5 Minutes with Clint Verran
Provided by RunnersWorld
By John Gugala
Cint Verran is a marathon-running escape artist. The three-time U.S. Olympic trials marathon competitor faced a do-or-die situation at the California International Marathon on Dec. 4 — arguably the last and best opportunity for him to earn a qualifying time for the 2012 trials race on Dec. 14 in Houston. And Verran did, running 2:18:56, a mere 4 seconds under the 2:19 standard. But this isn’t Verran’s first rodeo; as a founding member of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project the year following his graduation from Eastern Michigan University in 1998, Verran was 11th in the 2000 trials in Pittsburgh, fifth in 2004 in Birmingham, Ala., and 18th in 2008 (held in November 2007) in New York City). Severe injuries sidelined Verran for much of the last four years, so last-minute theatrics were the necessity. One might ask what he has left to prove in a sport where he’s already achieved much more than was ever expected from an athlete that never made the trip to a collegiate national championships meet. But Verran, ever the competitor, has his own goals for making this trials — and the next one in 2016, too.
Running Times: You’re no stranger to qualifying for the Olympic trials marathon, but this one was a bit different. What went into this one?
Clint Verran: Well, they’ve all been kind of unique, I want to say. The first one — I qualified at the Chicago Marathon in 1999 — was kind of a surprise. It came out of nowhere. I’d just gotten fit suddenly and got the idea to go run the Chicago Marathon. I ran 2:19 and some change, and it came actually kind of easy. I was like, “Wow. Hey, I’m qualified for the trials.” It was just a surprise, more or less. And then in ’04 and ’08, I had run lots and lots of qualifying efforts, so qualifying was never even on my radar screen; I just went out and ran marathons, and I had tons of qualifying marks.
This time around, I actually ran a qualifying mark in October 2008, which was about three months shy of the opening of the trials window. And then I got injured after that race with a relatively severe hip injury, which resulted in surgery nine months later. That was in 2009, and then I had a very serious knee surgery in June of 2010, so this marathon over the weekend was the first marathon I’ve finished in the entire qualifying window.
RT: That’s interesting, too, because you used to run marathons on a lark. Wasn’t it in 2005 when you paced Deena Kastor through the Chicago Marathon? (Kastor would win the race in 2:21:25 as Verran, contracted by the marathon to pace her through 20 miles, finished somewhere to her left.)
CV: Yeah, exactly. It just shows you how easy it was back then.
RT: You were in the Chicago marathon this year and decided to pull the plug mid-race. What went into that decision? Had you ever even DNFed in a marathon before that?
CV: I had never DNFed a marathon. I’d actually made the decision at about 10 miles to stay in the race because I was a little concerned with the heat early on, and I’d made the decision at 10 miles that the heat wasn’t going to be that bad, and it wasn’t going to play a role in the race. And then just after the halfway, I suffered a pretty severe calf injury. I tore my calf on the right side, and basically it was not even a decision. I was basically forced out of the race at 14½ miles. So that race ended abruptly. I was right on pace; I hadn’t missed a split yet. I think I was 18 seconds fast, actually, at the halfway, and then a mile later I’m walking on the side of the road. It was my first DNF, and it was a non-decision because my calf basically blew up on me. So to come back two months later I had to do some really quick rehab and get my act together really quick. Luckily it came together for me.
RT: So what does it take to rehab a torn calf and turn around and run a trials qualifier?
CV: I took about five days completely off running, and then I actually had to run through a lot of calf pain and a lot of calf tightness and soreness. About two weeks after Chicago, I was concerned that I might have a blood clot in my right calf because the thing was so swollen and it was just throbbing all the time. The swelling was just amazing; it was out of control, so I checked into the emergency room to get a Doppler ultrasound to rule out a blood clot — and this is about six weeks before California International Marathon. Luckily the test was negative and it was just swelling from the calf tear. But I ran through a lot of pain and tightness.
One of the things that really started to work well for me was compression. I started wearing some compression calf sleeves, and that really helped me get the swelling down and helped me train through some of the injury, and then the body’s natural healing process got me back to go with about three weeks to go before California International. That’s when I made the decision to book the flight and to call the guys at CIM and get myself into the race.
RT: At CIM, you were one of eight men and 25 women who qualified for the trials. What kind of workouts were you hitting that gave you the confidence that you could hit it?
CV: I started running some of the marathon workouts that the Hansons group was doing — they’ve got a large group of guys, as you know, that are all qualified for the trials. And they’re doing some longer intervals: 3 x 3 miles at marathon pace, and long, hard 20-mile runs. I went out one day and did a 16-mile run on my own with 8 miles at 5:16 pace at the end. So I was just putting some runs together where I was doing a lot of distance at faster than my marathon pace. I was even able to run a couple of workouts with the top group of Hansons guys that were training at a 5:02-per-mile pace. So once I was able to do some marathon workouts at 5:02 pace, that 5:18 qualifying pace started to seem more reasonable.
RT: You’ve raced well at the trials in the past, with a fifth at the 2004 trials. Was there a point when you thought, “I don’t know what I’ve got left to prove. I don’t know why I’m trying to bust my ass for one more trials when I’ve already done much more than anyone ever expected of me”?
CV: That’s a great question. I think it comes down to I think I always want to challenge myself and do something that I perceive as significant. You know, coming back at age 36 after a couple surgeries, and I’m a dad and a business owner, and I’ve got limited amounts of time to train, just knowing that I was capable of doing it and that the challenge was there, I just couldn’t resist allowing myself the opportunity to do it one more time.
And actually, deep down, secretly, I’ve got this goal of qualifying for five trials, which would actually tie the American men’s record. There are a couple of men that have qualified for five trials. It sounds crazy, but on the other hand, these Olympics will be here relatively quick, and then the window for the next trials will open up in just a couple years. Qualifying for five could only be maybe two years away. So in order to qualify for five, I needed to get my act together for this fourth one, especially in the light of these injury and surgical issues I’ve had. I almost thought, “If I can just get qualified for this one, if I can stay healthy two years from now, it won’t be as hard as this one.”
RT: Hansons guys are notorious for high mileage, but you’ve done a bit of cross training on the bike in your marathon prep this time around. That’s got to be different for you.
CV: It’s a lot different, because cross-training was never on my radar screen. Because I was never injured, I ran a long period of time, probably about 18 or 19 years, without having any significant injuries. So cross-training was never even something I considered doing because I was just too tired from all the running I did. Once I started having hip surgery and knee surgery, I needed an outlet to get outside and get some exercise so I didn’t balloon up to 200 pounds.
RT: What are your expectations for the trials?
CV: You know, I’m kind of working on that right now. Obviously, I’d have to get struck by lightning twice in order to ... No, you know what would have to happen is there would need to be about 50 guys in the race all take a wrong turn, and me take the right turn [laughs]. I understand that because I was on that cusp at one point. I would say, sitting here right now, I think it would be amazing if I could come back, six weeks, and run faster than I did Saturday at Cal. I ran 2:18:56 there, so if I could somehow run faster than that, I think that would be satisfactory for me. But just going out, honestly, and getting the most out of myself, whatever that is, is what I’m looking for. If that’s 2:16, then it’s 2:16. If I run my face off and collapse at the finish line and run 2:24, then that’s what it’s going to be.
RT: Hansons guys have a heritage of being smart racers: knowing what moves to cover, and what moves don’t seem feasible for an athlete that’s going to come back. How do you see this trials evolving, especially after seeing the last three?
CV: Well, that’s a good question. It’s one of those questions when I’m not directly in it. It’s a little bit more of a guessing game for me. Obviously, you’ve got one guy who kind of stands out above the rest in Ryan Hall. You think that he could probably be 75 or 80 percent and still make the team. I kind of got that idea in that he ran Chicago. I want to say if he was concerned about making the team, he probably would choose not to run a race in October.
RT: If you had to pick a dark horse for January, who would you say?
CV: A couple thoughts come to mind. I was actually quite impressed at Ryan Bak’s run [Bak, who was a four-time All-American at Trinity College and a one-time member of the Oregon Track Club with a 13:38.52 5,000m PR, finished second] at Cal International. The guy’s debut marathon, he comes out and runs 2:14:17. But then again, that’s not the way to do it, to run a marathon before your trials [laughs].
You know, you got guys like my former teammate Nick Arciniaga. He popped off a 2:11 at Houston (2:11:30). He was pacing a guy (McMillan Elite teammate Brett Gotcher), and just kept on going? So who knows what he’s capable of. He’s a strong runner. I saw that Jason Lehmkuhle had a decent run at the half marathon in Las Vegas, and the same way with Jason Hartman there (63:37 and 63:34 for third and second, respectively). Like in most trials, there’s probably a list of about 10 guys that are competing for that third spot, and all it’s going to take is one of the three favorites to have an off day and one of those 10 guys can jump in. But it’s tough. It’s going to take someone running a PR and run a 2:10 to take that third spot.
RT: That’s the magic number in Houston, 2:10?
CV: Yeah, this year it is.