Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interview #2: Meagan Nedlo

The second (of six) interviews features 2:39 marathoner, Meagan Nedlo! Meagan and I met through our work in the running industry. Since I've known her, I have always been impressed with her ability to train at a high level while traveling the country and beyond for work. I thought that her perspective would be something that us working folks could relate to and learn from!

Meagan is full of sisu.
Photo Credit: Jane Monti

What is your running background? More specifically, how did you begin running marathons? 

My path to marathoning is probably unconventional compared to most women who compete at my level. I was a completely average high school runner in rural East Texas (12:00 two-miler) and wasn't exactly having to fend off recruiting calls from college coaches. I ended up attending TCU (go Frogs!) on a full academic scholarship and didn't pay much attention to running for the next few years. I still jogged occasionally but mainly just stayed fit on a general level. However, later in college I ended up getting a part-time job at a local running store which in hindsight is probably the single seemingly inconsequential decision that led to where I am now. It resulted in me accepting a tech rep position with Mizuno right out of college, then a year later taking a similar position with Brooks. During that time I was surrounded with people who actually took running seriously and I began to become more serious about my own "training." Midway through my two-year tenure at Brooks I started dating a guy who was a great runner himself and encouraged me to pursue coaching from one of his former college teammates, Jeff Gaudette. I reached out to Jeff, whom I'd only met once, to see if he wanted to start coaching me for what I'd arbitrarily decided would be my first marathon, Marine Corps 2008. He agreed and we began a remote coaching relationship (I was living in Atlanta and he was in Charlotte at the time). What I didn't know (or didn't pay much attention to) was that he was also coaching at the Division II collegiate level, alongside Scott Simmons at Queens University of Charlotte. But throughout this training cycle he came to realize that 1) I wasn't too terrible at running; and 2) I still had collegiate eligibility. He ended up calling me out of the blue and offering me a scholarship to earn my Master's degree at Queens while running track and cross-country starting the following January. So, even though my MCM debut turned out to be underwhelming to say the least (I dropped out around mile 20 due to stomach problems), in January I found myself packing up my apartment in Atlanta and moving to the Queen City!

Without question, my time at Queens and the support from Jeff and Scott is what transformed me mentally and physically into someone who performed like a "good" runner--and someone who believed I could be better! I dropped my 5k and 10k personal bests by over two and four minutes respectively, became a 3-time individual NCAA All-American, and changed my mentality from thinking it would be super cool to one day break three hours to setting my sights at qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials. And that, in a nutshell, is how I came to pursue marathoning more seriously going forward.

What has your marathon progression been like?

I already mentioned it began inauspiciously with a DNF at MCM in 2008. Well, despite everything I said in my previous answer, it didn't get much better in my second attempt. I was fit and ready to target the sub-2:46 [Olympic Trials Qualifying] standard at Houston Marathon in January of 2011, but for whatever reason (likely due to muggy and windy conditions), it just wasn't my day. I was on pace through halfway but then faded badly over the next few miles and ended up dropping out at 17, defeated and embarrassed. Still, in the back of my mind I believed I was ready to capitalize on my fitness sooner than later. Coincidentally, two weeks after Houston I was scheduled to work the expo at the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama as part of my then-new position with footwear brand Karhu. I knew I could get an entry if I wanted to, so without telling more than a handful of people I decided to quietly enter the race and chase the standard again. On a brisk, chilly day with a rolling course, I finally executed my race strategy and crossed the line in 2:45:01, almost a minute under the qualifying time. I was going to the Olympic Trials! Since then I've run 2:41:06 (at the Trials in January 2012, good for a 49th place finish more than 100 spots ahead of my seed position) and 2:39:08 at Philadelphia in November 2012. I've struggled a bit over the past few years but am toeing the line again at Richmond on November 15th with the goal of punching my ticket to the 2016 Trials!

I have often observed Meagan race and win while traveling for work. Here she is doing a victory lap after winning the 2012 Chicago Half Marathon.

Photo Credit: Matthew Sands

You've run 2:39 and qualified for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the marathon, what gave you the confidence to pursue these goals?

I think a big part of what gave me this confidence was seeing the confidence that others had in me. And not just people like my parents and friends, who always tell you you're awesome at something even when you kind of suck, but people like Jeff and Scott and my boyfriend and others in the running community who actually knew their stuff. I remember when Jeff was recruiting me to run at Queens, he told me on the phone that he believed one day I would become a national champion in the 10k. I literally laughed out loud--I'd barely broken 39 minutes at the time! But less than two years later I would find myself entering the final lap of the DII national championship race fighting for the victory. I ended up third that day, behind two runners who would each at some point break the DII national record for 10k. That one moment, more than anything else, made me realize that I should never limit myself or allow myself to be held back by self-doubt. It's not always easy and the progression hasn't been picture-perfect and linear, but I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't still believe there was more and better to come.

On your blog, you've posted a lot of discrete workouts. How would you describe your overall philosophy for the marathon? How has this developed over time?

First let me say that I believe everyone is different and there's no one "right" way to approach marathon training. For me, I'm not particularly fast or innately talented. If I can break 70 seconds for 400 meters during a workout, it's a banner day. I'm never going to be doing mile repeats at 5:00 pace. And, if you look at my PRs for every distance except the marathon, they all line up as consistently mediocre with my 2:39 being a glaring outlier. So in order for me to run "fast" at the marathon, my training is fairly unglamorous: high mileage, lots of tempos, lots of doubles, just sort of grinding out the miles day by day and hoping that ultimately my strength will be my speed. I would say that philosophy has remained fairly consistent over the past few years, although one thing that's changed a bit during this specific cycle has been a conscious decision not to fixate so much on the numbers. In previous buildups I've been adamant about hitting 100 miles per week or some other arbitrary number, to the point where I would add miles to my long run or go out for a ridiculous Sunday afternoon shuffle simply for the purpose of tipping the scales from 98 to 100. Now I just trust the workouts and runs that my new coach, Terry Shea (formerly of the BAA and coach of a group of amazing women (and a few decent guys) such as previous Twin Cities champ Jeannette Faber and recent US Marathon Champ Esther Erb) gives me and let the numbers fall where they may. I've had several weeks where I've looked at my log on Sunday and realized I was going to end up at 89 or 97 or whatever and not given it a second thought. I trust his guidance and I trust that if it were imperative for me to hit that next milestone number he would let me know.

During your marathon build ups, you log quite a bit of mileage. How do you balance this with travel for work/life in general?

This can get a little tricky. I would say my average mileage during marathon training fluctuates anywhere from 80-105 mpw. I also work full time (having recently switched over from Karhu footwear to Craft apparel) as a national sales manager so I travel quite a bit across the US and Canada. Sometimes it can be challenging when I have a red-eye flight or a 12-hour day at a trade show or a sales meeting to prepare for, but along with my coach I try to be forward thinking and build in "down" weeks when travel/work is super stressful and to make sure that my big workouts fall on days that are manageable. Also, I'm fortunate to work in the running industry alongside a group of like-minded people who will often accompany me on doubles at lunch or understand if I have to "work from home" because I'm traveling for a race. That said, I try not to abuse that flexibility too often and if I have a 14-15 mile workout on a Tuesday morning I'm still going to be at work by 9am (but I can't promise my hair will be dry). For the most part, though challenging I do enjoy the travel and getting to run with cool people (like Dan!) while on the road.

You're running the Richmond Marathon on November 15th, how has your training been going and what are your goals for the race?

Training has been solid. I don't think I'm going to PR (although anything can happen on race day) but I do think I'll be able to dip under the OTQ B-standard of 2:43. For now, I'm okay with that, and if all goes to plan I would consider making an assault on the A standard of sub-2:37 in the spring. During this cycle due to various reasons I've had to do probably 85% of my workouts solo, which presents its own set of challenges, but I've been really pleased with several key sessions such as 4x5k around 6:00 pace within a 20-miler, 2 mile-1 mile-2 mile-1 mile-2 mile averaging upper 5:50s, and even as recently as this Tuesday (12 days out from Richmond), 14 miles with 12 really comfortably at 6:11. The work has been done, now it's time to rest and freshen up and put my game face on!

Thanks to Meagan Nedlo for taking the time out of her busy schedule to take part in this interview, and best wishes for her run next week in Richmond!

Editor's Update:
Meagan ran 2:40:48 in Richmond, qualifying for her second Olympic Trials!

If you'd like to learn more about Meagan's training and racing, check out her dead blog Meaga Miles. Meagan, now that I've plugged your blog will you update it? Seriously though, Meagan has a ton of historic content on her blog. You can also view her training log on Athleticore.com, if you're a member. 

Hey readers, do you have questions or comments? Ideas for questions for future interviews?

Leave a comment below!

Thanks for reading!

Shameless plug:

Registration for the 2015 Daniel Burnham Open just went live yesterday! Team up with your friends to participate in Chicago's only free cross country race!

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