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Interview: Milena Glusac

Milena Glusac on her way to a 6th-place 32:40 10k in the rain and dark of the 2001 Mt. Sac Relays.
( Photo)

Milena Glusac Links
A Brief Chat with Milena Glusac
Glusac wins 2000 Avon Running National Championship: Story | Photos | Results
Palomar hires Glusac as XC coach
Photo and race preview from Oregon Daily Emerald
1997 Q&A from U of Oregon site
California State XC Champs Through the Years
1992 Kinney XC Results

By Scott Douglas

Heading into last August's America's Finest City Half Marathon in San Diego, Milena Glusac decided that her training had been going well, so she traded her planned journalistic duties on behalf of Running USA for a place on the starting line. She ran 1:14:33 for fourth place and has been on a roll ever since. That race qualified her for the World Half Marathon Championship, where she placed tenth in a PR 1:13:53. Her year also included a 10k PR of 32:32 on an Ekiden leg in Japan and a win at the Avon Running 10k U.S. Championship in December. So far this year, she has placed fourth at the Gate River Run 15k, run a 53:34 PR for fourth at the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile and, last month, won her first national championship by beating all Americans, including Deena Drossin, en route to placing third at the River Bank 25k. Glusac, 25, originally hails from Fallbrook, California. As a high school senior she finished 2nd in the 1992 Foot Locker (then Kinney) Cross Country Championships in a close duel with Amanda White before heading to the University of Oregon. (June 2001)

For starters, what's the derivation of your name? A lot of people seeing your name in results probably think you're an Eastern European.
My name is Serbian.

You've had a great last year after being largely unknown before 2000. I know you qualified for the 1996 Olympic Trials at 5,000m, but what happened in the interim?
What happened in the interim could take a novel to re-tell and explain, so I will try to give a "Cliff Notes" version. Basically, between 1995 and 2000 I was injured and ill. I suffered severely from chronic fatigue syndrome and the Epstein-Barr virus. The syndrome completely destroyed my immune system, and I was constantly sick and fatigued. In fact, at one point I almost withdrew from school because I was physically unable to attend class.

The syndrome started in 1995, and I would go through periods of feeling better and then worse. In 1996, I did qualify for and compete in the Olympic Trials, even though I was suffering from the illness. I was basically relying on guts and talent in the race.

I also suffered from a series of five different stress fractures during this time. The fractures were not a result of overtraining or low bone density -- I was not running much, 30-40 miles [per week] when I could, or many times not at all, and my bone density was and is 107 percent of average or normal -- but a result of my muscular system being unable to carry the load it should because of the fatigued state it was in.

I also realized that I had a myriad of food allergies that were adding to and complicating my health issues. I could literally swell 5 to 10 pounds in a few days without changing my eating habits. I was, to say the least, extremely frustrated and dumbfounded. My joints would seize up as if I had arthritis, and I would break out in hives.

It was not until mid 2000 that I was able to gain enough insight into my puzzle and piece the entire picture together. Thus, I was able to start training again. I never doubted my running abilities and have been fortunate enough to have the love of my family, who have always supported me and have had faith in my abilities.

People would always tell me to "give it up" or say, "Why do you do this?" My reply would be, "Because I love what I do." Truly, my passion for what I do is that simple. I have been blessed with this gift, and I appreciate my abilities. I want to demonstrate to the universe how love, passion and faith can come into harmony and create a beautiful melodic symphony of life.

What do you do now to keep these conditions at bay?
I basically keep my life simple. I eat the foods that agree with me, I get plenty of sleep and rest, I race when my body is ready, I laugh and I love my life.

You played intercollegiate tennis at the University of Oregon. What's up with that? Do you still play, or do you now have the usual distance runner's pitiful horizontal movement ability?
Playing tennis at Oregon was the highlight of my collegiate athletic career. I had so much fun. I still play a bit, and although I may not have as much vertical as Sampras does when he is going up for an overhead, I do have a lot of skill and move well. I started playing tennis at the age of 3 -- the racquet was bigger than I was -- and it will always be a part of my spirit. In high school, the girls I competed against were much stronger and bigger than I was, but I used my small size to my advantage. I would make a match last five hours if need be. I made endurance part of the game.

Your best races in the last year have been at 10 miles, the half marathon and 25K. Will you be taking the next logical step and tackling the marathon soon? If not, what distances and venue will be your main focus for the next few years?
I plan on making the marathon part of my race schedule. However, I am taking my racing one competition at a time and just enjoying what I am doing.

Are you a full-time runner? What do you do all day?
For the past two years, I had taught at a junior college and coached women's cross country. Now I am training full time. I have realized that in order to get the proper rest I need, I must dedicate my time to training and recovery. I am just starting to be able to run twice a day. In the past I never felt well enough to go out in the afternoon. I have been training with Team USA Southern California under the guidance of Joe Vigil and Bob Larsen. With their expertise, coupled with the expertise of my coach for the past three years, Bill Dellinger, I feel I am progressing at the right pace.

How does that work? How do you balance training with others with the advice you receive from Bill Dellinger? Are your workouts and mileage different than when you're training alone?
Bill's program fits in perfectly with the Bob Larsen's and Joe Vigil's program. They allow me to progress at my own pace and ask me how I am feeling. They are able to physically see me and monitor my progression and thus make the necessary adjustments to my program. I have been able to increase my mileage a bit, but that is due to the fact that my health has allowed me.

Right now we are at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, and in the fall will be training in Mammoth, California for some altitude work. I love the program and the athletes, coaches and supporters involved in our efforts.

You received a Roads Scholar grant from the Road Runners Club of America. In tangible terms, what difference can a one-time payment of $4,000 make to a struggling young distance runner?
The Roads Scholar Program was a crucial component of my progression. Not only did the financial support allow me to pay my way to races and thus gain important experience, but the pure sense of knowing that a group was willing to support my dreams and goals was an intense psychological boost and motivating factor. The RRCA is an incredible organization, and I cannot thank them enough. Hopefully, I can thank them through my running and by speaking to others about this wonderful program.

How is it different running in a women-only race, such as the World Half Marathon Championship? Do you prefer the women-only races to open road races?
I love the concept of women-only races. Support for women's fitness is crucial and programs such as the Mini Marathon, Race for the Cure and the Avon Series have made it possible for women's running to receive the support and attention necessary. I have competed in races sponsored by these organizations and will continue my pledge to support women's running.

In terms of preference for single-gender races compared to mixed-gender races, I would have to say that I enjoy competing in both. I like being able to run in races with men and demonstrate how strong females are, and I enjoy running in races where there are only women and we receive the attention we deserve for increasing our fitness and strengthening our minds.

Finally, inquiring minds want to know: What's the deal with wearing make-up in races?
Don't most women get dressed up to go to work?

Scott Douglas is a former editor of Running Times and co-author of four running books, including Advanced Marathoning (Human Kinetics, 2001).


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