Interview with Heather Gardiner
By Gary Bridgman

Above and Below: Heather Gardiner at the 2003 Vermont City Marathon.
(Both Photos:

With only four weeks plus 26.2 miles remaining, Heather Gardiner targeted a 2:45 for the 2003 KeyBank Vermont City Marathon. Predicting the marathoner's finishing time is to tempt fate or summon the curse of unknown marathoners past—those whose blew up en route and were left to be picked up by the trailing squeegee truck.

Gardiner had run 2:49 in her second marathon (Boston 2002) and was Canada's top female finisher. However, following Boston, Gardiner's running slumped through the summer and into the fall. Then, as suddenly as the slump began, it ended. Gardiner's track workouts in December turned crisp. Racing often in 2003, she set PRs in the indoor 3,000m, (9:42), indoor 5,000m (16:57), and road 10K (35:28)—all great performances, but none raced with a complete rest.

In early May, Gardiner returned home to Ontario for the National Race Weekend and the MDS Nordion 10k. The race press release proudly announced "Eight women could possibly break 33:40." Heather left a few e-mails behind that read "Au revoir," French for "See you after I've had my butt kicked," she joked. In an international field Gardiner finished 10th overall and 4th Canadian, setting a two-second PR of 35:26.

The following weekend, with two weeks to go until the marathon, Gardiner ran the Home Depot Mid-May Classic in Fairfield, Connecticut, a four-mile race, winning by nearly a minute in 22:09.

Then there was the marathon. At Vermont City, Heather would run in second place through 10 or 11 miles before pulling into the lead and passing the half-marathon point in 1:22:40. She ran the second half in 1:22:51, finishing just as predicted in 2:45:31 and winning by more than eight minutes.

Originally from Brockville, Ontario, Gardiner, 24, attended Central Connecticut State University, graduating in 2002. She now lives in East Hartford, Connecticut and works as an IT consultant for United Technologies. Anyone ever tell you race too much?
Heather Gardiner:
Everyone says that. I guess I average almost one race per week. I enjoy racing and I've always raced a lot. In college our team was a little short on long-distance runners so I got used to doing multiple races in one weekend. Most of them I use as workouts, there are only a few each year that I really focus on.

FW: How'd you ever start running?
I started running when I was about 14. I was pretty fat as a kid and it started as a way to lose weight. I would run around my neighborhood at night when no one was around. I really liked the way it felt so I kept doing it. When I was 16 my best friend wanted me to join the cross country team at our high school. Reluctantly I joined with her. One week later she quit.

FW: Is there such a thing as a typical training week?
I try to get one long run in every week. I do my long runs by time, not distance, so a long run for me is 1:45 to 2:45. I go to the track and train with the Central Mass Striders team most Tuesday nights and I also try to get one hill workout in every week. In the days between my hard workouts I usually just run easily for 8-12 miles. I try to cross-train as often as possible and use the local pool two or three times per week for swimming and water running. I also ride my bike and use the elliptical trainer frequently. Last year I had a good group of co-workers that I would train with during my lunch break. Unfortunately I was relocated, so I rarely get to seem them now. They continue to be very supportive and I really miss them.

FW: What's with the earrings? (Heather has numerous ear piercings, but one is particularly noticeable with a near ½ inch diameter hole.)
HG: [laughs] What do you mean?! You don't like my earrings?

FW: Any pearls of wisdom you'd care to share from the Home Depot race?
Well, the guy who won said I had good mechanics when I run. Sounds like a new pick up line to add to the list!

FW: So how was the [Vermont City Marathon]?
The first mile felt terrible, then I looked at the watch and my split was 6:22. I thought I was going to have some trouble. [Wendy Hall, third place finisher] went out very fast. I thought perhaps too fast. But I kept her in sight and was never more than 100 meters behind. Somewhere around 10 or 11 miles I began to pull up on her and ran behind her for a while. I passed her on a hill near 11 miles. The rest of the race was great! The crowds were wonderful and they really helped carry me up the only significant hill which was around the 16-mile mark. My teammate Nikki Kimball was the greatest cheerleader. She ran with me for almost ½ mile cheering and yelling.

I gave my coach a thumbs up sign at mile 18 then saw him again at mile 20 when I yelled for a GU. He gave me a deer in the headlights look then started running ahead of me as he finally pulled a GU from his jacket. It turned out that the jacket zipper was stuck and he couldn't get to the GU supplies quick enough. The crowd in the final miles was incredible as I finished on a bike path in the park. The path was lined with screaming people. [Zeke Zucker, the elite coordinator for the Vermont City Marathon] was really great and took care of everything. He even sent a gift basket to the hotel room the night before for all the invited athletes.

FW: How do you feel now?
Pretty good. My knee hurts a little, but I guess that's to be expected. I'm sure rest and hot tea is all I'll need to fix that. It helped the night before the race for sure!

FW: And what's next?
I think I'm going to put marathons behind me for a while. I have nine races planned in the next eight weeks and I'd like to run well in each of them. We'll see. After that, maybe look into [qualifying] for some National races. And, I've promised to get my naval pierced if I break 5:00 in the mile this year, so I guess I'd better find a mile race somewhere!

(Interview posted May 30, 2003)

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