Interview with Lauren Fleshman
by Abigail Lorge

Lauren Fleshman competes in the 5,000m at the 2003 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Fleshman runs with Shalane Flanagan at the 2003 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships...
...before breaking away to win her third-straight 5,000m title.
All Photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners

Last June, Lauren Fleshman concluded her stellar collegiate career by winning the 5,000m at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Sacramento. Her winning time of 15:24.06 broke the meet record by 13 seconds and gave Fleshman her third-straight NCAA title in the outdoor 5000m.

A 14-time All-American at Stanford, Fleshman made an impressive transition into the professional ranks this summer. Six days after her NCAA victory, the Canyon Country, California, native placed fourth in the 5,000m at the U.S. Nationals, and then twice improved her personal record in races on the European circuit: She ran 15:20.44 for seventh place (of 19 finishers) at the KBC Night of Athletics competition in Belgium on August 2, and 15:15.48 for 12th place (of 18 finishers) at the Norwich Union Grand Prix in London on August 8.

Two weeks later, the 21-year-old Fleshman was the lone American representative in the women's 5,000m at the IAAF World Championships in Paris, France. Running in the preliminary round on August 26, Fleshman improved her personal record for the third straight time when she placed 11th of 16 runners in her heat. She ran at the back of the lead pack for the first 4,000m, recording kilometer splits of 3:03, 6:08, 9:10 and 12:10 before losing contact with the leaders and finishing in 15:12.71. We caught up with Fleshman in Paris, the day after her senior World Championships debut.

TRAINING Can you give some specifics about what your training was like your senior year? I read that you ran 90 miles per week preparing for cross country [in 2002].

Lauren Fleshman: I run on trails as much as possible. And I try to do all my runs at a good pace unless I really need a recovery day. So every run I do with a purpose. If I'm recovering, then I recover in the full sense of the word. I'll run slow or I'll take the day off. I take a day off every week. I've been doing that my whole running career.

FW: A day off is cross training, or off?

FW: So you would run 90 miles in six days?
No, I would run seven days and take a day off. I always do that. The only time that I don't take a day off is sometimes at the end of the season, when you're not running very much mileage and you just want to do something active every day — if you're only running four miles a day or something. So that's the only time that I don't [take a day of rest each week].

FW: What pace would you run on a recovery day?
Probably seven minutes to 7:30 [per mile]. And if I'm really tired, 8:30. It just depends on whatever you need, just so it feels like recovery and your heart rate doesn't get up too high.

And then every other day that I go on a regular run, I run at least 70 percent of my max heart rate. I don't wear a heart rate monitor, but that sort of effort. Where you know that it's doing something for you, you're getting a benefit out of it. If you're not going to go out and run a good clip on those days then get the other purpose out of that session and recover. Don't do something in between. That's what my philosophy is on that, and what my coach's philosophy is.

FW: So what pace is that, would you guess, if you went out and did a regular six-mile run on a non-recovery day, at about 70 percent of your max heart rate?
Probably 6:15 pace, even down to 6:00 pace by the end of the year. I start out the year running 7:00, 6:45 for those runs and they just get progressively faster as I get in better shape. And some runs I'll finish faster than six minute pace. If I feel good, I always try to finish faster than I start, warm up into it.

FW: When do you feel your best physically? Are you a morning runner?
I feel my best running in cool weather. I like running in the mornings but if I have to do something on the track I definitely like to do it in the late afternoon or evening. I can go a lot faster that way.

And I do probably three hard sessions a week — on the track or a tempo run. Something more than just a training run.

FW: What are some examples of workouts you did?
In April, I did a workout with Alicia [Craig] and Sara [Bei]: Four by two miles in 10:40, with two minutes rest. Alicia and I did the last one in 10:20 or so. For a tempo run, we might do an eight-mile tempo run at 5:40 pace. We'd do that on a bike path that's marked every half-mile.

Then there's a long run. One long run a week. The highest mileage I've done on that is 18 miles in the summer and fall, and the rest of the year I would be somewhere between 12 and 16 miles, depending on if there was a race coming up or if I was really tired. That was a more flexible day of the week.

Last fall, training in Mammoth, we did an 18-mile long run with a four-mile tempo run built into it. So it was six miles regular, than a four-mile tempo, and then eight more miles. We averaged about 6:40 for the regular part and 5:40 or 5:45 pace for the tempo part.

I always try to run with people if I can — except on morning runs, when I like to run by myself, because I can run the pace that's appropriate for me and make sure that if I need recovery, I actually go recovery pace and don't get sucked into running with people who feel awesome on that day.

I think of the week in sessions. I don't think of a week as seven days, I think of a week as 12 sessions. Because 24 hours is sort of an arbitrary number [for training]. Sometimes you can recover in less than 24 hours. If I do weights, that counts as a session. So on a long run day, I'll do a long run in the morning as one session and then maybe I'll do a two-mile jog or something to warm up for weights and then do weights and core strength. And on a day when I do a tempo run, that will be one session and then later in the afternoon, I'll come back and do 300s on the track. Then maybe the next day, I'd do a recovery session in the morning, which would either be a slow run or even just can the run — don't do it at all — that counts as a session too sometimes, as long as it's productive. And then come back in the afternoon and do a training run at about 6:15 pace. So you're doing something hard almost every day.

When I'm fit aerobically, my heart rate's down to 42 [beats per minute] only four or five hours after a hard workout. Resting, it's been as low as 38. That's something that's really improved — it was 70 at one point.

FW: Do you take naps?
Yeah, during the fall. But training really mellowed out in the spring. I didn't need to do as many morning runs — the volume was lower. The quality on the track was harder, and just balancing school and everything and I didn't want to get injured by overreaching.

FW: Did you do your tempo runs on the track or trails?
We'd do them on trails. Sometimes we'd start it on the track to just get our pace. Just this last week, I did six miles at 5:30 pace.

FW: How uncomfortable is that for you, or is it not?
I try to make it feel like it's about 85 to 87 percent effort, so that's just what it felt like. It wasn't that tough.

FW: Do you ever have days when you just don't feel like going for a run?
Yeah. And then I don't (laughs).

You know, it depends. I have to think, 'OK, why don't I want to run right now? Am I legitimately really tired?' And then there's different times of year for that. In the summer or the fall, if I don't want to get out and go for a run, I usually make myself go and just start out slower and see. It's more appropriate to run tired that time of year. But in the spring, if I wake up in the morning, and as long as it's not because I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. doing homework — and the reason I don't want to run is because I'm spreading myself too thin with other things — then I think that you should listen to your body and when it says to take it easy. So I usually listen, and I think that's a big reason why I've been able to stay healthy. That's been encouraged by my coach. He encourages the whole team to do that because it does you no good to be hurt.

FW: When you're running that much mileage, do you still have to watch what you eat? Or is running that much enough to keep you thin? Do you eat dessert?
I eat dessert. I probably eat dessert foods two or three times a week — every other day or so. Then there are certain times of the season when I'm trying to be more regimented about everything. If I'm training really hard, I want the foods I put in my body to be really good quality and so I'll avoid that stuff [dessert foods]. I'm not trying to cut out calories, but just cut out things that just aren't doing me any good. For example, if I have to choose between a scone and some extra chicken tacos, I know the chicken tacos are bringing me a lot more benefit than the scone. So I'll try to make better athletic choices during those times of year, because you have to take care of the muscles that you're breaking down.

FW: Eating disorders are a fairly severe problem in the sport, but you seem to have a healthy outlook.
I know I have this reputation of having a healthy attitude, but there was a time when I'd just get dessert because I was terrified anyone would think I'm anorexic if I skipped it. We need an open forum to discuss [eating disorders]; it is a problem in our sport. But it's tough when the environment is [such that] I feel uncomfortable saying I don't want dessert. Because if I'm, say, 127 pounds, I know I'm skinny, but I just feel a bit sluggish when I run, and I'd feel better if I were 125. And it used to be hard to say, 'I don't want cookies and cake this week; I'd rather have foods with extra antioxidants,' without people thinking you have a problem.

But nutrition's just a very small part of it. During those times of year I'm worrying just as much about getting nine hours of sleep as I am about putting good foods in my body, because they're both small pieces of the puzzle.

FW: It's amazing for a college student to regularly get nine hours of sleep per night.
It took some sacrifices. I didn't get to go out and party a bunch of times, but I wasn't really that interested in it because I had something else I was passionate about. And my teammates were similar minded. We all knew that we wanted to perform at a high level and do really well and get better, and we all want to be in the sport for a while.

FW: Do you have a boyfriend?
No. Right now, I really enjoy being independent, being single. I'm sure it will change at some point, and I can't control when that happens, but right now I like being independent… Because being a professional athlete is a selfish endeavor in a lot of ways.

FW: Even though you were the two-time defending champion in the 5k at NCAA outdoors this year, did you feel like the underdog because Shalane Flanagan [of the University of North Carolina] was the cross country champion?
My attitude was that I had run a lot of 5ks, and so I knew that I was prepared for the race, and I knew that I should be able to respond to any move anybody in the NCAA could make. And so it was just a matter of whether or not I followed through... It was a decent amount of pressure, but most of it was applied by myself and I knew that if I had a good race, that that would equal probably a win. So I just wanted to make sure that that happened.

But I just heard a lot of people talking about the race. It was cool because having such good competitors in the NCAA and having such a great year for women's distance running started up a lot of interest in the longer events. And I noticed a greater crowd in Sacramento for the women's five than the other two years, a more enthusiastic audience. I think that all the hype helps that. There was a lot of talk about who would win — Shalane or me or Sara Gorton. I think all three of us were happy for that talk because at least people were talking about the sport.

FW: Was it tough to adjust to running a preliminary round in the 5,000m?
It wasn't that big of a deal because the times that had to be run weren't extraordinarily fast. It wasn't like here [World Championships] where you gotta break 15 to make the final (laughs). So, it was good, it was a good warm-up, it actually felt a lot better to get something in your legs rather than sitting around all week watching races for five days straight and then racing on the very last day, which is what it was like the other years. I think it's nice to just get out and get a practice round in.

FW: But it precludes you from doubling in the 1,500m, right?
That's true, you can't double very well, but in a way I think that maybe that's what contributed to the 5k and the 1,500m being so excellent at the NCAAs — because people had to specialize. And people were out there going for it since they were only running one event. They were like, 'Well, if I'm running one event, I'm gonna do it right.' There was none of this 'I'm saving energy for the 5k, I've got to run as easy as possible to win.' So I think that that probably contributed to the fact that it was the fastest 5k and 1,500 in (meet) history.

FW: Would anything less than winning have disappointed you?
Yeah, I would've been disappointed if I hadn't won. I just knew that if I didn't win, I wanted someone to have to do something extraordinary to beat me. I feel that if I'm on top of my game and I'm fit, then that's how I would approach the race. But if someone did something extraordinary and beat me and I still ran as hard as I could, then I'd have to be happy with that.

FW: Two of the three times that you won the outdoor 5k title, you weren't the favorite [in 2001, reigning cross country champion Kara Grgas-Wheeler was favored and in 2003, Shalane Flanagan was the reigning cross country champ and Sara Gorton was the indoor 5k champ]. Is there something about you as a competitor that makes you have your best day when it matters the most?
That's just how I've been trained since I was a freshman in high school — and my collegiate coaches have the same philosophy — and that's that it doesn't matter what happens all year long, it matters at the big show. So obviously, you need to take the steps to practice good racing along the way, but in the end, it's who's better on that day at the NCAAs (or the state meet or whatever the equivalent was in high school). I've practiced running well at the big race for eight years now, so I hope that I can just translate that to the next level.

FW: You mean in terms of exercising control early in your season?
Yeah, basically pacing yourself through the season and realizing that you can only go to the well and run 100 percent of your effort so many times in a year if you want to last the whole year and stay healthy. And so [that means] picking and choosing which ones of those races you're going to do that in and which workouts you're going to do that in, and being very, very selective. And sometimes that means maybe you're not going to be ready and peaked for some race and you'll get beat by someone that you feel like you shouldn't get beat by. But that's OK as long as later on in the year you don't let that hang you up when it's time for the big race. You just have to know that that's a different day and you're ready now.

FW: You had such a long season — cross country, indoors, outdoors, and now this summer circuit. Did you go back to base building before you began your European campaign?
No, I just kept extending my season. It was like, 'Well, I'll run two more weeks… OK, I guess I did pretty well, I'll run two more weeks.' And then the plan was to just try to get some really good experience over here and try to get an Olympic 'A' qualifier and if I made it to the World Champs, that would be great. So [Worlds] has all been icing on the cake and it's been sort of surprising that I've been able to keep improving every race over here. Three times in a row — it keeps blowing my mind that it's possible — but I think that's a good testament to the type of training that I was allowed to do at Stanford and that I wasn't over-raced. I think that they took good care of me and I can see that now after these experiences. I can see that, OK, they didn't overwork me even though I did race three seasons. I think that it's definitely possible to run three seasons and still have a successful summer. You just have to have the kind of coaching to back that up and the kind of patience to maybe not win some races that you would like to win because you're training through them for the sake of having a good summer. I think I trained through most of cross country and indoor and I didn't really peak for those.

FW: What was your philosophy at indoor NCAAs — were you trying to score as many points as possible? [She placed fourth in the 5,000m and second to Flanagan in the 3,000m.]
Yeah, pretty much. I wanted to just try to see, OK, I'm still working really hard right now, at this time of year, I want to see if I can still pull off a win in the 5k or 3k.' Because if you can get close to that and you aren't even peaked for it, then that's a lot of encouragement going into the next season when you are planning on peaking and aiming towards your best performance. 'Wow, you know, I was close to a win, or I won this winter and I was still doing base work.' And I got pretty close; I was second in the 3k and had a decent performance in the five.

FW: So did you leave indoor NCAAs thinking, 'l did well considering I wasn't peaked for this' or feeling bad about not having won either race?
A combination of both. I can't really say I was wholly satisfied. The thing that was really productive about indoor nationals, though, is that it served as really good fuel for the spring, because I hated losing both of those races. As much as I knew that in the big picture it doesn't really matter, it caused me to reevaluate and say, 'The bar is rising in NCAA track and field and how am I going to stay consistent with that, move up with all the other women and still be able to win?' and that showed me, OK I have to be tougher with 1k to go in the 3k and in the 5k, and I've got to be able to have the courage to pass somebody who's the favorite. That was something that was a little bit tough for me in the indoor 3k. I think that I didn't allow myself to get the most out of my kick because I hesitated a little bit and then I just came up a little short at the end.

FW: Do you know Shalane?
I didn't know her very well until USA Nationals when Alicia Craig and I went out to coffee with [UNC 800m runner] Alice Schmidt and Shalane Flanagan. And it was fun, we had a good time, I really like those girls and I was thinking, oh, man, we should've been hanging out the last three years, instead of just eyeing each other across the track. They're really friendly. We hung out before the race. We went on a run and stuff. It's nice to get to know your competitors.

FW: You had three top-five finishes in your career at NCAA cross country nationals. You must have been thrilled with that consistency when you finished your collegiate cross country career?
Yeah, I mean I would've liked to have been in the running for first, but I let Shalane go right off the gun and that's one thing I've learned: she just can't do that anymore. You can pull that kind of stuff off (winning from way behind) in high school and maybe in earlier years during college, but the kind of athletes that are coming out right now, you can't let them go. They're top class. So, in that way, I wasn't that happy with it. I guess I was happy with it but I just knew that I had some things to learn.

But I was very proud of myself for being consistent all four years and feeling like I raced to my fitness four years in a row, which is hard to do. There is so much mental crud that gets in the way in that sport. And so it felt like it was a big accomplishment just to make it through four years without letting any of that stuff cheat me out of getting the most out of my abilities.

FW: How do the nerves of an NCAA track final compare with what you experienced at the World Championships?
I think most of the NCAA races I've run, I was probably more nervous than I was here. Because when something's totally new you don't even know really what to be nervous about. You're so taken in by the novelty of it all that it doesn't really seem real. I didn't really feel like I was in the World Championships prelims (laughs). 'Oh, look, 50,000 screaming fans.' You're just like a little kid taking it all in. That's what I felt like. But once I saw that first heat, and six women ran under 15 minutes, then I've got to say I felt some nerves.

FW: Where did they hold you before you came out on your track for your race (Fleshman was in the second of two preliminary round heats)?
They hold you for 45 minutes in this pen area where you can't really do any warming up. We watched the first heat on TV, and the girl from China [Sun Yingjie] just hammered it from the gun and you could just see all the women in there [in the pen waiting for the second heat], even Gabriela Szabo and Sonia O'Sullivan and everyone's kind of looking around thinking, ooh, looks like we've got a race coming up, we've gotta run fast.

FW: Sun Yingjie really made a big breakthrough last year.
It's cool. Seeing things like that here, it makes you realize you can make big improvements within one year, just by knowing where you need to go. So now I feel like I have a really good idea of what it's going to take to be competitive at this level. And that's basically what I need to do. I need to be fit enough and confident enough to feel like I can be a contender. Because if you're a contender, you're going to be excited through the whole length of the race. And it's tougher to be excited about being in 12th place.

FW: Even though you're running at a pace that would win you an NCAA title, it is a totally different mindset. In your European campaign this year, how did you make that adjustment. Are you just aware that even though you're in 12th place, you're on pace for a PR?
I think it's just a matter of the attitude that I've taken to each race and I applied here, which is this: Bottom line — I'm here to test my fitness. I want to see how fast I can run over the distance of 5,000 meters. Twelve and a half laps — how fast can I run? So none of the other stuff around you matters. If you're going to be in 12th and doing that, that should be the same as if you're in fourth and doing that, theoretically. So I didn't want to let the fact that I was in 12th make me run slower than I was capable of, and I knew that I would regret it if I allowed it to do that. Then I would've gone home thinking, 'Man, I didn't take advantage of those opportunities. I had such great races and great people to follow along with.'

The thing that kept me if I got discouraged about the fact that I was in 12th and it wasn't that exciting, I would think to myself, 'Look at this — you're running a really hard workout with the best female athletes in the world.' It would be like saying, 'Lauren, go run a three-mile tempo run with Sonia O'Sullivan and Jo Pavey and just try to see how long you can hang on.' So when I got tired in the race, I just thought 'You don't want to drop off because then you won't get to finish the workout with JO Pavey and Sonia O'Sullivan. Just try to hang on, see what happens, don't worry about it.'

FW: Was it hard to adjust from your team routine at Stanford to the environment at the World Championships, where you were the only American in your event? Who did you eat breakfast with, warm up with, etc.?
It's been surprisingly easy to transition a team attitude to the US level because the athletes here want to be part of a team. The US wants to be a solid unit and represent the country really well at the international level. And so all it takes is a couple people with a little spark in their eye to be like, "All right, let's go U.S.A." and everybody seems to get pumped up about it. So we've had good leadership this year on the US team and the women, especially the distance runners, it just blows my mind how supportive they've been. Deena Drossin and Elva Dryer and Amy Rudolph and others have just been more than willing to offer advice and tips on how to make it to the next level. So I've been eating breakfast with them and hanging out with them.

Deena and Elva are here [in Paris], and Amy was in Teddington when I was training for the European circuit. It was cool. It's been really easy. And then the men's team — Meb [Keflezighi] is over here and Dan Browne and some steeplechase guys — Robert Gary and Steve Slattery and Jorge Torres. I know a lot of these people already. And John Godina, the shot-putter, he's been really cool too. And Jon Drummond is totally friendly. The very first day I got here he was talking to me and Elva and everybody and was like, "What's up? Go USA." It's cool. He brings a lot of excitement to the sport.

FW: Did you talk to Vin Lananna on the day of your race?
I called him up the day before my race, and talked to him about some strategy, showed him the heat sheets over the internet.

FW: What kind of recommendations did he give you when he saw your heat (which included Ethiopia's Berhane Adere, who has run 14:29 this year, and seven other women who have run well under 15 minutes)?
It's hard looking at those lists.

FW: You must've been happy that the pace of your heat was relatively sane — you ran a 3:03 first kilometer, which is exactly on pace for your PR coming into the race.
I was definitely happy with that, but at the same time, it definitely would've been nice if it was a little slower like it had been in previous years. Had it taken 15:20 to make it to the final like it had in previous years, I definitely could've run with those women at 15:30 or 15:40 pace and kicked home the last 1,000m as well as the rest of them in that situation. But if the pace is going out in 15:00 pace, and then you need to come back over the last kilometer…

FW: …You're trying to kick off your PR pace.
Yeah, I can't really do that at this point in the year, when I'm a little bit overripe. So that's what I have to do next year, I have to be able to be going through in 15:00 pace and run a killer last 1,000m. So it's just a matter of readjusting my workouts, readjusting my goals, just shifting everything forward a little bit. And just try to remember you don't have to change too much, you've got to use the same things that have been successful for you in the past but just tweak them a little bit so they're appropriate for the present.

FW: What specifically did Coach Lananna tell you in terms of strategy?
He said to look at the sixth-place person in the first heat, find out what time they ran and then make that the cap of what you go out 3k in, go through 3k in that pace, because then you know you'll kick in the last 1,000m and you'll run a faster time than that and you'll get in [to the final] if you're in the top 10 in that heat. [Note: There were two heats of the 5,000m, and the top five finishers in each heat plus the runners with the next five fastest times advanced to the final.] We both assumed that my heat would be the faster [of the two] overall.

But then it turned out that sixth place was 14:58 (laughs). [Vin] didn't know it would be that. We both assumed it would be 15:20 or 15:18. So [when I saw the first heat times] I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, what do I do now with that information? Don't know if that's gonna work.'

FW: Were you aware of the pace you were running? Do you look at your splits on the clock they have by the 400m mark?
I normally would, but because of the fact that the first heat went so fast, I knew that I didn't stand a chance if I kept looking at the clock. I didn't want to impede my ability to run fast by being overwhelmed by what the clock said. It's just hard to go through in your 3k PR and be like 'Oh, OK, I'm fine, I can kick hard the last 2k.' It just mentally plays tricks on you. So I figured I'll just run with the group and try not to look at the laps, try not to look at the time, and just focus on being competitive and see how long I can hang on. Who knows what can happen? If you don't give yourself the opportunity, then you're definitely not gonna make it. At least I put myself in it.

FW: When did you realize that Flanagan and Shayne Culpepper didn't have a 'B' qualifier, so that if Runyan didn't run at Worlds you'd be next in line [to compete in Paris]?
I didn't know that until I ran in Belgium (August 2) and I ran one one-hundredth of a second faster. (The "B" standard was 15:20.45; Fleshman ran 15:20.44 at a meet in Heudsen-Zolder, Belgium.) So I was like, 'Oh, there you go, I guess you're the only one with the B.'

FW: And now you're only a few seconds from the Olympic A standard (15:08.70)
I just gotta tick those [seconds] off next year.

FW: You mentioned yesterday that while you were at Worlds, you talked to a lot of the more experienced athletes in the village. Did anyone in particular have good advice for you?
Yeah, Elva Dryer and Deena Drossin in particular. I really got a lot from them. It surprised me how down-to-earth they are, how normal. I think that they have a great balance in their lives, so that was a really good example for me, because I feel like I have a good balance in my life now. I didn't know what it would take to make it to that next level and if I was going to need to sacrifice that or if I could maintain other passions, and I think you can. I think they both are evidence of that. They've encouraged me to stay happy in my life. Don't let go of things that make me happy, because that's what's going to make you successful in your sport —having outside interests. I do art, I play guitar, and I sing.

FW: After NCAA Outdoors, did you know you'd be going to Europe?
Yes, I didn't have my ticket yet or anything but I was planning on doing a couple races after the US Nationals.

FW: But you didn't race again until August?
I wanted to take a couple weeks just to unwind, because between NCAAs and USAs there were six days and I graduated, moved out of my apartment in those six days. And all my friends were leaving… It was a really hectic and a very emotional time. So I was thinking, OK, I know if I just go and take off to Europe right after the US Nationals, I'm going to be fried, I need to just mentally regroup. So I just took a couple weeks to just train. There was hardly anybody in Palo Alto except my coaches. It was good. It was very effective.

FW: How long have you been here in Europe?
I left July 25th so I've been over here since then. I spent some time in England [in Teddington] — that was my base. I loved England. It's such a cool place. The women distance runners in England are so cool — JO Pavey and Catherine Berry and Kathy Butler — they were so nice to me. They were just great examples and took me out to coffee and knew that I was over there pretty much by myself and that left a big impression on me so I really want to do the same for younger athletes.

FW: Does the lifestyle of a professional athlete appeal to you?
I like the lifestyle a lot. Just talking to Bob Kennedy — he was cool too, and he gave me a good perspective on what it's like to be living over here in England, because he lives in England during the summers and uses it as his base. And he just said that you just make it your second home. And that's what I heard from a lot of people, so I think it'd be cool It's nice that there's no language barrier in England and the food's good — I like it.

FW: Did you stay in a dorm or a flat?
I actually stayed at St. Mary's College — so a dorm at a small school and then I stayed in Kingston for a little bit at Chase Lodge, kind of a condo-type place. But I think I liked the college better. Something about a college is just familiar...

FW: When did you find out that Vin Lananna was leaving Stanford to become the athletic director at Oberlin?
Between NCAAs and USAs, which was another thing to add onto that list of emotional adjustments during that week.

FW: What was your reaction?
I was really surprised, but I think that even right away, after thinking about it for about five minutes, I thought that everything was going to be fine. The team's in really good hands. I think that Coach Lananna will be an awesome athletic director. He made Stanford one of the best programs in the country — he's a big part of that. He definitely has a skill at building things from the ground up. He has an amazing ability to have a vision for a place and turn it into reality. So I think he's probably got big plans for Oberlin and they're lucky to have him.

FW: Did you panic a bit, thinking that this is the guy led Michael Stember and Gabe Jennings to the Olympics in 2000, and now he's moving across the country the year before I try to make the Olympics?
It just made me think, "OK, so this is going to be a little more complicated than I originally thought." But I knew that he would be supportive and he had offered early on to support me through 2004 and I knew that he would carry through his word on that. I also knew that there were other options available. My assistant coach Dena Evans is really coming into her own as a coach, and she is just going to do an amazing job with those women [on Stanford's team]. They all are very confident in her abilities. She's awesome with the women. So I think the program will blossom in a lot of ways with her in charge of it.

FW: Who was designing your program?
Vin. I think Dena had input, but primarily Vin. But I figured Dena was coached by Vin for four years and then worked right underneath him for four more years and so she has learned a lot and has a really good sense of the sport now. And then also Coach Gagliano, with the Farm Team. I knew that that would be an option that I could try to make work. So there's enough coaches out there.

FW: For now your plan is to get input from both Vin and Dena?
Yeah, so in order to make that work, I'm going to spend part of the year in Oberlin because I think it's a better recipe for success to actually have one-on-one, hands-on training and be in the same physical location for part of the year than to do it all over email and phone.

FW: Are you thinking about doing [the USA Cross Country Championships]?
Yes, I think I will.

FW: What about indoor track?
That I'm less sure about and less keen on. If I were to do it, I probably wouldn't do more than one or two races. Outdoor track is definitely the focus. The Olympics is up there.

I've progressed faster than I thought I would. Originally I didn't think [making the Olympics in] 2004 was a realistic goal… I thought maybe 2008. Now winning a medal in 2008 is a legitimate possibility. I want to compete through 2012. I love the sport that much.

FW: Did you ever think when you were a high school runner that you would be a professional runner at some point?
You know, it's kind of weird, but even when I was a little kid, I can remember thinking that there was something in my life that I was gonna do that I was gonna be really good at. And I remember trying to experiment with what it was and I would change my mind every week. So it was, 'I think I'm supposed to be the next Christopher Columbus,' as soon as I learned about him in school. 'What am I gonna discover? I need to get a ship and go sail across the world and try to find something new.'

Then I was like, 'No, that's not it. OK, maybe it's a really good artist. 'So I would just dive into art, and just paint, draw. And then I got really into sports because I lived in a neighborhood full of boys. And I found out I was pretty talented at sports. So I just wanted to leave no stone unturned and explore all sports and all skills — music, art, and I played piano and guitar. And I thought, 'One of these things I'm going to be really passionate about and I know I can make it to the highest level in.' And I think that my parents sort of instilled that in me, and my dad always told me I could do anything, especially when it came to athletics because he didn't have any boys and he was really encouraging my sister and me. So when running started going really well, I thought 'This just might be the thing.' So I always kind of felt that there was a place for me at this level and now I think I've developed the skills necessary — and I'm working on improving those skills — that will help me to compete at this level and make those transitions. I think winning becomes a habit and so if you don't get too overwhelmed by how much you need to improve to get there, then just be patient and work hard and it should happen.

FW: Do your parents, Joyce and Frank, have athletic backgrounds?
My mom was really good at ping pong and badminton. I think those are the only sports they let her play in her high school. And my dad grew up — he was just a scrapper. I know he was good at anything that he did. And he used to box other kids in Louisiana and he's just tough. He works construction — he's a prop-maker for Hollywood TV shows and movies. He's just really strong. So I think that either one [of my parents] would've been outstanding athletes.

I went on a run recently with my Mom, and she has the most natural stride. I couldn't believe it. She never runs a step and she was running and her foot strike is perfect, her arms are in the right position. Everything is just right and she's clueless about it. I said, 'Mom, that's where I got it! You would've been an awesome runner.'

FW: How old is she?
She's 48. So I think she should take the sport up and do masters competitions (laughs).

FW: You have one sister (Lindsay Fleshman)?
Yeah, and she's a really awesome rugby player. She's one of the stars at UC-Santa Cruz on their team. And she never played rugby before college (she was a freshman last year) and she just tore it up. We would wrestle and kick each other's butt growing up and she ended up a lot stronger than me by the time we were in high school. She's shorter than me but more muscular. She was an awesome softball player in high school — team captain, great leader.

FW: Did you call your family in California right after your race here in Paris?
I tried to and the phone was busy.

FW: Maybe they were on line, trying to figure out how you did.
Probably. But they're extremely supportive. They came to every NCAAs, and they were my good luck charms. It's hard for them to make it out to things like [Worlds]. It was kinda last second, making the team, and it's really expensive. So they're saving their money for Athens.

FW: What was your academic program at Stanford like? Did you do a thesis or senior project?
I'm a human biology major. I'm doing a master's in education next year. My emphasis in human biology is women's health and athletic performance. So I studied physiology, anatomy, osteology — which was really helpful in my own running because I could apply all that stuff to my sport. I wanted to be a student of my sport, how my body worked and everything. So that worked out well for me.

Now I'm taking my education to another level, to study social sciences and education. I want to study the effect of sports involvement on young girls' educations. From studies that I've read, if you're involved in sports as a girl when you're going through puberty, you're more likely to have high self-esteem and good body image. You're less likely to do drugs, you're less likely to have unwanted pregnancy. It delays your sexual activity, which is good, for a time when you're more mature and able to handle it. And I just think that's so important. And in a world where girls are disempowered in a majority of countries and where you have two million girls a year undergoing things like genital mutilation… I mean, there's horrible things happening to women and I think that there's lots of ways to approach those problems, but I think that encouraging girls to participate in sports, and giving them opportunities to do that is a really good way to combat all those inequalities in the world between men and women, and just help empower [women] to take care of themselves and have their voices be heard. And I think that the results will extend far beyond them just having better health. They'll extend to them being able to have better gender/power relations in their relationships with men and having greater voices in politics and in their communities.

So my dream would be to have a global sports foundation for women that would fundraise money somehow — that's the part I have to figure out how (laughs) — and then have that be a fund that women in any part of the world could write in a proposal to and say, 'I'm from Afghanistan, I'm a concerned mom. I want to start an after-school soccer club for girls and we need equipment; can we have a $2000 grant?' And be able to say, 'Yes, here you go.' Just have it be that easy. Someone doesn't have to have a master's degree — this woman from Afghanistan could just send a handwritten proposal.

There's a really awesome organization — Global Fund for Women — that doesn't focus on sports but it's the same sort of philosophy and it's awesome. But my [Stanford academic] advisor is the creator of that. Her name is Anne Firth Murray, and she's really encouraged me.

I took a lot of feminism classes too. It's been the best education. I am really happy with Stanford. If I could do that [work for a global sports foundation for women] the years when I'm running, I think that that would be a really good way to use my athletic abilities to make a change in the world in some small way and it would be something compatible with training. You can have time [while training] to have a vision for something like that and find the right people, make the right connections. The women who are competing in the World Championships are often times the extreme minorities in their countries. I can't imagine what it would be like to be a Kenyan woman distance runner. What place is there for them in their culture, where most women are very disempowered and there's just not much for them to do to invest in their own human capital? The fact that [the Kenyan women] are here at all is just amazing to me.

FW: Are you aware that you're part of a global sports movement when you step on the track with women from all of the world?
Yeah, and they're inspiring people across the world, inspiring girls to be active in sports. I think that that's cool. If I can make the kind of connections over the next few years at these types of events, to find other women who are passionate about creating opportunities in their home countries for girls, then that will be a good start to the organization.

FW: What are you reading right now?
Right now I'm reading a book, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. It's a really good book — I'm sort of getting a jump-start on my master's thesis. And I just finished the Harry Potter books over here.

FW: So you're not getting your master's with an eye towards being in the classroom?
I can use it for that later on in life. But as of now it's more just for research — the social science of education. I'll do research on girls and sports. Because if you can find ways to improve the education of kids, then that's great. So [the master's degree] is going to be very useful in lots of ways.

(Interview conducted August 27, 2003, Posted September 8, 2003)

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