Meet Mark Manz, the winner of the 2012 Umstead Marathon Year of the Bat:Photo by ac.
Here’s the transcript of our interview for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
Hello! Are you ready to do this interview thing? Take as long as you want to reply.
Let me know any racing highlights you’d like me to introduce you with.
Let’s do this thing.
Question 1: How the hell did you get so fast?
Hey Josh! I’m definitely ready to rock and roll! Racing highlights huh? I guess the Umstead win is a pretty big highlight. I also won the Triple Lakes trail 40 miler last October out in Greensboro, and the Finger Lakes trail 25k upstate NY last July.
Question 1! Ha, fast is a relative term I guess. Back when I started getting serious about running, about 3ish years ago, I remember running 19:08 for 5k, that was the first time I’d broken 20 which had been my quest for about a year. The next spring I BQed with a 3:09 and I thought I was now pretty damn fast, real hot shit. It’s amusing looking back now, because as I’ve improved, I’ve gained a lot more perspective and I continue to feel LESS fast.
None of that really answered your question. I improved basically through just finally being consistent. Up until spring of last year I’d never gone more than two to three months without an extended break, and not always because of injury. Something finally clicked around May. It wasn’t anything complicated, I just committed to being consistent – running almost every day, running more in general, swallowing my pride and slowing way down on most days so my legs could handle the extra volume. I haven’t had a whole lot of experience running so just doing that I’ve managed to continually improve. And if that’s too long, I could really sum it up with four words: slow down, run more.
Oh, feel free to write as much as you want. I like to make my readers work a little.
This seems to be the trend – the faster you get, the less fast you feel. Life is so cruel. Anyway, do you think consistency made you more physically fit to hang on to a fast pace over a long distance, or did it change your brain to be more willing to make friends with the accompanying suffering?
A cruel joke indeed! But I appreciate the perspective. I look back at myself circa four or so years ago and just have to shake my head and laugh at how badass I thought I was.
The consistency in the training has definitely improved my fitness. And not surprisingly, I notice it more so on the longer runs; that I’m able to run longer at a given effort level and not slow down, or have it not tax me nearly as much as it used to. The mental aspect, the ability to accept the suffering and all that, has been there all along. I still have never felt worse at any point in any race than I did toward the end of many 6 minute wrestling matches in high school.
So I take it you deal with the suffering in a tough guy manner, unlike me. I’m more of a gasping whimperer.
I’d say that’s pretty accurate. I tend to talk to myself when things get difficult the way my coaches would talk to us during conditioning, which is to say, they’d challenge us to stop being such wimps and suck it up. I get a bit more negative with myself but it works for me. It’s funny because with other people I always go straight for the positive rah rah kind of encouragement, but I much prefer the “suck it up wimp” when directed at me.
How about food? Runners seem to cover the diet spectrum, from Breatharian to only eating what they kill with their bare, bloody hands. Do you follow a diet plan?
I don’t spend a ton of time worrying much about food. I like food just about as much as I like running. Fortunately my parents made me develop some pretty beneficial habits — like fostering my love of raw vegetables. My only strict diet thing is that I eat a PB&J on whole wheat for lunch. Every day. Aside from that I do a half-assed job of eating reasonably healthy — lots of fruits, cereal w/blueberries for breakfast most days, occasionally oatmeal if I have time. I try to cook my own dinners and I have a few things I’ve gotten good at making (by my standards, which are low). Most things I make myself have excessive amounts of garlic and onion and peppers in them. On the flip side, I drink a considerable amount of craft beer, I love chocolate chip cookies, oreos, and Ben n Jerrys. I get any of those when they’re on sale. It’s not perfect but it works for me and I’m not miserable all the time.
So no magical potions then. I’m starting to get the impression that there are no shortcuts on the road to speediness.
How about crosstraining? Anything fancy in that department?
Yeah I guess not, unfortunately.
Cross-training? I actually HATE exercise. If it weren’t for running, I would probably be an overweight slob. It’s a nice byproduct of training that it keeps me in pretty decent shape. I don’t have a ton of time each week for cross-training but I have committed myself to going to the gym once a week to do some squats and other random legs workouts (the other workouts change, but the squats are consistent week to week). If I DO get extra non-running time at the gym, I tend to spend it either in the pool (mostly just splashing around, not necessarily swimming) or on the arc trainer. That’s also what I do, just more so, if I’m dealing with an injury that prevents me from running.
Do you have a favorite race distance?
I haven’t repeated a whole lot of distances. Honestly, I really enjoy running the mile on the track. I’m not fast by any stretch (still in search of my first sub-5, hopefully this year!) but there’s something to be said for just suffering as much as you can and being done in 4 laps. I think I’d have to say the 10 mile to half marathonish distance, I’ve had the most fun and felt the best while running decently at those distances. It’s still early but I think I’m really gonna like these timed races though!
Almost done: So, there’s this crazy “barefoot” cult out there getting some notice. I hear they have ritual sacrifices in elaborate ceremonies with robes and things. What’s your take on all this?
A few years ago I read Born to Run and, as is fairly typical for me, I decided to plunge headfirst into the whole barefoot thing without thinking. I can’t wear five fingers because my toes are webbed and they don’t fit, so I would just run a lot barefoot at the local track or at the beach. And about a month into this experiment I badly strained my achilles. It was not pretty.
Now I think I’m more even-keel about most things when it comes to running. I tend to be a mid-to-forefoot striker regardless of the shoe and just always have been. I know I have normal pronation and I’m fairly durable (as long as I don’t do anything stupid). So my attitude is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fuck with it.” I like to walk around and spend a lot of my time barefoot. I definitely think it’s something that can be very beneficial, and I still do some barefoot running and drills. But I don’t think it will ever get further than that for me.
I think it’s absolutely insane the people who get so heated and upset, on either side of the debate. One thing I abhor in any area of life are people who are condescending AND close-minded. I think both sides of the barefoot/minimalist viewpoint have merits but as soon as someone sounds like they’re proselytizing, I tune out.
I’m not much of a proselytizer. Bragging is more my thing:
That is totally something worth bragging about. I ran 5:04 on the track last July. It hurt so bad. SO BAD.
Lastly, what do you do when you’re not running/getting ready to run/recovering from a run?
When I’m not running, let’s see… well mostly I’m working. I work for an awesome organization called Playworks. Briefly, we partner with school districts to put a coach (for example: me) into an elementary school, or in my case a K-8, where I work to promote health and cooperation and lots of that sorta good stuff through play. It’s an awesome job for someone like me who has a lot of energy and is passionate about issues like childhood obesity. Plus I’m kind of a kid myself. In non-work time, I try to play along with Jeopardy every night, I do crosswords, I hike, I love museums, enjoy craft beers (they could probably charge me rent at Fullsteam in Durham) and try to sleep more.
Excellent! I think we have ourselves an interview. Thank you so much for your time. I hope your training for Umstead 100 has gone well, and I’ll see you there!
Cool beans. Thanks man, can’t believe it’s in nine days! See ya there!
With that we conclude Interview with a Fastie #3. Thank you, Mark, for being such a good sport. I think what you’re doing with Playworks is awesome, and wish you luck in all of your future endeavors.