Interview: Elva Dryer
By Peter Gambaccini

Elva Dryer competes at the 2002 USATF Winter Cross Country Nationals.
(Photo: New York Road Runners)
Dryer competes in the 5,000m at the 2001 World Championships.
(Photo: Lisa Coniglio @Photo Run)

Elva Dryer, now 30, had a fruitful winter, placing third behind Deena Drossin and Colleen De Reuck in the 8k at the USATF Cross Country Championships and second to Drossin in the Jacksonville Gate River Run, which serves as the U.S. 15k Championship, in 48:50. Dryer will run the 8k at the World Cross Country Championships in Dublin, Ireland on March 24. Dryer was a 2000 Olympian and a 2001 World Championships competitor in the 5,000 but did not advance beyond the first round either time. Dryer was the USATF Indoor 3,000-meter champion in 1998, the year she was the USATF Cross County runner-up in the 4k and placed eighth in the World Cross Country Championships. She was runner-up in the 4k again at the 2001 USATF Cross Country Championships. She has a personal best outdoors of 15:03.56 in the 5,000. Dryer also set the U.S. road best of 19:40 for four miles. Formerly Elva Martinez, she attended Durango High School and Western State College in Colorado (majoring in business administration), and won four state NCAA Division II 3,000-meter titles, plus one in the 1500 and one in cross country. Dryer lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her husband and coach Russ, but spent part of the fall training with Team USA California in Mammoth Lakes. You were the one who really challenged Drossin and tried to stay with her in the 15k, weren't you?
Elva Dryer: Yeah, I tried to stay with her as long as I could. You know, I didn't have a lot of experience at that distance. I wasn't sure how I'd feel later. Deena ran a fabulous race (an American record of 48:12), she ran fantastic. She pulled away in the middle of the race, and then pulled away little by little. She probably put the most distance on me in this half-mile hill. She's a great hill runner, so she definitely opened up a gap there and she finished strong. But for me, I was really pleased with my race. I PRed my 10k at the split, a 32:18.

When you challenge someone who goes out hard, it's nice to know you had enough strength when Plan A didn't work to not go into the tank totally.
Right. Like I knew I would finish (laughs). I figured I had nothing to lose by just going out. The distance was new to me, but I felt like I had some strength behind me. I'd put in a good winter's base. I'm getting ready for (World) Cross Country; cross country always goes out hard, so I might as well practice that a little bit.

Did you increase your base specifically because you were venturing into this 15k distance for the first time?
Yeah, I did. And this winter, I was thinking about how I'm going to do my first 10k on the track this spring, and I'd like to do a half-marathon later in the year, and lay some groundwork for a future marathon, not 'til next year probably, but it takes a lot of work to feel prepared to go the distance. I've been doing more miles than I ever have on a consistent basis, mostly strength work.

What's your mileage up to?
The most I got up to was 100. It averaged around 90. I'd do a couple of weeks of 100 and go down to 90 and go back up.

How does that compare to last year?
Last year, I was very inconsistent with my base. I ran indoors. I probably averaged around 80, maybe, 90 the max, but not always feeling that great. This year, I've been feeling good and staying healthy.

Amy Rudolph who, like you, had done the 4k cross country in some past years, said there were some discussions between the top women figuring maybe the Americans had a shot at the team medal in the 8k and perhaps should put all their best people in that event. Of course, that didn't apply to some shorter distance people like Suzy Favor Hamilton. But were you part of any of those discussions about doing the 8k to try and get a medal?
Definitely. Deena, Amy, and Jen (Rhines) and I all get along quite well. A couple of years ago, I actually did the 8k at the U.S. Championships, working my way up and testing the distance. At that time I tried to convince Amy to do it, but she doing indoor track and didn't think she was ready for that. We have the depth in the distance events to put together a great cross country team, but with the two races broken up now, it sort of dilutes the field. But I think putting them all together, hopefully, will be good for us.

What do you know about the Worlds course in Dublin?
It shouldn't have the mud that last year (in Belgium) had. It's run on some horse track. It's really dense grass but it drains pretty well.

How long did you train at Mammoth Lakes, and who contacted you about being part of that experience?
They've been putting together, through Running USA, these training groups around the country. I got approached by Coach (Bob) Larson and Coach (Joe) Vigil, who were going to head up one of these training camps. It was going to be Deena, Jen Rhines, myself, Amy Rudolph, Milena Glusac, and Leigh Daniel. I spent the whole month of October training with all of them except Milena, who wasn't there. Deena was in the middle of her marathon training. The rest of us were just getting back into training. I really enjoyed it. I felt it raised the level of motivation and training. It was nice. I hope to use that again at other points of the year.

I'll be up in Gunnison, Colorado, where I went to college, to train in April. I'll be between there and the training center in Mammoth for about six months. We use Albuquerque in the wintertime, because there's really not a real winter here. It's not really that bad.

How does it change your life and approach to the sport to have your major rivals become your training partners?
I don't know that that really changes anything about how I feel about the girls. We've always gotten along quite well. I think it's easier to be friends with someone than not. Especially in this sport. The first couple of times in Europe, I've found it's great to see somebody that you know, even if it's your rival. They're great people. We're really all out to try and be the best that we can be. Of course, on the track, you want to finish as high as you can. That's the way competition is. I think we all know that. Off the track, we can be good friends and kind of leave it at that.

You mentioned your desire to do the marathon and half-marathon. One of the questions regarding Deena Drossin's move to the marathon was whether she'd still have her speed when she moved back down to the lower distances. Based on what we've seen, she does. Is that encouraging for you to see as you prepare to move up in distance?
Yeah, and some of your best marathoners have great speed. I heard somebody say you'll probably run your best marathon in your best 10k shape, right after you run a 10k PR or something like that. Deena did really well in not neglecting her speed. I don't know that much and I haven't done the training that she has for the marathon, but I could see where you might neglect it and find it tough as you get older. But she's done a fabulous job.

In the outdoor season, will you mostly be doing 5,000s or will you try to run a bunch of 10,000s?
I expect to run one 10,000 in early May. Stanford is putting on a women's 10,000. That might be my only one of the year. I might run it at nationals, but I still feel like I can improve in the 3,000 and 5,000. So I still plan, after going to nationals, on going to Europe and primarily running the 3,000 and 5,000. The 10,000 on the track isn't really a distance you can run all the time. It's a championships event. Or a qualifier for a World Championships or the Olympics. It's not the most spectator-friendly race either.

You've gotten very close to the 15:00 barrier in the 5,000. Getting under that must still be an important thing to you.
Very important. I really want to do that. I feel it's within reach. And I just found out yesterday that they lowered the 5,000 Olympic standard to 15:08. That changes things a bit.

You ran some 800s in college , and got second in the 1996 NCAA Division II Indoor Championships. Before Nicole Teter's new American Record, the 800 was the women's weakest track event in this country. When you were seeing what was going on in that event, did you ever think "Maybe I should go back that way?"
Oh no. Even in college, my coaches all told me my potential was greatest at the longer distances. In college, because I didn't have a lot of base and experience and sort of came in late to the sport, I focused on the shorter distances and that was a way to keep me healthy. I think that was smart. The coaches were letting me develop at my own pace. But I knew all along that once I graduated from college, I'd be a 5,000-meter runner.

People know the names Regina Jacobs and Deena Drossin fairly well. They've won a lot of national titles. You've gotten seconds and thirds to them often. We wonder if you sometimes curse the fact that you were born into the same era as people who are that dominant. If not for them, it could be you on top.
I've still made improvements, and I think that's what keeps me in the sport - as long as I keep improving, no matter where I'm at. I'm just trying to work toward getting the best out of myself. Wherever that puts me, I really can't change anything about anybody else.

Is it true that your one of your older brothers got you into running?
One of them (Ambrose Martinez) was pretty successful, an All-American in high school. At that point, everybody thought he was cool, so I wanted to be like my big brother. And once I had a little bit of experience, I felt like I could compete, I wasn't too bad. That's how it all started.

Were you a pretty decent high school runner, but not good enough to get recruited by Division I schools?
I was pretty average. I was good at the district level. At State, I ran just one year of cross country and finished 11th. My junior and senior years, I qualified for State but didn't race well (She has said of the 3200 at the Colorado State Championships her senior year, "I was so far back I lost count of what place I was."). I wasn't highly recruited at all. I ended up going to Western State. If I had it to do all over, I'd do the same thing. We were a good match for that time in my life. There aren't as many pressures as there are at Division I schools to produce. But at Western State, there's still a tradition of doing well.

Your agent was Kim McDonald. What thoughts do you have on his untimely early death? How did you cope with that news?
That's hard. It was really shocking, unexpected. Kim really took me in ‘97, I believe, when I hadn't really done a lot in my career. He wasn't a man of many words, but what he said you took seriously, and it really touched you. It's still going to be hard going to Europe and not having Kim there. He was such a big part of that.

He was a good scout of talent. He picked his people well.
He did. So when he said he would take me on, I said "Wow, this cool, maybe he really thinks I have chance." That in itself gave me some hope.

Americans have mixed experiences racing in Europe. Many complain about moving from place to place and flying so much. Did having that Teddington, England base set up by Kim help you adjust over there?
My first year, I don't know how well I would have done if I didn't have that situation. Even now, I'm a bit of a homebody, I like the comforts of home, at least having a space to leave your stuff. The access to training, to his assistants - everything is taken care of in a very good way.

In terms of atmosphere and enjoyment, which is your favorite among the European track meets?
Oslo (the Bislett Games) is my favorite, I think. That's where I sent my first 5k PR and my last 5k PR. And the track, the stadium, is just old, really small. It's not as big a crowd as Paris, where the stadium seats 50,000, but the crowd is just right there. And the weather's always nice. That's my favorite.

Being in the elite ranks of track and distance running must be a life you enjoy and find fulfilling.
I do. Sometimes I look back and think "I never thought this is where it would take me." When I started running again after taking a year off in college, my New Year's Resolution on January 1, 1992 was to go back to school and put my best into my running and just see where it would take me - with the hopes of making the Olympics, but it's just a dream at that age. You just sort of put things out. Now, just the places that I've been, it's almost unreal.

What would you be doing if you weren't a runner?
I'd probably be doing some kind of job and have a few kids. I don't know. It's really hard to say. Life can take you so many different ways. I can‘t even imagine how many different ways it could have gone.

Peter Gambaccini is a New York-based freelance writer. He is a frequent contributor to New York Runner, Runner's World, MetroSports, The Village Voice, and other periodicals.

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