Interview by Carl Kinney
In last week’s Boston Marathon, Alan Culpepper finished fourth in the best performance by an American male at Boston since Dave Gordon’s fourth place in 1987. In 2002 Alan tied Alberto Salazaar’s American best for a marathon debut. He won the Olympic Trials and competed in Athens with a very respectable 12th place overall finish. Boston marked Alan’s fourth competition in the marathon.
Calling the Culpepper residence, I was greeted by a polite, “Hello this is Cruz! Who’s calling, please?” “Hi Cruz, it’s Carl Kinney, is your Dad there?” Alan was taking his son outside to play, so he generously switched to his cell phone for my questions.
How does 4th place in Boston compare to 12th in Athens?
The two are pretty comparable for me; they are comparable in that I was able to go and perform at what I felt was my best for that given day. For both, I ran solid races, put together a smart race plan and ran strong.
Do you think younger guys should move up to the marathon?
Well, any generalization like that is tough to make; that question is on an individual basis. For some, it could be very beneficial, like for guys who don’t have the tools to run in shorter events. For them, learning the marathon and developing for it could be positive. But with others, waiting awhile is smart too – how you are approaching it and how you are developing matters most. The worst case scenario is waiting too long.
Are there any guys you can think of that could benefit from moving up now?
I couldn’t say – it’s too tough to say. So many good guys are coming up at younger ages, now. But the marathon so different from anything else, (laughs) nothing indicates how you are going to do.
Do you wish you would have raced the marathon before 2002?
No, I’m glad I waited, just because I just had developed over the course of 8 years of good training at that point. I was still progressing well in 2001, when I ran a 10k PR. So I still hadn’t exhausted all those possibilities. Waiting until that point was why the first marathon experience was so positive for me. I was able to build off of that [8 years] and not have as steep a learning curve.
What advice would you give to runners right out of college looking to stay competitive?
Don’t kid yourself. If you want to do this, then take it seriously – just like any other profession. For example, I have numerous friends in med school that are still there – they are all very focused and dedicated. You can’t just skirt by; running needs to be your sole dedication and sole commitment to see positive results.
It seems not many runners your caliber are self-coached: do you ever get any advice or schedules from anyone, or do you use a combination of things you’ve learned yourself over the years?
It is definitely a combination. I’m fortunate to be associated with knowledgeable people here; my early coach, Sam Walker, then Wetmore, and just being in Boulder, being around great runners… I’ve been able to be surrounded by people that have been successful. I’ve been learning things from Brad Hudson, and I’ve questioned Silvio Guerra (two-time runner up in Boston) a lot on what specifically to do for Boston. It really has been a natural progression. If I had not been surrounded by all this, I wouldn’t be self-coached.
Since your marathon debut in 2002, how have you altered your training specifically for the marathon?
I pulled a schedule for myself together from all people: Silvio, [Mark] Plaatjes, Scott Larsen, Keith Dowling, and other athletes, even guys that are peers of mine, just to get a little feedback. I asked what different types of workouts did each of them do to achieve a successful marathon. Also, I’ve taken detailed notes for many, many years of training.
How do you settle in and get comfortable when you travel for important races; do you have a set routine?
Usually I’m alone – I kind of have my own little way when I get comfortable. It’s an interesting dynamic: learning how to get focused. In the U.S. it is much easier because traveling around here is what you’re used to your whole life. It’s the dorm room setting not in hotels for major championships that is much tougher. Really, my routine is nothing fancy. I just plan what to do, the times I want to eat, the shakeout day before the race, that’s all.
What do Americans need to do now to continue success in the marathon, or distance running in general – to stay headed in the right direction with this recent resurgence?
The most exciting thing is that there is higher level running in younger athletes now; they are running at a much higher level than before. We [Americans] are getting back to those days in high school and college of just raising the bar of what is considered the best in the country. You have to run a lot quicker now than when I was in high school! I don’t know where this came from – maybe much more knowledgeable runners and coaches. Athletes seem more aware of what other kids are doing around the country. There are more opportunities to run well with the Nike National Championships for XC; there are more of those types of opportunities. For me back then, there was hardly anything like that; there was no internet, no spreading of information. Everyone was in their own little world in the town you live in. There is more open information now. The longer these athletes stay dedicated, the more likely it is that we will have guys make it to the next level.