Jan | 27
Brooks Athletes

The Contenders: Ryan Vail at the U.S. Marathon Trials

Ryan Vail is everyman’s runner. His training is tough and voluminous, and he blogs about openly about it and even some of running’s challenges. He’s relying on his work ethic to come back from two serious injuries that put him on an abbreviated training plan to get ready for the marathon trials. But, buoyed by recent workouts and with the a top-10 finish at the 2014 New York City Marathon and an appearance on Team USA at last year’s World Cross Country Championships, Ryan is a man to watch at the U.S. Marathon Trials.

Read more below to learn about Ryan’s training and how he’s getting ready for the big race.

Read more: The Contenders series 


Also be sure to cheer on Ryan and his fellow Brooks runners as they #runhappytorio!

You’ve done a lot of work to get over some pretty serious injury in the past couple months. Can you describe what happened, how you’ve gotten healthy and how you’re feeling?

I have been fortunate enough to be healthy for almost my entire career, so these back-to-back injuries that I have been dealing with since the summer were a real blow mentally and physically. The first injury was a navicular stress reaction which I felt immediately following the 10,000-meter run at the U.S. Track and Field Championships at the end of June. I don’t recall any warning signs before or during the race, but within minutes after stopping, I was in agony. Fortunately I stopped training before it turned into a full fracture. The most frustrating part was not knowing why it happened. It was during a long stretch of low volume and in shoes that I had put many miles on in the past.

After six weeks with a boot and crutches, and very little cross training due to the nature of the injury, I returned to running, but after about another six weeks, my lower back became extremely painful within a short few days, and I was soon diagnosed with a sacral stress fracture. It seems likely that upon my return, I was not pushing off fully with the right foot that had been in a boot and likely experienced some atrophy. This changed my gate just enough to load my left sacrum more than it was used to. The recovery process this time around was completely different. I was given the go ahead to start cross training almost immediately, I began collaborating as a team that included an orthopedic doctor, a physical therapist and a strength coach. I worked up to two-and-a-half hours of cross training a day between the Alter-G, aqua jogging, stationary bike and elliptical. While I have always been good with strength training, it became a little more specific, and I started loading my low back a bit more in an attempt to improve bone density along with a more bio-available calcium/vitamin D supplement.

I took my first steps 12 weeks out from the Olympic Marathon Trials, and the workout that day was 3 x 2 minutes jogging, 2 minutes walking on turf. Typically at 12 weeks out, I am running 120-130 miles per week and diving into intense workouts, so this short buildup has been a challenge. Each week I have replaced cross training with more and more running, and I have now managed to get to 140 miles per week after eight weeks on the ground. This is aggressive and somewhat risky, but I was willing to take that risk knowing that this opportunity only comes once every four years. I am happy to report that I am still completely healthy, and I’m starting to feel like my old self in training again.

Mentally, how did you deal with a setback like that injury and still keep your goals and dreams alive?

With little experience dealing with injuries in the past, the back-to-back bone injuries were very difficult mentally. After the sacral stress fracture I began to wonder if this would be a never ending cycle, especially if I came back aggressively in an attempt to make the trials. Once I was allowed to start cross training again, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I was able to let some of my frustrations out through exercise. One positive aspect to come out of this experience is that my energy and passion to train have been reinforced in reinvigorated. I have never taken running for granted or lost my love of training, but this was a harsh reminder of what life is like when it is suddenly swept away with no warning. I am having more fun running now than I have in a very long time.

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What are you most looking forward to at the Trials?

I’m looking forward to racing. I haven’t raced since the U.S. Track and Field Champs in June, and I’m getting the itch to go out and compete. Even though the circumstances have not been ideal leading up to the race, I think I have been doing everything in my power to be ready for the race, and I’m looking forward to testing that.

What is your favorite part about the marathon during the race? Is there a point you get to when you’re just totally loving everything?

The intensity and pressure can make it challenging to enjoy the experience, but during the first half of the race, as a relaxation exercise, I do my best to focus on the crowd, the atmosphere and the course. I’m not always successful at this, but there are moments when I am able to look up and take in everything around me. The farther along the race gets, the less likely this is to happen, but when it does, it is short lived yet very unique and overwhelming.

Do you have a general race plan you can share with us and how you’ll approach the trials?

I don’t have a specific race plan at this point, but there are some simple tenants to follow. I know that if I want a shot at the team, I will have to remain in contention for the third spot the whole race. I can’t let a group get away and expect to chase them all down later. With that said, if there is an overly aggressive move in the middle of the race by a few guys, I will have to judge the pace and my effort and make a decision on matching. I’m not going to worry too much about that until it happens though; I’ve been racing long enough now that I trust my instincts.

What will the couple days before the race look like for you?

I will be lounging around the hotel watching TV and reading to keep my mind calm. Outside of a press conference, pre-race meeting and dropping off fluids, I’ll be mostly staying off my feet and trying to enjoy the atmosphere.

For someone inspired by you who’s considering trying the marathon for the first time, what would you tell them?

Pick a race that motivates you. If you are not inspired by what you are working towards, it’s much harder to get out the door on those days where you’re tired, or the weather is not ideal or time is tight. Whether you’re motivated by big crowds, a comfortable course setting, or an adventurous international trip, pick a marathon that you get excited about when you envision your finish.

About Derek
I’m a runner, a writer, and a shoe lover who enjoys morning coffee, travel, singing in the car, and getting legitimately lost on trail runs. Three things I can’t live without: bubble tea, Fridays, and my Brooks PureFlow’s.
  • Coach

    Great article. I wish Ryan could’ve gotten a race in before trials. Mental doubt can be such a difficult thing to overcome and keep from creeping in. Derek, I’m a runner, reader, and shoe lover who enjoys morning coffee, travel, and singing and my daughter (my running partner) always teases me when I get lost on trail runs! LOL!