Penn’s Station: Rupprecht’s Steeple Win (cont.)

June 14th, 2011 in Articles by 1 Comment

(Continued from Page 1 here.)

Then with 1,000 meters to go, something funny happened. We passed a coach yelling for his athlete who was in the lead pack with me, and he was shouting, “Get excited; this is the Penn Relays, get excited!” So I thought to myself, “Yeah, get excited.” Then I started thinking about the gold watch that goes to the victor at Penn’s. Then my thoughts were, “Get excited, you’re gonna win a gold watch!” We passed the same coach with 600 meters to go, and he was yelling the same thing, and it just fueled me even more. Finally, I made the commitment in my head just before the penultimate water jump, that right after it, I was gonna take the lead and hammer home and have no regrets. When I took that lead, it was like an electricity was running through my brain. I knew at that point that no one that night was gonna catch me. It felt amazing. The last 100 meters, all I kept saying in my head was, “Gold watch, gold watch, gold watch.”

FTF: Are you still competing for New Balance Boston? What are your upcoming races this summer?

PR: I am still competing for New Balance Boston right now. I have a pretty hefty racing schedule this summer, as I am heading over to Europe for five weeks to race. Before I leave for Europe on June 28th, I have my first ever outdoor 5K at the fourth New Balance Boston Twilight Meet, followed by a one-mile race at the Adrian Martinez Classic in Concord, MA.

Once I head over to Europe, I have six races. I start on July 2nd with a 1,500 meters in Cork, Ireland, at the Cork City Sports, which is a fairly big international race. The following week, I head to Solihull, UK to race a 3,000-meter steeple at a British Milers Club event. Four days later, I will run a 1500 in Watford, UK, again at a BMC event. I then have about 10 days off, before I run a flat 3,000 meters in Stretford, UK – my final BMC event. The BMC races attract some great athletes, so I will try and take advantage of them. Then I hop on a plane from Manchester to Brussels and hang out for a couple of days before I race a Flanders Cup 1,500 meters in Gentbrugge, BE. Then finally, I will be racing the 3,000-meter steeple at the Irish National Championships on August 7th in Santry, Ireland. I was 2nd last year in the steeple and would like to go for the win this year.

Once I am over there, I plan to only do easy runs and one easy workout a week and just race. It should be a good racing summer. Hopefully I race at the level that I think I can.

FTF: When you first trained with Mark Gomes, what were your impressions? Did you realize he was a crusty old geezer when he first started showing up for workouts?

PR: When I first met Gomes, I just thought it was another person on the New Balance team that I didn’t know. At first, I didn’t say too much to him and let him do his own thing, then our coach (Kevin Curtain) mentioned that he had been coached by Mark Lech at Northeastern. I did a double-take when I heard that. Someone mentioned that he was 39 years old, and my jaw dropped. I honestly thought he was like 20-something. I mean, he was keeping up or even trying to hammer us in some of the workouts we were doing, and it was quite impressive. He looks like he is in his 20s and he’s a bit immature like the rest of us!

As a middle-distance guy, Gomes would hang with us for a little bit on the longer workouts, and then fall off just a little bit as the interval went on. This is pretty typical for 800-meter guys and I would not have thought twice about it. When we did shorter, harder intervals on the hills, he would get out in front of us, and we would have to run him down. He definitely made us work harder.

FTF: Gomes claims he finally broke you at an interval workout in Lexington last November. I think he’s talking smack. How do you respond?

PR: I would have to ask Mark which workout he was talking about, but if I do remember correctly, there was a hill workout in which he was just hammering. I will give credit where it is due. There was definitely one hill workout where I just could not run with him. He was pounding every single interval, and I think it was just one of those days where my body was just saying “no thanks,” but he was saying “more please.” I miss having him around at the New Balance workouts (now that he’s in Miami), he was always one you could count on running hard.

FTF: On a more serious note, Gomes credits you with raising his awareness about iron consumption and iron deficiencies in athletes. You have some personal experience with iron; can you explain?

PR: One thing I am extremely jealous of Mark is his ability to monitor everything that he eats and watching for mineral and vitamin absorption. I never had the patience or desire to do that for myself. I tried once, and it just drove me mad and I was having terrible performances.

For me, the biggest issue since 2004 has been iron absorption. I spent one summer in Boulder, CO, training with my teammate Jeff (Caron), and when we came back to UMaine, I felt fit and ready to run. We had a 3-mile time trial the first week of practice, and I think I ran 14:50 something. Nothing special, but I was pretty happy with it because it was only a few months after having arthroscopic surgery on my left knee. But as the season went on, I was having trouble completing workouts. Long runs were getting harder and harder, and even just regular life was getting really difficult. I was not sleeping at night. I would be exhausted, but when I went to lie down, I would just lie in bed for 3-4 hours before I could fall asleep. I think I started my first 5-mile race of the year with 26:20 or something – nothing stellar by anyone’s standards. Then it was 26:45, then 27:15, and then finally I ran a 27:40 with at least two breaks to walk in the middle.

I was so mentally drained from all this, I didn’t know what to do. I would literally cry after every race because I did not know what was going on. I felt like I was dying of some disease or something. Finally, one of our academic advisers, Ann Maxim, who was a very good runner for UMaine back in the day, asked, “Have you had your iron levels checked?” I had no idea what she was talking about, so she told me to go get an iron test and have them check my serum ferritin and hematocrit levels.

The typical range in men for serum ferritin is 18-270 micrograms per liter (mcg/L). They say that if a male athlete has a level over 25, they will be able to function properly. My level was 9. I remember the trainer calling me into the room and saying very seriously, “Paul your iron levels are dangerously low for your health.” I was able to bring my levels back up to “normal” with the help of the trainers and doctors. Within a month’s time, I was able to run 26:30 at our conference championships.

Since then, I have had at least three occurrences of my levels dropping back under normal. I also realized that “normal” does not apply to aerobic athletes; our levels have to be so much higher because of the demand for oxygen absorption. Last year I had another blood test because, again, I was having a hard time sleeping, training was going poorly, and I could not race. The doctor said that everything was “normal.” I would not accept this, so I asked for the paperwork. Sure enough, my serum ferritin level was 21. Since that test, I take an iron pill every day. I know iron can be toxic if you take too much, but nothing has shown to me that I am taking too much. As a comparison, I had a blood test last fall, the week I ran 31:36 for 11th place in the New England Cross-Country Championship 10K at Franklin Park. My ferritin level was 70.

FTF: What are the odds you’ll still be running as a Master when you’re 40 years old?

PR: I think, barring some catastrophe, I will still be running at 40. I love running and I love the aspect of fitness. I cannot promise that I will be competing anymore or even trying to compete at a high level like Mark Gomes does. I do believe that I will still be the guy going out for doubles every day, even though it means nothing to anybody else. I want to be the guy at 40 years old, like Mark, who looks like they are 25. Right now, I am the 27-year-old who looks like he is 18, so I am on the right path! Actually, what am I saying? I know I will be like Mark. I am so competitive, it is not even funny. I look forward to those days.

Rick Miller is the co-founder of Faster Than Forty and hasn’t run a steeplechase since his senior year of high school. You can contact him here.

Author: Rick Miller

One Comment

Great article!

Especially loved his take on iron deficiency.

Keep up the great work FTF!

Bryan Huberty


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