'It looks like a fun race'
His training schedule for this weekend calls for a long, invigorating run, something to help prepare him for some difficult races this fall, as well as his ultimate goal of a 2016 Olympic marathon berth.
But instead of another dreary workout at his temporary residence in Blowing Rock, N.C., Cole Atkins decided to drive five hours north and run in the Charleston Distance Run, which begins at 7:30 a.m. today on Kanawha Boulevard at the Capitol.
"I'm running because I'm scheduled to do a long run that day anyway,'' Atkins said this week. "It looks like a fun race.''
Atkins is a Charleston, S.C., native and recent High Point University graduate who lives and trains at ZAP Fitness, an academy in Blowing Rock that works with Olympic-minded runners.
Atkins established himself as one of America's best middle-distance runners two years ago by running an 8-kilometer race (4.97 miles) in 23 minutes, 18 seconds, the fastest U.S. time in 2010. He's also run a 10K in 29:20.
Atkins emphasized, however, that today's race is only a training run - not a competitive event. It's just another workout in a monotony of workouts that often add up to more than 100 miles of running a week. He says he has no plans to win.
But what if his competitive instincts overwhelm his psyche, setting off an irresistible urge to win?
"I'll be near the front,'' he said. "I would say it's possible that if I get to 10 or 12 miles, I might want to finish up my run a little quicker. That would be the only thing that would be a little faster. But we'll see.''
Another of today's top runners is Bryan Morseman of Addison, N.Y., who finished second in last year's race in 1:21:07 and competed in two other CDRs, finishing third and sixth. Last year, Joe Moore of Raleigh, N.C., won in 1:20:12 but is not entered this year.
Morseman is running well but said much depends on the heat and humidity.
"I definitely think I'm in my best shape,'' said Morseman. "If the weather's not too bad, I'd like to get under 1:18 if I can.''
The top female runners are expected to be Esther Erb of Richmond, Va., who also attends ZAP Fitness, and Emily Chaney of Huntington, who won last year's women's division by passing Maria Busienei of Charleston with five miles to go and completed the race in 1:35:55.
Erb, a Case Western Reserve graduate and former Division III All-American, ran a 2:37 marathon in January's Olympic Trials and has focused on marathons, including the Twins Cities race Oct. 7 in Minneapolis.
She hopes to average close to six minutes a mile in today's race but admits Charleston's six-mile hill section may pose a challenge.
"I'd like to mostly use it as a marathon-prep workout and run mostly a marathon pace,'' said Erb. "With the hills, I'm not going to hit the marathon pace I was hoping for. I'm looking for, hopefully, the 6:05 [per mile] range.''
Atkins and Erb are among eight runners who attend ZAP Fitness, a nonprofit foundation that operates on private donations, as well as contributions from Reebok and USA Track and Field Federation. The foundation also raises money by offering running camps for adults, corporate and church retreats and preseason training for college track and field teams.
The runners start each day with a run that varies between 10 and nearly 20 miles. Afternoon runs are optional. The runners also do strength training and help with the academy's maintenance.
Reach Mike Whiteford at firstname.lastname@example.org.