Team 5am Running Madness runner Andrea Imhof is headed to Atlanta, Georgia this weekend (Feb 29, 2020) to run the Olympic Marathon Trials. She is also a full-time graduate student in clinical psychology at the University of Oregon. After joining the 5am Team in January 2019, Andrea began training hard and convinced her coach Lonn Robertson that she could qualify for the Olympic trials, even if she hadn’t quite convinced herself yet. Fast forward to the California International Marathon in December 2019 and Andrea is crossing the finish line in 2:44:03, a stunning 14-minute PR and an Olympic trial qualifying time. Andrea was also invited to run as part of Oiselle’s elite Haute Volee team for the trials. I sat down with Andrea a few days before the trials to talk training, trials, and all the feels
Jenn: Let’s talk about your fueling – what are your strategies for fueling during training and racing?
I think nutrition is a huge part of succeeding in a marathon. I actually spent a good amount of time before California International Marathon (CIM) experimenting with different fueling plans. I’ve ran several marathons with different experimental plans that went varying levels of both great and terrible and I’ve really learned over time that for me fueling regularly and often during a race is important. What I eat beforehand and the week before is just part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
So, I’ve always had the same pre-race meal since I was 10. I always eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or bagel with like bananas on top. It’s easy to digest usually and I know my stomach handles it well. I recently started experimenting with UCAN. Something like 30 min before a long run if I take a UCAN shake that tends to give me fuel for the first 10-15 miles which is really awesome and I’ve been impressed with that. During a race I’ll usually take gels every 4-5 miles.
I’ve really tended towards using real food gels, so I really like Spring energy and I recently became an ambassador for Spring Energy. I really believe eating real food and not these super chemically and sugary things helps a lot and is a lot easier on my stomach. And then post-race I just make sure I try to drink a ton of electrolytes. I don’t know, I don’t have a particular plan I just eat whatever I want (laughter). I guess post workout I try to get some protein but I’m not super obsessive about post workout or training fuel.
Jenn: How about your recovery strategy from a big race – do you take time off?
I think it really varies. I am not great at taking days off. But it is something I’m working on. So after CIM I took almost 10 days off without running at all and that was very challenging to me because I tend to usually like take a couple days off and then start slowly jogging again but I recognize that taking time to let your body heal and recover is really important. So, I’ve had about 6 months of hard training leading up to this race because the time between CIM and the trials was pretty short. I had a really quick turnaround. I’m planning to take most of the month of march down to run slowly when I want to but definitely no workouts for a while and try to regroup my muscles and let my body heal before the next big thing
Jenn: So you said the time between CI< and trials has been short – what has your training strategy been?
I actually had planned to take most of the month of December off and then when I qualified at CIM I had to sort of adjust a little bit. I had plans to go on a longer-term backpack trip; I was in Patagonia for three weeks in December and had to work in some long runs and I didn’t do speed workout but had to work aspects of training into my planned hiking trip which was different than expected. I then started training in earnest again in January, so I had about 2 months to stay sharp and try to build workouts back up to where they needed to be before the trials
Jenn: Can you describe what training looks like for you and our 5am Team in a typical week?
Typically we’ll do three workouts a week. Tuesday our team runs tempo runs in the morning together; so those will usually be 7-9 miles at marathon pace with a mix of half marathon and marathon pace worked in there. Those days end up being 12 or 13 miles total and are definitely the big workout of the week. Thursdays we do track workouts - during a marathon training cycle that is usually longer miles like 1 mile repeats, 2 mile repeats, sometimes 1000’s, and then on the weekend I’ll have a long run that has a good amount of pace miles in it. So, besides workouts the other days are usually slow and easy I try to work some core and strength is those days but don’t really worry about pace. I’d say my weekly mileage for most of the training cycle has been around 60-70 miles.
Jenn: Do you use a mantra when running?
I don’t necessarily have a mantra. Since college my team has been listening to this absurd YouTube video called the ‘Yes dance’ which has this hilarious mantra within it. So I will usually listen to the yes dance a few times before the race just out of tradition and habit and also the fact that it is a ridiculous dance. But also there’s something about saying yes to yourself that really does resonate. Most of my tactic while racing is to cycle through different levels of focus of my intentions. Focus on the person in front of me; clear my mind and let everything go blank; focus on seeing myself from a birds eye view, but shifting my attentional focus really works on keeping things interesting without focusing on internal pain so I try to stay outside my head.
Jenn: What do you do for strength training?
I am not the best model for strength training. This school term has been very busy so I’ve mostly focused on trying to get the miles and workouts. I do have a core routine I usually do on off days that is a combination of pullups, pushups, some ab exercises, a lot of planks, and then I have been in and out of physical therapy for various little tweaks and so usually I’ll do those PT exercises at that time. The whole thing takes about an hour so it’s really hard for me to get a full good strength session more than 2-3 times a week but I try to make sure I have at least some baseline of core work usually body weight exercises.
Jenn: Do you have a favorite workout?
I feel like Lonn’s coaching plan has changed my perception of what workouts should look like. When I ran my first marathon I wrote my own training plan and at the time I was coming off of being a middle-distance runner and the workouts I wrote for myself was like 20x400s. Those were my favorite workouts at the time. Lonn’s workouts have a lot more hard tempo miles built in which honestly, are not my favorite to do on my own, but I really look forward to them because of the team aspect and what we do together. My least favorite workout is definitely 2-mile repeats which I think is a consistent theme among people on our team (laughter with enthusiastic agreement from Jenn) but I also know how much work you can get done running way to fast 2 miles at a time. So I guess maybe tempo runs but really any of the workouts I am doing with other teammates makes the miles go by much faster
Jenn: So taper week – love it? Hate it? What does it look like?
Honestly there wasn’t a very big taper on this cycle. I ran 65 miles last week and this mile is significantly less. But I guess in the context of training being a grad student I love taper week because it allows me to get stuff done! I’m like running around trying to get things done before heading off to Atlanta and I’m not sure I would have enough time to run the normal 10 or so miles a day and pack up for Atlanta. Similarly leading up to CIM taper week was like a blessing to work on writing papers. So I use tape time to fill time with other things.
Jenn: So An OTQ time is a big deal! When did you decide you were going to go for the qualifying time and how did you feel when you got it?
I think that question is funny because Lonn decided in about March 2019 that I was going for an OTQ and I don’t think it really hit home for me before like the week before CIM. Lonn had thrown out the idea that there was a group within the 5am madness team that should be training at 6:15 pace and I did a lot of grumbling but I grew to love that group and was really inspired by the work we were able to do. And I noticed over time that the first tempo run at that pace was really hard but got easier over time. I think by September or October, by the time I actually signed up for CIM, it was somewhere in the back of my head that it would be cool to try for it but even the week before it was hard to imagine that it would be possible. My PR before CIM was 2:58 so that was a 14 minute PR for me which didn’t really feel doable until I was out there doing it. I guess it didn’t really sink in. I had this amazing group of women that I met on the starting line of CIM and ran with and we kept once mile checking in and sort of someone would throw out this inspirational ‘We are doing this, we are going to Atlanta!’ and it would rotate through who was leading that pack and it was this incredible amount of comradery but it didn’t really sink in that I was actually going to do it and not bonk until mile 18 when I was like there are really not that many miles left I think I can do this. At this point several of the women in the pack had started to peel off and I was still feeling strong and it was a lot of different emotions of okay stay focused don’t lose it because I think this could be possible.
Jenn: What do you think has contributed most to your running success?
Definitely the support and belief of teammates and other people. I think I would not be here if it hadn’t been for you Jenn telling me to join this group and convincing me to join. But also once I met this group of people; there’s no way I would have done any of those tempo runs on my own. Lonn has really believed in me and this group of people from the beginning when he said this is your goal I believe you can do it and I think one of the things I’ve been working is trying to find that strength internally because right now, that support, I really feel it from others and it’s amazing how much the support of other people can get you.
Jenn: So do you have a specific goal going into the trials?
You know I think one of the cool things about being in the trials is that it’s a really amazing experience just to be there. My main goal was to show up on the starting line healthy and fit. I think I’ve had a really good training cycle I’ve been running workouts faster than in November/December. At the same time I know this course is really hilly; I think I purposefully set myself away from having a time goal because I don’t know what this course is going to be like. So similarly there is a big group of women that ran between 2:42-2:45, that are probably not going to the Olympics but are there for the incredible experience and to push themselves and so I’m excited to work with that group to achieve what we can on that day and know we put it all out there but I don’t know if that translates to a time or pace goal.
Jenn: What do you think will be the biggest challenge for you in this race?
I feel like hills are not my strength! (laughing) I have worked a lot with Brad and my other teammates on the 5am group who have helped me to embrace the pain of going uphill and recognize that my strength is catching up on the downhill and I can really let my stride out. So figuring out how to modulate my pace across hills is definitely going to be a challenge. I’ve done more hill workout than I typically do in this cycle but I don’t know if it will be enough so those will be mentally challenging.
Jenn: What are you looking forward to most at the trials?
I feel like I don’t have one thing but just the entire weekend is such a crazy and surreal thing to be a part of. I’ve been lucky enough to find this incredible community with Oiselle and I’m really looking forward to meeting these teammates. I’ve connected with them online over the past few months and we’ve been supporting each other and cheering each other on through training but I haven’t met a lot of them in person. So I’m really looking forward to solidifying some of those connections and friendships while also being a part of this incredible national event.
Jenn: So what’s next after trials?
I think honestly I’m really looking forward to taking some time off to figure that out. This race seemed like it was so soon after CIM that I just rolled straight into the training for it, but I’m really excited to transition to trail work over the summer. The 5am group is doing a rim to rim grand canyon trip in October so I’m really excited to embrace my fear of hills run alot more on trails and up and down mountains this summer. I’ve achieved a lot of what I wanted to do on roads and I’m excited to tackle a new area and challenge myself in things that are different
Jenn: Last remarks?
I think if anything running, like running as a part of a community team, really helps me realize that at the college level it’s very different. As part of a community team, there is a commitment we all opt into and the support that comes from that is really unique because it is different. So I really appreciate this group because everyone has there own lives but we have this secret group that we are all a part of at 5am that is this whole separate part of our day and it’s something really special that people want to wake up that early and meet this group for all that support.
Congratulations Andrea!! We look forward to cheering you on in Atlanta!!