Interview with Deeja Youngquist & Teddy Mitchell
by Alison Wade

Above and below: Deeja Youngquist on her way to a fourth-place finish at the 2003 New Haven Road Race.
(Photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)

After a series of top-five finishes in national championship road races, Deeja Youngquist elevated her running to a new level when she finished 10th overall (second American) at last month's Chicago Marathon. Her 2:29:01 marathon debut easily put the the 26-year-old under the Olympic "A" standard and made her a bona fide contender for the 2004 U.S. Olympic team.

Earlier in the year, Youngquist traded her job as an air traffic controller for a less time-consuming job in the same office to devote more of her time and energy to running. The switch paid off almost immediately with Youngquist finishing second at the USA 25k Championships in May (1:30:54), fourth at the USA Half Marathon Championships in June (1:12:51) and fourth at the USA 20k Championships in September (1:08:47).

Youngquist, a 1999 graduate of the University of Washington, is coached by Teddy Mitchell, a former NCAA Champion for Arkansas and a 2:16 marathoner. We also spoke with Mitchell — who also coaches recent US masters marathon record setter Eddy Hellebuyck — to get some insight into the training which prepared Youngquist for her stunning debut. In May, you promised Peter Gambaccini from Runner's World that you'd run under 2:40, the Trials 'A' standard, but then you ended up running under the Olympic 'A' standard. Was sub-2:30 something that was in your mind all along, or did your goals change as you went along?
Deeja Youngquist:
I just wanted to make sure I didn't [predict] something that I couldn't do (laughs). My goal was to break 2:32, so I was pretty glad when I saw the time when I came across the line.

FW: Can you take us through an account of how the race went for you?
Well, it went pretty easy for the first half, I felt really good... Actually, I only started feeling bad maybe the last three miles. For the rest of it, I felt so smooth. I think I just prepared myself for this and it really worked. Teddy helped a lot.

FW: Predicting a time in your first marathon can be tough. Were you ever worried during the first half that you might be getting in over your head, or were you pretty confident?
Well, yeah, I've heard of people just totally collapsing, who can't finish the last six miles — and I've never run one — so that was in the back of my mind... When I saw people dropping out in the last six miles, I got kind of scared, but it was good that I saw Teddy in the last three miles or so, he helped me out. Yeah, I had some doubts at the end.

FW: Did you imagine you'd place that high in the women's race?
Well, I was hoping for a higher place, actually. I think that tenth place time was one of the fastest [tenth place times] for Chicago. I was hoping to get a little better than tenth, but I'm happy with the time, that's what matters.

FW: Now that you have one marathon under your belt, do you think there are areas of your race that you can improve on?
Oh yeah. The middle portion, I was kind of slower. There were a lot of people in that section of the race, and they were getting in my way (laughs). It's a huge race, obviously, but there were a lot of guys and they were getting mad that a girl was trying to pass them (laughs). The second half was the problem for me, I think that's when I slowed down a little bit.

FW: Barely.
Yeah, it was like five seconds.

FW: And in your next marathon, there won't be any men at all.
Oh yeah, that'll be great (laughs).

FW: What were you aiming to run for the first half in Chicago?
1:14:30 was my goal. (Editor's Note: She went through in 1:14:29.)

FW: You had some top finishes at US Championship races this year, but this race breaks you through to another level entirely. Does your run in Chicago change your view of yourself as a runner, or were you already on that level in your mind?
Well, I wanted to prove myself, I wanted to get a good time out there. I've had some bad 10ks in the past — and I know I can run a faster 10k. This race has given me a lot of confidence, now I'm just that more hungry to get my time down even more, because it's only my first one. I'm a lot more excited now, it gets me excited to train harder and it gives me that extra motivation that everybody needs.

FW: Do you feel like your body has recovered from Chicago?
Yeah. I don't know how fast I could run a workout right now, I haven't done one since then, but I feel okay. I've never [gone through] this recovery process before, but I feel okay.

FW: Did you take some time completely off after the race?
Oh yeah, for a week, I just did some light weights and no running at all... I think I ran once, on the treadmill. But I'm back into it now. The week in Thailand was a recovery week.

FW: What did you do while you and Teddy were in Thailand?
Well, we got like two massages a day (laughs) and we just shopped and saw the sights and slept.

FW: Do you see yourself as a track runner at all, or will you mainly focus on the marathon and road races?
Well I think this year, after the Trials, or maybe even before, I might just do a track 10k or 5k. Teddy wants me to do that, because it is a good thing to get on your resume, and I do need to get a fast 10k time soon and the track is a good place to do that.

FW: What's your 10k PR?
It's 33:39... It was on a hilly road course... I just need to get a good one in, I just have this mental block with 10ks or something.

FW: When did you first start working with Teddy and how did you two meet?
I met him in New Haven [in September 2002]. We knew each other for about six months before he started coaching me. He moved [to Albuquerque] in January 2003 and I started running workouts with him and Eddy (Hellebuyck) and he'd always help me out. So I said, 'Why don't you just be my coach?' So since then, he's been my coach.

FW: What brought you to Albuquerque in the first place?
My work. I was an air traffic controller and they sent me here for my job. I was an air traffic controller up until February, then I dropped that idea because it's stressful and it wasn't helping my running. I really enjoy running, and I didn't enjoy the air traffic control. I'm working in the same building as the air traffic controllers now, but I'm not doing anything stressful.

FW: Is it still a full-time job?
Yeah, it's 40 hours a week.

FW: Do you think you'll cut back on that at all as you build up for the Trials?
If they'll let me (laughs). Ideally, yeah, I probably should work 30 hours a week.

FW: Was there one particular thing that made you decide to put more emphasis on your running earlier this year? Something that made you think you could be this good?
Basically just Teddy telling me that I could (laughs). Somebody needed to push me into this, because I didn't know that I could run that far... Everybody's always told me that I could, in high school and college, but I never wanted to run a marathon...

FW: Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Seattle.

FW: And did you run in high school?
I ran my senior year. I just did basketball and volleyball before that.

FW: Why did you decide to take up running your senior year?
I was getting beat up on the basketball court (laughs) and I wasn't getting any better at volleyball, so I thought I'd try something new that I could be good at.

FW: Before you started, did you have any reason to think you could be good at running? Had you run well in the mile in gym class or anything like that?
Yeah, that was actually [why] the coaches recruited me — the mile and running lines in basketball. I'd always finish like 18 minutes before everyone else (laughs) and they'd say, 'You need to go out for track.' I'd say, 'No way, running's not fun.' But then I tried it out and I was winning, so I was having fun.

FW: How well did you end up doing in your one year of high school running?
I went to state... I was always second. I never got first, I was always second in everything, in college and in high school.

FW: So were you second at the state meet in cross country?
Yeah, and I was second in track, too, in the mile and two mile.

FW: Do you remember your times?
My mile time was 5:01 and my two mile was like 10:45 or something.

FW: What would you say was your biggest accomplishment in college?
Probably just running at nationals... I never did well at nationals, I don't know why, I was burnt out or something. Getting to nationals was really fun, meeting all the girls and making new friends there.

FW: Were you ever an All-American?
I was close, but no!

FW: Did you ever win a [Pac-10] title?
I was always second or third, I never won a title. So I'm ready to start winning.

FW: When you graduated from college, did you plan to pursue your running seriously, or did you think you'd take more of a career path?
I thought I was going to be a career woman, but I just didn't really like working (laughs). I thought maybe I should start running a little more competitively, so I just entered some local races here, and an agent got a hold of me.

FW: And you were running pretty well before this year. Did you feel like you were working pretty hard at your running, or did you know there was room for improvement?
I wasn't running nearly as much as I could have been. I was doing it mainly just to relieve my [work-related] stress. I just ran maybe 40 or 50 miles a week when I was running by myself, without a coach. I just ran races I thought I could win around here...

FW: Now that you've achieved this level of success, are you trying to devote every aspect of your life (sleep, diet, etc.) to trying to become a better runner?
Oh yeah. The little things are what really matter, I think. Getting enough sleep, eating right... I always do that, it makes my mental game the best when it comes to races.

FW: Do you do any strength work to supplement your training?
I do weights about three times a week, maybe two times. Not when I'm running a lot, not when I'm doing 120-mile weeks... Right now, I'm lifting weights more than I will during any other period of my Trials training.

FW: Do you get massages?
I try get a massage every two weeks or so, sometimes it [stretches to] a month, but at least every month.

FW: Do you follow a special diet or anything?
I just eat when I'm hungry and what I feel like eating (laughs).

FW: So you eat cookies if you want to?
I usually eat pretty low fat, but I do eat lots of the good kind of fat, like salmon and nuts. I don't eat any saturated fat, basically, unless it's chocolate (laughs). I eat a lot of natural and organic foods...

FW: Is it at all hard being in a relationship with your coach?
No, I think it's actually better. He knows everything I'm doing, so he can tailor workouts [accordingly]. He knows how I'm feeling every day, so I think it works better... I just try to keep the running separate from the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. I don't take it personally when he yells at me on the track, or tells me to do something related to running...

FW: Are there any other runners in your family?
No, they don't run much at all.

FW: Are there other athletes in your family?
Yeah, they're all athletes. My dad played football in college for Oregon State. My sisters both played a lot of sports in high school. My younger sister got a scholarship for basketball but turned it down... She was really good at basketball. They're all athletes.

FW: So your family is pretty supportive of your running?
Oh yeah. They don't quite understand why I run (laughs)...

FW: Will they be there to cheer you on in St. Louis?
I think every single one of them will be there, because my sisters didn't go to Chicago and they wished they were there... And they fly for free, basically, since my dad's a retired pilot, so they'd better be there!

Teddy Mitchell

On his marathon training principles:
I worked with Coach (Joe) Vigil for a couple years...and basically with Coach Vigil's training program, it's all based on strength, doing a lot of tempo runs and doing everything at altitude. That's kind of the philosophy I've had here. Deeja and Eddy both — neither one of them is really good with speed... So I have to do a lot of stuff that's more strength-based, more [tempo runs] where there are hills involved... I ran for Coach Vigil and I went to the University of Arkansas for five years. When you sit down and think of the top five US coaches ever, John McDonnell and Joe Vigil are at the top of the list. I think you learn from those guys, what works and what doesn't.

On Youngquist's transition from 10k runner to marathoner:
TM: I believed, from the time I first started working with her, that the marathon was going to be her best event, just because of how she couldn't adapt to the speed... But then she ran the 25k, and she didn't run hard, and she was so upset because she really wanted to [win]. That 25k made Deeja think, 15 miles, that was really easy. She felt like every 10k where she ran 34:30, was harder than [the 25k]. She was all excited after the race and I told her, 'Deeja, you ran horrible. You should have run three or four minutes faster.' And she started to agree with me... Before that, I was saying, 'Let's go out and run under 2:40 in Chicago — 2:35, 2:34...' After she ran that 25k, I said, 'Deeja, you can run 2:29, 2:30, maybe 2:28.' And if she'd had a kick, she would have run 2:28 in Chicago. That's where the whole marathon process basically started, back in May at the 25k.

On building up Youngquist's mileage:
TM: Two years ago, she was running 50 miles a week, 40 miles a week. And for [Chicago], she ran up to 120 miles a week... [She finished fourth at the USA Half Marathon Championships] and we got her up to a couple of 95, 100 mile weeks on the way up to that, kind of as a practice to get ready for Chicago later.

On the coach/athlete relationship:
Deeja's got a lot of motivation, she really wants to run fast and she loves it... With Deeja, I think, I fit really well, and she might not work as well with another coach. Eddy, he could work with a thousand different people. I'm not doing anything special for Eddy, you just have to put him on a plan, because all of his life, he hasn't been on a plan... I've had probably 20 people e-mail me that want me to [coach] them, and I tell them, 'If you're not going to listen... or just listen 25% of the time... I don't care if you listen to me, or you listen to another person, but you have to do some kind of program 100%." And with Deeja, she's listened 100%. I don't think I'm a genius or that I came up with great ideas, it's just that they listen.

On Youngquist's key workouts:
We do a ladder down: 4k, 3k, 2k, 1k... For Deeja the pace is usually 3:30 per k... 3:20-3:25 for the 3k, 3:15 pace for the 2k, and then as fast as she can go, hopefully 3:10-ish, for the 1k. As you break down, you get faster.

On marathon-pace training runs:
If you get used to running your marathon pace, what are you going to run when you're tired? You're going to run slower than your marathon pace. My philosophy is what Coach McDonnell said; one time I said, 'Coach, we're running 63-second quarters and I'm trying to run 69 seconds for 10k...' He said, 'Ah, kid, you learn to run 63 seconds, 69 seconds is really easy.' So Deeja doesn't really run anything [at marathon pace]. The other key workout is this 12-mile course we have. It's about 20k, actually, longer than 12 miles, and she usually runs that in 1:12 or 1:13, every other week. That really is faster than marathon pace, if you think about the altitude conversion. I guess that would be 12 miles at marathon pace, but it's at altitude, so it's harder... That [ladder] workout and the 12-mile run, she does one or the other of those every week in marathon training, maybe two of those every week, it depends whether she's racing.

On Deeja's strength on hills:
You have to kind of understand the landscape of Albuquerque. There's nothing really flat here, everything is a hill. Where she lives right here in her apartment, you go out the door and [you can run] on dirt for about 18 miles and it's all uphill... I had her do Chicago for her first marathon, and she'll probably do Chicago next year, but she'll probably do New York or Twin Cities in a year or two, because I think she can win those types of races, or Twin Cities and finish in the top five in New York, because she can run hills well...

On Lornah Kiplagat's contribution to Youngquist's training:
I was starting to [realize] Deeja was going to run well because one of the things I gauged her training off of was Lornah Kiplagat, who was training here in town. She's a friend of ours... I took what [Lornah] was doing in her longer intervals — Deeja was running the same times as her, give or take — but Deeja was getting longer rest. So I knew, if Lornah typically can run 2:25 to 2:22, that Deeja could run under 2:30.

On fueling before and during a marathon:
I always tell people, 'If you're running over three hours, you need to do it.' When you're running 2-1/2 hours or less... I think [Deeja] took one PowerGel before the race and one at like 10 miles, because you have to do things in the first half of the marathon. I emphasize drinking water and taking PowerGel in the first half. From 13 or 14 miles on, your body's not going to have enough time to use it. It's just going to sit in your stomach... I try to get her to do some of it before, but I don't emphasize it. Because you know what? If it doesn't happen, if you don't get the gel or you don't get the water, you don't want it to mess up your race. Too many [people] who are running 2:45 are out there worrying about their special fluids and all this stuff. It's a mental problem, you probably lose two or three minutes worrying whether your going to get what you're supposed to get. Maybe for the Trials we'll [try using] some Ultima out there on the course, but I don't emphasize it. She definitely wanted to take a Power Bar and PowerGel before the race, so she has that fresh fuel in her body. We do do a carbohydrate depletion diet the week before the marathon, and then rebuild the glycogen from Wednesday until the race...

On their post-Chicago vacation and what's next:
We went to Thailand and got massage for seven days after [Chicago] and it was a really nice vacation. She really feels recovered and we'll go from here. I think the next race we're going to point towards is a half marathon in Houston, January 18th. I think I want her to try to run under 1:11 there, or in the 1:11's.

(Interview conducted October 25, 2003, posted November 7, 2003)

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