I first learned of the dominance of Christian Cushing-Murray and his teammates, the then Fluffy Bunny Track Club, at Club Cross Country Champs in 2008 when our Fleet Feet Team took 2nd to them. “Cush” was well known on our team as a few members  remembered him from his UCLA days. As one of the top masters in the country, he is a perennial name on the top finisher lists from XC, the 1500m up to the half marathon. In 2015 he took to the USATF Grand Prix series and came out on top as the series Age Group Champion.

Since turning 40, Cushing-murray has won eight national masters titles and in April won the Carlsbad 5000 for the 5th time. As a former pro and 3:55.42 miler, his time of 3:55.09 in the 1500m in 2013 was good enough for the American record for the 45-49 age group, (the time wasn’t ratified because the meet officials were not USATF-certified.)

On Sunday, July 3, Cushing-murray will toe the line on the historic Hayward Field with the country’s best middle distance masters runners in an exhibition race held at the Olympic Track & Field Trials in Eugene. It is sure to be special for him as it is the same venue he ran his PR at the Prefontaine Classic in 1995. The event has even garnered the attention of Runner’s World.

I had the pleasure of running against him in Michigan last year at the USATF Master’s Road Mile Champs and followed up our conversation with a few questions that I’ve been meaning to publish as part of the Mile Project I started 2 years ago.

You’ve had a long history with the 1500/mile distances. When did you start racing? What keeps you interested in the distance after all these years?

I guess I’ve been tackling the distance since I was a 9th grader in PE–my jr. high was 7th-9th grade–where I ran a mile hard every day during the spring with the hope of breaking 6 minutes (I did not succeed, running 6:15). I didn’t start competing in the mile/1600m until my 10th grade track season with the goal of breaking 5 minutes (I did succeed, running 4:57). Although it was my favored distance throughout my collegiate and professional career, I have only run a few competitive miles/1500s as a masters runner.  There are two reasons for this:  it’s hard for me to get on the track to race during track season because of my coaching (I coach a H.S.. team where my kids go to school); and it really, really hurts to run a hard 1500m/mile!

It hurts way more than a hard 5k, which I’ve always equated to an extended period of body blows, whereas a mile is like a couple of solid kidney punches with a side order of getting shanked…

What’s your favorite workout for the mile, and when would you do this in your program.

It’s hard to pick a favorite. I suppose my bread and butter workout was 12-16 x 400 in sets of 4 at race pace or faster with close to 1:1 rest, lap jog between sets. A workout that I think mentally prepared me for the rigors of the mile was what my coach called “breakdown miles” — early season we may start as slow as 68 seconds for the first 400, then pick it up 2 seconds every lap, and do a couple of these with full recovery, possibly followed by 3×400 fairly fast. The fastest I did these were a 4:02 (63.x/61.x/59.x/58.x) followed by a 4:04 (64/62/60/58).  These taught you to pick up your effort every lap.  That said, I didn’t really experience mile success until I embraced long weekly threshold runs of 10-16 miles at sub-5:20 pace, sometimes significantly faster. I’m too old and wise now to do any crazy workouts like those any more.

Christian Cushing-murray_BoulderXC

Cushing-murray leading the 2nd chase pack at the 2015 Cross Country Championships held in February in Boulder, CO.

As a masters runner, what are your keys to remaining healthy?

I stretch regularly after all my runs, do eccentric calf exercises after each run, and I have a fairly healthy diet. I’m pretty good at listening to my body. Good luck helps too.

When you trained for your 1500m record 2 years ago, did you approach as a miler or from a 5k strength perspective?

More from a 5k strength perspective. In preparing for my 1500m a couple of years ago, I did incorporate a few mile race pace 400s at the end of Tuesday track sessions that were mainly about 5k of repetitions of varied distances at mostly 5k race pace, but I didn’t add these 400s until about 6 weeks before the race. This was less by design and more from convenience — I’m only on the track once a week with Cal Coast, and I’m way too lazy to get on the track by myself.

Cal Coast has a strong masters team all around. What is it about the dynamic/success of that team? Do you guys train together as well as race together?

We train together pretty regularly, but I suppose that’s a relative term. Racing together is a blast — so much fun that it even gets me to stretch my range to distances like 8k/10k/15k and even the 1/2 marathon. The club meets every tuesday, on a hilly dirt trail for tempos during the summer, and on the track the remainder of the year. The orange county/local masters meet pretty regularly on these tuesdays, and I rarely miss a Tuesday. We usually find some weekends where we’ll trade off meeting locations for long runs as a club, but it’s oftentimes harder for me to make those with coaching. We’ve even gotten together for a couple of weekend track sessions leading up to xc clubs, doing 20×400 and 8×1000.

And yes, I think all of this has helped to keep each other focused, motivated and inspired, not to mention fit.