Interview with Rachel Kinsman
By Peter Gambaccini

Rachel Kinsman runs the 10,000m final at the 2002 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
(Both photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)
Kinsman competes at the very muddy 2003 USA Cross Country Championships in Houston.

Rachel Kinsman, formerly Rachel Sauder, ran 2:37:51 for 16th place at the 2003 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon and will compete in the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Women's Marathon, in St. Louis on April 3. Now 30, she was an Ohio state cross country champion at Archibold High School and went on to Auburn University in Alabama, where she won the Southeastern Conference 5,000/10,000 double in 1995 and 1996 and was third in the 10,000 at the 1996 NCAA Championships. Kinsman has run 15:38.84 in the 5,000 and 32:36.91 in the 10,000. She was sixth in the 10,000 at the 2002 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships and seventh in the 2003 USA Half-Marathon Championships, in 1:13:55. Since her undergraduate days, Kinsman lived in Salem, Oregon, went back to work as an assistant coach at Auburn, and then returned to teach high school biology and science at her hometown of Archibold, a town of 4,000, where she now lives with her husband, Michael Kinsman. A lot of the Olympic Trials competitors with the best times haven't run that many marathons. Blake Russell, Deeja Youngquist, Sara Wells, and you have each just run one. What might happen to those runners the second time around — yourself included?
Rachel Kinsman:
Speaking for me, I know I learned a lot from the first one that I can take into the second one. I know the more you run, the more you're going to learn. Maybe those who've run more in the last four or five years will have a little bit of an advantage, but I also know that sometimes it's not too bad to be a little naive and just go in there and run and see how you feel.

I went and ran the [St. Louis] course a couple of weeks ago. It's a great course. They've done a wonderful job. It's not too awfully tough, but yet there is some rolling stuff in there that's going to challenge you. I know Chicago was a pretty flat course; it had a few rolling hills in there, but nothing big either. I went to St. Louis because I wanted to see what I'd be running on. I only had to run the loop once and I knew exactly what I was going to face.

FW: For those who haven't been on the Trials course, can you describe it a bit?
There are three and a half loops. It's 6.88 miles per loop. We start on the track and do three and three-quarters laps and then head out and it's about a mile to get to the course loops in Forest Park. We finish in Forest Park. I went on it because I wanted to know exactly what it was like, so I could visualize where I need to be and what I need to do at certain points. One of the guys who is involved with the finish line and starting line crew took my husband and me around and showed us where everything was. I did my long run on there on Saturday afternoon. It worked out very well. I was very happy to take the time to go there and do that.

FW: You've said you learned a lot from the Chicago Marathon that you can apply to this Trials marathon. What are some of those things?
Be patient early. I think on this course, that's going to definitely be the key, because you start on the track, and the first mile is kind of downhill after we leave the track — it kind of gradually goes downhill into the park. So those first couple of miles are going to probably feel pretty easy, but that's where you really need to back off and know you have a long ways to go yet. Just be cautious on those first couple of miles. It's a long race. For me, I want to be able to run with people and kind of hook onto them and not have to think about it for a long time, kind of go through the motions for the first half or so and then really dig down and work that last half. I think the loops are going to help gauge that — do a couple of loops and then know that the last 10 or 11 miles are going to be where you focus.

FW: Chicago was your first race longer than a half-marathon. You found some of those middle miles from 15 to 18 the hardest, didn't you?
Yeah, 15 to 18 were the hardest for me. They always say once you hit 21, that's where you hit The Wall. But for me, I got to 13 and I was doing great, and 15 came along and it was a little bit harder, and once I got past 18, I was like "Okay, I can do these last eight miles." Fifteen to 18 were the hardest and what I've been thinking about now is getting past that point. I ran just the one marathon and a couple of halfs. Doing the long runs, I think about that middle point, focusing on that.

FW: Have you done more long runs in preparation this time?
About the same, but that is on top of the training I did for Chicago, just building on top of that. We haven't changed things too much. We've done a little bit more strength work at the end of a workout, doing our eight- or 10-mile tempo run and then doing some halves at the end of that, just working on the turnover, working on building up that lactic acid and having to run through that. I've done hill repeats at the end of mile repeats, adding a little bit of strength at the end so that once I get past halfway I can still feel pretty good and continue on through the rest of the marathon.

FW: At Chicago, why were you able to rally, to pull it back together again, after 18?
For me it was mental. The crowds are really good to Chicago. We got out to a certain point where there weren't too many people, and then we were heading back into town. I guess for me, it was probably just knowing "I'm at 18, I don't feel that bad." It was a matter of my mind having to concentrate and focus for that long. I had had a group of guys through halfway and then lost a few of them and then gained some back and just worked on running with them and focusing on them instead of focusing on myself.

FW: You went through the first half in 1:16 and change. Physically, did you feel you might be ready for back to back 1:16s?
I would like to think so, yes, probably ready for it more so now than then. But I was with a group and didn't want to get caught by myself too early. I was at the point where I could go off and run by myself or continue on with these guys. I chose to go myself, and I probably paid a little bit at the end, but I think in the long run, it was a good thing for me to do that. Now, going through in 1:16 or 1:17 is going to be where I need to be for the Trials.

FW: So is your Olympic Trials goal in the 2:31, 2:32 range?
That would be wonderful. Anything under 2:35 would be great. A 2:32, 2:34 would be a good goal for me.

FW: Do you think there's a chance 2:32 would be good enough to make the U.S. Olympic team?
I think so. It's one of those things, you never know. It just depends on how people want to race. With the Olympic standard raised to 2:37, most of the [contenders] have it. Is Deena [Kaston] going to dictate the race, or is Colleen [De Reuck]? Who's going to be the one to dictate it?

FW: Usually, one dark horse sneaks into the top three. Last time, someone who few people had heard of, Christine Clark, won the Trials. It's certainly possible someone like you, who's ranked 16th [on qualifying times] might sneak in for that third spot.
Right. That third spot is definitely open, and with everyone who's only run one, or who got their qualifier early and hasn't run [one since] 2001 or 2002, you never know what the last year has been like for them. That's why I think going into it you have to be open-minded and say it's anybody's day, and it's whatever happens on that day. That's why we run the race. That's what I keep telling myself, knowing that I'm [ranked] 16th going in, that doesn't necessarily mean that's where I'm going to finish or all those people are going to be up there the whole time.

FW: When did you really start pumping up the training after Chicago, and how much racing have you done since then?
I haven't done much racing at all. After Chicago, I took a two-week break of no running, just full recovery, which was wonderful. I'm glad I did that. I did all base work through December and into January and started doing workouts in January. I did the [Halliburton Half-Marathon in Houston] as a training long run [Note: She finished seventh in 1:16:26.] and I did a four-miler [March 13] in Ohio — the Beer Bottle Open in Columbus Grove in 21:40 [and was the women's champion]. I'm mainly focusing on training. It's hard to race and train and travel and that whole thing. I didn't race a lot before Chicago, and that seemed to work out okay. It's just getting those long runs and long intervals and tempo runs in. You don't have to quite be as sharp as you have to be for a 3,000 or 5,000, I've found.

FW: Did you do USA Cross Country this winter?
Yeah. I did that in February, more just because it was a local thing [nearby in Indianapolis]. I didn't really focus on that like I would have other years. I did the 8K [she was 22nd].

FW: You were on the 2000 U.S. cross country team that won the bronze at the Worlds. That must be one of the top experiences of your running career so far.
So far, yes, that is the best experience I ever had to this point. It was wonderful to stand up on that podium next to Ethiopia and Kenya; we were standing right there with them, with a team that really had no idea that we could do that. That was definitely the highlight to this point.

FW: You're now in Ohio by way of Alabama by way of Oregon. One of the reasons you had to leave Oregon was because of asthma problems. Is that alleviated now?
It was allergy-induced asthma. The grass seed pollen out in Oregon killed me. I found a lot of athletes have that problem when they go out there. Since I moved away from there, I haven't had any problem, so it's been nice.

FW: Is your college coach now in Iowa, and are you still working with him?
My college coach, Kelly Sullivan, is now the woman's coach at Oregon State. I'm coached by Lane Anderson, who is the women's coach at the University of Iowa. He was a graduate assistant when I was at Auburn. Then, when I went back to Auburn to coach, [Anderson] was there as the head men's and women's distance coach. When I left Kelly in Oregon and came to Auburn, I switched over to him just to have somebody there. I've seen Lane once a month since Chicago. It's more by e-mail and phone. Knowing me for the last 10 years or so, he kind of knows me and I know my body. It's a little easier with marathon training to not necessarily have someone here all the time, unlike doing the track workouts. It's worked out pretty well.

FW: Does your husband play a role in coaching you? What's his role regarding your running?
He's my biggest supporter. He has no running background at all other than what I communicate to him. But he's a huge supporter in what I'm trying to do and will ride his bike with me alongside me on the long runs. I don't necessarily have a running partner but I have a training partner when he's able to go with me, which is nice. He and his family own a propane business.

FW: Are you still teaching?
No, I finished my teaching in January. I got a job at the American Cancer Society in Defiance, Ohio, 20 miles from Archibold, starting at the end of January. I'm the administrative assistant. We have a five-county area that we're involved with. We have two [women] who do fund-raising. We have seven Relays for Life in our five-county area and we do a couple of galas and golf tournaments, that sort of thing. It's basically fund-raising to do the research. I enjoy having other things going on [besides running]. I've always had other things going on, so I don't know what it would be like not to. The job is flexible. I work 37 and a half hours a week.

FW: We were going to ask what the school kids thought of your running.
I'd been away [from Archibold] long enough that they didn't necessarily know who I was anymore. But some of their older brothers and sisters did, so once they finally found out who I actually was, it was really neat for them, and they had a lot of questions. And since I've been in Runner's World just recently, I'll see them at basketball games and track meets, and they ask how things are going. When they see me out running, they'll honk the horn and wave. They've been very interested in the whole [Trials] process, asking how it works and how many races you have to run.

FW: In a town like Archibold, you must be the most prominent athlete.
Around here, for right now, yeah. We have a lot of high school kids who are very talented, but when you start talking about the Olympics and that kind of thing, that brings another whole level up.

FW: How much track will you continue to do? Do you think being in great 'track shape' for the 5,000 and 10,000 was important to your doing well in Chicago?
I was still getting better at that sort of stuff, but we thought now might be the time [to move up in distance] instead of waiting until I wasn't able to run 15:30s anymore and then go to the marathon. Last April, I ran the 15:48 at Mt. SAC and went into my marathon training. We just thought that was a good time to do it. We've already talked about doing [the Marathon Trials] and seeing what happens and then maybe going back to doing some of the shorter stuff, some 5ks. I don't want to lose all my speed. We'll do some shorter road races.

FW: Is it true that you actually won the Ohio state cross country title in high school but were disqualified for an illegal uniform?
Yes, my senior year. I had won it my junior year. My senior year, it was a cold, rainy, bleak day. It was pretty nasty out. I had my tights and everything on. When I checked in, they checked our uniforms and I specifically asked them if my tights were okay and they said 'Yeah, yeah, no problem, whatever.' We didn't think anything of it. Then the gun goes off. One of the officials comes and grabs my coach and says 'We need you to come with us, Rachel's been disqualified.' So he was trying to fight them, trying to find the guy that had okayed [my uniform]. The guy denied it, and denied ever seeing me, saying I was one of the last ones to check in. There were coaches and athletes around who defended us because they were standing around when we'd asked. So it was a whole big ordeal. At the time, it was a huge thing for me. Now, it's gone past. But at 17 or 18 years old, having an adult say I was the one lying — that was probably the biggest lesson out of the whole thing, the adult saying "No, we never saw you and we didn't okay this."

FW: It makes you think about who you can trust and who you can't.
Yeah, exactly. When I see him to this day, he won't even look at me. We fought it. We went to the OHSAA (Ohio High School Athletic Association) and we lost 4-3. That usually never happens; usually it's 7-0 that people lose.

FW: As far as the Marathon Trials go, as you've indicated, it's hard to tell what kind of race. The key for you is that you can't let too many people get too far away too early on.
Exactly. And early on, it's 'run your race,' too. Like I keep telling myself, it's a long race and a lot of things can happen, just like in Chicago, where there were people who went out and came back to me later on, and I went by and went on and did my own thing. But you do want to keep track of who is there and what is going on ahead of you also.

FW: Most of your hard work is surely done by now.
Yeah. I have another workout tomorrow [March 19]. I'm going to do four times a mile at 5:20 with a couple of minutes rest in-between, just cruise intervals. And the next couple of weeks I'm just going to be maintaining and getting the legs feeling good and backing down a little bit.

(Interview conducted March 18, 2004, and posted March 23, 2004.)

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