North Carolina Resident Bobby Mack on a Mission for Greatness
By Pete Rea/ZAP Fitness
Bobby Mack is likely one of the best young distance runners you have never heard of. A 2008 graduate of North Carolina State University, Mack, 27, (despite being an All-American as a sophomore) consistently struggled with injury throughout his years as an undergraduate. In the last three years, however, Mack has at last found health and has broken through. After finishing seventh at the 2010 USATF Cross-Country Championship, Mack won the USATF 8K Championship in 2011 and then won his second USATF title at this year’s Cross-Country meet in St. Louis.
At the end of April, Mack ran 27:53 for 10,000m at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational and he heads into the June Olympic Trials as one of the “outside favorites.” We caught up with Bobby Mack as he was making his final preparations for the Olympic Trials.
RJ - You have had a great last two years winning two USATF titles and seeing real consistency. To what do you attribute this jump?
BM - I really believe a lot of my improvement has come from a long term approach to training. Rather than training with the next race as my primary focus I have been motivated by the bigger picture. Races that are six months away and keeping focused on training blocks that will pay off over the next year have really helped me stay healthy and injury free. When you get too aggressive in workouts or training and the ultimate goal becomes the next two or three races you risk losing focus on your long term success.
RJ: You were a highly recruited prep star who had a less than stellar collegiate career. What gave you the motivation to keep training after your college days were over?
BM - I did well enough my first two seasons of college and got a glimpse of what I wanted to achieve in this sport. My freshman and sophomore years I ran number 2 and number 1 for a strong NC State cross-country team. Then the next few years I struggled with injuries and over trained mainly by trying to play catch up with the training I had missed while injured. Running doesn't work that way, you have to build, build, build. You don't just skip stages of training. I knew I could accomplish in running and that kept me motivated. I also had teammates who were encouraging, when I returned to competition after getting a medical sixth year, it was like I never missed a step in their minds. I was skeptical of even returning for a sixth year, I thought, "I haven't even raced in three years," but the guys on the team still saw me as the All-American runner from 2004 and that was encouraging.
RJ: Who is your current coach?
BM - Rollie Geiger has been my coach for the past nine years. Having that consistency is probably one of the most important ingredients in my success. Coach Geiger and I can look at training, racing, recovery and notes from the past nine years and that helps when building the next training block.
RJ: Raleigh and the surrounding area have been home to many great US distance stars. What is it about the environment there that draws so many runners?
BM - We have some great places to run. Umstead Forest is my favorite place to run in the entire Southeast. Plus Raleigh and the surrounding areas with RTP offer a nice mix of things to do.
RJ: You recently ran a sizable 10,000m best, breaking 28 minutes for the first time. How do you feel that sets you up for the Olympic Trials?
BM - I really would have liked to get the Olympic A Standard of 27:45, but 27:53 was indeed a big PR. There are a number of other Americans who also missed the A standard by 5-10 seconds so at the Olympic Trials there will be guys like myself who want the pace to be honest and fast enough to hit 27:45 and hope it will be fast enough.
RJ: 8-12 years ago a sub 28 minute track 10,000m would have you as a clear favorite for the Olympic team - now 8-10 men seem to run under 28 each year. Why do you feel there has there been such a dramatic shift in performances by Americans recently?
BM - I think the bar got raised by a few of the elite Americans and the rest of us had to re-adjust what we considered a "fast" 10,000m time. I think across the board college guys and professionals all stepped up to the challenge and now we have some of the deepest talent ever in American distance running.
RJ: What is your favorite hard workout to do?
BM - 4-5x1600 on the track at VO2 Max. This is a great indicator for 5K and 10K fitness and you really start to feel the same fatigue you feel in a race.
RJ: And your least favorite?
BM - Hard speed work like 9x300 meters at goal mile pace. Probably because I'm 27 and the guys I work out with are 19-22 and they just get warmed up a little faster than me on the short stuff.
RJ: If you had one piece of advice for our Running Journal readers on 10K running, what would it be?
BM - Since you live in the Southeast don't go out too fast when running a 10K in the summer heat. Try to even split your race June-August. Save going out hard for the fall and winter.
RJ: Good luck at the Olympic Trials.
ZAP Fitness is a Reebok and NY Road Runners Sponsored non-profit facility which supports post collegiate distance runners in Blowing Rock, NC. ZAP puts on adult running camps during the summer and is available for retreats all year. The facility has a state of the art weight room, exercise science lab for testing and a 24-bed lodge. Coaches at the facility include two-time Olympic Trials Qualifier Zika Rea, 2007 USATF National Cross-Country Champion Ryan Warrenburg as well as head coach Pete Rea. For more information go to www.zapfitness.com or call 828-295-6198.
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