The Letsrun Interview, Part 2

Even after Rojo's comments about women's athletics in our first interview!
Even after Rojo’s comments about women’s athletics in our first interview!

Last week, we brought you Part 1 of our interview with’s Robert Johnson. And what an interview it was as Rojo had some interesting things to say about women’s athletics. Today, we bring you Part 2 of our interview. We continue to explore the sport of running: how to make it bigger and how to keep it clean. We then have a little fun talking about who to watch in 2013, discuss training, and get to the bottom of that famous Kip Litton thread.

Salty Running: Since Letsrun was created to promote the sport of running, what do you think needs to be done to promote our sport so that it is not only followed during Olympic years?

Robert Johnson: Lots can be done to promote running and I think the key is doing what we try to do at Letsrun, promote the stars as individuals and personalities. A big part of most sports’ enjoyment is rooting for and against people/teams. I know the elites may not like it but getting bashed/criticized is a big part of being a pro athlete.  ARod is a star to some, a fraud and choker to others. But he is known and can be loved/hated. But you can’t love/hate a star marathoner if you just know them as “a Kenyan”, you need to know them as an individual.

Also a big part of sports, and to me the key part for running, is the anticipation of an event. We at Letsrun really try (but need to do an even better job) to let you know what is coming up. Start talking about the 2013 London marathon now so you can dissect it. The Super Bowl only takes 4 hours to play but people are going to talk about it on ESPN, on the radio, and in the papers for 2 weeks straight. The anticipation of the event is often times bigger than the actual event, and this is particularly true for running.

But you can only do so much.  What I’m about to say is controversial. What’s wrong with running being a huge, huge deal once every four years? Running is never going to be mainstream popular like the NFL. It’s just not. The sport isn’t as interesting as say the NFL. In running, there isn’t the unpredictability in results like you have in the NFL. There are no turnovers. There are rarely big upsets. Galen Rupp is going to beat 28:20 guys 100 times out of 100. In the NFL, the 49ers were 0-1-1 against the Rams this year.

SR: Fair enough. With all the Lance drama changing the face of cycling though, what effect do you think this will have on the sport of running?

RJ: Hopefully more money for more testing.  I am jaded though and barely enjoyed the Olympics as even now I think most insiders have serious questions regarding a handful mid-distance gold medals in London. That’s not good. There should be no doubt. Let’s really do the biological passport, publicize TUEs, and make it so fans can believe in their heroes. How many examples do we need to know that it’s all over the place in all sports? McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, Marion, A-Rod, my god that should be enough. Why do we need Lance to make it more obvious?

[pullquote]I know I’ve said this on the site before but if it ever came out that Paula (Radcliffe) was on something, we are shutting down the site.[/pullquote]

I think the real problem is the major sports. With all of the money involved, how could there not be a huge drug problem in the NFL? Those are the biggest guys and yet there hasn’t been a big drug bust, but maybe it’s because we just don’t notice with their 4-game ban. I think that given the millions they get in subsidies for stadiums, they should all be part of USADA testing and they should donate tens of millions to the program. I’m tired of people looking the other way at fraud in all aspects of our society. The NFL, NBA and MLB should all be part of WADA.

Ped Crossing Sign
There will be no PED crossing at Will the rest of sports follow? (Photo credit: Stephanie Booth)

This was another topic we spent quite some time dissecting during our phone conversation and one that is passionate about fighting. Rojo emphasized that Letsrun has always been at the forefront of pushing the PED issue and stated that it’s great to see this issue finally becoming at the forefront of all sports. He believes that the sport of running is cleaner than it was before but he stressed that it’s still hard to enjoy. For more on this evolving debate, see a recent Week In Review, which covered the importance of questioning any performance.

SR: So who do you think is going to have a breakout year in 2013?

English: Nick Symmonds during 2011 World champ...
Nick Symmonds: hot or not? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

RJ: Well, there haven’t been that many big-name talents in recent years coming out but it seems to have picked up as of late. German Fernandez is obviously a big guy to pay attention to. I have no idea one way or the other what to expect but always remind people “Talent doesn’t go away.” It will be interesting to see what Robby Andrews does. The 800 is going to be a fascinating event to watch with Solomon and Symmonds in the US and all of the young guys over seas. Obviously, Manzano got the silver but Centrowitz to me is the guy to watch in that event (1500). When have we ever had a guy that consistent? What will Jager do in the steeple and 5k this year? How fast will Rupp go?

Oh wait, I haven’t mentioned a woman. I guess that mean’s I’m sexist? How fast will Dibaba go in the marathon? Will she blossom like Radcliffe did when she moved up? The US women had a disappointing 2012 mid-d and distance run at the Olympics. How does Simpson do as she returns to Wetmore? That drama is great for the sport. Given her Cornell connections I think I’ll be paying close attention to Morgan Uceny.  Her return is also a story line that is great for the sport. To be honest, results and races are sometimes boring. Running needs stories.

Tirunesh Dibaba
Will Tirunesh Dibaba’s track success carry over to the roads? (Photo credit: CiaranJMcNulty)

There’s lots of stuff to get excited about this year though. Hyping high school girls isn’t probably the best of ideas (see Rojo’s theory here under Mary Cain heading) but the Cain/Baxter rivalry is interesting as you have the whole go pro/not run for the high school team angle as well.

Speaking of women’s running again, I think one thing people don’t give us enough credit for is the PED fight we lead is vital to the continuation of women’s sports. If you allow PED use, you basically force women who want to be good at sports to be steroided up.

SR: You and your brother have had successful running careers. What’s your running like these days?

RJ: I had achilles surgery in about 2009 or 2010 and haven’t really got back into it. I’ve always said there is nothing worse than trying to run when you are out of shape. I’d like to be able to run for an hour a day, say 4-5 times a week, but probably do like 30 minutes 3 times a week in reality. With running, the thing I’m most amazed about when looking back is two things. One, how did I have the time to run 100 miles a week, and two, how did I have the motivation? I’m supposed to race a buddy in January 2014. If that doesn’t motivate me, I’m not sure what will.

SR: One of my favorite articles from your site is the one where Coach Kellogg gives four principles to correct training for elites and Wejo interprets the principles for the masses. What stuck out for me is that the key to running fast is to relax. I think this is a training principle that is often overlooked, especially at the high school level. Can you elaborate a bit more on this principle?

RJ: Your question is classic as it shows that everyone associates the website with Wejo and not me. I’m actually the one that translated that article as shown here.

SR: Apologies! That certainly was an error on my end (a Freudian slip of sorts?). But you do bring up a good point. Why do you think most people associate your brother with the site and not you?

RJ: Well, he ran 28:10 and raced in many more championships races than me so he was a much more higher profile runner. When I was coaching at Cornell, he was also running the site more often. Now that I have stepped down, I am able to devote more time to the site.

SR: Makes sense. So back to the original question. In the article YOU wrote, what stuck out for me is that the key to running fast is to relax. Can you elaborate a bit more on this principle?

RJ: I do think “relaxed is fast” is a key concept my brother taught me. I remember asking him after he ran 28:27 for 10,000 and went through 3k at a time that was 1-second off his 3k PB, if he heard that split and freaked out. He said, “Yes I heard it but no I didn’t freak out. I felt the same as I always do at 3k of a 10k. I just was running way faster.”

To me a big part of running is “repeatability.” You can only force yourself to dig deep and crush workouts for a very short period of time. It’s best to learn to relax and feel good. Whenever someone PRs, they normally say, “Oh, I felt so good. I know I can go faster.” Well you want to train like that as well as it’s repeatable.

I think Alan Webb’s whole training has struggled in this area. If I was coaching him, I’m not sure I’d ever have gotten him to 1:43/3:46 as he seemingly forced it to get there but he might be much more consistently in the mix when he needed to be in the mix.

To read more on this, please see: Training Talk: Is Your Training Repeatable?

SR: Thanks for the additional resource. I want to end things with a few fun questions. Banditing races was a hot topic on our site last year. What’s your take on banditing races?

RJ: Well, it’s certainly a big part of the sport’s history but at some level races need money. Now if a buddy is running in a marathon, I don’t think there is anything wrong with jumping in to help him in the last 10 miles. I do follow most rules and I think people should pay the money to race if they can. The bigger question would be what’s their motivation for doing so?

SR: Do you ever troll your own site? (not including April Fools)

RJ: I hate the word troll. I don’t like the idea of doing something simply to get a rise out of people. Do I ever post interesting thread topics not under my name? Absolutely. As I explained earlier, there are reasons as an industry insider where I wouldn’t want my name mentioned. I think I’m really good at getting discussions started and I should be very good at understanding what people do and don’t like to read as I’ve been going at it for 12 years on the homepage. That being said, I’m at the point now where if I just post under my name, I’d likely get an even bigger reaction.

SR: Can I do a quick predict my 5k time?

RJ: Ok.

SR: I’m running roughly 45-50 miles a week with my long intervals at 7:00 minute pace and my shorter intervals at roughly 6:30 pace. My tempos are around 7:45 pace. My focus has been running all of these workouts in control, which they have been.

RJ: Well, 7:00 minute pace is roughly 22 minutes, so at least under 22? Am I way off?

[pullquote]I do think the older you get, the more respect you have for people who run slower. I’m finding that it doesn’t matter the pace as the satisfaction after a run often feels the same.[/pullquote]

SR: That’s exactly the goal! It sounds pathetic but I’ve been trying to break 22 for the last two years. But anyway, last question for you. Kip Litton, are you still going to start that one and only one thread?

RJ: We don’t like having multiple threads on the same topic. That was a weird one. What he did was bizarre but how a few people were so obsessed by him was almost as equally as bizarre. But I guess it’s good. There is just too much fraud out there and I’m obsessed with Lance.

As big as their site is, it’s refreshing to know that they are always open to speaking with their followers. It is likely this concept that keeps them ahead of the game when it comes to promoting running as a sport as well as a special community. Many thanks to Robert Johnson for an engaging and insightful interview!

I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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  1. You know, what is really interesting about LetsRun is that it hasn’t changed much in 13 years. It pretty much looks the same (at least since I first saw it) And that look is really busy and hard to decipher without a bit of work. Only now, after your interview, do i get the front page. I knew it contained news and I’ve gone to it for that, but there’s other stuff there too that I never quite got before. There’s a lot of great stuff there if you work to find it.

    I admit I’m not the most tuned in person (the whole three kids barely enough time to shower, let alone run a website thing), but the other thing I was thinking is that it seems like most of the running blogosphere doesn’t discuss LetsRun. Sure, most of the running blogosphere doesn’t even care about performance, but there’s a large segment who do and I rarely see any posts talking about advice they got from LetsRun or about what they saw on LetsRun. My gut feeling is that it intimidates most of those adult-onset running bloggers. Which is a shame. There really is so much more than the trolls there.

    1. I’ve known about LetsRun for years but never read it, because it’s not what I consider user friendly. The front page is a wall of text. I find the message board format hard to read – with so many great board software options out there, it’s strange that they stick with something that looks straight out of 1999.

      1. Yeah, it’s amazing they get so many readers. I bet they’d get a ton more if people could actually make out what they were trying to say on the front page!

        1. I think the old school style works for them but it can be a bit overwhelming, especially when telling your mom about it and she is looking to see you on the front page 😉

  2. I was and still so bummed about Lance Armstrong – so much so that I almost let it ruin how I felt about professional running. But then I realized that thinking the worst isn’t who I am. I want to believe in the professional runners I love and I want to be a great (or good runner) according to my goals. I refuse to let it jade me and my love of the sport!

    Great interview. And at the end of the day, I love running and anyone who loves to write, think, and talk about it in a positive manner.

  3. “”ginger” seriously needs a life if she gets that excited bout “interviewing” Rojo”

    You’ve only really made it as a journalist when you’re getting anonymously trashed on the internet! Well done.