Blue Collar Legend—Dual Citizen Runner Steve Chu/ Part 1 Background

Article, Pictures/ Steve Chu
Interview, Translate/ Bigfish

Chinese Version

High School / College

Year

Weekly Mileage

Fastest XC

5000m 

3200m/3000m

1600/1500m

HS-1

25-35

17:54 (5K)


10:22 3200

4:47 1600

HS-2

25-35

17:27 (5K)

16:52 (5K Road)

10:12 3200

4:28 1600

HS-3

30-40

16:17 (3mi) 



4:32 1600

HS-4

30-45

16:38 (5K)

16:12 (3-3.05?)


9:54 3200

4:27 Mile

College-1

45-60


16:00 5000

9:22 3000

4:05 1500

College-2

50-75

26:58 (8k)




College-3

60-80

26:50 (8k)

15:52 5000




Year

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Total Miles

2189.7

2719.7

3181.3

3737.2

2611.2

4538

5445.6

2223.8

Range

38 - 74

40 - 102

51 - 101

72 - 110

74 - 125

80 - 150

102 - 140

112 - 151

Average

42

52

61

72

50

87

105

111

Marathon PB

2:52

2:46

2:42

2:37

2:37

2:28

2:22

2:21

½ Marathon PB

1:15

1:14

1:12

1:10

1:10

1:07

1:06

?

Brief Background:

Part 1 – High School (1996-2000): 

Joined school’s cross-country team after receiving an invitation from the coach. I thought it was because I ran the fastest mile (6:10) in my middle school class but it turned out almost every kid who wasn’t on another sports team received one. My high school training was fairly low mileage / high intensity. My cross-country coach’s training had a lot of Jack Daniels influence (Heart Rate Training, Hills, Intervals), while my track coaches prescribed us a lot of track workouts.

Q: What grade were you when you joined the XC team in high school? I wonder that was 1st grade in high school or 8th grade in general.

A: I started training as part of a team as a freshman in high school. (In the U.S. that's 9th grade) after receiving an invitation to try out for the HS cross country team from my coach. The idea of being a runner never crossed my mind before that, since I was never very athletic. I did enjoy the 1-2 times a year in middle school (grades 6-8 in the U.S.) when we ran a timed mile race in physical education class because I would beat my classmates who were on club soccer or basketball teams that were considered the best athletes in our school. (and I was more known as the quiet nerdy Asian kid who was good at math, haha)

Part 2 – College (2000-2003): 

I originally didn’t plan on racing in college, but joined the team after I ran into the coach at a road race and was invited to walk-on. I ran higher mileage than I did in high school, but had trouble adapting to the system and eventually quit the team halfway through my junior year.

Q: What was the training system in your college? What part was difficult for you to adapt? 

A: The training didn't seem to be drastically different from my high school training to be honest, as my weekly mileage increased only from about 30-40miles (50-65km)/week in high school to 50-60 miles (80-100km)/week my freshman year. However, the interval workouts just seemed to be just much more intense and our coach asked us to wear spikes. I think a typical week my freshman year looked like this:

Monday - 60-minute moderate/progression run.

Tuesday - Track or tempo workout

Wednesday - 40-60 minutes easy

Thursday - Track workout

Friday - 30-50 minutes easy

Saturday - Race

Sunday - 12-16mi long run

I think The frequency of quality days and the intensity of the track workout sessions made it hard for me to recover. I had also (somewhat stupidly) set a speed limit of 7min/mile ( = 4:20/km) on my easy days as the slowest pace I could run. The reasoning for that is because I had read in Steve Prefontaine's biography that he considered anything slower than 6min/mile (~3:45/km) to be too slow to get any training benefits from, so I figured if I was approximately 1min/mile slower than him in a 5K my equivalent training threshold was around 7min/mile. The combination of all the factors (wearing spikes in workouts, running harder workouts than I was used to, running workouts/races 3 times a week, and running too fast on easy days) led to inadequate recovery and eventually injury.

Part 3 – The “limbo” years (2004-2008): 

I ran on my own during this period, and my weekly mileage fluctuated anywhere from 0 to 70 miles a week depending on how busy the rest of my life was and the injury issues I was dealing with. For about 18 months from 2004-2006 I had a neuroma in my right foot and ran very occasionally. In 2006 I ran the Chicago marathon with very little training, made a lot of beginner mistakes and limped across the finish in 3:07. I tried training again in 2007 with very frustrating results, ending with plantar fasciitis about 1 month before I was scheduled to run the Chicago marathon. I worked long hours and ate a lot of junk food, and by the middle of 2008 I was about 45-50 lbs (20 kgs) over my college racing weight.

Q: Would you talk about the beginner mistakes you made during the 2006 Chicago Marathon?

A: 1. Inadequate training (but that may be a mistake BEFORE I got on the start line)

2. It was cold that day, and I stood in the corral in a short sleeved t-shirt and the shorts I was planning on running the race in without any throwaway shirts/pants. I was shivering for about an hour in the corral before the race even started.

3. I thought taking water/gatorade were for "beginning" runners, so I didn't start taking water/gatorade until I started feeling tired and weak until around mile 15-16. 

4. I paced myself really poorly. I remember having a pre-race goal of running under 3 hours. I stuck to that pace range (6:50) for about 3-4 miles before I started picking it up. You can see from my results here that I got carried away for about 15 miles before I hit the wall around 20 miles http://chicago-history.r.mikatiming.de/2014/?content=detail&fpid=search&pid=search&id=000017107FA30900001421B4&lang=EN_CAP&event=MAR_999999107FA3090000000065&event_main_group=2006&lang=EN_CAP&search[name]=Chu&search[nation]=%25&search_sort=name&search_event=ALL_EVENT_GROUP_2006

Q: What were some key lessons did you learn from 2004~2008 in terms of training or lifestyle? 

A: I actually went through a very inconsistent period in terms of running. There were weeks or even months when I had the motivation to train hard despite feeling tired, running with injuries, and working long hours, followed by months of eating junk food and not going to the gym at all. My "rock bottom" moment was when I stepped on a scale one night after destroying a Las Vegas buffet with a friend and seeing myself 1-2 lbs shy of 200 lbs. (90 kgs?) Looking back on this period, I realized the lack of consistency and moderation in my training were the keys to my lack of success in getting back in shape

Part 4 – The “working myself back into shape” years (2008-2013): 

2011 Boston Marathon

I started running again with the goal of including running consistently as part of a healthy lifestyle. As I got into better shape though, the temptation to enter races was too strong to resist and I decided to mainly focus on the marathon and half-marathon distances to avoid comparing my fitness level to my college years. I eventually worked myself into about 1:10 half-marathon and 2:37 marathon shape. I injured myself while training for the 2013 Boston marathon, which led to the development of a serious case of IT Band syndrome for a few months.

Q: What happened really made you determine on working yourself into shape?

A: I don't recall if there was quite an exact "moment" where things clicked. (like you may see in movies or read about in some people's biographies). I do remember that between 2006 and 2008 I went through a cycle of trying to get back into running with the intent of running a race in the near future, train hard, becoming injured/tired and then needing to take time off, followed by another attempt at getting back into running a few weeks later. Ironically, I think it was the fact that I got so fat and out-of-shape (haha) in the spring of 2008 that actually made the next comeback attempt successful. When I started running again in June of 2008, I was so out-of-shape that I ran 4 miles in close to 40 minutes and my only goal at that point was to be able to develop an exercise routine that will let me come back down to a healthy weight. This time, I remember running or cross-training for about 3-4 months before I even attempted anything that resembled "fast" running. (I think it might have been something like "I wonder if I can stay on treadmill for 1 mile while it's going at 6min/mile pace"). I very slowly introduced some faster running into my training and by November I signed up for a 8km race on a whim. Despite getting to the race late and starting behind a couple of thousand runners I managed to squeak under 30 minutes and my competitive fire slowly returned. (a month later I ran a 16:46 5K, although it turned out the course may have been about 120m short). 

In short, I think it actually took giving up the idea of being a competitive runner right away and switching my attitude to patiently developing a consistent routine that I can keep up and slowly build upon that made that "comeback attempt" successful. To this day, I am still very careful about avoiding overtraining. I may go for 1-2 weeks where I know I am doing mileage or training that I can't maintain consistently (like an occasional 150mi/240km+ week) but I seem to have developed an awareness for when to back off before I become overtrained. (or it could just be dumb luck :))

Part 5 – The “Sub-2:30 / Sub-1:10 and beyond” years (2013-Present): 

My recovery from IT Band Syndrome coincided with a move to Colorado Springs due to my wife’s job. While recovering from ITBS, I had gained another 20-25 lbs (10 kgs). When I first moved to Colorado Springs I was in about 17:30 5K shape. However, the strengthening exercises that I had to do in physical therapy to address my ITBS somehow made me a stronger and more durable runner, and I found myself being able to take on higher and higher weekly mileage in training over the next few years. Within 6 months of moving to Colorado Springs I lowered my best times to 1:08:12 / 2:28:43. Within the next 12-18 months I improved upon those performances with 1:06:07 / 2:22:43 showings. While I have continued to progress in workouts, the chance to show the fitness gains in races have eluded me in 2016.