Thursday, February 04, 2010

Catching up with 1984 Olympian Ruth Wysocki...

Today we chat with '84 Olympian, Ruth Wysocki (pictured here courtesy of runningtimes.com). Many of us remember her thrilling victory at the Olympic Trials (1500m) in that same year over Mary Decker, who had swept the 1500 and 3000 in the inaugural World Championships in '83. Ruth was quite a pioneer in our sport considering girl's high school sports were quite sparse in the 70's. Her career also extended to a time when most of her peers had long retired. She still holds the American Record in the 1500 in the 35-39 age division where she ran 4:07.08 as a 38 year old. So without further ado, one of the all time running greats...

1) What sports did you compete in before and during high school?

During high school, I only ran. However, I was very involved in musical activities. I had private lessons in piano and violin, played in the school orchestra and sang in choir for school & church.

2) What was the cross country and track and field scene like during your time in high school?
Things were quite different. I graduated from high school in 1974. There were virtually no high school sports for girls. My running was for a club. For my first 2 years, my dad was my coach and I ran for the So. Cal. Roadrunners. My junior year, I trained with Vince Reel and worked out at the Claremont Colleges. Lots of intervals as he was basically a sprint coach. Ran for the LA Track Club. Then, in my senior year, I ran for my school, but on the boy's team. Lots of stories there. 1973 (Junior year) was the first year for CIF track for girls. This consisted of a CIF meet (what is now the Masters Meet for Southern Section), but no state meet. You could not double in 2 distance events (Boys couldn't, either). So I ran 440 and 880 and won them both with only 15-20 minutes rest in between events. Also won the Arcadia Invitational 880 twice. My senior year was the first year for a state meet for girls, but I wasn't allowed to run because I ran on the boy's team. More stories there as well!

I think probably the biggest difference in high school running then was that only people serious about wanting to compete bothered to go out for the team. Teams were smaller, but there was more intensity. We lived to compete and gave our all and then some. Now, like life in general, it seems to be about participation and making sure everybody feels good. By the way, in those days cross country was 2 miles, not 3.

3) Where did you compete in college and what was your experience like then?
Again, back in the "dark ages" there were few, if any, opportunities for the gals. There was no NCAA for women. They had the AIAW, which was kind of a joke. I went to the University of Redlands for 1 year to run for Vince Reel again, but it proved to be a bad choice of schools for me. I did improve my 880 from 2:10 to 2:07, but then didn't go back after that first year. I got married in 1976 (& divorced in 1982) and went to work full-time for the school district in their purchasing department. I started working with Vince O'Boyle (now at UC Irvine, but then at Citrus Jr. College) and he remained my coach until I quite racing. I ended up running for Citrus for 2 years (1977-1979) because Vince had 4 good gals who wanted to run cross country & track and they needed a 5th runner. So, I worked out at 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and worked for the school district from 8:00-5:00. In 1978, I won AAU Championships for 800 (beating Mary Decker).

4) When did you first realize that you had an opportunity to participate in the Olympics? Besides the '84 Olympic Trials 1500 race, any other races stand out for you?
In 1976 (my first year working with Vince O'Boyle), we set a goal of making it to the Olympic Trials at 800 meters. I improved to 2:03.87 and made it to the finals, where I got dead last. However, I realized at that point that I was among the top 800 meter runners in the US and I was only 19 years old. That's when I realized I had the real potential for something big to happen.

There are a lot of memorable races for me, and for many reasons. Perhaps the best memory was breaking 2:00 for 800 meters for the first time. I come from a family of 800 meter runners (my dad was 4th in the California State Meet in 1946). I have 3 brothers who also competed. I ran the 800 for many years and always had that goal of dipping under 2:00.

5) Reflecting back, what kind of training do you feel worked best for you (high mileage? etc.)? What were some of your key workouts for you?
I was definitely not high mileage. I trained 50-60 miles per week and did 2-a-days to get that. I did one "long" run a week of 1 hour. Most runs were 6 miles, and my morning run (4-5 days a week) was 3 miles. But, I did it year after year after year. Not missing days was key for my psyche as well as my physical fitness and strength. I think some of the key workouts included changing pace. For example, we would run 800's where we would be at 1500 pace for the first 500 and then "go." I loved running 500 meter repeats. When we did shorter stuff, we often started with a hard 1000 meter. We did a lot of cutdowns, where each repeat, or each set got faster.

Each year started with mile repeats, then 1200, 1000, 800, 600, 400. Each of these workouts started with 3 miles of intervals (12 laps). After a number of years, Vince let me skip the miles because I hated doing them and let me start with 1200s. Those weeks would be 1 workout on the track and the other a fartlek on the roads. I think consistency was a real key for me. Staying with the same coach (bless you, Vince!), having familiar checkpoints, not trying to re-invent or jump on the latest craze, but trusting what Vince had me do and doing it again and again.

6) How important was mental preparation for you before races?
Like many other runners, it became more and more important over the years. I did a lot of visualization. I must have broken 2:00 in my head thousands of times before it actually happened!

7) Who was the toughest competitor(s) you faced as a pro?
There were many. In the early season it was just about everybody. I seemed to need to race myself into competitive shape and would often get beat in the early races, like Mt Sac. I wasn't like some gals who would race very sparingly. When I was in top form, I didn't fear many competitors. I knew what I was ready to run and I would set out to do it. If someone could do it better or faster, then that's the way it went. Most of the toughest competitors were the ones in the European races.

8) What is your take on the resurgence of female mid-distance runners? Do you have any favorite current pro runners?
It has been great to see the breakthroughs that have happened of late. I was always quite surprised to see my times hold up so well for so many years. I didn't have a lot of the technical help or training groups. There were many years where I needed to work, sometimes full-time and balance my running. Knowing the way I trained and that I didn't have a whole "team" of people helping (not that I didn't have supporters), I always wondered why people who seemed to put more into it than I did weren't running faster times than they were.

Of the current crop, I think my favorites are Shannon Rowbury and Anna Willard. I know Shannon is in very good hands with Coach Cook. Anna is just so tough and exciting to watch race - and what versatility! She seems to have no fear.

9) What have been some of the changes in the world of professional races?
Much more money!

10) What are your thoughts on PEDs and how can their use be controlled and/or diminished?
I wish I had the magic answer for this one! It has been really discouraging to see some people seemingly get away with cheating. It's difficult, though, to separate the rumors from the truth. Any time someone runs fast or has a big breakthrough, they're immediately accused. I'm glad the internet wasn't so prevalant when I was competing. I've seen articles now about what apparently went on in 1984. We as athletes had very strong suspicions and had heard things. But, even now, HGH isn't tested for. You see some people really physically change and it seems so obvious sometimes. Personally, I don't know how they live with themselves. Especially as a female. You have to live many, many years with what you do to your body, and it just isn't worth it if you ask me. The biggest surprise to me is the Americans who have been caught that didn't even run as fast as I did. Why cheat to run 2:00 and 4:00? It can be done without that.

11) Cross-training and other alternative methods (alter-g, etc.) are more prevalent now; if you were a pro today, how would you incorporate these methods?
In my competitive days, swimming and biking were what you did when you were hurt. It was hard to find pleasure in either activity. Knowing what I know now, I think I would have incorporated more swimming and working out in the water. However, I built my confidence by running, and I know I would have second-guessed whether the other workouts were accomplishing what I needed. I'm very "old school."

12) What would your advice be for high school female runners?
Be consistent. Run every day. Quality is much more important than quantity. I personally don't think any high school girl needs to run more than 40-50 miles per week, but they do need the quality. You can't jog those miles and be successful. You don't want to use it all up in high school, but you want to be ready to step it up to the next level. Remember, your physical peak is not going to come in high school. If you want a future in the sport, it will come in college and beyond. Also, take care of yourself! You need to eat right, get enough sleep and keep your life in balance. Ask yourself, "if the running were taken away tomorrow, what would be left?" If the answer is nothing, you've got a problem. High school is a time to explore, learn and try things. Challenge yourself to watch and learn. Read, watch races, follow someone's career, ask questions.

13) Anything else you would like to add.
I don't know. If I got started, I could probably write a book's worth of stuff! I started running at age 10 (by the way, I didn't even train every day then). I was still competing in my 40's, and that's a long time. Bottom line, I really love to run! It's interesting now to look back and realize I was sort of a pioneer in women's running. I was a part of a lot of different "phases."

Thank you very much for your time Ruth! AJC

3 comments:

in the know... said...

Tell the mileage limit to the gals in Socal who reach upwards of 100 mpw...

Anonymous said...

Their miles seem to work for them.
Many So Cal dominate the competition.

in the know... said...

Exactly. For some people they work and for some they don't. It is ridiculous to say you have to run more than xx miles or you have to run less than xx miles. Some people thrive off of lower mileage and intensity while others thrive off of higher mileage.