(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
August 29 -- At last September's USA 20K road running championships hosted by the Stratton Faxon New Haven Road Race in Connecticut, Matt Tegenkamp found himself 20 seconds behind the leader, Luke Puskedra, at the 8K mark, and wasn't sure what to do. His longest-ever race prior to that had been 12K on a grass cross country course, and he was trying to carefully meter his effort. Was Puskedra too far ahead?
"I didn't think the pack would let it get that far away," he told Race Results Weekly at the time.
Tegenkamp waited for the 12th kilometer to pull away from the chase back and hunt down Puskedra, finally catching him just past 15-K. But by the 18th kilometer, the two-time Olympian was both hurting and doubting himself.
"I got a cramp just before 11 miles (18K), and I felt bad," he said. "I didn't know what I was doing out there."
Tegenkamp, 31, eventually caught Puskedra and used his 3:34 1500m speed to put 18 seconds on the former Oregon Duck by the finish line next to New Haven Green. His time of 58:30 was a championships record, and his eyes were opened: his future was on the roads.
"I knew I was really fit going into it, but I was a total novice at longer road race distances," Tegenkamp said in a telephone interview yesterday from his home in Portland, OR. He continued: "I didn't know when the race was actually going to happen, when the real move would be made, but I didn't think there would be a move made from mile-one. I just bided my time and went with the experience in the group."
After a robust track season in 2012 which included both the Olympic Trials and Olympic Games, Tegenkamp was indeed fit last year, but his strength was lacking. He was running on fumes on an unfamiliar and unforgiving surface. His legs weren't ready for that.
"Just the pounding on the road at that point, I was not used to it," he said. "The quads and the backs of my calves and shins just ached. Kind of felt like growing pains from back in junior high."
When Tegenkamp lines up to defend his title in New Haven on Labor Day against a strong field, including national champions Abdi Abdirahman and Sean Quigley, his legs will be ready for the distance. The Nike-sponsored athlete, who is coached by Jerry Schumacher, bypassed the summer track season to focus on laying a thick training base for his marathon debut at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in October. While his training mates Evan Jager, Lopez Lomong, and Dan Huling readied themselves for the IAAF World Championships, Tegenkamp was putting in the miles. Lots of them.
"After this year's U.S. championships, I removed myself from the track schedule the group is on over here, and steadily increased my volume," Tegenkamp explained. "I still had to run 100+ miles (per week) but there were no workouts, no intensity. All of August is specific marathon work, still keeping that volume, and starting to ramp up that intensity. I'm feeling pretty confident."
Tegenkamp, who has made three IAAF World Championships finals, faces a different physical challenge at New Haven this year: accumulated fatigue. All those miles, including long runs up to 24 miles (39 km), have his legs feeling weary. Because Monday's race comes six weeks before Chicago, he can't do a full taper to freshen-up his legs, but he's counting on the strength he's built to carry him through.
"Last week, was the first I was totally exhausted," Tegenkamp lamented. "I just wanted five days off. I feel like this week I have my legs underneath me. It won't be a true taper, but I'll be like 100-plus on mileage this week. There was a giant workout yesterday... but at this point it's, like, run how I feel (for the rest of the week)."
To protect himself from injury, Tegenkamp said he's been doing most of his steady-state runs on soft surfaces, "grass, dirt, trail, whatever," he said. But to ready his body for the sustained hard effort of the marathon, he's doing his longer tempo runs on pavement, some of it on a flat, loop Schumacher has measured out for him on Sauvie Island northwest of Portland.
"It's all farmland out there," said Tegenkamp, who has two children. "Jerry has measured a loop. We go around twice. I think it's a great simulation to Chicago because it's pancake flat."
Always a methodical athlete, Tegenkamp isn't thinking too far ahead to Chicago yet. Instead, he's making sure that each day's training is solid, building his marathon fitness brick by brick. He's looking at Monday's race as an important stepping stone.
"I don't know if I've done any true long hard marathon tempos yet," he said. "Those are coming. As an indicator for the marathon, it's a huge unknown for me. But, as overall fitness, I'm really fit, really strong."
He added: "And I can handle the pounding of the pavement."
Photo: Matt Tegenkamp (right) battles Luke Puskedra in the final kilometer of the 2012 USA 2-K Championships in New Haven, CT. Tegenkamp won in a championships record 58:30. Photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly; used with permission.