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Schwald opens her 2001 Outdoor season with a mile victory at the
By Peter Gambaccini
a busy winter of racing, Sarah Schwald was third in the 3000 at the
USATF Indoor Championships in 8:57.03 and fourth in the 4k at the USATF
Cross Country Championships. She went on to place 48th in the 4k at
the World Championships is Ostend, Belgium. She placed second to Regina
Jacobs in the mile at the Millrose Games in 4:43.41 and third in the
3000 at the New Balance Invitational in Boston in a personal best of
8:51.68. Schwald was seventh in the 1500 at the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials
and has a fastest time of 4:09.89 for that distance. She was the 1995
NCAA indoor 3000 meter champion while at the University of Arkansas
and a double winner in the 1500 and 3000 at the 1994 Southeastern Conference
Championships as a junior. Schwald, who attended high school first in
Colorado and then in Washington State, was the 1988 U.S. Junior champion
in the 1500 and set the still extant Millrose Games High School Girls
Mile mark of 4:49.84 in 1989. She now lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where
she is coached by Peter Tegen and trains with Suzy Favor-Hamilton, Amy
Wickus, and Kathy Butler. Schwald opened up her outdoor season with
a 4:34.02 mile victory at the Penn Relays.
first got you into running?
I actually started running in Concord, California when I was seven in
1980, the start of the big Running Boom. My mother used to run for a
club in Seattle way back in the '60s. She was actually a really good
runner, but I had no idea. When I was seven, I ended up playing in a
closet that I probably wasn't supposed to be in, and I found a medal.
And I thought that was so cool. I'm walking around the house with this
medal on. My mom was like "where did you get that?" I wanted
to know "oh, is it yours? What did you get it for?" She said,
"oh, I used to run a long time ago." I said "well, I
want to run" -- mostly because I really wanted to get a medal.
She's like, "it's not that easy." She actually really discouraged
me from running, because she felt there really weren't opportunities.
Back when she was running, they didn't think women could run a mile.
distances had she run?
She was running the 800 and 1500. She was telling me when she was in
high school, women had to wear shorts and then skirts over them. She
didn't really think it was a great idea for me at the age of seven.
She took me to a road race and thought I was going to see all of these
people hot, sweaty, really miserable. It kind of started off that way
until I saw a van pull up and all these little girls got out. They had
the same uniforms on. They all had their hair in pigtails, with little
ribbons the same color as their uniform. I said "I want to do that,
the other kids are doing that!"
me to a one-mile cross country race, around the school, on the grass.
She thought "okay, now she's going to realize running hurts, it's
not that fun." I ended up placing second and getting a big ribbon,
like one of those horse ribbons. I just thought that was the greatest
thing ever. From then on, I decided I was going to be a runner.
most of the kids in that race your age?
It was first through sixth graders, and I was in first grade, and the
girl who won was in sixth grade. And I was running with her the whole
time. We went up this hill to the finish and I was running right alongside
of her. My mom was so excited, she started yelling "sprint, sprint!"
I'd never heard that word before in my life, I had no idea what "sprint"
meant. So I stopped, I thought something was wrong. She said "no,
no, no, keep running." So I ended up getting second.
did your mother think of that?
She said "well, you know you have to train if you're going to run."
I thought that wasn't a big deal. Every day, after school, I would run
around the baseball field as many times as I could without stopping.
After about two weeks, she figured "okay, this isn't going to stop."
She started helping me at that point. She was my coach pretty much until
I went through
college, except during the high school season. To do Junior Olympics
stuff and U.S. Juniors, she would coach me.
create what she called "artificial off years," where she
wouldn't let me race as much. During that time, she'd make me try every
other sport under the sun. She felt "you're too young to focus
on one thing." So I would do T-Ball, I would do gymnastics, soccer,
you name it. But I really liked the running. I think a lot of it was
me depending on myself. I would get to these team events and get so
frustrated. Kids didn't try. They just didn't care that much. I was
having to depend on them, and it just didn't mean that much to them.
any sport a clear second favorite?
Probably gymnastics. It's funny, I would run down to gymnastics practice,
which was a mile away. And then I'd practice for three hours, and then
I'd run home. I was really, really active as a kid. I had tons of energy.
My mom would do a lot of fun things with workouts, too. We'd run to
7-11 to get a Slurpee, and that would be my workout. We would have popsicle
relays with club team members. I was never really on a track, doing
intervals. When I got to high school and college, I couldn't believe
how much people ran. I was just floored. I think that was a little part
of my problem in my transition into college. I wasn't prepared to do
all of that. People were saying "you're so good, surely you've
been doing as lot." And I hadn't. I'd just been really, really
that first grassy mile, what racing did you do?
I did road races, not really realizing what racing was. I was just participating.
I would do 10ks, and would be back with people who were doing about
an hour -- weekend warrior people. They were very social about it, so
that's what I thought it was all about. When they stopped and walked,
I would stop and walk with them. I would talk with them the whole time.
Finally, my mom ran one with me. She asked "are you really tired?"
I said "no." She said "well, why are you walking?"
I said "because everyone else is." Then I realized "oh,
I'm supposed to run as hard as I can."
or eight years old, I would run track meets, anything like 50-meter
dash or 400 meters, plus road races. I just really, really liked running.
I didn't care if it was 10k or 50 meters. I first started running cross
country when I was eight. That's when I went to my first national meet.
In the ten and under group, I was tenth when I was age eight. I was
pretty excited about that. By the time I was ten, I'd run both of the
nationals in cross country; they had AAU and Junior Olympics. I think
it was 3000 meters for ten and under.
you've always been a good runner. It must be nice to find something
you enjoyed but are also so good at.
When I first started out, it was even better. I would come home from
these road races with a T-shirt and a medal for winning my age group
and a medal for the youngest finisher. So I'd come with all this hardware.
And of course when you're there, everybody at road races is so friendly
anyway. They're just so nice. It really was a nice way for me to start
kept everything so positive. I guess I was really lucky.
was really, really fortunate to have a parent who was very smart about
it. She let me pick what I wanted to run. We'd go back to the car, and
there would be all these race fliers on our windshield. And I would
say "next weekend, I want to run this race." She would make
sure that I didn't train seven days a week. I barely trained four. And
then I would race all the time. People would think of my mom, "oh,
she's pushing her kid to race." But she was the one who had to
stop me. If I had my choice, I would have raced every single weekend
of my life.
was 11, I ran 37:14 for a 10k on the roads, in New York City at a Diet
Pepsi 10K. I ran one in Seattle that was a qualifier for the nationals.
I hadn't even known that. After the race they said I got to do to New
York City for the nationals. The national what? It was nothing that
I ever trained for. I didn't even know about records. But the next year,
I set age group records in track in the 1500, at 12 and 13. By the time
I was 16, I'd won the 1500 at the USA Junior Championships.
you ever hurt during all those years?
Not until my senior year in high school. I think it was a stress fracture
in my tibia, in the wintertime. I'd heard people were running all this
more mileage. At that time, I was running between 20 and 25 miles a
week. Going to Kinney (now Foot Locker) Nationals, you see girls who
were running 70 miles a week. I just had no concept of that. So I thought
need to run more," and I started to. And it really wasn't something
that was good for me.
you surprised, 12 years after you set it, to still have the Millrose
Games high school mile record?
I really am. First of all, I never had indoor track where I lived. I
know back East, it's really big in high school. There was no thing as
indoor track for us. At the time I was living in Colorado. The winters
there were pretty bad. I wasn't even running on an indoor track up there
mom was kind of having me to do these really weird workouts in the basketball
stadium. If I could go outside, it would be no more than 30 minutes,
and really slow because of the weather.
think that I was in any great shape to run a mile. But they called me
and invited me to go to New York City. My running has enabled me to
do so many things and so many places. It's really been something fun
and exciting for me. If I had run 5:10 at that meet, it wouldn't have
surprised me. It was weird for me to run on a track that little, and
banked. I thought "oh my gosh, what is this?" Maybe the fact
that I didn't know what I was doing helped me out more than anything.
I ran with Cheri Kenah (Cheri Goddard, at that time). The whole race
we'd go back and forth, back and forth, trading leads. I was really
surprised to win. I was only 16 at the time.
did you end up at the University of Arkansas?
It was the coach's, Lance Harter's, very first year there. I was the
first recruit that he signed. He came from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.
I went to Villanova, Georgetown, Wisconsin, UCLA, and Arkansas for my
five visits. I got full academic scholarships to most of these schools,
wasn't like I couldn't get in. Academics were important to me as well,
but I really wanted to run. Some of these schools were into very high
mileage, and I thought I would never make it there. I was really looking
for something well-rounded, where all the emphasis wasn't on running,
wasn't on academics. There was some sort of a social life. I thought
I would get that at Arkansas. It was nice. Deena Drossin came in the
same year as I did, and we had some
pretty good recruits.
very very competitive. You had a lot of big fish all of the sudden together.
I ran too much mileage too fast. Within a month, I had a navicular stress
fracture. My transition wasn't as smooth as it probably should have
been. I think that's a mistake a lot of coaches make with these kids
coming in. Instead of giving them a year to adjust, even if they're
phenomenal coming out of high school, say "we're going to redshirt
you this year - even though you're not injured, you're not sick, we're
going to give you a whole year to get your mileage up, a whole year
to get used to these kind of workouts, where you're not rushing anything
and you don't feel like you have to make a certain place in practice."
Just let them develop, and then their sophomore year, they can do really,
Deena's postcollegiate success surprise you?
Deena was good in high school, too. And maybe things didn't pan out
at Arkansas as well as we would have liked, the both of us. But she's
definitely talented and you could see that before she ever went to Arkansas.
She would be injured there and within a couple of months get back to
running really well. She was kind of in the same boat as me; we both
needed to get away from there and get back to running for the right
reasons, and why we always love to run, running on our own terms and
finding a coach who understood that and brought that out in us so. So
it doesn't surprise me at all that she's running very, very well.
3000 PR in Boston in February must have been a real morale boost.
It was really surprising because I didn't know the pacing. He (her coach,
Peter Tegen) told me Kathy Butler was going to go about 9:00 pace, just
stick behind her and see how you feel. After a mile, he said "take
a lap." So then I front to the front. Kathy never retook the lead,
so I just kept running. I had no clue how fast I was running until I
finished and they told me my time and I was pretty stunned. But that
was a nice thing, because it reinforced that trust with Peter, because
he knew I was ready to run that fast even if I didn't.
was your impression of the World Cross Country Championships in Ostend,
It was horrible. I felt bad for the coaches, because I think they had
higher expectations for the team we were sending. Elva (Dryer), Cheri,
me, and Collette Liss had all run under 9:00 this season for 3000 meters
They felt we had a really good chance of running well in the 4k. Which
I think we would have if the race was in Portugal. But unfortunately,
we're not what they would call "mudders." That course was
really, really difficult, not even a course you could race on. You were
just running. I think I ran over 3:00 slower than I did at the Trials
race. It was the kind of mud that sucks off your shoe. I was not even
pushing out of the mud; I was literally trying to yank my feet out.
I'd never, ever run in anything like that. It was unbelievable.
2001, you hadn't been so visible in the last five years. When did things
go bad, and what did you do to come back?
I graduated in '95 from Arkansas and moved to Boston and was raining
with a good coach, John Doherty, and a pretty good group of athletes.
I ran really well that first year; I ran 4:09 and made it to the finals
of the (1996) Olympic Trials and was pretty happy about that. But by
the end of '96, I developed a metatarsal stress fracture and took six
weeks off. When I returned, I had other foot problems. I struggled through
'97, and didn't run in '98 and '99.
did you do instead?
I didn't enjoy running that while being in pain all the time. I decided
to take time off, no crosstraining, just let my foot heal. It took ten
months before it stopped hurting when I was walking. During that time,
I'd go "regular people" outdoor things, hiking or rollerblading
sister, mostly on the weekends. I decided to move home to where my family
lived in Palm Springs and spent time with them and got a regular job
with Social Security.
foot started feeling better, I decided I'd start running again, but
I didn't want to put any pressure on myself and come back too soon.
I didn't have a coach and I didn't have anybody to run with. It was
about 110 degrees every day. I remember the first day, I ran 25 minutes
and thought I was going to go into cardiac arrest. And that was about
I got suckered into running some races with my friends who lived in
Los Angeles. I was only training 30 to 35 miles a week. I ran a few
800s and 1500s and people said "you can qualify for the Trials."
It's nice to go to the Trials, but it's not great to finish last in
your heat or something like that. I really wasn't concerned with the
Olympic Trials last year. I just wanted to see how long I could run
with my foot feeling really good. I made it through a partial track
season and I felt fine. I ran around 2:07 flat for 800, which surprised
me, because it was really minimal stuff and I was training by myself.
My first race, in the beginning of April, was 4:19 or 4:20, and then
every other race was the same. Which probably means I'm not
that good at coaching myself.
you started looking for a coach. Was Peter Tegen at the top of the list?
I've always had a good relationship with Peter. He recruited me out
of high school. I didn't end up coming here (to Wisconsin). I was worried
that might not work in my favor; he seems to mostly coach people who
went to school here and ran under him. But he was really, really nice
and very enthusiastic about it. We get along very well.
sure has a history of turning out great 1500-meter women, like Suzy
Favor-Hamilton, Amy Wickus, and Sarah Thorsett.
The amazing thing for me is, I go into the locker room and there's a
plaque of every All-American or Olympian. You look at where they're
from, these little small towns in Illinois and Wisconsin. I look at
the ones that were my age in high school; I'd never heard of them. There's
another girl I train with, Jenelle Deatheridge, from Illinois. She was
okay in her state, but I don't think she ever broke 5:00. She comes
here, and last year, she runs 4:13 (for 1500). To me, that shows what
a great coach he is. He takes all of these people who no one recruited,
who no one thought had any potential, and she gets them to do amazing
us what's a little different about Tegen's approach.
We don't do a lot of intervals for time. We do a lot of continuous running,
which is different for me. I'm used to the standard 10x400, with 50
seconds rest, which you keep in the back of your mind and judge all
of your other workouts based on. With Peter, you can't really do that.
We do so much stuff based on effort. Sometimes we'll do odd distances,
or things just based on a time - 8:00 of this or that. Which I think
is good for me. Like a lot of other runners, I have a tendency to get
a little hung up on the numbers and get discouraged during the workout.
I haven't had a bad workout since I've been here. Peter knows when to
stop you, or maybe when to have you do more.
feel very, very fortunate to have the girls I have to work out with.
We just have so much fun all the time. There's no racing at practice
or big egos. I think it's so difficult to get a group together that's
will be your next race?
We're going to have two home meets on May 5 and May 12. If I need pacemakers,
my training partners will just make pace for me, and they can go real
far, not just one lap. And they set them up at night, when there's no
wind. I might do an 800 and a 1500. And then I'll probably run at Pre
(Prefontaine Classic), and then a Stanford meet two weeks after that.
What kind of time are you targeting this spring
We don't focus on that. We have general idea of what Peter thinks I
can do. I'd like to get the qualifying standard for the Worlds (4:07).
That's something what will be on my plate. But as far as how fast I
can go, I don't know. I have to get a few races under my belt and see
what that feels like again.
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