Interview with a Fastie: Mark “The Man” Manz

Meet Mark Manz, the winner of the 2012 Umstead Marathon Year of the Bat:

He'd be less blurry if he'd slow down a scosche.

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.

Here’s my first interview, and here’s my second. Just letting you know what you’re in for.

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:

I'm not overstriding. I'm flinging the timing chip over the finish mat.

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.

Womanalism: I’m a dude

Today Emily Snayd from Merrell will be hosting a chat about women and the More You Less Shoe movement/cult. The chat will be on facebook from 1pm to 2pm and 7pm to 8pm EST.

Socially, I’m very near-sighted. To abuse an old cliche, I see trees, not the forest. Truth be told, I think the forest is a myth used by powermongers to influence people to act against their own self interest and basic core principals, but that’s another post that will probably never leave the draft box. Anyway, an example of my social near-sightedness is Panera, the cafe/restaurant. Let me explain (is anyone trying to stop me?):

I eat lunch at Panera three to four ok sometimes five times a week. It’s a little pricey, but a tasty means of delivering fresh vegetables to my digestive system. When I walk in, everybody knows me and I know them. I’m familiar enough that I can be my usual weird self without freaking them out too much, and we’re all very friendly and what not. Now to me, “Panera,” (the forest) doesn’t exist. That’s just some made up structure within which those individual sandwich makers, soup ladle-ers, and salad put-together-ers (the trees) work. It’s the company and efforts of those individuals I enjoy, not the “company.”

So when I say “I like what Merrell is contributing to the running culture,” what I really mean is I like how Emily Snayd and the gang are encouraging discussion on how to better appreciate and get the most out of the running experience. They are endeavoring to make healthy running accessible to a wider audience.

Next week Iris will be the host of the chat. She will ask the question, “Where are the heel-cushion-free women at?” and discuss her experience running a half marathon a month for a year (the halfathon!) in minimalist shoes.

Me? I’m just an observer here. I find there’s no surer way to lodge one’s foot in one’s mouth than for a dude to bloviate unedited on the topic of women-anything. Slipping up just once can land a guy on dishes duty for life. Speaking of which, I’ve gotta go clean the kitchen.

Check out the chat today at 1pm and 7pm EST.

Meet David Duggan, latest victim of the AAFI (Ask A Fastie Interview)


There are no photos of us running together because he's too fast.

I had seen Duggan around at races before, but I never really met him until the Fire on the Track 5k. So basically his first impression of me was the barefoot guy who ran a mile on the track in cargo shorts after consuming a Polish sausage, greasy fries, and a beer for lunch.

Anyway, he’s a fast guy. Duggan finished 3rd in the recent Free To Breathe 5k with a time of 17:25 (I dilly-dallied across the finish line over a minute later). He’s got a 2:32 marathon PR. He’s also a running coach to a diverse group of runners from beginners to, well, other runners who I hope to sucker will partake in an AAFI.

I don’t know anything about his coaching methods other than this: If I’m running a race with one of his clients, there’s a good chance he’ll be pacing them. Doesn’t matter if it’s a runner hoping to get a 4.5-hour marathon or a 3-hour marathon (weeks apart!).  If he’s not pacing them, he’s cheering them on from the sidelines. He’s always there for his runners. That gets my stomp of approval.

On with the interrogation!

What factors do you consider to be the key components to your speed? Or to put it another way, how the hell did you get so fast?

Speed, Josh, what speed are you talking about? I don’t have speed, and I’m not that fast either. I consider myself average. I know if I worked harder I could be running better and faster. To answer your question, it’s been through a lot of hard work and a lot of miles.

It never stops being relative, does it? No matter how fast you get, you never feel fast. And yet we train on and on… Speaking of training, are there any differences in the way you train yourself and the way you coach others? I’ve always wondered how running coaches who run managed that balancing act.

Josh, when I coach others, everything I do with them is individualized. My belief is there is not a magic plan that works for everyone. What works for one may not work for ten others. I also coach people on different levels, and to ask them to do what I do would be crazy. As a coach, you listen to your athletes and work with them, not the other way around as it is with most college coaches.

How do you train? Do you have specific goals in mind, or do you take it day by day, race by race?

My training has changed over the years. As I get older it takes longer to recover, so I’m no longer able to do three hard workouts in a week and a long run on the weekend. As an athlete you should always have specific goals in mind, both short and long term.

For me, when I am training for a marathon, the plan starts about 6 months out. You build a base, then when you get to the mileage you want to do, you stay at it for 6 weeks, then you start to add workouts. Training is not about just logging miles. There needs to be a reason for what you are doing on a given day.

So how do I train “hard and smart”? In my base period I will put in up to 100 miles a week with no junk miles. My week is set up easy, short and fast, easy, tempo/progression, easy, easy, and long. The most important runs in the week are the easy runs. Anyone can run fast, but you’ve got to be smart to run slow on your recovery days. My recovery days, the pace can be anywhere between 7:30 and 10 minutes per mile.

Well that sounds entirely reasonabuhundred miles a week? Nice. The first thing that came to my mind when I read that was wow, that’s a lot of food. What do you eat? Any food you consider vital for a runner?

I like a liquid diet…

When it comes to food, again, it’s just like training – you’ve got to be smart about what you eat. I like to look at it this way: “Your body is just like a car, and if you don’t put the right fuel in, you are not going to go too far.” Just because you run 100 miles in a week, it’s not a green light to eat anything you want. I eat healthy for the most part and allow myself some junk food now and then. As to what I eat (when I can get in the kitchen, as my wife loves to cook), I like to grill steak, chicken, and of course being from Ireland, potatoes are always on the menu if I can help it, or rice. So breakfast is a bowl of cereal (frosted flakes or shredded wheat), three scrambled eggs on toast (wheat bread), a glass of orange juice, and a mug of hot tea. Lunch is either leftovers from dinner the night before or just a sandwich, either ham, chicken, or turkey or a trip to McDonald’s for a Big Mac.

There is nothing more satisfying than a Big Mac when one is needed. Next question: What are you training for, a specific race or a target pace?

My next pacing job is Kiawah Marathon, which I will be running with Molly. The goal is sub-2:46.

Not fast, you say? Sheesh. In the first half mile of the Free to Breathe 5k, I managed to stay on your heels for a few foolish moments. Was it strange to hear my pathetic, desperate gasping for air but no footsteps?

Well, to be honest, I had no idea who was behind me.

That would be just about everybody.

One of my tens of readers would like to know what’s your opinion on the Galloway method?

When you say Galloway method, I take it you are talking about the run-walk method. For anyone starting out, it’s great, but as you get into your training, the walking should be reduced until you don’t need to walk. Now, if you are just out there to lose weight, then do what works best for you.

Last question: What do you make of all this barefoot running nonsense?

To be honest, I have run a few cross country races barefoot and loved it, but you will not get me running on the road barefoot. I don’t see anything wrong with it, but remember you can’t go from wearing cushion shoes to running barefoot overnight.

I certainly agree. Alright, pitch your coaching services.

Whether you want to run a 5km or marathon or anything in between, I will have you ready to run a PR.
$150 for a 16-week training plan for the marathon
$120 for a 12-week training plan for a ½ marathon
$100 for a 10-week training plan for a 5 or 10 km
$100 a month for personal coaching

Contact David Duggan through 4Runners Only in Winston-Salem to sign up. Keep track of his racing and coaching accomplishments on his blog, dugganelites.

Thanks again, Duggan. You owe me a Big Mac.

That’s all for this edition of AAFI! Tune in next time, when my guest will be… uh, don’t know yet. Whoever isn’t too weirded out by the prospect of me asking them a bunch of questions, I guess.