A Brief Chat With Desiree Davila
Provided by RunnersWorld
By Peter Gambaccini
Desiree Davila was a very close runner-up at April's Boston Marathon in 2:22:38, which is far and away the fastest qualifying time for the U.S. Women's Olympic Marathon Trials on January 14 in Houston. Davila's previous personal best was a 2:26:20 for fourth place at the 2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Davila won the Naples Half Marathon in Florida in January in a personal best 1:10:22. In June, she was fourth in the 10,000 at the USATF Championships in 31:37.14. That was a personal best, as was the 15:08.64 she ran for fourth place in a 5000-meter race in London in August.
Davila was 11th in the marathon at the 2009 World Championships in 2:27:53. She was 13th in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in 2:37:50 after being in fourth for a stretch and threatening to move into the top three. In 2010, on the track, she was tenth in the 3000 at the World Indoor Championships after setting a personal best of 8:51.08 in the semifinal. The 5'2" Davila attended Arizona State University and was tenth in the 5000 at the 2003 NCAA Championships. Davila spoke to reporters by teleconference on Wednesday.
Davila opened by saying, "Training's going really well. We are into high mileage and marathon-specific work, which is where I'm most comfortable. I spent a little bit of time on the track and then at the half-marathon distance after Boston. It was really tough for me, so it's nice to get back to the strength stuff."
Based on the way you've run in the past, might we be looking at a pack of seven or eight women for half the Olympic Trials race and sort of wonder where you are--and then, lo and behold, you appear at 15 miles or so? Do you anticipate that's the way things are going to be or would you be more wary of a lead group getting ahead this time?
Desiree Davila: The reasons it sort of seemed that way is just the fields that I've been entered in. There are some really quality front-runners who can go and take it out at 2:20 pace, where I don't think in the past I've been ready for that. I think the field at the Trials will be much more evenly matched up in the front and I won't have a problem sitting in there. I also don't have a problem leading if the pace is not honest or I feel uncomfortably slow and it invites people who don't necessarily belong in there. There are a lot of different things I feel like I can do in the race. It'll just depend on the pace and how I'm feeling.
Even the best runners have valleys along with the peaks in a career. You seem to very rarely have anything we would consider a bad race and to have been on a forward progression for several years now. Can you give us some clues as to why that is? Are you mastering the art of not quite going over the red line, and maintaining an even keel emotionally?
DD: Well, hopefully, you're not jinxing me. I do have bad days. I guess they're just not as bad as some others (have). And my big days aren't necessarily out of this world either. They're all pretty even, so maybe you just don't notice them (the bad ones) as much, but they're definitely there. I underperformed at that last half-marathon I did. I didn't show where my fitness was. That was a little disappointing. But there have been no real stinkers, I guess. Knowing where my training is and where exactly it puts me, we have a good idea going into races of what I can accomplish.
What was that half-marathon?
DD: I ran in Lisbon, Portugal. I ran 1:11:27. It was warm. It was a little off.
The Trials are at a different point in the schedule than they were four years ago. What are the pros and cons of that? And if you make the team, would you run another marathon between January and the Olympics?
DD: We're actually a little earlier this time than the last cycle, with that race being in Boston (in 2008). Which is nice; it'll give you a little bit more recovery time if you make the Games. But if I make the team, there won't be a spring marathon.
Can you talk about where you are in your career now as opposed to four years ago, and has your approach to the Trials this time around changed from four years ago?
DD: I'd say from four years ago I'm across the board a completely different athlete. I just progressed in pretty much every distance, which is nice going in. I think the biggest thing going in (to the Trials) this time around is experience, just having done several marathons, been in high-pressure races and (having) been able to perform well in those. Heading in, I have a lot of confidence from that and actually from the last four years.
The women's Trials is probably going to be the best one held in the United States. Kara Goucher said last week that eight women could run 2:26. What does it feel like to be running in such a competitive Trials race, where by no means is it a certainty that anybody's going to make the team?
DD: It's exciting. I think about four years ago and it was like, "This is my second marathon, and if I have that really good day, I can run 2:32 and I could sneak on the team." And it's just completely different this time around. That's the kind of team you want to be a part of. If you can make it in Houston, you're going to be on one of the best Olympic teams ever. It's great for the sport and it's really exciting for women distance runners.
Where are you in Florida right now, and what kind of work are you doing?
DD: We're out in Davenport. It's right outside of Orlando. We do a lot of our winter stuff down here. We just basically came down to get some good weather. We do marathon-specific stuff. We'll get on the track to have one more workout, a (repeat) miles session, but even that is not too aggressive, maybe 20 seconds (per mile) faster than marathon pace but just enough to get the legs turning over.
What did you learn from the Trials experience last time? You got into the hunt at one point (moving into fourth) and you were coming on and it didn't hold together. What did you learn from that and from observing the people who did make the team?
DD: When I think about all my marathons, that was definitely the biggest learning experience. It was my second one and I was being aggressive and trying to do something I maybe wasn't yet ready for, and I just made rookie mistakes like not taking fluids and maybe pressing a little too hard when I didn't need to. I just panicked when I found myself in the hunt. That took me by surprise. Just having that, and then learning from that over the last four years, I think every time out I've gotten a little bit better at the little things that caused me to blow up at the ('08) Trials--all of that, hopefully it will come together this time around.
There are various ways people have been able to qualify for these Trials, sometimes without running a full marathon. For the women, maybe foremost on that list would be Janet Cherobon-Bawcom. Do you have any reason to believe she'll be a particularly strong marathoner? Have you been in any of her shorter races--a 20k, or a ten-miler?
DD: I haven't been in any of the races but I certainly watched them. She's just patient and is in control at the end, which bodes well for the marathon. It's interesting; she's dominated a lot of the U.S. field but I don't think she's PRed in the half this year. It'll be interesting to see how it converts to the marathon because the shorter distances don't always convert the way you think they would. But she's obviously got the potential, so it'll be interesting to see how it plays out.
You seem to focus on training rather than racing every couple of weeks. Are there any negatives to that, as well as what positives there are?
DD: It's just kind of what our group has always done. I'm certainly in no position to question. It seems like we've a pretty good system here. It works for a lot of people. But there are definitely times where you want to race and see where you're at and you get kind of antsy and you push it too hard in workouts and things like that. So that's kind of bad, I guess. You can watch other people race and you get all excited, and then you go out and have to do a workout at a specific pace. It's kind of hard. At the end of the day, though, I feel like if you can get that heard effort in on your own without having to fly all over and suit up, it gives you a lot of confidence. It really does.
Could you give us two or three of people in the (Trials) race you expect to be closest to you?
DD: Sure, I would say Shalane (Flanagan), Kara (Goucher), Deena (Kastor), Madga (Lewy Boulet), off the top of my head.
Any longshots you think might come through on the day?
DD: I'd say one name that hasn't really come up a lot that has a great shot is Serena Burla. The girl is tough as can be and she has run some really quality times.
Magdalena Lewy Boulet set some track PRs this year, which is something you did in 2010 and 2011. And of course Amy Hastings has always been a good track person and went back and made the World Championships final in the 5000 after taking second in the LA Marathon. Can you talk about the importance of getting those track times down as sort of building block for the marathon?
DD: When you look at what you have to split through (at various points of the marathon) and where the marathon is going on the women's side, you have to be able to run fast on the track. You can't expect to go through running 17-flats or under (for 5k sections of the marathon) if you can't run 16:30 in an open 5k. You have to get those times .... For me, it just makes sense. Other people can get that speed without competing on the track, and that works well, too.
What kind of time do you think it will take to win the Trials and what time will it take to make the team (the top three)?
DD: I'd say you're probably looking at around 2:24 for the win, maybe quicker than that. And I think around 2:28 could land you on the team.