Thanks to our friends at Runner's Tribe, here is an interview with Villanova freshman Sam McEntee (bib 1525 above), who hails from Perth in Western Australia. The interview was held in response to Sam breaking the 50+ year Western Australian U-20 1500 meter record with his 3:43.34 at the Tuppeny Last Chance meet at Swarthmore on May 14th. The previous record of 3:45 was held by the legendary Herb Elliott, also of Perth. Elliott went on to win two Commonwealth Games Gold medals in 1958 and the Olympic Gold medal in Rome 1960 (i.e., replacing Villanova's Ron Delany, who won the race in 1956 for Ireland, as Olympic champion at that distance), setting a world record in 3:35.6.
It has been held for 52 years but finally Herb Elliott’s Western Australian Under 20 1500m record has finally been broken by promising junior Sam McEntee. McEntee who is currently on scholarship with Villanova University in the United States went into the race with a life time best of 3.47.67 and came out with a huge personal best of 3.43.34 but more importantly taking 1.66 seconds off the Elliott record of 3.45.0.
Runnerstribe speaks to Sam McEntee about breaking the record and racing in the college system
RT: First of all, congratulations on breaking the record, as well as setting a big personal best. How did the race feel?
Sam: The race felt great, I was given some good advice to just settle in and take whatever position I got as we knew it was going to be a fast race. From there I gradually moved through the field, with 300 to go I guess I was a bit excited and probably kicked a tad early, but overall the race was great finishing tied for 3rd and a 4 second PB I couldn’t have asked for much more.
RT: Did you think you could break the record going into the race?
Sam: Before I left home in January my coach at the time Gareth Elliott had mentioned the possibility of breaking this record and being in the US where no one really knows too much about the history of running in Australia or even which side of the country Perth is on, it was something I kept to myself on the side. In the week leading up I had it in mind that this was probably going to be the last chance to have a crack at the record so I definitely felt like it was possible. Although my body was a bit sore from a quick workout the previous week and I really just wanted to run the race and get it over and done with. Going into the race you don't want to be focusing on any exact times and what not as it can sometimes mess you around but the way practice had been going I definitely felt as though I had it in me to run well.
RT: How does it feel to break a record, from such a legend of the sport in Herb Elliott?
Sam: It’s pretty unbelievable to be honest; it’s an honor to even be mentioned in the same sentence as someone of his caliber. He is a legend of distance running and someone to aspire to be like. Obviously the technological advances over the past 50 years have helped my cause a lot.
RT: According to the Runnerstribe Stats Central a time like this would put you inside the top 10 on the All-time Australian Junior list for 1500m slightly ahead Craig Mottram. Mixing with that caliber of athletes, do you now have to realistically think about making Australian teams in the future?
Sam: I managed to take a quick look at the ranking list a few days ago and the thought of my name being up there with the athletes on that list is quite surreal. At the moment I’m in my first year at Villanova and having red shirted this outdoor season I still have the possibility of 4 years of Collegiate running ahead of me. Obviously it’s every runners dream to represent their country at the highest level but currently I’m pretty focused on just being a part of the team here at Villanova and achieving as much as I can on the NCAA scene.
RT: You are competing with Villanova University in the United States, how have you found the transition compared to racing in Western Australia?
Sam: The level of competition is slightly better, but the biggest difference is the depth over here, running 3:47 a few weeks ago you’d bank on getting a start in the heats at Nationals back home, but a 3:47 wouldn’t even get you in the top 100 kids in the NCAA so you really have to step it up if you want to match it with these guys. Fast races back home were like a time trial and every Friday night it was basically hang on for as long as you could and hope you ran a PB. Now for example, the race this past weekend was fast, but at the bell lap there were at least 6 or 7 people who were gunning to win that race.
RT: Has your training varied much? And what has been the biggest change?
Sam: In the couple of months before arriving in the US I was running about 60-70km a week with 2 workouts. Now I usually get 80-85km a week and still have 2 workouts a week so my mileage has increased. The variation in my workouts has been the biggest change I feel, back home I was a pretty low mileage guy and my workouts were mainly hard hitting lactic session’s usually fast repeats with substantial rest one day and longer reps and a more aerobic workout the for the other workout. Now the workouts might start with a threshold mile and then the core part of the workout will be slightly more aerobic based than back home with short rest or jog recovery and are somewhat less taxing on the body which is really noticeable. They seem to involve several different methods of practice and target the anaerobic and aerobic systems in the one workout. Tempo runs weren’t something I had ever really done back home and now pulling on a heart rate monitor and running at rate for 5 miles isn’t out of the ordinary for a workout.
RT: We always hear about College teams and their team atmosphere. Can you give us an idea what it has been like for you?
Sam: It’s definitely a lot of fun; long runs on Sunday mornings are probably one of my favorite runs of the week simply because of the number of people you get to run with. We’ve got a pretty big distance squad so there’s always someone to run with or even just hang out on a daily basis. Honestly it’s pretty similar to a footy team which makes training something to look forward to every day. Being a foreigner and heavily outnumbered at that you cop a bit for the accent and what not but it’s all pretty harmless.
RT: You also have another Australian in the team Matt Gibney and a couple of New Zealanders, how have they helped settle in?
Sam: Coming over it was going to be tough leaving home and not knowing anyone here in the US, so to have some older guys who had been through it all it really helped. Matt and the Kiwis are all top blokes and have always been there to help out, at the same time they are all really focused and committed to the sport and the team so they’re also someone to look up too.
RT: 2009-2010 was a massive breakthrough season where you dropped your 1500m time from 4:06 to 3.48. What do you think was the main reason for this?
Sam: Definitely having a bigger winter base and a reasonable cross season under my belt helped a lot. At the beginning of 2010 I made the tough decision to call it quits on football which wasn’t easy as I had played for my whole childhood. Without football I had more time for running and it also relieved a lot of stress from the body. Gareth really made sure that we didn't over do it and pump up the miles to early this enabled me to stay fresh and feeling good for what was a pretty long track season. I remember talking with Gareth early in the season and setting reasonable and realistic goals to break 4 minutes in the 1500. I think I had achieved this in the second race for the season so it gave me a real boost of confidence and hunger at the time. Momentum in any sport especially running is a huge factor and when you’re training and racing well it make things a lot easier.
RT: So how many kilometers were you doing prior to giving up football? And how many kilometers per week are you doing now?
Sam: In high school I was probably only running around 40km a week with 2 workouts and a race during the track season, this was reasonable, but the big change was being able to focus on just one sport. Last winter I was solely focused on running and instead of having footy training 2-3 times a week I was running. Now, apart from the few weeks I missed during March with a minor injury, I’ve been hitting 50miles (80km) consistently. In the scheme of things this isn’t a massive total but I feel compared to what I was doing combined with the consistency has really benefited my running.
RT: We saw a bit of coverage of the Penn Relays with the Australian DMR team and Villanova winning the College DMR section, but unfortunately you missed out on a run. Can you give us an idea of the Penn Relays experience?
Sam: I didn’t have too much of an idea of what the relays were until a few weeks leading up. Although every day walking down to the locker room you see the corridors covered in Penn Relays wheels and Marcus O’Sullivan (Villanova coach) really emphasizes the significance of the relays to himself and Villanova University. Just missing out on a chance to run in the mile relay was disappointing but seeing Matt Gibney run a massive anchor leg and the team winning the DMR has definitely made me hungry for success at Penn relays in years to come. The atmosphere and size of the crowd was something I’ve never experienced for a track meet before so that alone was awesome.
RT: What is coming up for you over the next few months?
Sam: I’ll be staying at Villanova until July for summer school and to keep training with the guys whose seasons are still going; there might be another race if the body is holding up well. After that I’ll be heading home for the rest of the summer break (Aussie winter) to catch up with friends and family and get some good base training in before the start of the 2011 Cross Country season which is something I’m really excited for.
RT: What are some of your goals you want to achieve over the next few years?
Sam: To me the individuality of running is something I enjoy as it is solely on you and in your own hands to improve. So basically my goals are to just keep running PBs and to learn the art of racing. Earning a spot on the Cross Country team in the coming season is definitely one of my short term goals. After that I haven’t really thought of too much of specific results but the NCAA Track and Cross
Country competitions are pretty crazy and there is so much depth so I just want to be able to compete with the top guys in the not too distant future.
RT: Sam, all the best with achieving those goals and we look forward to hearing more from you over the years.
Sam: Thanks Runners Tribe and to everyone back home for your support.