trainer?

MIKE: Yeah, I have a friend who rides a bike with me and pushes me a lot.

QUESTION: Do you have a professional trainer?

MIKE: No.

QUESTION: Did you ever have a trainer?

MIKE: I had a coach in 1996, 1997 and we just kind of separated.

QUESTION: Do you have any sponsors?

MIKE: Yes, Powerbar and Saucony [shoe company] sponsor me.

QUESTION: When did you start running and why?

MIKE: Around 12 years old, I guess. Why? I just liked it. I liked how it made me feel. It was something I could do on my own and not rely on somebody else or on teams. It is fun.

QUESTION: Did you do it through school?

MIKE: Yes, all through high school, and when I was in college.

QUESTION: How did you do?

MIKE: In high school I was not that good. My best time in 2 miles was like 9:47, something like that. Right after college, I just started training really hard. I did not want to goof around with the running; I did not want to be a recreational runner. I wanted to be good at what I did.

QUESTION: You did have a job at All Sport before you quit to go down to South Carolina, correct?

MIKE: Yes.

QUESTION: How did you schedule your training around that job?

MIKE: The hours I worked were 5:30 until 11 oclock in the morning. I have to run pretty much when I wake up; it makes me feel better before I do anything else. I would get up at 4 oclock and go out and run for 40 minutes and then go to work. When I got out of work, I would go and run again for about an hour until about 2 [oclock]. Then I would pick up my daughter and be with her all day.

QUESTION: You are an "A" athlete; you made the "A" team [in the Olympic Trials, having run a qualifying marathon in under 2:20] instead of the "B" team. They pick up some of the expenses for "A" athletes. Which expenses?

MIKE: Three nights in the hotel, travel expenses, something like that.

QUESTION: A lot of articles I have read say the USATF and other organizations should support runners more. Do you feel organizations should sponsor runners more?

MIKE: The thing is that a lot of athletes should be sponsored, but the funding is just not there. Look at it compared to other sports. Unless you are on the global level like Michael Johnson or Bob Kennedy, where they are getting a salary from their sponsors, the road racing does not get that [money]. Even the Kenyans really are not getting that. Some of the best, the top 5, are probably getting that, have some type of deal with their sponsors. Probably Khalid Khannouchi is getting a good deal from New Balance. However, they are on the global level, the best in the world. The sponsors put all their money into the top guys and not think about the second-tier guys who are trying to get to the top. I think thats kind of unfair. I couple of days ago I was on the Internet and I saw where the shoe company Fila is starting some U.S. training camps. I am not quite sure how they are going to go about doing it, but I guess they are going to put up some funds for some of the U.S. athletes. Who gets that [money], I don't know. Probably over the next period of time, more information will come out about that.

QUESTION: You went down to South Carolina [in January to train]. Didnt it snow when you got there?

MIKE: Actually, it did not snow at all while I was there. It was funny because we were in a good climate. Fifty miles above us, they were getting killed with snow and sleet, and 50 miles south of us in Georgia, they were getting killed. I think the coldest it got for us was 35 to 40 degrees. It was beautiful skies every day.

QUESTION: Where did you train in South Carolina?

MIKE: In Hilton Head. Joe Maggi [former race director of the Mid-Hudson Road Runners Club] lives there. I stayed with Joe and his wife Dot. Dot just ran the London Marathon.

QUESTION: What in your opinion was your first big win?

MIKE: The Burlington Marathon in 1995. I ran 2:21:40.

QUESTION: What other races have you run that you can say "That was a peak point for me."?

MIKE: In 1995 and 1996 I ran several races in New England and won them. Once I started breaking through there, that was a good turning point.

QUESTION: Was the Burlington Marathon win your most exciting moment in running?

MIKE: Definitely.

QUESTION: What was your lowest point?

MIKE: [Laughs] Getting hurt before the trials in 1996.

QUESTION: Now how did you do that?

MIKE: I was on the Olympics Trial course and I do not know how I did it, really. I was running out and back as part of the course. I just turned around in the middle of the road, and I felt a pretty sharp twinge in my calves. I could not run after that. It was probably just like a little muscle strain or something but the next couple of days I kept running on it, and it just got worse and worse and worse.

QUESTION: So you were never able to run the trials?

MIKE: In 1996, right.

QUESTION: Besides that, have you ever had any other injuries?

MIKE: Actually, in December I hurt my iliotibial band, and I did not run for a month. When we got down to South Carolina, I ran a couple of miles each day on the beach down there just to see how I was. The first week I put in 2 or 3 miles a day, 2 times a day. The next week, I put in a 75-mile week. I felt awkward a lot; I did not feel like myself. I lost a lot of fitness, but I just had to keep running. Probably about 3 weeks before we left, I started to feel more like myself.

QUESTION: Do you feel you are at where you want to be or are you a little behind?

MIKE: I am in really good shape. I am really strong. I am not as fast as I would like to be, but I am really strong the past, maybe, a month, I have increased the pace of my long runs. On the track I pretty much have not been doing much more than a quarter, doing quarter repeats. However, a lot of my pace running on the roads is a 5:15 to 6-minute pace.

QUESTION: Do you do any weight training?

MIKE: No, not at all. I do a lot of abdominal work and pushups and stuff like that. I am not really much into weights.

QUESTION: Do you think it is not beneficial, or do you just not like doing it?

MIKE: I am pretty muscular as it is, so I have very good genetics. If I lift weights, I would just get bulkier.

QUESTION: What is your typical diet?

MIKE:I eat whatever I want. [Laughs] No, I eat a lot of pasta. I pretty much eat pasta every day, some eggs--I probably eat eggs every day; if not, 5 days a week. I am not afraid to eat cold-cut sandwiches now and then. Pretty much I just think about recovery, and not think about what food I am going to eat.

QUESTION: Who are the people who most influenced you?

MIKE: I pretty much know I want to be at the top of the game, so I pretty much motivate myself. I look at other athletes and see what they are doing and I know I can run as fast as them. I really have not been racing a lot, but just seeing their times and that pretty much motivates me. I do not have a singular person that motivates me in particular.

QUESTION: You were going to use the 1996 Trials as a test just to see what it was like, and you were not able to do that. So you were not able to run against some of the top runners. Have you run against any of those runners in other races?

MIKE: I ran into a couple of them down in the 10-mile championships down in New Jersey. I placed 8th there. I felt pretty good about that.

QUESTION: What do you think is your best distance?

MIKE: Probably 10 miles to 25K, but I am trying to make the marathon my best distance.

QUESTION: What are your goals for this Olympic Trial?

MIKE: I know I want to run under 2:15, just like any other person who is going to be there--the top 3 of course.

QUESTION: You got 2:19:57 to qualify [for the Trials]. That [2:15:00] is about 5 minutes faster. Do you think you can do it?

MIKE: Yeah, no problem. If I have not seen people do it before, I would say, "Man, maybe I dont think that can be done. Maybe 2 minutes [less] is okay, but 5, 6, or 7 minutes that could be tough." However, I know Bill Rodgers did it; from one marathon to the next marathon, he ran 10 minutes faster. I just saw Christine Clark win the womens Olympic Trials in Columbia, SC by running a 7-minute PR.

QUESTION: That was a very hot marathon down there. What is your ideal running weather?

MIKE: Probably 50 to 60 degrees. I dont mind rain. I ran 10 miles in it today, and it did not bother me. I will run in just about any weather, except for sleet or ice.

QUESTION: Is there any disadvantage to training in the Northeast? Say the weather or say the mountains, being able to do mountain work?

MIKE: The disadvantage about training around here is the traffic. I run hills every day. If I want to run in the mountains, I can run in the mountains. The one thing we do not have is the altitude. If you have the right mind set, it does not matter where you are. If you are going to be a good runner, you are going to be a good runner.

QUESTION: Thats what Bill Rodgers said last year when I interviewed him, that you did not need to have the altitude in order to be a good runner.

MIKE: I know he never did, and he was the best in the world.

QUESTION: After the Olympic Trials, what is your target?

MIKE: Obviously, it depends on what happens there. If I do not qualify, I might do Chicago [Marathon] in the Fall. A lot of people I know that I have beaten before ran fast there, and it just got me interested. Plus, I have to get back into the half-marathon.

QUESTION: Realistically, how long do you feel you can run competitively?

MIKE: Probably 12 more years.

QUESTION: So thats basically the goal of your career for the next twelve years?

MIKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Pittsburgh Marathon [and the Mens Olympic Trials] is going to be May 7. When do you go down to Pittsburgh?

MIKE: I will probably leave here Wednesday night. They are putting us up in a hotel Thursday, Friday, Saturday at the Westin, William Penn.

QUESTION: Are you going to be training while you are down there?

MIKE: Yes, just easy stuff since it is 3 days before [the Trials].

QUESTION: When do you taper off?

MIKE: I dont really taper. I have tried it before, and it really kind of leaves my legs flat. I will probably run 10 to 15 miles a day until the Thursday before. Then I will probably run 5 miles in the morning. The day before [the Trials], I will run maybe 3 miles in the morning and 3 miles in the afternoon.

QUESTION: When you run before the Trials, do you team up with other athletes, or do the runners basically run by themselves?

ANSWER: No. Pretty much you just talk around. For the big races, I do not like to get in all the hoopla. You hear someone is going to do this, and someone is going to do that. I pretty much stay away from all that. I know who is going to be there, and who is doing what. You get to hear about what this person did and what that person did, and "Oh, I ran this fast this year." They actually are doing more harm to themselves than anything. It is a marathon; its not as if they are running a 10K. Anything can happen, and I do not want to get caught up in all that. I am not the type of person who likes to go around and say I did this, or I did that for a workout.

QUESTION: You worked a lot of [local] races. Thats pretty unusual for someone who is very good. Why do you do that?

MIKE: All the races need volunteers too. They all need workers and, without a lot of volunteers, the races cannot be. If my schedule works out, I always like to help. I think its just giving back what the sport gave to me.

QUESTION: Is there anything you would like to say?

MIKE: [Laughs] I want to thank all the people who helped me and supported me. Thats a big help. It just feels good that a lot of people are backing me.