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Teleconference with Christine Clark and Colleen De Reuck

Christine Clark (left) and Kim Pawelek run side by side in the 2000 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. Both will particpate in the 2001 New York City Marathon.
Photo: Victah@Photo Run

Following a July 17 announcement that Christine Clark, Colleen De Reuck, Kim Pawelek and Susannah Beck would particpate in the 2001 New York City Marathon, Clark and De Reuck spoke to reporters via telephone.

New York City Marathon Race Director Allan Steinfeld:
We're excited about hosting the men's and women's National Championships, it's the first time that anyone has ever [hosted both Championships in the same year]. We felt it was an opportunity to give the American athletes a chance to run against the best -- some of them have individually, but not as a group -- and more importantly, to showcase and focus on who our American athletes are and what they can do. Obviously with our national and international broadcast, we can do that.

Christine Clark's opening remarks:
I'm really excited about New York City hosting the National Championships. From what I've seen so far, the organizational structure is excellent and you're generating a lot of excitement and it's been interesting for me to watch Runner's World Online and see the athletes commit one by one. It's really hard to get the American women athletes all in one spot at one time and it really take something like this -- with a great promotional campaign, money and organization -- to round everyone up and have them come out. I think it's going to be a wonderful event. Even if it weren't the National Championships, I think the opportunity, just to run New York City is terriffic because I think it's one of the big marathons in the world. I think it's going to be a lot of fun...
It's exciting from the standpoint of just running through all the five boroughs of New York City and seeing all the different ethnic areas and having all those people come out and cheer for you.

Colleen De Reuck on running the race, as a U.S. citizen this time:
I'm very excited to come and run, especially since it's going to be my first big race as an American... New York's a great race, I really enjoy it and I'm very excited.

Christine, have you ever been to New York City before and/or raced there?
Clark: I've never raced there. I've only been there once. My husband and I were energized to go there when they had the Shackelton Exhibit (in 1999) at the Museum of Natural History, that was actually the whole reason we went, because we're such big fans of that whole expedition. I got to run in Central Park but I've never raced there... It was sweltering hot, it was just unbearable.

Christine, you're planning on doing both [the World Championship Marathon] and New York, right?
Clark: I actually dropped out of Edmonton just this weekend. I really had my heart set on it and I planned on doing it, I was training for it, but I've been struggling with a sore achilles since May. I went out [eight days ago] and did a 20-mile run, it went okay but the next two days my achilles got progressively sorer to where I had to walk home from a run and I said, Okay, this isn't going to happen. My training was already kind of marginal. It would have been one thing if I'd been in terrific condition and said Okay, I can cross train for a week, but I didn't feel [with the race being just three weeks away] that I had the cushion to do that. Frankly, I was worried about even being able to finish the race and I wasn't going to go there and not finish. I felt like it was really in the best interest of the team just to let someone else take my spot at this point, and I hope there's someone out there in condition to do that, I am a late withdrawal.

Hadn't you originally planned to do Boston this spring as well, Christine?
Clark: We had talked about it and we were kind of training for it but then we got stuck with this winter that was just hellacious. You could not get outside at all this winter until probably the end of February, and I simply was not going to do six days a week on the treadmill. I didn't even do that for the (Olympic) Trials. I ran two or three days a week on the treadmill and I saved it for my speed workouts, I didn't do long runs, just my maintenance training. That wasn't something I was going to do.

Colleen, when you ran here in 1997, it really seemed in the late stages of the race like you might be able to win. What are your memories of that, is it something that makes you resolve to come back here and get a win?
De Reuck: Yeah, it is unfinished business. You want to come back and try and reconcile your mistake that you made.

Do you actually think you made a mistake and that it was there for you to win?
De Reuck: Yeah, I think so. There was a problem at the [aid] table -- a guy that worked at the table took Tegla's bottle off the table and my bottle, and he gave Tegla her bottle and he ran away with my bottle. Just after that I sort of lost focus and [Tegla] pulled away... In that short period of time, she got a lead and I just couldn't close it.

Colleen, you're just coming back from an injury, could you describe the injury and where your fitness level is now?
De Reuck: Going into the Olympics, I hurt my plantar fascia and I shouldn't have run, but I did, and I should have dropped out, but I didn't. I started training again and my plantar was okay but for such a long time I was running on the outside of my foot, compensating... I didn't realize it and that's how I got my stress fracture. I've been out since February... I've been working out, running in the pool... I've started doing pilates and I've been lifting weights. But that's all I've been doing. I've just been running for six weeks -- four weeks running every other day and two weeks of running two days on, one day off. I've just been extra cautious in coming back because I've got a lot of time before New York, and that's my final aim, although I'm doing some races building up to New York...

At the moment, I'm not very fit. Someone told me they saw my 5k [result from] the Fourth of July, like 17:54, on the internet (laughs). It was a little road race, maybe 100 people ran, I just ran it in training shoes and I wasn't allowed to go up on my toes... But each week it's great that I'm feeling a lot fitter. I'm doing some workouts but I haven't run every day of a week yet. But I'm doing some workouts and I can just feel so much fitter. I'm just enjoying running, I appreciate going out on the trails and not being back in the gym, in the pool and trying to find a lane, so I'm having a good time now.

Could you comment on your recent change of citizenship, Colleen? (From South African to the U.S.)
De Reuck: It's not an easy decision to make... We've decided to live here now, I'm bringing up my child here... Darren was going to take citizenship and he did it well before I did. And I though, well, I'll take it when I've finished running. But then I got into a situation where I was in No Man's Land -- I really didn't belong in South Africa and I wasn't part of America... I'd been out of the country so long that I didn't even know the athletes, like at the Olympic Games I knew two people on the whole track and field team... I was just stuck in the middle of nowhere. And I'd [had] so many problems with the South African federation that I just thought [I'd do it].

Christine, assuming your achilles problem is gone in the next several weeks, could you tell us what your training will be like for New York, and how much you'll do on the treadmill?
Clark: I try to stay completely off the treadmill after April and I don't get back on it until it gets dark and we get snow, which is about the middle of October [or the] end of October. So I'm sure for New York City in October I'll be doing some treadmill training because of the lack of light. What I like to do now is, we have a wonderful trail system here through the woods which is rolling hills and dirt paths and I try to stick to that. For Edmonton, I was doing about 70 miles a week. Now for Sydney, I got it up to 80, but that was a stretch for me with my job and family and all that, so 70 is probably pretty doable. I try to do one quality speed workout a week, I don't go to the track, I try to do it on the trails here in town. When it gets cold then I'll do it on my treadmill. The treadmill really does preserve my legs in terms of the pounding you take with quality workouts. From that standpoint, not only is [the treadmill training] because of the dark issues and the cold issues, it also does give [me] a little bit of relief in terms of strain on my legs.

When do you do your training, Christine, what's your work schedule like that you can get in 70 miles a week?
Clark: On the days I work, I run before work. So this morning, I got up at 6:00 and went out on the trails and ran. When it's cold and dark, I'll be on the treadmill at 6:00 a.m. I work either two days or three days a week and they're 9- to 10-hour days. And then on my days off (from work), I run after I take my kids to school, whenever it's convenient.

Does your work and/or family situation, Christine, prevent you from having the option of taking a month or so away from Anchorage to train somewhere else?
Clark: No, I couldn't ever leave my kids, so that totally grounds me, but my partners here at work wouldn't allow it either. People in medicine aren't real sympathetic to all this athletic stuff, they kind of look at me like "Haven't you grown up yet? Wasn't that kind of like a high school and college thing?"

Where do you work, Christine?
Clark: At Providence Alaska Medical Center, which is the largest hospital in Alaska.

And what are the names and ages of your children?
Clark: Matthew just turned 11 and Danny is 7.

Have you raced at all since the Olympics?
Clark: I've just done a couple local races in town, I really wasn't motivated to travel anywhere, to go outside and do any races. I did a 5k in April -- my specialty, of course. We won't even tell Colleen my time (laughs). And then I did the Alaska Run for Women (which she won in 28:23) which is our breast cancer run and I serve on the board for that. I'm a big promoter of that and feel really strongly about that. I think that's the biggest race in Alaska, the best race in Alaska. It's a 5-mile run and it usually has 5,000 participants.

Christine, do you think your Olympic performance was solid enough to eleviate any doubts that you belonged on the team?
Clark: Oh absolutely (laughs), I'd stand by that any day of the week. That course was very difficult and I think to go out and compete in those circumstances and perform well says a lot about what you can do. It's incredibly challenging to travel to a foreign country, you're totally out of your routine... Trying to run on the streets of Sydney was a nightmare, the traffic was just abominable. You're out of all of your elements and you're training for a couple weeks and you're preparing for the biggest event of your life athletically and it was a really difficult course, it was really hard. I think for me to [go] and run a PR, and run a very respectable 2:31 and finish in the top 20 should silence any of the Americans who thought I wasn't the person to go there. I really challenge that anyone else would have performed significantly better, on that day, on that course.

You ran two great races in awful conditions, both in Columbia and in Sydney, Christine. Where does that toughness come from or are you just lucky in your ability to acclimate quickly?
Clark: I don't think I'm a hot weather runner at all. I was saying when we were in New York City two summers ago, I don't think I was running 8-minute miles it was so stifling hot. I don't like running in that kind of weather, that's why I've always lived in northern latitudes, I like cool weather. I think there were a couple of factors. When I got to Columbia, I was incredibly fit and I wasn't going to sell myself short and say Gee, you know it's going to be a really hot day and I'm just going to flush three months of training down the toilet. I said I've prepared for this and I'm going to go out and run what I'm capable of doing. I think so many people mentally got there and said I can't perform in these kind of conditions and just kind of tossed in the towel before they actually got out there on the pavement. I think mentally, I'm very, very strong. I don't ever let myself fold in a race. I think I got every little bit of benefit out of whatever training I had done, on that day. I think I really had a super good day and really maximized what I was capable of doing. I think that was true in Sydney (too), I think I totally maximized whatever training I had done. I know that when I got to that finish line, I had never felt so spent in my entire life. In the last couple kilometers I was like Am I going to make it? because I was so out of gas and I'd never felt like that. But I just hung in there.

Both Christine and Colleen, what kind of strategy will you use in a race that is both a National Championship and a high-profile race in and of itself with an international field?
De Reuck: I'll just approach it like I approach any of my races, I'll be fit and have trained hard and I'll just go and run and give the best that I can. That's what I do in all my races, whether it's the New York City Marathon or the Olympic Games.

Clark: I have to agree with Colleen, I try to keep it simple and I have to say, I put very little mental energy into worrying about what everyone else is going to do, because I know what I have done. I don't know what anyone else has done or what they're going to do that day, I know what my preparation has been and what pace is reasonable for me to run. So to sit there and worry about strategy, to me, in the marathon, it's just kind of meaningless. I think in shorter races the tactics come much more into play but in a marathon, you gotta do what you gotta do. Maybe that's not the killer instinct that the international athletes use, but that's what's served me well.

Christine, I know that you were a high school state champion in the mile in Montana. After that, did you aspire to do much on the track?
Clark: No, I figured once high school was over and particularly college (she attended Montana State University) was over, I was totally done with the track. I had no desire to return to it, I guess I enjoyed it at that time but could never see myself going back to those distances. Even on the roads, I just don't feel like I have the leg turnover to be very competitive, ever, at short distances.

Do you miss the team aspect of competing on the track?
Clark: Not at all, that part of it never appealed to me because, you may not think this, but I think that I'm a little bit introverted and I really prefer to be out running on the trails alone. That's where I get my solace, not from the Rah, rah, let's do eight quarters. That just doesn't appeal to me at all.

Christine, could you talk about your evolution as an elite runner a bit? You left the track behind but I gather you did not leave running behind at any point. Did you continue to train through medical school (at the University of Washington)?
Clark: Yeah, I always continued to train, I didn't do any racing for a stretch of probably close to 10 years. And it was really a fitness issue and an enjoyment issue. I get a tremendous amount of enjoyment just from my daily run, even if I'm just plodding along for six or seven miles, and that's what it was in college and medical school and during the residency. After I dropped out of collegiate athletics, it was really just finess, keep the weight off, a mental break, stress relief, and it's really served me well. It's been the Rock of Gibraltar for me in terms of a stabilizer in my life.

Does it still do that for you, even though you have other goals now?
Clark: Oh absolutely. And whenever people say that -- Oh, you're an elite athlete -- I just kind of look at them because I don't have that mindset at all. To me, I'm a runner who happens to do marathons, who has goals, whose goals have gotten progressively tougher, and I've aspired to those. But I think of myself as a mom and a physician... and a runner, in that order.

Christine, do you plan to come to New York to preview the New York City Marathon course ahead of time?
Clark: Oh, I would love to, but the practicality of it is no. Literally, if you leave here at 6:00 a.m., you get there at 10:00 p.m. And the expense, and kids... it's just not going to happen.

What about when you come into town for the race?
Clark: I will try to get there reasonably early in the week, like on a Tuesday or Wednesday, because it's just so hard to travel that far and that many hours and I've learned from having done those east coast treks from here that I really need a number of days to get my feet on the ground.

Do you know much about the course and have any thoughts about it?
Clark: Well just what I've read and I think, for me, it sounds like it will be a good course. I think there are some good hills in it and I relish that in a race, I think that is an asset for me. I'm a strength runner, I don't think I would do as well on a Chicago-type course and I think just the variability in the course in New York City will be good, it will keep it interesting, it will keep my legs fresher.

De Reuck: You know, it's hard to go over the course. I never went over the course when I ran it the first time because it would take all day with the traffic. I just jogged over the Central Park section. I'm like Christine, I like the hills as well. Now obviously, I think if I ran Chicago, I'd get a faster time than in New York... In Central Park, the hills are gentle, [they're not] steep... The first half is basically flat and straight and then you go over the bridge and First Avenue, which is great.

Christine, after making such a vast improvement in the Olympic Trials and then in the Olympic Games as well, how much more do you think you have in you?
Clark: It's hard to say. Unfortunately, I'm getting older every year. [I'll be 39 in New York] and I'm thinking, Are these legs going to get faster? I think there is room for improvement, I'd certainly like to go under 2:30, that would be a laudable thing for me. (Allan Steinfeld interjects: You have to remember, "Priscilla Welch won this race as a masters runner.") That's right, That's right, she's one of my heroes, trust me. I'm confident and hopeful that I can continue to improve.

Christine, you said earlier that your medical colleagues aren't all that understanding about your running. How about your kids? Do you ever have problems juggling both that and your running?
Clark: I think it's really hard... it takes so much time and energy. And I'm a low-mileage marathoner, partly because of time and children issues, but also because my body couldn't handle excessive mileage, but it's tough. You have a lot of guilt about going out and running a 20-miler and then being exhausted the rest of the day, and not really feeling like doing a bike ride with them or doing an activity with them. I won't continue on at this level indefinitely, that's for sure.

But you'll continue to run even if you don't race?
Clark: Absolutely. I think if you do 35-40 miles a week, you've maximized your fitness benefit in terms of health issues, and you really haven't deprived your family of any time that they necessarily need to have. I think that that mental and physical break is a really good thing for everyone to do. But I think when you get to this level, when you're training at a really intense level, then you detract from family.

Colleen, when you go to New York City for the National Championships, do you see this as an opportunity for fellow American women to get to know one another better, because you mentioned not knowing many of the South African athletes anymore?
Yeah, because I don't really go on the internet and follow what's happening with running, I don't really know what all the athletes are doing. I've learned so much from Christine now because I haven't met her yet, either. She just came whizzing by me in the Olympics and that's all...


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