Interview with Amy Rudolph
by Scott Douglas

Amy Rudolph runs the 5,000 at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials.
(All photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)
Rudolph runs at the 2004 USA Indoor Track & Field Championships
Rudolph runs at the Mayor's Cup cross country race in Boston's Franklin Park.

After finishing third in the 1,500m at this summer's Olympic Trials, Amy Rudolph joined the two women who beat her there, Carrie Tollefson and Jen Toomey, on a whirlwind tour of European meets in search of an Olympic standard in the event. Although Tollefson needed only to run the "B" standard of 4:07.15 to run in Athens, Rudolph needed the "A" standard of 4:05.80 to make her third Olympic team. (She ran the 5,000m in the '96 and '00 Games.) The closest she got was a 4:07.63 at the Weltklasse meet in Zurich on August 6, and Tollefson went to Athens as the sole American woman at 1,500m.

Ironically, Rudolph had the Olympic "A" standard in the 5,000m, as she had run 15:00.03 earlier this year, but she finished fourth in that event at the Trials. Nonetheless, her performance at the longer distance was her best since 1996, when she set a then-American record of 14:56.04.

In addition to being a two-time Olympian, Rudolph has won five national titles: two at 3,000m indoors (1997 and 2002), two in short-course cross country (1998 and 1999), and once at 8K on the roads (1998).

The 31-year-old lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and this fall was named the assistant cross country coach at Bryant University, in Smithfield, Rhode Island. Let's start with the recent past and your chasing the Olympic standard. After the Trials, did you change your training since you were suddenly only a miler?
Amy Rudolph:
Initially I left Sacramento thinking I wouldn't be chasing the time. I came home for two days and just figured it wasn't meant to be — initially Marla [Runyan] was left in the pool. I thought, 'That's that,' and was going to just go over and race in Europe, a couple of 1,500s, a 3[000], and a 5[000]. I was actually on my way to Boston to the airport to go to Europe when I got the call saying that I was in the pool and could chase the time.

I got over to Europe and starting racing right away. It was a bit crazy, scrambling to get to races. There was one time when there was a week between races, so I got in a workout then, but there was no time otherwise to do anything significant. Just race or jog.

FW: So you had these races planned, and then had to suddenly switch them to all 1,500s. How hard is it for an American at your level to get into the races you wanted to run?
I'm fortunate. I have a great agent, Ray Flynn, he's been doing this for a long time. I was able to get into all the races I wanted. Being in the top three at the US Olympic Trials helps, but it's an Olympic year, so a lot of people already had their races planned. Zurich was the hardest one to get in.

FW: What did you do that whole time to keep yourself up, to keep from brooding about time running out?
I think when it was all over, when I knew it wasn't going to happen, that was the hardest part. When you're in it, your natural competitive instincts take over. Of course, it's natural at times before the races to think, 'Can I do this?' But it really wasn't until after I was done that I thought, 'Wow, how did I do that?'

FW: So that was after Zurich?
Yeah. There was one more chance after that, at a low-key meet. But if you can't do it at Zurich, it's probably not going to happen at a little meet a little later. I think I realized that then. And Suzy [Favor Hamilton] knew she wasn't ready to go. Carrie [Tollefson] was excited, obviously, but she wanted someone to be in Athens with her, especially someone who'd been through it before. Jen [Toomey] wanted to try again — she felt she was getting a bit closer every time. She was sort of the quiet motivator of our little group-she really, really wanted it. Not that I didn't, but I knew after Zurich it wasn't going to happen, and I was at peace with that.

FW: Obviously getting to the Olympics again trumps everything else, but have you at all thought, 'If I hadn't done that and done my original races, I was ready to run 14:50 for 5K'?
Oh yeah, definitely. But it's so easy to say that. I think I was supposed to go and try to get the time. I believe everything happens for a reason. But sure, I did think, 'Oh gosh, it would have been great to be in a great 5[K].' Or the 3[K] in Zurich would have been ideal for me. But you can't live like that.

FW: What have you been doing since Zurich?
I took a break after trying to get the time. First I was in Austria with Mark [Carroll], where he was getting ready for the Olympics. Then I came home and didn't run that week either, the week of the Olympics. I was going to race this fall. I felt good mentally. I started back in after a couple of weeks, and I was not feeling great. It turns out my iron was low. I had an iron injection yesterday. I want to be able to get my iron levels back up before I start really training again.

FW: Was it your ferritin level that was low?
Yeah, it's at 14. For my body, that's really low.

FW: What is it usually?
More like 53. So for now I'm just doing two easy runs a day. No workouts. Obviously it was a factor this summer; it certainly didn't help, being anemic. At least now I know what's going on, instead of thinking, 'Am I imagining this, or am I really tired?'

FW: So what do you do to get back to normal?
A couple rounds of iron injection, and taking an oral iron supplement. Not a lot of intensity in my running, just mileage but not with intensity, so I'm not stressing my body.

FW: Have you had this before?
Yes. I've taken liquid iron before for the same thing. The thing is, I hate taking things, any medicine, and I wanted to get off it. I guess I know I should have kept it up. But this spring I wasn't feeling run down, and I would think, 'I can't be running 15:00 and be anemic.'

FW: How long does it take to get back to normal?
I think I should feel the effects from the injection yesterday in 10 days. Then I have another round, so three weeks maybe. I had planned on doing [the] Tufts [Health Plan 10K], the [Senior Bowl Charity] 10K in Alabama, things like that this fall. Now I'm going to focus on [the] Manchester [Road Race], make that my focus for the fall. This won't affect my plans for indoors and outdoors next year.

FW: Which are what?
A pretty full indoor season. And then obviously outdoors is big, with [the World Championships]. This past year was the best I've run in a while, and I want to carry that momentum into next year.

FW: I was going to ask about that. You ran 14:56 in '96, and didn't really get near that again until this year. Why do you think that is?
I think there's a lot of factors. I went through a period where I probably wasn't doing what was best for me. I thought, 'If I do this much more than what I did before, I'll run 14:45.' I changed coaches, and was doing different training that wasn't really working for me. It took me a while to realize that. I would have great performances here and there, but I could never seem to put together a really good season of consecutive performances. I was anemic. I would get upper respiratory infections. It's been almost two years now since I went back to my coach from college and the training that worked for me in the past.

Another factor is that I've been doing this for so long. I don't want to say that I ever took it for granted, but it can be easy to lose sight of what's important, of why you're doing it in the first place. There were times when this just wasn't fun. I was 'Amy Rudolph the runner,' like it was something I had to do. I was able to step back and realize I do this because I love it.

FW: What is your mileage like now compared to with your previous coach?
Now, I average maybe 70 to 75 a week. Then, it was more like 85 to 90. That doesn't sound like that much of a difference, but for me, I could feel it. I felt like I lost my speed. Actually, in 2000, I PRed in the 15[00] and 3[000], and I think I would have been close to my PR in the 5[K] in Sydney, but I was sick. So like I said, some solid performances, but nothing really consecutive. And I kept breaking down a lot.

I have to keep in touch with the track all year long. Before, it was more mileage, less intensity, often just getting out there and slogging around. The workouts were a little longer, a little slower. For me, less has always been better. I mean, it's not like those years were a waste — I got stronger. But I was not able to be the athlete I wanted to be.

FW: You said how you've been doing this for a long time. It's not like you're old or anything, but you're also not 22. Do you do things now you didn't use to do?
Definitely. I keep up with my stretching and core work. I'm trying to keep my strength. I'm in the gym this fall doing leg work. Mark said, 'Watching you run, at this point, you need to get your legs stronger.' It's things that when you're younger you don't really think you have to worry about.

Another thing for me now is that I take a day off every two weeks. That's been great for recovery and keeping me fresh.

FW: Is it a planned day off or more intuitive?
I see where it fits in the schedule. We get our training in two-week blocks. So if there's a day in there that's something like an easy five or six miles, that's the sort of day I would take off.

FW: Do you do anything on those days?
Nope, nothing. It's two days a month off. In the whole scheme of things, that's not much.

FW: Mark does this too, right?
His is a little different. He takes off more like three days a month. He'll do a block of training, then take a day off. And then when he starts the next block, he doesn't run until the evening of the first day, so it's almost like he's had 48 hours off. For him, the issue has been injuries, so this is a way to keep his body from getting stressed, especially now that he's doing marathons.

FW: Do you know of any others at your guys' level who do this?
No. I don't know that many people do. It's hard for runners to do. If we were having this conversation five years ago, I wouldn't have been doing this.

FW: This provides a nice segue into you starting to coach. How is that going?
I've only been there a couple of weeks, but I've learned a lot so far. Bryant is a Division II school. The kids come to practice after putting 110 percent into their studies, and then they come and put 110 percent into their running. Not that people don't do that at Division I schools, but here none of the kids are getting financial assistance to run. I'm there to help where I can. They've already had some questions.

FW: Like what?
Normal questions like other runners might ask you. What do you eat? How do you get through your races mentally? How do you not get nervous before races? They're real enthusiastic. It's been convenient for me since I'm not training at a full level right now. And it's something I'm interested in getting into when my running is over.

FW: How did it come about?
I'm friends with the head coach, Amy Laughlin. We met through a mutual friend via our dogs at a dog park.

FW: What is your role?
I've been training with the guys, helping them to train more efficiently. I help time workouts. Amy was doing a lot on her own. She said, 'It would be good to have you there because they might listen to you.'

FW: Are they intimidated by a two-time Olympian?
A lot of them didn't know who I was until the university posted that I got the job and said what my background was. So they didn't know until they read that notice that was [posted on] Fast-Women. I think that's awesome, that they're not running geeks.

FW: Compared to 10 years ago, would you say it's easier or harder for someone coming out of college at the level you were at to have a go at being a full-time runner?
This is a sticky question. There've been a lot of changes as far as endorsements go since I left school. Kids are leaving school now because they can't turn down the money that's being offered. That's good, in that it can be kind of hard to get out of school and run fast and then be rewarded. That's how it was when I was in school. The way it happens now for some people affords people the opportunity to at least try. In my case, it happened that I didn't have to look for a real job right away. I was fortunate that I came out of school and ran quick soon afterward, and was rewarded for it.

As far as the world level, women's running has grown by leaps and bounds. But that doesn't have to be overwhelming. We have a lot of resources as Americans, and if you surround yourself with knowledgeable people...well, anything's possible. Deena [Kastor] proved that in Athens.

FW: What about for someone getting out of school and not at the top, top level, but like, say, 16:00 for 5K?
There's more money going into the sport these days. The Running USA groups are the sort of thing that weren't around when I got out of school. Things are heading in the right direction, although, of course, the sport could use more money. But for someone like you mentioned, she could maybe find a situation where she didn't have to get a full-time job, and take the next two years and go for it and see what happens.

FW: If there's more money, is this one of those deals where the rich get richer?
A lot of the money goes to the big names. That's true. The standards have changed. The shoe companies want people to perform, and if you're not running really fast in college, it can be tough. But the groups are a way for people to get some help. And there are a lot of races that have American-only money. Someone like Janelle Kraus — she's in my training group — she ran the Twin Cities Marathon and ran well there and won some money for that. That gives her hope, which you need if you want to stay in this sport.

(Interview conducted October 7, 2004, and posted November 2, 2004.)

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