↑ Not the marathon, but this looks like more fun!
Two weeks ago I was given the opportunity to talk to Apolo Ohno, the Olympic gold medalist and Dancing with the Stars champion. (Guess which title I’m more excited about. Hint: It involves jazz hands.) The call occurred a few days before Ohno ran the New York Marathon on Sunday, November 6th in response to a challenge by Jared, the Subway guy. (What do you think Jared puts down as his occupation on his tax return? Just Subway Guy? Sandwich enthusiast, perhaps?)
Alas, when opportunity knocked, I rolled over and slept in. Yes, I missed the conference call because I could not get my ass out of bed. In my defense, I did set my alarm, but it either didn’t go off or I was able to turn it off without any memory of doing so. When I woke up, the conference call was almost done, and I thought it would be rude to call in at the end, interrupting whoever was speaking, and then ask a question that had already been asked. Thankfully, Melanie the PR Lady made a recording of the call which I listened to.
I have deep respect for anyone who completes a marathon. I ran a half-marathon a few years ago, and I take the opportunity to remind people about this EVERY TIME POSSIBLE because OMG it was the most physically demanding thing I have ever done. Literally. It was so exhausting that it turned me off of running after that. I was done run out. So, anyone who completes a whole marathon has my deep respect. I thought it was interesting that Ohno was taking on an endurance challenge like a marathon. It must involve a different style of training than speed-skating events which focus on sprinting. I admire that he’s willing to take on new challenges like this outside of his comfort zone.
The conference call was with Ohno and his trainer Todd Rushworth. Here’s a bullet points breakdown of the highlights:
- His diet is more lenient with marathon training. For skating, Ohno was very strict about diet, not eating an almond less or an almond more than required. For the marathon, “It’s not an almond less, but it’s definitely a lot of almonds more…I’ve been really enjoying the fact that I can pump my calories up a significant more than I ever have in the past.”
- If he’s not hungry after a run he’ll drink chocolate milk to get the right mix of protein and carbs. He also likes coconut water. Me, too! I just had some at Twitter HQ. The night before a long run he likes to eat brown rice or pasta since that’s good, slow-burning fuel.
- He’s lost some weight during training, but more significantly his body shape has changed. “It’s been interesting just seeing how my body has changed. Seeing how my body stores fat. Seeing how my body uses fat and uses different energy sources.” Speed-skaters develop bulky, muscular legs to give them explosive speed. Now his quads are thin enough that he can buy jeans off the rack. See, it’ s not just fat girls who have a hard time finding clothes!
- As for the differences in training, “It’s so different. Night and day.” When he first started running he was, “Fast, explosive and all out,” and needed to learn how to slow down. “Training my mind and my body was probably the single hardest thing for me to do.” This is consistent with what I’ve heard from other marathoners, that the race is as much a mental challenge as a physical one, particularly near the end. He says,”The mind is the single most powerful tool.”
- As for injuries, he’s been fairly injury free. His right IT band was initially tight, but his trainer was able to recommend stretching exercises and acupuncture treatments that helped. If you have no idea what an IT band is, neither did I, though I would have guessed it was a rock band made up of Information Technology workers. It’s not, but the Internet knows all. To avoid injury he says, “Get a lot of rest. Get mileage. Stretch.”
- He hasn’t skated since the 2010 Olympics, calling it a wonderful break. Personally, I find it really refreshing that he doesn’t define himself just by his abilities in one sport and that he’s willing to chase other aspects of life. He’s been pursuing other interests like acting, business, film, working in health and fitness industry, and of course running. It would have been very difficult to be speed skating and marathon training at the same time because they require different things from your body.
- The most hilarious thing I learned? Because of his speed skating experience Ohno kept veering to the left when running. LOL! His trainer had to run to the right of him so they weren’t constantly bumping into each other.
- Even an experienced athlete like Ohno found a trainer to be invaluable. His trainer was able to create a personalized program that worked around Ohno’s schedule which involves traveling about 24 days every month. “Putting miles in when you’re on the road is very difficult,” he admits.
- He doesn’t like to use a treadmill, though he would do that when he was skating to lessen the chance of twisting his ankle. For a marathon, “I’ve got to get the outside experience. Plus, running on a treadmill is boring. I can only last a little bit of time on a treadmill.” Ohno is based in LA and says, “For me running by the water, there’s nothing better.” He likes to run to rhythmic house music to keep him pumped.
- He aimed to finish in three and a half hours, and to beat Mario Lopez Ohno beat his goal by about 5 minutes, finishing the race in 3:25:14. Mario Lopez finished in 4:23:30, so both goals were met! Because he finished in under four hours, Subway is donating $26,200 to one of his favorite causes, the Special Olympics. For anyone wondering about that number, a marathon is 26.2 miles.
- His advice for marathon newbies is to train consistently and plan. Getting a trainer that suits your needs helps a lot. Don’t skip the long runs in your program. Get sleep and learn to rest because recovery is as important as running.
- I also thought it was refreshing that even Olympic caliber athletes don’t want train some days. To overcome that he gives himself no choice but to run. “It’s always easier to sit around and dwell on something than it is to just go do it.” Ohno’s dad has a great saying, “Athletes and champions are made when no one is watching.” (Quick, everyone stop looking at me.)
- What does he like about running? “It’s an incredible creative process. Some of my best ideas and decisions come from when I’m running.” He says it’s time to yourself to zone out and de-stress. “You’re so much more productive once you start exercising. Your brain, your thought process, your processing power is so much faster and more efficient.” Even if you only do 10, 15, 20 minutes a day you’ll see a vast improvement in the rest of the quality of your life.
- He’s also inspired by other athletes, particularly anyone who completes the race in under three hours. “You always have stars who shine brighter than others. Who are just either genetically gifted or who work harder or a combination of both.”
- What’s next? He’s interested in TV and film work and future involvement in the Olympic movement. “I’m hungry for success in all elements of life.”
- Ohno’s personal motto is, “Zero regrets.” That means zero regrets in life as well as sports.
- And we couldn’t finish without asking what his favorite Subway sandwich was. It’s a 12-inch, double meat, turkey sandwich on honey oat with all the veggies, banana peppers, oil and vinegar, and sometimes avocado.
Here’s a Sports Illustrated article about Apolo’s performance in the marathon.
Ok, here’s the part where I give away a $25 Subway gift card. Giveaway is open to US residents only. It ends at 11:59pm ET on Sunday, November 20th. To enter leave a comment on this entry letting me know what activity outside of your comfort zone you’d like to pursue. I’m thinking archery, but that might be because I just watched The Hunger Games trailer.
Disclosure: I received a $25 gift card from Subway as part of this post.