Interview with Pikeathletics Allan Phillips

I’d like to thank Allan Phillips. Co-founder of pikeathletics.com for sharing his expertise and knowledge with the RDA community. Allan is currently working on his Doctoral of Physical Therapy degree from Baylor University. A program I am currently researching to apply to as well. He is a leading professional golfer on the Speedgolf International Tour and friend.1. How did you begin running? Tell your story.

As college golfer I started running to improve my conditioning so I wouldn’t fatigue late in golf tournaments (some days we competed 36 holes in a day). My initial training was almost laughable…I’d do 2-4 miles around the track a few days per week and try to improve my time every single day. I heard that Jerry Rice trained with a similar mindset, so I figured it must be a good approach! Looking back, I remember being embarrassed at how slow I was and would retreat to the indoor track or even an empty tennis court when the track team would come out for workouts. That said, I do appreciate the purity of my ignorance and running just for the sake of running with little regard to physiology or target races.

At the time “golf fitness” was relatively new and few college teams held organized workouts. But around that time, some guy named Tiger Woods came along and made golfers realize the importance of athleticism. I enjoyed challenging myself during training, which led to me enter a 5k to test my fitness. My sophomore year, I was seated next to the assistant track coach at a banquet and we started talking about running. He fortunately got me on the right path and helped me target a few more local races and a couple all-comers track meets. One 5k turned into a few more 5ks, which turned into half marathons and marathons.

2. Who has been your biggest inspiration in the sport of distance running and why?

Coach Vigil is one of the most inspiring people you’ll ever meet. When you listen to Coach Vigil, and if you are fortunate to spend any time with him, you truly believe you can accomplish anything.

3. What are biggest strengths and biggest limiting thoughts that may have caused you issues in the past? What are you doing this year differently?

The biggest limiting thought is trying to compare “non peak” fitness to my best workouts. It’s a recipe for frustration. Now I am more apt to choose fartleks or progression “by feel” tempo runs if I need a quality workout but am not feeling ready for the track on a particular day, especially during a base phase. This isn’t the most exciting approach, but I believe it is a more mature way to lay a foundation for subsequent hard training.As for strengths, I’d say having the discipline to treat training as training…not as racing. In my younger days, I’d try to aim for glory in workouts but had that backfire so many times. Now I’m fairly disciplined in sticking to the plan of the day rather than trying to be a hero. Sure, there are some key workouts where you really test your mettle (long tempo runs pre-marathon come to mind), but for the most part consistency is far more important than heroism.4. What has been your biggest achievement in the sport?

Winning the Tucson half marathon in 2008.

5. What has been your biggest failure in your event? How have you overcome that?

In my first two marathons, I did the epic death march in the last 10k. My second marathon was probably the most disappointing because I trained much harder after my first one, but ran less than one minute faster with the race playing out similarly (on pace through 20+ miles…death march final 8-10k).

I overcame those early failures by revaluating my approach and recognizing the importance of the specific training required to handle the demands of that last 10k. The first marathon I basically did the classic “10k training + a few easy 20 milers.” It wasn’t until the third event that I discovered the value of long tempo runs at race pace on similar terrain to the goal race course. It was frustrating to fall well short of my goals in those first two marathons, but I learned a lot through those experiences.

6. If you could talk with a beginner or someone else you may know nothing about who wants to get involved in the sport, what advice would you share?

Find a coach or mentor. Doesn’t have to be someone writing your workouts for each day, but at the least, bounce ideas off someone objective. We are too emotionally invested in our own training to be objective at all times.
Spend time with faster runners. Learn how they go about their craft.
Tend to injuries early and proactively.

Soft surfaces. It’s amazing how many beginners are injured and then I later find out they did all their mileage on the road or sidewalk. Even if it is inconvenient, I prioritize running on soft surfaces for my easy days, even if it means doing multiple loops around a park or school fields. Training like this is not always exciting, but it’s a small price to ensure you’re healthy for the real fun stuff.

Think long term. Consider your full body of work as an athlete, not simply your most recent training block.

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Listen to your body’s signals: pain, fatigue, tightness, poor motivation…they all exist to protect us, not as challenges to “rid ourselves of weakness” or some other faux motivational nonsense. That said, as you mature as an athlete, you will learn to differentiate the between the “yellow light” signals (caution, but press onward) and the “red light” signals (STOP!).
Aerobic development is paramount. There are no shortcuts to success, even though speed may produce more rapid short term gains.
Cherish your early years when improvements come effortlessly. As you become more experienced, improvements take much longer.

7. What are your personal bests? Where did you achieve these times?

1:13 half (Tucson). 2:39 full (Euguene). 4:33 Half ironman (Eagleman).

8. What is your short-term goal as a runner?

My focus in the short term is to advance my Speedgolf career. For those unfamiliar, Speedgolf combines running with golf. The closest sporting analogy is biathlon (cross country skiing and target shooting). We essentially play regular golf but run between shots while carrying about 5-6 clubs. Lowest score wins, based on the sum of your run time and your golf score. If it takes you 50 minutes to play the round and you take 80 shots, your score is 130. The sport has attracted some amazing athletes in the last few years, most notably Nick Willis and Bernard Lagat, both of whom competed in last year’s world championships.
That said, running faster races certainly helps! On the roads, I am targeting the 2015 Houston marathon, but would like to rewrite my half marathon PR this year.

9. What is your long-term goal and what are you doing to achieve it?

I believe I have a sub 2:30 marathon in me. For various reasons, I’ve had periods in the last few years where my running has suffered due to several non-running responsibilities that took precedence. Fortunately, I’ve never strayed far from decent fitness, but I haven’t given myself a consistent 6-12 month block to meaningfully advance my conditioning.
10. What is your most embarrassing moment since participating in this sport?

First one…Bailing on the Rock and Roll San Diego Marathon at mile 17 in 2009. I was never on pace from mile 1 and started falling apart by mile 9. It was quite an odd feeling to get passed by what seemed like hundreds of runners in the next several miles. I vividly recall one guy run alongside me and yelling at me in Spanish to get my head in the game and pick up the pace, but my body was too empty at that point.

11. What has been your biggest hurdle to overcome and why?

Being a relative latecomer to the sport, I had to figure out many things via trial and error. I think I finished fourth in eighth grade division of the Bel Air Middle School Turkey Trot may years ago, but that was the full extent of my competitive running for almost the first two decades of my life. I never grew up with a coach or a team and trained solo for several years, gaining most of my early information from books and magazines before Runners World turned for the worse (on the other hand, my body has been spared the wear and tear of overzealous scholastic coaches). All that said, I think having to learn things on my own has made me a better coach.

12. Have you ever been injured and if so, what injuries have you had to overcome?

Gosh, where to begin….IT band, plantar fasciitis, low back pain, VMO pain, Achilles tendinitis, calf strain…I think that covers it!

13. What is your favorite workout?

Fast finish long run. When you’re in shape, there’s no better confidence booster for a marathon than to close a few long runs faster at or faster than goal pace.

14. What is your least favorite workout?

I don’t think I have a true least favorite, but the first few workouts after a layoff aren’t always enjoyable when you compare your fitness to when you were at your peak. That’s one reason I rely heavily on fartleks early in the season when regaining fitness, since you gain confidence from successful hard workouts without the pressure of competing against the stopwatch.

15. What are you most proud of thus far in your athletic and professional career?

That I’ve been able to pass along some lessons I’ve learned to other athletes. I’d like to think I’ve played some role in their success. I’m still very much invested in my own career, but I still take greater pleasure when one of my athletes succeeds.

16. Who is your favorite runner and why?

Khalid Khannouchi. Maybe the best marathon closer in history. No one ran the last 10k of the marathon better than Khannouchi in his prime. Tough as nails. The guy came to this country with practically nothing but made himself into the fastest marathoner on the planet and possibly the greatest competitor in the marathon. He went head to head with two of the fastest 10k runners in history in the final 10k of the London Marathon and defeated them both.

17. If you could sit down with anyone, living or who has passed, who would it be and why?

Walt Disney. Without a doubt, one of the leading visionaries and creative minds in history.

18. What have you learned the most since being a reader of rundreamachieve? What can be done better on the site? What would you like to see more of and why?

First, I think this series is a great idea. I’m looking forward to what other RDA readers share.
I appreciate the constant reminders to think outside your limits. Your own story is a perfect embodiment of that.
What to see more of? I think this interview series and getting a variety of voices (interviews, guest blogs) keeps things fresh while upholding the site’s main theme.

19. Who has been your biggest role model growing up and how has that affected you as a runner?

Although he is not a runner (he hates running!), I think seeing my father’s consistency in showing up for work each and every day during my formative years instilled a sense of routine dedication that has carried over into my training. Just show up every day for work without any fanfare and take care of business.

20. What has been the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome since starting in the sport?

Similar to one of the questions above…having to launch my running career basically on my own. Former college runners don’t realize how blessed they are to train at “normal” hours and have at least two hours allotted for practice each day with the ability to visit the training room at will for any injuries rather than having to make appointments on the open market (that said, I spent much of my college athletic career on the golf course, so I can’t complain too much!!).

21. If you go back and do it all over again, what would you do differently? How, in your own words, do you think you can use what you have done wrong in the past do maximize your future performances?

I would have started working with a coach earlier in my career, at least in the buildup to key races. That said, I am thankful for the many lessons I learned through self-experimentation.

From a training perspective, I’d have emphasized moderate paced, longer tempo runs earlier in my career. My body responds well to that type of work, but during my younger and more stubborn years, I believed these workouts weren’t hard enough.
Although aerobic conditioning is paramount, I did go through a period where I neglected my speed too much. Prior to that I had gotten injured and burned out with some frequency and blamed it solely on the speed. In reality, it was a combination of factors and it was a mistake to “throw out the baby with the bathwater.” So it wasn’t that speed was the problem, it was HOW I approached speed training. Again, it goes back to finding the right balance of ingredients.

I’d certainly pay more attention to how my body feels on a particular day, whether that means being more conservative with potential injuries, or modifying the day’s workout if the target paces are too fast for that given day.

22. What are your thoughts on high mileage? low mileage?

When we as a running community “got smart” in the 80s and 90s and became enamored with speed to the exclusion of miles (particularly in the western world), performances suffered. It was ugly here in the USA. Very ugly. Remember when we sent only one male and female marathoner to the Olympics in 2000? While the crude training approaches of the 70s WERE. I think overall we’re in a good place in finding that balance between volume and intensity, and more importantly, tailoring that balance to the individual. That said, mileage is all relative. One person’s taper week is another person’s hell week!

23. What is one area that has really worked to your benefit in your training and/or racing?

Getting a late start has potentially spared me the pounding of hyper aggressive high school and college coaches. I think bringing a semi-outside perspective to training and racing has also helped in not getting bound by certain dogma perpetuated in scholastic running. Running is something that I have always chosen to do; I have never been forced to do so via obligation. I know that I am very fortunate that I get to do what I do.

24. What do you think causes most runners the biggest problems in hitting their fitness goals and why?

Getting hurt. There are many different ways to achieve success, but the one guaranteed way to fail is to be on the sidelines. It’s impossible to attain any consistency when hurt. Conversely, it’s amazing how much improvement is possible simply by not missing training.

25. What do you plan to do differently this year that you have never attempted since you have been involved in the sport?
I don’t know that I’m doing anything completely new. For me, it’s all about getting better at what I already do well and minimizing any self-defeating strategies.

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