The Nike athlete is currently hammering out 120-mile weeks.
Back in May of 2010, former University of Wisconsin standout Chris Solinsky was setting the track on fire. At the Payton Jordan Invitational in his debut 10,000m race, he became the first non-African to go under 27 minutes for that distance. A month later, he broke 13 minutes for the 5,000m.
But since 2010, Solinsky has been hampered by injury and hasn’t put forth stellar results on the track or roads. Despite his past successes, the 29-year-old, who runs for Nike and is coached by Jerry Schumacher, has yet to make an American Olympic team. He wants that to change in 2016 and is focusing on debuting in the marathon — a distance he believes he’s well suited to run.
How you are feeling? I know you’ve struggled with injury in the past. How is your body holding up?
Chris Solinsky: The body is doing fine. I actually haven’t had any injury problems for more than a year. The issue for me this past year is that my body hasn’t been able to go fast anymore. When we gear down in training and do some speed stuff, I’m getting my doors blown off by the younger guys like [Evan] Jager and Chris Derrick and even some older guys like [Andrew] Bumbalough. That’s what prompted our gear change, but yeah, the body is feeling good. The high mileage makes me tired.
You were a big high-mileage guy in high school and throughout your career. Are you doing even more than you’ve done in the past?
No. I would say I’m running equivalent to my prime period in 2010 and 2011. I’m getting used to it again. The last two and a half years, I went from nothing to transitioning back to 80 miles a week to 90 to 100 miles a week steady. I’m now up to 120 miles a week — getting those extra 20 miles through longer runs.
How is the mileage coming to you?
I’m doubling almost every day. There’s one day a week where I will do a medium-long run of 90 minutes to 1:45. My long run has gone from 2 hours to 2:30. That’s where the extra mileage comes from. Instead of a 35-minute double, I’ll do a 50-minute second run.
You were talking about this decision-making process where you are moving up to the marathon, because you couldn’t keep up with guys who had an extra gear. Do you feel like you can make up for that in the marathon with your strength and endurance since the marathon entails running at a relatively slower pace?
Yeah. When we would do a lot of the strength stuff, we would gear down and do 3K and 5K-race-pace work. I would be keeping up with the guys and then completely tie up and have no idea why. It was just like reading the writing on the wall. But even before getting hurt, I always thought the marathon would be a great event for me. I thought I was always one of those guys that just gets out there and grinds. That’s always been my racing style on the track: I had a decent last lap, but I didn’t have a last lap that I would consider to be a medal contender. Vying for U.S. championships or going for world medals, I had to make a push a ways out [from the finish] using my strength, so I think the marathon is a better fit for my racing style.
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Can you share anything about your marathon debut in terms of schedule or is it still TBD?
It’s still TBD. We are still in the early stages of when I race next. It’s based on the communication between Jerry [Schumacher] and I. I’d say for the last two years, I’ve been putting races on the calendar and whether or not I’m ready to run them, I run them. I think the results have spoken for that. They’ve been less than stellar. I’ve had to put on a brave face and take those beatings and move on. Now that this is the focus for me, I’ve gone back to the mentality I had in college, which was you’re not racing until you’re ready. I don’t think I’m that far off from being ready — I’m thinking in the April range would be very viable.
So your ultimate aim is to make the Olympic team for 2016, right?
Oh yeah, for sure. All this is going towards that. I obviously want to be ready for my first marathon this fall. After that, I’ve even thought about trying the world championship marathon. That would be good to learn that different style of marathon racing to get ready for the Trials. Everything that I’m planning for the next year has 2016 in mind.
Other than Jerry, have you picked anyone else’s brain about the marathon?
I’ve talked briefly with a lot of people, but nothing that dives too deeply. I’ve obviously talked with Matt [Tegenkamp], Simon [Bairu], and Shalane [Flanagan] from our group. I’ve talked a little bit with Dathan [Ritzenhein] and Ryan Vail who train out in Portland. I’m starting to understand what I’m getting myself into. [He laughs.]
When did you make this marathon decision? How long have you been in marathon mode?
I would say that it has been strongly on my mind, but the final decision wasn’t made until five weeks ago. This is my fourth week of very marathon-specific training. I’m still very new into it. It’s certainly nice. The workouts are tough, because they are fatiguing, but I like them because you can really sink your teeth into them. You can warm up into them. You’re not hurting from interval one, like a 3K or 5K workout would be. For those distances, the intervals need to be aggressive from the beginning. From interval one, you’re like, “Ugh, it’s going to be a long day.” But with the marathon, it’s more just having the fatigue in your leg and that feels like it’s going to be a long day, too, but at least I can manage through it the entire way.
You’ve run a sub-27 10K. Does knowing that you’ve achieved such a significant milestone give you confidence as you prepare for the marathon?
It does, because I got my body to a certain point of fitness and knowing that my PR in my 5K days may be behind me, I believe that I can get my body back to a very high level. I’ve always been a strength runner and I know this training suits me very well. It excites me to think where I can get my body to in the marathon. There are people on my team — friends — who say, “Don’t you think you’re too big for the marathon?” I’ve been hearing that for years — even with the 5,000m and 10,000m. I guess I just have to re-prove everyone wrong.
RELATED: Solinsky’s Battle With Injury
Do you feel like you have unfinished business on the track? Any thoughts of going back there?
Oh, I definitely do. I haven’t ruled that out. In a way, this is a two-pronged approach. I’m gaining experience. But I do have hopes. In the past two years, I’ve had a feeling in my gut that this is the kind of training I need to do. I’m getting myself that really good aerobic base that I was missing and this can be that bridge that I needed. We certainly haven’t ruled out a 10K — even within the next few months. If it feels right, we aren’t going to rule it out for 2016 either. At this point, since I’ve kind of screwed up two Olympic cycles, I want to make sure I am taking every step I possibly can to ensure my chances of fulfilling that dream — not only of becoming an Olympian, but also competing for medals.
You said you screwed up the last two Olympic cycles. Does that give you more fire in your belly to make a team?
Yeah, I definitely have that. I don’t think I have to tell you, but in our sport, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done to the average person. When you say your career is running, then people will ask you if you’re an Olympian. If you say, “no”, then they kind of look at you and say, “Then why are you wasting your time?” Not that I really care that much about what people think, but obviously it means a lot to me to be an Olympian. As I’ve said, I do feel like I’ve screwed up the last two Olympic cycles. In 2008, I approached it a little too unprofessionally. In 2012, I’d say I was almost over-professional where I overdid it and got myself hurt. Now I’m making sure I’m doing everything right — not just training hard and being disciplined in terms of not having too much fun in the college sense, but making sure I take care of the foam rolling and the physio work like acupuncture and rolling on a lacrosse ball — all that kind of stuff. It’s just making sure I take care of my body, whereas leading up to 2012, all I was doing was training too hard and getting the physio once in a while when it fit my schedule. Now it’s all about making sure I do everything correctly.
You used the word “unprofessional” for the 2008 cycle. Can you elaborate on that more? Were you too cocky? What does that mean? Did you not take things too seriously?
I took them seriously in training, but when I wasn’t in training — that was my first year out of college. We were pretty strict in college, but since I wasn’t accountable to the team [when he turned pro], I think I had a little too much fun. [He laughs.] It showed. Even though I was doing 100-mile weeks, I put on like seven pounds over my race weight. There’s no way you can operate at a world-class level when you’re that much heavier. That was the big glaring mistake. I imagine if I had been back to my normal race weight, I would have been able to hang on in that last 200 meters at the Olympic Trials and finish in the top 3. For me, that was a big kick in the face where I said, “You’re and idiot; you did that to yourself.” I righted that wrong and kind of overcorrected a little bit [in 2012]. Now it’s about taking those two lessons and finding that happy middle ground and learning from the mistake of getting hurt as well.
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You’re a hunter and an avid outdoorsman, are you still finding the time for that?
Yeah. I do it as much as I possibly can. This last fall, I got out elk hunting here in Oregon with no success, but I still enjoy it nonetheless. I didn’t get home to Wisconsin to hunt much, but I was talking with my dad about it. I said, “You know one of the cool things about doing a fall marathon is that I can take an extended break after it and not have to worry about training.” We’re drawing for out-of-state Iowa tags this year, which is hard to get. That would be the perfect time. It would be nice to get time hunting with him. I do it when I can. It’s a nice little reprieve from the steady hard training that we do.
Some people who are reading this interview may not be up to speed on your achievements and the elite-running world, but say you were sitting next to someone on a plane and they get to know you. They’re a runner and start asking about themselves and how to best prepare for their first marathon. What kind of tips would you share with them?
The one thing that Matt [Tegenkamp] and I were talking about is one thing that he wishes he could have changed that I’m going to try is to have some depletion runs in there. Depletion runs are where you don’t really fuel up beforehand and you don’t really fuel up during and you just feel really drained and light headed. You have to put your body through that every once in a while. He [Matt Tegenkamp] says he wishes he had done that more. They are miserable, but I do think it’s going to be something that helps in that last 10K of the race where no matter how prepared you are, it’s going to hit you hard. That’s what I would recommend to someone transitioning to the marathon.