Elite Boston Marathon runner Emily Levan discusses life and running
Saturday, April 23, 2005
The interview below was conducted by Pingswept over the phone with Emily Levan on April 21, 2005. Levan lives in Wiscasset, Maine, with her husband and daughter, and she ran in the Boston Marathon women's race on April 18, 2005.
To summarize for our readers, you recently came in 12th in the Boston Marathon, right?
That is correct.
You were the first American finisher.
There was also a Russian woman who lives in the US who finished ahead of you.
You know, I believe it is, I'm not actually positive, but I think you're right. There's often a lot of foreign runners that live and train in different parts of the US for a variety of reasons. Some live in Colorado and might train at high altitude, or they might have coaches in the US.
OK, but as far as you know, for straight up Americans, people who were born here, who have lived here for long periods of time and are not going anywhere special to train, you were the first finisher.
That is correct.
So congratulations, that's very impressive. In the rest of your life, my understanding is that you are going to nursing school.
I am. I'm at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. and I have been going to nursing school for a couple years now. I'm just going part time right now because of the baby and other things going on in my world.
Your baby is currently one and a half?
She's fifteen months.
Fifteen months, so one and one quarter. 1.25, sure.
Hopefully I'll finish up nursing school in December. That is the tentative plan.
So you're almost done.
I just have a couple classes left. I'll take one class this summer and two classes in the fall.
You ran the Boston Marathon originally two years ago?
Actually, I ran it for the first time in 99. I've run it four times. I did run it two years ago as well.
You ran it two years ago, and you also came in twelfth then, if not the top American finisher then. You were the fourth?
I think third or fourth. I can't remember exactly.
How long were you actually training for this marathon in particular?
I'd say about 4 months. I typically try to train about four months for each race. It depends a little bit on what kind of shape I'm in leading up to the training. Four months is usually the time frame I shoot for.
And how many miles a week were you doing--I assume you peaked somewhere right before the marathon.
At the peak, I have a month or six week period where I've built up to my peak training, and I was probably doing between 90 to 100 miles a week.
Was there a lot of variation in your day to day mileage, or was it pretty much you're doing 1/7th of that mileage every day?
There's definitely variation, probably more so in the type of workout that i did each day. For example two days a week I would do a speed workout, so I might be doing mile repeats, which just means that I do a mile in a specific time, and then I might jog for a couple minutes and then another one and another one. I'd do a series of eight mile repeats on that specific workout day. My other speed workout would be a marathon pace run, so I might run 8 or 10 miles at my marathon pace. If my marathon pace is 6 minute miles, I'd do a two mile jog warm up, and then I might do 8 or 10 miles at a six minute pace, and then a two mile cool down.
So you maybe end up running 14?
Sometimes what I would do on those speed workout days-- on those days I might end up with about 14 miles. On some other days, I might run twice during the course of the day. Say in the morning, I might run eight miles, and then in the afternoon I might do six or eight more miles.
Those days tend to be a little bit more mellow. More of kind of a maintenance run, a little bit of a recovery day. I try to have a recovery day after every hard workout.
Do you think that all of your training could fit into four hours a day? Do you think that's true?
You mean the workouts for a specific day? Probably even less than that. Depending on the day a little bit, probably between 2 or 3 hours. Usually on Sunday I would go out and do a long run, and that would be a 20 or 22 mile run, all in one fell swoop and that usually takes two and a half hours.
So that explains how you're able to do this, as well as go to nursing school, as well as have an extremely young child. I assume you talk to your friends occasionally.
I try to at least-- have some sort of social life. This is not a job, so it's not something that I do 8 hours a day. It's something that I fit in with all the other obligations, things that I like to do too. I like to be able to pursue other interests as well.
You live on a road with no one else near by. Do you pretty much just run from your house every day?
The winter is harder because with the baby, I often end up running with a treadmill down in the basement. Brad, my husband, has pretty long hours at the farm, and especially in the winter months, it's hard to find daylight when he's able to watch Maddy, so I ended up running a lot on the treadmill this winter, as opposed to last summer, I would take her with me. I have one of those baby joggers, and that was great. I could just leave right from the house, and I could take her. She would be pretty happy to go eight or ten miles with me. Typically what I do when I go outside, I just go right from the house. The roads are so pretty around here. We're pretty secluded, so I don't have to worry too much about crazy drivers.
Do you ever try to go find big hills to run up and down?
I do. In the past, I have done a hill workout as a part of my training, usually early on in the training during the first six weeks or 2 months of the training I do a hill workout and I would find some place close by that I could find a warm up jog and run to and then do a hill workout. If I couldn't find one within a couple miles, I would drive to it. It's a little bit harder now with Maddy because I don't have as much leeway and freedom with when I go running and where I go running. I'm a little more limited.
You'd have to load up the cart, er, the carriage into the car.
I've done that sometimes. Sometimes it's easier to go straight from home. Running with the jogger up hills is not an easy thing to do.
When you're in the race, you feel like, “Hey, I'm not even pushing a kid anymore.” Heartbreak Hill without the kid is substantially easier, I suppose.
Do you know most of the elite runners in the race? You know who they are, but are you friends with them, or not really?
It's funny--I know who people are, but I don't run that many races to really get to know that many of the runners. If you're a professional runner, and that's your job, a lot of those people travel in the same circles. They run the same races and they have the same schedules in terms of when they compete. I pick out a couple of races each year to focus on and because of that, I don't get to know as many of the runners. As time goes on, you do get a little bit you do get a little more familiar with people.
During the race, do you talk to the other runners, or do you just run along and think things like, “I wish I were at the end right now”?
I think that really depends I find that if I'm feeling good and the run is going well, then it's easier for me to talk to people, just because you're feeling strong, and you're not focusing so much on “I'm not doing so great.” I might talk to some folks along the way. Sometimes if someone passes me, I'll encourage them and say “Good job, go get them,” and just stuff like that. I certainly find I'm not carrying on lengthy conversations with people because you're expending energy that should be focused on the race itself. I enjoy getting to know folks along the way and knowing what pace they're hoping to run.
In races other than the Boston Marathon do you find that you have good competition? I don't really know what the running scene in Wiscasset, Maine, is like at all, but I imagine that being the fastest female marathon runner in the United States, you might not find a whole lot of competition. You say that you encourage people when they pass you, but having read some of the other interviews with you on the web, it doesn't seem like people pass you very often.
It definitely depends on the race. Like I said before, I don't run that many races. At this point, what I'm trying to do is to find races that are competitive so I can be pushed by competition. For example, when I ran the Maine Marathon last fall, there wasn't a whole lot of competition. That just gets hard. I ran alone for most of the race. Running 26 miles at a fast pace all by yourself without anyone around you to help push you and motivate you, can be pretty hard. Because of that, as I've been looking toward the future and thinking about which races I want to do, I've been targeting races that will have a little more competition. That's why Boston was one that I wanted to shoot for and I'm thinking about in the fall going to Chicago because they've got a pretty competitive marathon. It's also a pretty flat course, so people tend to run pretty fast times there.
Most people run a couple of minutes faster in Chicago, right?
Yeah, exactly. And I've heard good things about the race too, so I'm looking forward to that.
Have you thought about running internationally?
Not at this point, no. It's hard to find the time to travel to races, and It gets expensive too. A lot of my family members say, “Wouldn't it be great to do the London Marathon or the Paris Marathon,” because they like coming to watch. At this point, I think I'm going to stick closer to home. I've got a few races, like I was mentioning Chicago, here in the States that I'd really like to do. Maybe once I've done those, I might think about something else, it really just depends. A lot of it's a time issue, because I have other things that I'm pursuing and it gets hard to spend too much time traveling off doing different races.
Do you know Alan Culpepper?
Oh, yeah, yeah.
You at least know of him, right?
Have you ever been in any races against him?
This was the first race that I had run in that he ran in. He was the fourth overall male finisher. That's a really good showing for an American male. I've read a lot about him in different running magazines and just heard a lot about him through running circles. But this was the first time that I've actually seen him run. It was neat because in this particular race, they start the women's elite group about 25 minutes ahead of the rest of the start.
29 minutes actually, I believe.
That's right, 29 minutes. So, I didn't see a male runner until pretty close to the end, so it was really neat to see--I think I saw the top five male finishers because they passed me in the last couple miles. It was really interesting--there's all these cars and press and motorcycles, policemen, so I could tell when the first male was coming up behind me because there was a lot more going on on the course. Alan Culpepper was one of the ones that passed me in the last mile or two. It was pretty neat to see him finishing strong.
You might not be able to beat him in a race but do you think you could maybe, I don't know, beat him in a fist fight? He's pretty skinny, right? He only weighs 130 pounds.
I don't know. I don't know. I wouldn't make any bets on it at this point.
OK. Have you thought about doing things longer than a marathon? Like a 50 K or a 100 K?
At this point, I haven't because I've gotten into the marathon, and I've really been enjoying that so far. I feel like I still have some room to improve and grow in the marathon, but I think at some point I'd really like to do one of those ultra-type races. For the next several years, I'll stick towards the marathon distances. Once that competitive part of my life is over, I might move on to something different.
Based on your age, are you likely to peak around now, or you maybe have a few years to go before your legs start to fall off?
Before I can't walk anymore? I don't know. It's really interesting because for marathoning you've got a longer life span than in a lot of competitive sports. The fifth place female finisher in Boston this year was over forty. You can still be competitive into your forties. I'm not sure if I'll keep doing it that long-- at least another 3 years or so. One thing in the back of my mind looking at is the Olympic Trials for 2008. I'm looking at that time frame right now. If I want to keep running competitively after that, then I'll assess things from there.
That sounds good. When you came in as the first American finisher, did you get any certificates or cash or a medal or anything like that?
Yeah, actually, I won $2100.
Oh, great-- two thousand bucks!
Which is pretty nice.
That's a lot of baby clothes.
I know-- or a lot of shoes. The shoe expense is pretty expensive, and I've been trying to find a shoe company that might give me some shoes.
I would think--couldn't you just call up New Balance and say, “Hey, look, I'm pretty good, why don't you give me some shoes?”
Well, this past November, after I ran New York-- I usually wear Asics or New Balance-- I wrote to both of those companies. I sent them a little running resume. I said I'd be interested in pursuing some sort of sponsorship opportunity, and they both wrote back and said, “Sorry, we don't have any space or funds available at this time.” I was a little disappointed by that, because I was hoping to at least get someone to help me out with my shoes.
Yeah, at least some sneakers.
But in addition at Boston, they do have these crystal vases that they give out for the top 15 finishers, so I got a little piece of hardware there too.
So you get to put flowers in that.
I had some flowers in it; they've wilted so I decided to compost them.
Oh, that's good.
Yeah, send them back to the earth, you know.
Has anyone else tried to interview you? Local paparazzi following you?
I hide in my car for most of the day. I did some local interviews--with the local NBC affiliate, and I'm going to do an interview tomorrow with the ABC affiliate in Portland, and some affiliated newspaper interviews as well.
You're officially famous, then.
I don't know. I guess. It's been pretty busy.
Has anyone asked you for an autograph yet?
No. No autograph seekers yet, no.
Maybe in the Yellowfront Grocery in Wiscasset? “Hey, I know you!”
“I saw you on TV!” No, not yet.
That's surely coming. The Chewonki Foundation, which is where you live, recently had Eaton Farm donated to it.
And they're planning on making a 12 mile long trail that runs from approximately your house to Wiscasset.
Oh, you know more about this than I do, that's great.
I don't know if it's going to start right at your front door; you might have to cut through the woods a little bit.
That's OK, I can do that.
Have you run on trails at all, or is it just, “I want to run on the pavement because I don't want to twist an ankle”?
I'm not a big trail runner. Maybe it's because I'm not used to running on trails. Now it would be much more difficult, because I have the baby with me. The baby jogger has some nice wheels on it, but I don't know if it could handle trail running.
It's a nice change of pace every once in a while. I don't worry too much about twisting an ankle--you just have to be careful. I figure I can walk out my door and step in a pothole and twist my ankle, so I don't worry too much about that. That goes along with being alive in our world. We'll see. I'm going to have to look into that 12 mile trail.
Because 12 miles, you do that there and back, you've got a marathon on your hands.
There you go.
What's your next target? Can you walk right now?
If I train well, I'm usually not sore. Especially on the long runs, my body gets used to running for that length of time and sure, I'm running faster during the marathon than I do on my long runs, but I think my body tends to adjust to the rigors. It's usually a good sign if a few days afterwards I don't have any major soreness. I certainly feel like I've done something significant.
Yeah, I can imagine feeling too.
No major aches or pains.
That's great. What's your next race? Do you have one targeted? Is it Chicago?
Yeah, I think the next marathon will be Chicago in the fall. there's a 10 K race, the Beach to Beacon, you may have heard of it.
Well, I think that's all my questions.
Nice, well, thanks for calling. I appreciate it.
Sure, well, thanks for running so fast.