Interview with Elva Dryer
by Scott Douglas

Elva Dryer runs in second place in the 10,000m at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials.
(All photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)
Dryer finishes second in the Trials 10,000 and gets a hug from race winner Deena Kastor at the finish line.
Dryer competes at the 2004 USA 5K Championships in Albany, New York.

Two-time Olympian Elva Dryer has to be among the top contenders for the title of "Best Runner Most People Haven't Heard Of." Consider, for example, Dryer's 10,000m PR of 31:26.88. It makes her the third fastest American ever at the distance, ahead of such storied names as Francie Larrieu Smith, Mary Slaney, Anne Marie Lauck, and Libbie Hickman.

Dryer ran the 5,000m in the 2000 Olympics, and ran 32:18 to finish 19th in the 10,000m in this summer's Olympic Games. She has also represented the U.S. at three World Track and Field Championships, and has finished as high as eighth in the short-course race at the World Cross Country Championships. She set an American road best of 19:40 for four miles in 2001.

Dryer was born in 1971, at altitude, in Durango, Colorado. She began running at the urging of a high school coach who figured that her older brother's endurance prowess was in the family genes. The coach was right — by the time she graduated from Western State College in Colorado in 1996, Dryer had won four NCAA Division II titles at 3,000m.

Dryer now is coached by her husband, Russ Dryer. They live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. How did running in the Olympics differ from running in World Championships?
Elva Dryer:
The Olympic Games are the biggest event in the world. Running in the Olympics is a rare opportunity, as it only comes around every four years. Many great runners never realize this dream for one reason or another. There is so much more involved competing in the Olympics in comparison to the World Championships. Everyone understands the Olympics, and everyone is tuned into it. Meanwhile, the World Track and Field Championships happen, and most people are not aware of it.

FW: How did your preparation and racing since the spring differ from what would have been your ideal?
I had high hopes for this year. Unfortunately, I had setbacks, leaving me only about 80 percent of normal. I never got as fit or race sharp as I would have liked. That was the major difference.

During cross country training in the winter, I had some tendonitis develop in my lower leg. While I was in good fitness, I decided to back off training and forego cross country nationals rather than worsen the condition on uneven terrain and risk greater setback. I did not race until late April at the Cardinal Invitational 5,000m. I had a very poor performance and knew something was off. [Dryer ran 15:45; her PR is 15:03.] I found out my ferritin levels were low, so I backed off on training again and started taking an iron supplement.

In early June, I raced the Freihofer's 5K and the Bellin Run 10K. Going into the Trials, I felt like things were coming around and my hopes of making the Olympic team were alive, but I knew I couldn't challenge Deena [Kastor] for the win. [Dryer was second in 31:58, 49 seconds behind Kastor.]

This was a frustrating year for me, as I never seemed to gain enough momentum to really feel on a roll. I returned from the Olympics and took a good break to let my body recover and get back to full strength. I am now looking forward to a fresh start to a new year of running healthy.

FW: Why do you think your ferritin level was low?
I think my low ferritin levels were a result of a combination of different things. As a female distance runner living and training at altitude at a high level, my body is under greater stress. I probably overtrained. That, along with not getting enough iron in my diet to meet the demand, I believe led to my iron deficiency, which resulted in a lack of strength. I have now made some changes that will hopefully keep this from reoccurring.

FW: Given the season you'd had before the Olympics, what was your goal on the day of the race?
Considering my earlier setbacks, I was optimistic. I still had high hopes that if everything came together for me on that day, I could run a personal best. I did not meet that goal. I was confident in my abilities, but the strength and fitness were not there.

FW: When in the race did you realize you weren't going to meet this goal?
After two miles, I was struggling to hang with the pack. After 5K, I realized that it was not going to be the kind of day I had hoped for. I still thought that I could run better than I did. I never got any momentum going, much like my whole year.

FW: Did you change your training at all for the Olympic final? That is, to prepare for a race that would probably feature sharp changes in pace versus more of a steady-pace race like you might encounter in American meets?
No. Unfortunately, my training was pretty much based on my own health and fitness this year. I was lucky just to get consistent workouts in. With the adjustments I made, I managed to get my ferritin up a bit, but overall I was still not at full strength.

FW: Your race was late in the Olympic program. When did you start staying in the Olympic village? How hard was it to stick to the schedule you wanted to keep? In that setting, what did you do so that you didn't spend every minute obsessing about your race?
I came to Athens from Crete on the 24th of August, so I only spent three days there before racing. Once I arrived, I was able to get into a daily routine and things went smoothly. I am not the kind of person who obsesses about a race. I'm sure it entered my thoughts at some point of each day leading up to the day of my race, but it did not take over every minute of my thoughts. I tried to relax well and was excited for the race.

FW: Did the weather in Athens bother you, coming from a dry mountain climate? What did you do to prepare for it?
I'm not bothered too much by heat and humidity. During the summer, Albuquerque's daily highs of 90 to 100 are about what they were in Athens. In the summer, we get monsoon rains in the afternoon, which raises the humidity. I actually expected it to feel much hotter and humid in Athens.

To prepare, I did wear my warm-ups in training, and also did some runs indoors on the treadmill where the air is still and I could really get sweating.

FW: You said in 2002 you would be running a marathon "soon." Why hasn't that happened? When do you plan to run one?
My plan was always to run the 10,000m in this Olympics, but I had hoped to debut in the marathon by now. I guess things just haven't exactly gone as I expected. The timing just hasn't been right for one reason or another. The plan right now is to run one next year. To run a marathon isn't something to be taken lightly. I want to be 100 percent healthy and give myself the opportunity to have a positive experience. I am now rested up and making the adjustments to prepare properly and have the best possible performance.

FW: You're a two-time Olympian, but not many people other than hard-core fans know about you. Do you ever feel pressure from sponsors or even yourself to road race more to increase your visibility?
I'm flattered that I have any fans at all. My sponsors have always been good to me and supported me without pressure. I feel that I road race as much as almost anyone else. I really enjoy road racing. Up to this point, track and cross country has really been my primary focus, and I would road race only as it fit into my track schedule. In the future, I plan to do more road racing, yet continue to race on track a bit as well. I still have a lot I want to achieve in the next four years.

FW: Does your husband coach others? What is his running background?
He has coached others: Stephanie Best, Janet Trujillo, and Nicole Jefferson, but this year it has just been me. He was an All-American distance runner at Western State College in Colorado.

FW: Living in Albuquerque, how much of your training is by yourself, and how much with others?
Most of my training is with my husband or by myself here in Albuquerque. Janet Trujillo and Amy Yoder Begley live here and we get together when our schedules allow it. Last winter Lauren Fleshman was here. In the last few years I have also done some training with Stephanie Best, Nicole Jefferson, and Libbie Hickman when they have come into town.

FW: Do you ever go to lower altitudes for sharpening sessions before important track races? Are there any disadvantages to living in Albuquerque?
I don't usually go to lower altitude for sharpening sessions. I trained in Chula Vista/San Diego with the Team USA California group in 2003 in preparation for cross nationals. I have spent time in Teddington (England), during the European track circuit with the other Kim McDonald athletes, training and racing. Training at altitude is a very natural thing for me. I was born and raised at altitude. Albuquerque is the lowest altitude I have ever lived at. It has no disadvantages other than travel to the East Coast. Albuquerque's great weather, nice trails and year-long access to a track make it one of the best places to train year-round in the US

FW: You hear a lot about recovery among full-time runners, especially after Meb [Keflezighi] and Deena [Kastor's] marathon medals. Have you started doing more of that sort of thing? In other words, what do you do all day?
Unfortunately, I did not take much of a break after road racing last fall, which led to my winter injury. But I usually try to take a short break between seasons. I have just finished a month off to heal up and rejuvenate. I am running again and feeling good.

My usual schedule is to train twice a day, and rest and nap each day between training sessions. The priority of the day is to get my training and rest in first; everything else follows. In my free time, I read and play with our cats, and do household chores and whatever else needs to get done. I try to recover as optimally as possible.

(Interview conducted October 15, 2004, and posted November 4, 2004.)

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