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Joe Klecker — January, 2023
Joe Klecker was a member of the 2021 USA Tokyo Olympic team in the 10,000 meters where he finished in 16th place. He won the 2022 U.S. Championship at 10,000 meters, qualifying for the 2022 World Championships where he finished in ninth place. Other top professional races include second place at the 2021 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix 2-Mile in 8:14.2, fourth at the 2021 Sound Running Invitational 5,000 meters in 13:06.67, third at the 2021 Irvine Invitational 10,000 meters in 27:23.44, seventh at the 2021 Prefontaine Classic 2-Mile in 8:11.55 and fourth at the 2022 Bislett Games 5,000 meters in Oslo, Norway in 13:04.92. At the University of Colorado, Joe was a nine-time All-American. In cross country, his NCAA Championship All-American finishes were 28th in 2016, eighth in 2018 and second in 2019. He was second at the Pac-12 Cross Country Championships in 2018 and won in 2019. Both years Joe was NCAA Mountain Region Champion. In 2017 he finished seventh in the NCAA Indoor 3,000 meters and fourth in the NCAA Outdoor 5,000 meters. At NCAA Indoors in 2019, Joe was second at 5,000 meters and third at 3,000 meters. He joined the sub-4:00 mile club in February of 2019, running 3:58.51. Joe ran for Hopkins High School and was 2015 Minnesota State Champion at 1,600 meters in 4:06.54 and 3,200 meters in 8:57.76. At the Minnesota State Cross Country Championships, he had two Bronze Medal finishes. Joe won the 2015 Dakota Relays 3,200 meters in 8:50.1, fastest in the nation at the time. He was 2015 Gatorade Minnesota Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year. His personal best times include: 1,500m – 3:37.55; mile – 3:58.51; 3,000m – 7:39.18; 2-miles – 8:11.55; 5,000m – 13:04.92 and 10,000m – 27:23.44. Joe’s mother, Janis, is the 1992 USA Olympic Trials Marathon Champion and his father, Barney, is former U.S Record Holder at 50 miles. He resides in Boulder, Colorado and was very generous to spend eighty minutes on the telephone for this interview in January of 2023.
GCR: THE BIG PICTURE Since you became a professional runner in the latter half of 2020, you made the 2021 USA Olympic team and 2022 World Championships team at 10,000 meters, won the 2022 U.S. Championship and set personal best times at 3,000 meters, two miles, 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters. Compared to the goals and expectations you set for yourself when you turned pro, how satisfied are you and how do you rate your professional running career so far?
JK When I turned professional, the ultimate goal was to make an Olympic team. When I went professional in 2020, the Olympics hadn’t been pushed back. When I signed my contract, the Olympics would have been coming up in a few months so weren’t totally on our radar to try and make that team. I wasn’t at the level to hit the time I needed. My main goal was getting used to a new coach and the professional running scene since I was fresh out of college, but there wasn’t much racing going on at that time. Then the Olympics were pushed forward a year and that gave us some time to train and get used to the new system with Dathan Ritzenhein and running for On Running. We decided I was going to go after making the Olympic team the next year and we looked at what race distance might be my best chance to do that. So, we ran my first 10k and I came very close to the standard I needed to qualify for the Olympic team. I eventually hit the standard a few months later. So far, I am very satisfied with what I have done. Making the Olympics was a big picture goal that I was able to accomplish within a year-and-a-half of becoming a professional runner. From there I started to adjust my goals the next year for the World Championships in Eugene, Oregon. My goal was to make the team, but I had higher goals once I got there. In Tokyo, I didn’t know what to expect. I wanted to run hard and didn’t have an expectation of what place I would finish, and I ended up sixteenth. In Eugene I wanted to try to make the top ten and I ended up finishing ninth. Up to this point I am definitely satisfied with what I have done as a professional. But I have to keep readjusting my goals as I tick certain goals off.
GCR: Before we discuss your transition to the pro ranks in more detail, let’s go back to 2019, where at the NCAA Indoor Championships you finished second at 5,000 meters and third at 3,000 meters and, after an injury prevented you from racing at NCAA outdoors, came back to finish second at the 2019 NCAA Cross Country Championships. Since you were poised to challenge for NCAA victories in 2020, how disappointing was it to have covid cancel competition and your ability to bring home an NCAA title?
JK We were in Albuquerque for the 2020 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships when they ended up getting cancelled. I was very ready to go for those championships. At the time, I was disappointed to not get that opportunity, but there were a lot of athletes who were in my same boat who also did not have that opportunity. I had to roll with the punches and do what I could. It was disappointing to not get that opportunity to get one of those titles, but it made me hungrier as a professional to accomplish things in my professional career so people wouldn’t even remember that I didn’t win an NCAA title.
GCR: How smooth was your transition from collegiate athlete after the disruption of covid cancelled competitions coached by Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs to professional athlete with On Running coached by Dathan Ritzenhein who also came up collegiately through the University of Colorado training method?
JK There were a few months of some uncertainty after the cancellation of NCAA indoors and then the outdoor season. I didn’t know what was next. I weighed the option of going back to school for another year or seeing if there was any opportunity to run professionally since that was my plan all along. Because the season was cancelled and with so much uncertainty, not everyone had multiple opportunities. When turning professional became an option, I was excited to take the opportunity. The transition for me was smooth. I was living in Boulder, Colorado and am still in the Boulder area, so I didn’t have to move very far. As you mentioned, Dathan went to Colorado and ran under Mark and Heather so he was vey familiar with my training. He knew how he got to the next level after he ran for Mark and Heather, and he was able to steer me to get to that next level as well. It was very valuable that Dathan knew my background because he had been through it as well. That made the transition seamless. Some athletes have a lot bigger transition when they run professionally, but for me it was as easy as it could be.
GCR: What are the major similarities and differences between your training regimen in college under Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs and as a professional runner under Dathan Ritzenhein?
JK Dathan has run under several high level coaches in his career and he takes bits and pieces from all of them. The biggest similarity is that we run high mileage. It’s not crazy high mileage, but a hundred to a hundred and ten miles a week which is similar to my weekly mileage when I was at Colorado. He keeps that comparable. Our long runs are very similar to what I did in Colorado. In fact, we even do many of the same routes I ran in college. There might be a slightly less emphasis on the long runs, but we are doing twenty mile long runs basically every week during base phase, like I did at Colorado my last few years. So, those aspects are similar. Where Dathan gets different is that the workouts, we do are a bit longer and more intense. I think part of that is because I’m an older athlete. An eighteen-year-old couldn’t train to have long term success the way I’m training now. It would be too much intensity and too hard. I think what Mark and Heather did a good job of was slowly getting my mileage up to running a hundred miles a week and slowly making the workouts longer. If I was still under Mark and Heather, the training would be like what I’m doing with Dathan. There are many similarities Dathan takes from them, but the workouts are longer and more intense than when I was at Colorado.
GCR: You mentioned how your Olympic goal came to the forefront after the one year delay. Racing in the Olympics is a goal that most top track and field athletes formulate in their minds as they get better and better. You probably thought about it in high school, but can you relate how this goal became a realistic possibility for you as you were in the top three at NCAA Championships and the emotions that went through you when you made the USA Olympic team in 2021 and punched your ticket to Tokyo?
JK When I went into the Olympic Trials race, I had a lot of confidence in my training and confidence because Dathan knew where I was and what it takes to make an Olympic team. I knew I was capable of making that team but, even so, there are doubts and to go and do it is such a difficult task. In my high school career and in college I came close to winning a lot of titles, but often came up short. Even going into the Olympic Trials and knowing I was capable of making the team, it seemed like a race where I could also end up fourth and be very close while not making it. Once the gun went off, I had to focus and position myself to have a chance to make the team. With 450 meters left in the race, I knew I was capable of doing it. That is when I knew it was something I could accomplish. The emotion sets in when you cross that finish line and realize what you have done. To be capable of doing it and actually doing it are two different things. To follow through was a very big deal.
GCR: Your dad told me that when you made the Olympic team it was even more exciting than when your mom made the Olympic team in 1992. Your mom said it is very hard to watch you race. One of your siblings said, ‘Mom sits in the back and all she does is pray and sway.’ How exciting was it for you to share qualifying for the Olympics with your entire family?
JK It was super special. During that time, family and fans couldn’t attend most races. It was awesome they were able to be at the Trials because they weren’t able to be at the Olympics in Tokyo. It was very meaningful to have them there for the Olympic Trials to see me accomplish that and to be able to celebrate and spend time with them because I knew that, once I went to Tokyo, they would be at home watching and weren’t able to come to the Olympics to watch me. That was special because they weren’t able to come to many of my races leading up to the Trials due to the covid period and the restrictions in place. The fact that they were able to be there was very special.
GCR: Let’s talk about what I call ‘The Klecker Mindset.’ Your dad was an outstanding distance runner with a marathon PR of 2:15 and an American Record 50k. Your mom won the 1992 Olympic Trials marathon when most predictions had her finishing outside of the top ten. In the 2021 Olympic Trials 10,000 meters, few prognosticators had you in their top ten. What in ‘The Klecker Mindset’ pushes all of you, including your brothers and sisters, to go beyond what others may see as your limits?
JK It goes back to knowing what we are capable of doing and keeping that outside noise to a minimum. The people who make these rankings aren’t training with me and aren’t with me every day and they don’t know what type of athlete I am. The accomplishments that my parents did in their running career and that my siblings did came when they were often overlooked. We know that once we are on that starting line and once that gun goes off we are capable of accomplishing anything. I think more than anything that keeping the outside noise to a minimum allows us to do things that other people don’t think we can do. If you ask my parents about the things they accomplished, I’m sure they are things they knew they could do.
GCR: Speaking of that mindset, when you came into the 2022 U.S. Championships, Grant Fisher arrived with a blistering fast American Record for 10,000 meters of 26:33.84 and was a heavy favorite to win. What was your mindset before the race, how did your strategy evolve during the race, and can you take us through the last lap where you ran under fifty-five seconds for the victory?
JK As I was going into that race, I was coming off an injury during the winter and my goal was to get to the World Championships. Since I had been to the Olympics in the prior year and then encountered that injury, I hadn’t run a 10k since the Olympics and didn’t totally know where my level of race fitness stood. I knew I was training well, but I planned to run smart, be patient and position myself to be in the top three. As the race got going into the last kilometer and the field started to thin out, I could hear Dathan yelling to me to go to the front and pick up the pace and control the race. Once I got to the front, I kept slowly picking it up and picking it up. Every hundred meters or so, no one was going around me. With three hundred meters to go, two hundred meters to go, one hundred meters to go, it was more apparent that I could win this race. So, I just continued to press the pace and keep my foot on the gas. It became more and more realistic I could go for the win. Going into the race I was content to make the team since I was coming off the injury and then I would be focused at the World Championships on going for a big race to outdo what I did in Tokyo. In terms of this qualifying race, my only goal was to make the team again. I won’t say that winning was a surprise because, once I was in that race, I felt very capable of winning over the last kilometer or two. But, to go in there and do that against someone who has run the American Record and was in top form was hard to do.
GCR: You mentioned that you finished 16th in the 2021 Olympics and improved to ninth at the 2022 World Championships, after staying with the lead group for twenty-three laps. Obviously, you have to make the U.S. team each year, but what are your takeaways from these two races and what are you working on now to put you in contention for medals at upcoming World Championships and Olympics?
JK First off, I have to be ready to make those teams. So, I am doing what I need to do to make the teams. I know that if I am in top form and firing like I was a year ago that I have full confidence I can make those teams again. But it is never a given. The U.S. is very strong. In terms of looking at ways I can do better at the World Championships and Olympics, I am working on getting experience racing at that level. I ran in the Diamond League 5k in Oslo, and I ran in Monaco and in Brussels. I ran three high level races against top athletes and was learning what I had to do to put myself in contention at the end of the race. I think it can always come done to being more fit and in better shape. But there is a mental component of believing I am capable of running with those athletes. An athlete can work on that by putting yourself in those situations time and time again and chipping away and continuing to do better and better against those world class fields. That is how I am looking at the 2023 season. As you noted, I was able to run with the lead pack at Worlds for twenty-three of the twenty-five laps. Next season, the question is how can I bridge that gap, be up there for all twenty-five laps and try to go for one of those medals? Part of it is the fitness and part of it is believing I can stay in that pack. Those are the things I’m working on.
GCR: Your dad told me, and I quote, ‘The little advice and mentoring I give Joe is, ‘Don’t give up on the mile. Make sure you get that time because you can run sub-3:50. The faster the mile, the faster the 5k, the faster the 10k.’ Will we possibly see you working on your 1,500 meter and mile this season?
JK A year ago, I ran one mile race which was a four by mile relay. A few weeks later is when I ran 13:04 for 5k and then a few more weeks later I won the U.S. Championship. I told Dathan that, when I run these mile races, I usually have good races at the longer distances following them. So, I already have one mile race on the calendar in the late spring and it is something where I will continue to work. Since I am training here at altitude, it doesn’t always make sense to travel for a mile race. But in workouts we are doing some mile time trials that will simulate mile races. It is something I need to work on and I am excited to work on because, when we talk to the average person, they always want to know our mile time. To continue to get that mile time down is important for many reasons. This year I’m hoping to run more 1,500 meter and mile races during the spring and summer to sharpen up for the big 5k and 10k races.
GCR: Speaking of the mile, how exciting was it almost four years ago in February 2019 when you ran 3:58.51 in Seattle, Washington to become a sub-four-minute miler?
JK I hadn’t run a mile at sea level in a while. Since I’m in Boulder and a distance runner who doesn’t travel that much to run a mile. It made sense to do it. I knew it was one of my few opportunities to try and break four minutes and I really went after it. To accomplish that was one of those goals a runner ticks off that you always remember forever – your first time going under four minutes. That is a race I’m very proud of and something I’ll never forget.
GCR: In the big picture, track and field athletes talk about competing for their country. How special is it to pull on the USA uniform, have it on your chest and represent your country and to realize that you aren’t being cheered by just your family, friends, and school mates, but by everyone in the USA who is watching in person or on television?
JK In Tokyo without fans I didn’t have that feeling quite as much. But when I was at the World Championships this past year, I could hear the fans when we had three USA athletes in the lead pack of the 10k. I heard the enthusiasm from the crowd and realized that what we were doing – Grant, me and Sean - was a historic run across the board for the USA in the 10k. I don’t think we ever had three athletes finish as high as we did at the World Championships in the 10k. The fans could realize that, were seeing what we were doing, and were cheering us on. We definitely feel more motivation because we are running for something bigger than ourselves in those moments.
GCR: Since you are only in your mid-twenties and could easily have a decade of World Class racing ahead, how do you balance what I refer to as ‘The two I’s – Improvement versus Injury,’ to keep getting better while avoiding redlining in training and taking breaks due to injuries like you have experienced in high school, college and early 2022?
JK Since I have Dathan as my coach and he had many injuries during his running career, he has been very good at creating a manageable training load to improve while minimizing injury. As an athlete in training, oftentimes I’ll want to do more and more and more. But Dathan will have more of a progression to the training. Usually, our training will increase a little bit every year so we can adapt to it and not get injured. Certainly, to keep improving I can’t have injuries every year like I had last year. I have to keep training consistently to keep improving. If we look at the athletes who are winning the medals and who are the top athletes in the world, I’m sure we can look at their training over the last few years and the number of injuries they had is probably very few.
GCR: BEGINNING RUNNING AND HIGH SCHOOL EXPLOITS Were you involved in multiple sports as a youth, how did you start running and did you compete in races as a youth and in middle school?
JK When I was growing up, my older brother and I were into downhill skiing as our main sport. He was a few years ahead of me in school. When he got to middle school, he started running cross country. When I got to middle school, I followed in his footsteps and also joined the cross-country team. We ran together and loved to run over the summers. In Minnesota, those are the best months for training because we don’t have snow on the ground and we don’t have school. So, we truly enjoyed that. I didn’t race much in elementary school. Maybe in sixth grade we had some track races after school, but we didn’t have much of a track program. By the time I got to seventh grade it was very nice because the junior high and senior high cross-country teams were merged together. My brother was in tenth grade at the time, but I was able to keep running with him even though I was in seventh grade. It was very nice that we were able to pursue running together. That is how I got started in running – by following in John’s footsteps. I also grew up seeing my parents running all the time. My sisters were on the team as well and my family was very much invested in the sport at the time.
GCR: When your older brother, John, finished ninth in the Minnesota State Cross Country Championships your freshman year as you were back in fifty-fourth place, were you thinking that in future years you wanted to be up at the top like him?
JK The interesting thing is that we were doing much of the same training. Since John was older and more experienced, he was able to race at a much higher level. It always pushed me. If I had been beating him when I was younger, I might have been content with my results. I had him in front of me and he was pushing to win State or come in the top five at State. I was back in the pack at State and that motivated me to do better.
GCR: As a sophomore you were in the mix at the Minnesota State Cross Country Championships in third place as Wayde Hall won in 15:21.0, followed by Obsa Ali at 15:25.3, you at 15:25.8, Will Burke at 15:29.5, Connor Olsen at 15:30.3 and Joey Duerr at 15:32.4. The six of you finished within just over ten seconds. What were race highlights and how much fun was racing for the win in a strong field?
JK All those athletes you named went on to have respectable college careers and some are still racing now. Those were the guys who were running the State back then. Many of us were from schools in didn’t sections of the state and we didn’t race much during the year. When we got to the State meet we were able to see at what level we were. I had a very good season that year but I don’t think I raced Wayde Hall at all until the State meet. He was one of the top guys who was racing well and winning many races. Going into the race, I wanted to win. I was leading for a good portion of that race but, over the last eight hundred meters, I ended up getting caught by both Wayde and Obsa Ali, who was also racing very well that year.
GCR: After some injury issues, your junior year you were strong at the Minnesota State Track and Field Championships with a 4:16.08 in the 1,600 meters for sixth place and a 9:07.04 in the 3,200 meters for fifth place. How tough was that 3,200 meters with Eli Krahn, Zack Benning, Obsa Ali and Joey Duerr finishing between nine minutes flat and 9:03.64 and how exciting to race so many great competitors?
JK I had significant injuries for about a year as multiple problems popped up and I wasn’t able to train consistently. To be back running track was exciting. I was in third place in the 1,600 meters and then I fell towards the finish line. I was tying up and ended up getting sixth. We knew when I was running both of those races that the depth was very historic. I ran 9:07 for fifth place and in many years that would have won State in Minnesota. It was special to be part of that era. We knew Minnesota was a smaller state and didn’t usually have a quantity of great distance runners. What we were doing was putting the state on the map.
GCR: During your senior year of cross country, you won Sectionals in 15:27.2 ahead of Connor Olson in 15:33.0, but at State Olson won in 15:17.1 with Joey Duerr second in 15:23.3 and you third in 15:26.2. What led to your victory at Sectionals and then Olson turning the tables at State?
JK Connor went to Wayzata High School and we were in the same conference and section so we raced a lot over the years. It’s kind of funny because we went back and forth constantly. I won that section race and he ended up winning at State. In the race, we were kind of battling it out and in the last hundred meters I started to fade. That’s when Joey passed me for second place. Joey wasn’t in our section, but went to Chaska, which is nearby. Those two athletes, Connor and Joey, raced with me all the time. Joey was another athlete who was injured often over his career but, when he was healthy, he was very dominant.
GCR: As you approached the end of your senior year on the track, at Sectionals you won the 1,600 meters in 4:09.84, six seconds ahead of Connor Olson and the 3,200 meters in 8:54.01 with no one closer than twelve seconds. What did you do in training and racing focus in the six months since cross country season ended to separate yourself from your competition and did you feel you were ready to win both races at State?
JK At the time, I considered myself a better track runner so I was looking forward to racing people like Connor on the track. That winter I upped my training. I was healthy over the winter compared to the year before which was the biggest reason for my improvement. Training was clicking. I was very consistent, and I put in a lot of training over that winter. Once the season rolled around, it seemed that nearly every race I continued to run PRs. I kind of rolled into State and did very well.
GCR: At the Minnesota State Championships in the 3,200 meters, you won convincingly in 8:57.76, while Wayzata teammates Connor Olson and Jared Carpenter were second and fourth, sandwiching Bailey Hesse-Withbroe as no one finished closer than eight seconds. Did they stay with you for a while, and did any of your opponents give you a challenge when you made your decisive move?
JK That race was the day before the 1,600 meters and I wanted to go for the State Record which was in the low 8:40s. I went out fast for the first 1,600 meters and faded in the second half. By the end I was holding on to not let anyone catch up to me and I was able to hold on. My goal wasn’t to win, but to see if I could get close to the State Record.
GCR: The next day at State in the 1,600 meters you blasted a 4:06.54 with Justin Hyytinen closest at 4:12.17, with Olson and Carpenter shortly behind. Did you run from the front, move in the middle of the race or wait until the last lap?
JK I wanted to run a fast time but, after the gun went off and we were about three hundred meters into the race, it was a slow pace. I was out front and no one wanted to run fast. I dropped back a little bit and let someone else take over the race. That is when Connor went to the front and started to make it more of an honest pace. He led the first lap in about sixty-six seconds which was much slower than all of our capabilities. I remember on the third lap I went to the front and ran fifty-nine seconds to break open the race. The only athlete who went with me and was able to be with me for the bell was Justin Hyytinen. I continued to press the pace and ran sixty or sixty-one seconds for the last lap. He ran sixty-five and finished a few seconds behind me.
GCR: Were there any other high school races that stand out for a close race, fast time or other factors and how much fun was it to mix it up your junior and senior years in both cross country and track and field with a group of strong opponents?
JK Those two races at State in track my senior year were two of my best. One other race that stands out is because in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at the Dakota Relays in the 3,200 meters I ran 8:50.1 which, at the time, was the number one time in the nation. I was racing an athlete who was committed to run at Stanford and I was committed to run at Colorado. That was a big race because, going into college, we would both be in the Pac-12 conference and potentially competing against each other. So, that was a fun race. It was a fun time to be a high school runner in Minnesota. Having a guy like Eli Krahn, who set the national record for the freshman mile and other athletes of that caliber was groundbreaking in Minnesota. We would always see great runners in California and other big states that had fast runners. But, to have so many good runners in Minnesota was great to be able to compete against them so often.
GCR: What were the tenets of Coaches Mike Harris and Nick Lovas’ program, the guidance as far as weekly mileage and some of the main workouts for tempo and speed and did your parents offer much guidance or leave it to your coaches?
JK Mike Harris was our distance coach. Nick Lovas was the head track coach and would help us with sprinting and speed training. The two coaches were collaborative. Coach Lovas was also an assistant cross-country coach and was around most of the year. The reason they were great coaches is that they didn’t push us beyond our capabilities. They wanted to keep us healthy and ready to get on the starting line healthy and prepared to race. They didn’t train us so hard that we got to the starting line slightly injured or tired. One of their big principles was to have us slightly undertrained compared to the runners on schools around us. We would hear about their training but at the races we were very ready to race, both mentally and physically, in terms of not being injured. We always met on Saturdays to do a long run which is similar to what runners did at a lot of schools. One of the big workouts we did that Coach Harris liked was we would alternate as long as we could, or up to a certain point, running seventy seconds for four hundred meters and then ninety seconds. We would go back and forth and that was a very good workout to build our strength early in the track season before we started hitting repeat two hundreds or repeat four hundreds.
GCR: That’s interesting because it reminds me of an Oregon workout that Steve Prefontaine did where he alternated between thirty seconds and forty seconds for two hundred and twenty yards and I believe he did the most ever with Alberto Salazar a close second. A similar workout I used to do was alternating sixteen seconds for one hundred meters with twenty seconds the next hundred meters for two miles. I think those workouts where you aren’t slowing down much but are alternating four hundreds or two hundreds or one hundreds totally helps you to change gears in races. Have you done alternating two hundreds or one hundreds?
JK We do two hundreds off of short rest where we jog a hundred meters in between in twenty seconds and then do the next fast two hundred meters. I like doing that style of workout because I feel it helps me with the closing finish in my races.
GCR: COLLEGIATE RACING What colleges did you consider during the recruitment process, what ultimately tipped the scales in favor of Colorado and how was your adjustment to collegiate life academically, athletically and socially when you were a thousand miles from home?
JK When I was toward the end of high school I was interested in the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota. The University of Colorado is a school I considering going to because of the success of their program. But like you said, it’s a thousand miles away and very different from where I lived in Minnesota. What tipped the scale was the success the Colorado program was having at the time and the parade of athletes they had turned out over the years. That made Colorado a school where I wanted to run. To make that a feasible option, I had to earn a scholarship and continue to run well when I was there to pay for school. As far as training, Mark and Heather had been coaching for so long that they had learned how to take a high school athlete, look at their background and what they had done, and increase the training load to allow the athlete to race at the collegiate level while trying to keep away from injuries. For me it was increasing from seventy miles a week to eighty miles a week my freshman year. A lot of the training – fartlek workouts and long runs – were very similar to what I was doing in high school. The biggest difference was having an indoor track season which we didn’t have in Minnesota. Normally in Minnesota over the winter we would be doing a lot of mileage and not many fast workouts. We would also do some Nordic skiing. In college we weren’t only training harder over the winter, but we were also racing. That added another element to the transition, but Mark and Heather were good at managing that. In terms of academics, it was definitely an adjustment right out of high school. I majored in Biochemistry, so I had many labs and classes that required time on top of classes and running practice. My freshman year was a big adjustment but, by the time I got to my sophomore year, I had a good group of friends in my science classes, and we worked together all the way through our courses over the years. That helped me to get through. Socially, I already knew some people on the team. Once I got into Colorado, I already knew my roommate and people on the team which eased that transition.
GCR: After redshirting cross country, your freshman year you ran track PRs of 3:44.55 for 1,500 meters, 7:59.77 for 3,000 meters, and 13:44.23 for 5,000 meters. How did the mix of Coach Mark Wetmore and Coach Burrough’s guiding principles and having strong teammates with which to train combine to take you to another level?
JK I redshirted that fall while my roommate raced and had a very good cross-country season. We were doing a lot of our training together. Since he had a good cross-country when I redshirted, it let me know that I was ready to have a breakout track season. When I saw the PRs of the guys I was training with, it gave me the confidence of my capabilities that year. To run 7:59 and 13:44 were two very big races for me that freshman year. That set me up to have bigger goals the next year to make the NCAA meet and be All-American in cross-country. That thinking and higher goals started my freshman year.
GCR: How did your weekly mileage, long runs, tempo runs, and speed sessions change during your college years under your college coaches versus your high school coaches?
JK The mileage my freshman year, as I mentioned, increased about ten miles a week from seventy to eighty. Each year it increased about ten miles a week until I got to around a hundred miles a week and we plateaued the mileage there. The speed workouts weren’t a whole lot different at Colorado. There were longer workouts and I ran slightly faster than I did in high school. And we were doing those workouts throughout the winter which I didn’t do in high school. So, that was a little bit different. That is all that was different from high school.
GCR: Your sophomore year you scored three NCAA All-American honors finishing 28th in cross country, fourth in the 3,000 meters indoors and seventh in the 5,000 meters outdoors while continuing to lower your PRs to 3:41.69 for 1,500 meters, 7:51.43 for 3,000 meters, and 13:42.64 for 5,000 meters. Was this the year that you truly became an athlete who mentally saw yourself able to compete with almost anyone collegiately and there weren’t as many steps remaining to climb on the competitive ladder?
JK That was a year where I was very consistent. It showed in my racing as I was All-American in cross-country, indoors and outdoors. it was the only year that I was All-American in all three seasons. I think that was from the consistency in training. When I was 28th at NCAAs in cross-country, it helped me to set up my goals for the next year to be even better. It was the same with the indoor 3,000 meters when I got fourth place. Now I thought, ‘can we go for top three? Top two?’ I kept recreating those goals.
GCR: After some ups and downs the following year, you stepped it up another notch in 2018-19, with an eighth-place finish at NCAA cross country and two top finishes at NCAA Indoors, second in the 5,000 meters to Morgan McDonald and third in the 3,000 meters to McDonald and Grant Fisher. How much fun was it to be competing for NCAA titles and what were the crunch points that were the difference between being in the top three and winning?
JK That was a great year for indoor racing and was a year where I thought I might be capable of winning an NCAA title. Morgan and Grant were super fit and running very well and I knew that they were going to be the biggest challengers. That was the first time I was in an NCAA race where I was thinking about winning. Before that, I was trying to make top ten or be All-American. I learned a lot from those races. Morgan had been running at a high level for a while and the difference wasn’t necessarily the fitness, but the experience that Grant and he had. They had been in these types of races before and they knew what to do and how to win them. That was the difference.
GCR: I went back this week and watched video of the 2019 NCAA Cross Country Championships and it reminded me what a true test that was on a course that was wet and muddy in places. Can you take us through your thought process and how you were feeling mentally and physically as Virginia Tech’s Peter Seufer built an early lead while you stayed in the chase pack, your group reeled Seufer in at nine kilometers and how that final kilometer unfolded as Edwin Kurgat pulled away to win by five seconds from you as you separated from Connor Mantz and Seufer to take second place?
JK That was again a race where I was racing for that win. Going into the race, I thought that Connor Mantz would be my biggest competition. He had been running very well and he was a great cross-country runner. So, I was very focused on racing him. Early in the race, I kind of let Peter go and kept my focus on racing Connor. By 9k we reeled in Peter and then Edwin Kurgat put in a move and started separating from the field. Again, I stayed focused on racing Connor because I figured we would go and catch Edwin Kurgat. But Edwin was able to hold us off. When I look back, I think I underestimated the capabilities of some runners in that race. I thought it was a two-person race between Connor and me. Edwin is a super cross-country runner. For him to win, he had a great race. But I was very happy to get second place. I ended up beating Connor, which I thought would be good enough to win. But Edwin had a great day and pulled away from us. That is a race that I am proud of how I executed and how I was able to follow through with my plan.
GCR: Are there any other collegiate races that are noteworthy because of a particularly strong effort or a great team finish?
JK Those are the big individual races that we touched on. The team race where we were very proud of our finish is when we got fourth place at NCAAs in Madison, Wisconsin when I finished eighth. John Drescoll was ninth and Ryan Forsythe was eleventh individually as our team finished fourth that year. I think that going into the season we were ranked eighth or tenth, so it was a big goal of ours to get on the podium that year. At the NCAA Cross Country Championships, that means the top four teams. So, that was another big team race where we had that goal in the summer, we worked all year and we were able to accomplish our goal by getting fourth.
GCR: PROFESSIONAL RACING We spoke earlier of your move from a collegiate athlete at the University of Colorado to a professional runner with On Running. I’m sure you were optimistic about your new adventure, but how fulfilling was it in the first half of 2021 to run a 13:06.67 at the March Sound Running Invitational and 27:23.44 at the May Sound Running Track Meet?
JK It is nice when your training is going well to have it validated by those strong race performances. There certainly have been times in college and throughout my career where my training was going very well and I got to a race and didn’t perform the way I had hoped. The nice thing in my professional career is that usually the results of my races have reflected what I’m doing in training. That’s been a nice reassurance.
GCR: How is the combination of Coach Ritzenhein’s training and running with your On Sport teammates bringing incremental improvements to your racing fitness just as running with teammates did in college?
JK It is similar as we are meeting for practice six days a week. We are working out together all the time. We are lifting weights. It’s a very similar atmosphere to what we had at Colorado in college. The nice thing about the team we assembled is that we all have similar mindsets that want to be at that higher level. Every day in practice we are working out with athletes who have similar mentalities and it helps us all accomplish the goals we have. The goals might seem far-fetched but, not so much, when we have others on our team with those same far-fetched goals.
GCR: How different is your life as a professional athlete since you aren’t splitting focus between school and running but can concentrate on all the little things like physical therapy and massage and nutrition counseling to harness your talent?
JK Mark and Heather were aware and cognizant of the demands that school takes and that we may not be able to train quite as much because of our school commitments. The biggest takeaways now are having the time to do all those little things and to rest more. When we do all the little things, it allows us to train a little bit harder and a bit more than in college. I do some online school classes, but there is much less time commitment than being a full-time student and attending in-person classes. Instead of lifting weights two times a week, I’m able to lift three times. At noon I’m able to take a nap before my second run. We are able to focus on getting massages. Those little things add up and allow me to train a few percent harder. That translates in big ways to racing faster.
GCR: Since there is another World Championships this year, will you continue to focus on the 10,000 meters or, since it is early in the competition, will you considering trying to double and make the team at 10,000 meters and 5,000 meters?
JK That is something Dathan and I have discussed. After the Tokyo Olympics, my next goal was to come back in the 10,000 meters at the World Championships, do well, and get a top ten finish. Now that I have done that, we are considering options. After the 10k at Worlds in Eugene, I felt very good physically and felt that I would be capable of running the 5,000 meters had I tried to qualify and ultimately had qualified. Going into this year, given that my body and my fitness are in a good place, it is a consideration. Dathan and I are going to evaluate the upcoming World Championships and give ourselves the best chance we can for a medal. If that is putting all our energy and training into focusing on the 10k, we will do that. But if Dathan thinks that we should go for the 5k as well because we may have a good shot, then we will do that as well. First and foremost, the 10k is the first race in the Trials, so that is the first focus. Doubling is something we will think about afterwards.
GCR: WRAPUP AND FINAL THOUGHTS Since you have had success over your running career at the 1,600 meters and 3,200 meters in high school, 1,500 meters, 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters in college and you made the World Championships team at 10,000 meters, what is your favorite racing distance and why is that so?
JK That’s a hard question. I like the 5,000 meters. It’s a good mix of speed and endurance and a distance where I think I can excel. It is also a very exciting race. But the 10,000 meters has started to win me over at the World Championships. There is so much attrition to the race and an obvious speed component over the final stages. The 10k, even more than the 5k, has so much more of a mental aspect. Being engaged for twenty-five laps versus twelve-and-a-half laps and dealing with that attrition is an aspect I truly like. So, it’s hard to pick which race I like more. I think I like each race, the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, for distinct reasons.
GCR: We have talked about several of your tough competitors in high school, in college and some of the same guys now as a pro. From your many years of racing, who were some of your favorite competitors in high school, college and post-collegiately due to their ability to give you a strong race and bring out your best?
JK Someone I’ve been racing since high school is Grant Fisher. He’s someone that is a very consistent runner. When he steps on the line, you know he’s going to have a good race. He’s someone that, when I’m racing, I know I have to be at my best to beat. He’s someone that I don’t know if I’ve raced the most over the years, but I’ve raced him the most at championship races. We raced at the World Championships, NCAA Championships and in high school at the Dream Mile and other high school championship races. When I’ve raced Grant, they have always been very high stakes races. He has always been consistent and done well at those high-level races. Whenever I step on the line with Grant, I know that I have to be at my best to compete with him.
GCR: With all the experience and knowledge both of your parents had about distance running, how did they approach encouraging you and your siblings to run and helping with your training? How did this evolve when your immense talent surfaced in high school and on into college?
JK My parents are definitely my biggest fans in terms of being at my races and supporting me. What they were doing with marathon running and since training and knowledge has changed over the years, they don’t always have the best training advice. But racing hasn’t changed so they are very helpful with helping me have a very good mindset going into a race. They know what it takes going into those big races like the Olympic Trials and like the World Championships. My mom and dad know what they had to do to get their mind ready to race and help me to harness that. In terms of coaching and training, it has changed over the years and they don’t try to offer me coaching advice when it comes to workouts.
GCR: Based on your genetics with your dad the American Record Holder at 50 kilometers and your mom the 1992 Olympic Trials champion in the marathon, have you talked with Dathan about moving up to the marathon in the future – possibly after the 2024 Olympics or 2025 World Championships when 2026 is an off-year without a global championship?
JK It is a definite that we know I will move up and try and go to the marathon. Having Dathan as a coach offers good insight because he ran a marathon when he was twenty-three years old and then went back three years later and set the American Record for 5,000 meters. He feels he went to the marathon too early in his career. But he also sees many runners that he thinks go to the marathon too late in their career. So, it’s kind of this balance of finding at what distance is your best shot to get a medal and when is that? Eventually, as I get older, my chance of getting a medal might be better in the marathon than the 10k. We need to figure out when that is which is easier said than done. It’s a question we are actively pursuing. We aren’t training for the marathon yet, but we are doing elements of training that will translate to the marathon. That will help us know when the time is to do a marathon. It’s something we might not rule out as soon as the 2024 Paris Olympics, but it is something we might not do until the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. It depends on where the training goes and where we feel again at the Olympics and at the World Championships is our best chance to go after a medal.
GCR: The good new is that, thanks to the covid delay, there hasn’t been an off-year and you have the opportunity to race at Worlds this year, the Olympics next year and Worlds in 2025. If you qualify for those three championships in the 10,000 meters, it should give you a concrete idea of where you stack up at 10,000 meters at the World level.
JK That’s the advantage of having a global championship every year. If I’m still getting better it is a measuring stick year after year.
GCR: We touched briefly on your racing for On Running. Can you expend on their support and your other sponsors such as UCAN and the CORUS Pace 2 watch? And how much do you have to believe in a product before you want them as a sponsor?
JK My first sponsor is On Running right out of college. At the time, they weren’t focused on the running industry as much as triathlon. They weren’t sponsoring many track runners and didn’t produce a track spike. They had to build my confidence in them that they would be able to deliver the level of training shoes and spikes I needed. Once they built that confidence, that is how they won me over to their brand. UCAN is a brand of nutrition products that Dathan ran for when he was running professionally. He had great things to say about them. When they were interested in me as an athlete, it was a brand I had already used before. I was comfortable with their brand. When they said they wanted to sponsor me, that was the greatest thing ever. It was a brand I was already using, and they wanted to partner with me and have me promote their product and be compensated. That is a win-win. More recently signed with CORUS watches. In the same way, I have been using their product for two years because it is a great watch with great battery life and many features that make it the best watch out there. That is why I use it. Then two years later they come to me and tell me they want to partner with me and sponsor me. It’s a no-brainer. I’m already using their product and believe in it. So, when they want me to partner with them and promote their watch, it is another win-win.
GCR: Since you started out running as a youngster, what advice do you have for younger runners in middle school and high school to improve consistency, minimize injuries and reach their potential?
JK The biggest thing that helped me in high school was looking at what other athletes were doing in terms of their training and in terms of their racing and emulating what the best were doing. At the same time, a runner needs to be logical and have a progression in their training. If you are running thirty miles a week and the top athletes are running seventy miles a week, you can suddenly double your mileage and start running that much. Emulating what the best athletes are doing is important, but you must realize there is a progression to be able to do what they do. That is even more important so you don’t get injured in that process. In high school that was sometimes hard for me. I would see a workout that other athletes would do, and I immediately wanted to start doing it. I ran into many injuries. If I had approached training with more of a progression mindset, I could have eliminated some of those injuries.
GCR: Building on those thoughts into a broader picture, what are the major lessons you have learned during your life – whether it’s athletically, academically, the discipline of athletics, balancing the many components of life and recovering from any adversity you have faced - that is summed up as the ‘Joe Klecker Philosophy’ of being your best as an athlete and a person?
JK What I learned big time in college is the semesters I was doing the best in school and the semesters I was the happiest with my friends are when I was also running the best. All those things were clicking. Semesters where I struggled academically, struggled mentally and struggled running were when everything wasn’t clicking. It’s common for people to think that to be the best at running you must put everything into running. I think that’s true, but you can’t neglect those other aspects, whether its school or whether it’s having a social life. Those are very important. It’s very holistic. When I put my heart into school as much as I put my heart into running, that’s when I was able to excel in both. There wasn’t stress from one to the other. When I was doing well in school, I didn’t have stress carrying over into running practice. When I was putting my heart into practice, I didn’t have that stress carrying over into school.
  Inside Stuff
Hobbies/Interests As a kid, I was into down hill skiing. Because of my running, I haven’t down hill skied in four or five years. But that is definitely a hobby that I will get back to. I enjoy Nordic skiing and other outdoor winter sports. With my running, that has to be on the back burner for now. But I am very interested in doing those winter activities. In terms of now what I am doing as hobbies, I enjoy spending a lot of time with my dogs as you can see through my Instagram and social media. Running does take up much of my time, but I like spending time with my dogs and travelling in the off season. I’m also a big football fan
Favorite TV shows I like watching classic shows like ‘Seinfeld’ or ‘The Office.’ It’s hard to watch a new show when there are classic shows I love rewatching
Favorite music When I was growing up in Minnesota, I liked many artists from Minnesota at the time. I liked record labels from Minneapolis and their music. Now that I’m in Colorado and I have international teammates, their music interests influence what I’m listening to. It seems on my Spotify that artists from Australia are always recommended for me which is probably influenced from music I listen to with my Australian teammates Morgan McDonald and Ollie Hoare
Favorite books I’m not a huge reader, but I like reading financial books and motivational books that I can apply to my life more directly. I can’t think of a favorite all-time book, but usually my dad or brother will read a book that has some good information, financially or motivationally, and they will hand it down to me. It will take me six months to read and hopefully learn something
First car My parents always drove Fords, but then they switched and were driving Subarus. So, in high school, I had a Subaru Outback
Current car It’s the first purchase I made when I signed with On Running. It maybe wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I purchased a Tesla Model Y which I still have and like
First Jobs My dad owned a snow removal and lawn service business when I was growing up so, as early as I can remember, I was always working in the family business. Once I was of age to get a job outside of the family business, I worked in food service at a nursing home for a few years. Then I landed my dream job in high school which was working at T.C. Running Company. All the runners around the metro Minneapolis area would have loved to work there, so I was very fortunate to be able to work there for a few years. Even when I was home from college on breaks, they let me work there, so that was awesome
Family As a whole, one of the greatest things in my family is the eight of us have been able to remain very close. My brother lives in Boston and my sister lives in Portland, Oregon, but I talk to them and all my family almost every day. That is something I value and is a testament to the family life we had when I was growing up that was very incredible. Being involved in running and being involved in the family business gave us daily routines that tied us together and continue to tie us together. My oldest siblings have turned thirty and my youngest sibling is now twenty-one years old, but we are as close as we were ten years ago. That is something that I truly value
Pets When I was growing up we had two, and then three, little dogs that were poodle mixes. My parents still have ‘Maggie’ and ‘Mudge.’ That influenced the dog I got about the time when covid hit and I got my car. My first dog is about three years old now. A year later, because he would get lonely when I went out running or travelled, I got him a little companion who is another poodle. There names are ‘Tucker’ and ‘Minnie.’ They go everywhere except to races, which is unfortunate
Favorite breakfast The breakfast I eat all the time now is oatmeal. Ever since I got my injury a year ago, I reevaluated my nutrition a bit and realized I needed to fuel more before my morning runs. So, I eat oatmeal every morning. It isn’t my favorite, but its good for training. My favorite breakfast is that I love going out for brunch with the team or my family when they are in town. As a runner, we normally get up, go get our workout in and then, at ten or eleven o’clock, go get a brunch and sit down to chat for an hour or two. Maybe its not even the food but the vibe
Favorite meal It changed a lot over the years but, since I came to Colorado, in Boulder there are many great restaurants, and my favorite choice has gravitated toward Indian food. I love getting Tofu Song or Chicken Tikka Masala. If I can have my perfect dinner, that is what I end up eating
Favorite beverages I’m big into coffee. On our team, a lot of us are kind of coffee snobs. We have our own expresso machines. You could ask anyone on our team their favorite beverage and its probably coffee. We’re always fine-tuning our coffee machines, getting beans from all over the world and trying to make the best coffee we can. My teammates have a podcast called ‘The Coffee Club Podcast’ so that is ingrained in all us
First running memories My first memories of running are my parents’ running. We would get up on a Saturday and they would say, ‘We’re going out for a run.’ Us kids would be watching Saturday morning cartoons and they would be gone for an hour or two doing their long run or track workout. That was my first exposure to running. My first experiences running were when my older siblings got into running and they would be doing a hill workout or a run from the house. I would be hanging out with my brother, and he would say, ‘I’ve got to go do my workout’ or ‘I need to do my run’ and it made sense for me to tag along with him. Those are some great memories because back then I wasn’t racing. I was in elementary school and John was in middle school and we were going out running together because we enjoyed each other’s company. Once I was in middle school, my favorite memories are that we loved doing evening runs at late hours like nine o’clock once the sun was down. We usually would go to McDonalds after and have a burger. Those are some great memories with my brother that we share
Running heroes The first professional runner, aside from my parents that I was exposed to, was when I went to the Nike Regional meet when I was in seventh grade. The keynote speaker who signed autographs afterward was Chris Solinsky, and I also have a photo with him. I found out that he was from Wisconsin and ran for the University of Wisconsin. That is close to Minnesota and he became someone I followed and I was a big fan of his in the sport
Greatest running moments I would have to say the top moment was making the Olympic team just because that is such a career goal for a lot of athletes. Making the World Championships team was significant too. As a runner knows, there is a very similar level of competition to get there. But being able to say you are an Olympian and the fact that it only occurs once every four years is my most significant running accomplishment in my mind. Aside from that, all the personal records and everything else beyond that sort of blurs together
Most disappointing running moments Honestly, I have forgotten most of them. What has helped me become a better runner is that I don’t remember the bad races. I only remember the good ones so I can’t think of too many. The injuries and missing competitive seasons are the low points of running. The bad races I often am able to forget. The more recent ones are still in my mind. When I was racing in Europe last year after the World Championships, I had very high goals for myself in Monaco and Brussels and I fell way short of those goals both times. In the moment those were the most disappointing moments but, I’m sure as time goes on, I won’t even remember those races any more
Childhood dreams As soon as I started running, I knew I wanted to do this. I wanted to be a professional runner and see what I could do. I don’t know what instilled that in me and why I wanted to. But I loved running, and I loved competing. There were athletes in Minnesota that I looked up to and idolized like Hassan Mead and Ben Blankenship. I looked at what these athletes from the area were doing racing all over the world and what they did looked so calm and cool. That is what I wanted to be. Kids want to be in the NFL and kids want to play basketball but, for me, I wanted to be like one of these professional runners that I looked up to
Memorable moment number one There are many when I was running with my brother, John. One of my favorite photos is when we both made the State meet in cross-country for the first time in high school. He was a senior and I was a freshman. That is a memory we talk about all the time
Memorable moment number two This is one we talked about earlier. When I made the Olympic team and my whole family was out there at the Olympic Trials. Having them all there was super special and very memorable. One of my brothers is in graduate school and a sister is working a full-time job. For all of them to be able to take that time and fly to Oregon to watch me make the Olympic team is one of those moments that may not happen again where they are all able to watch me race in person. So that is a significant memory
Memorable moment number three One that stands out is during college when I ran the Millrose Games. It was my first high level meet. It was mostly professional runners, and I was still in college. In that mostly professional field, I was able to finish second in the race. That was one of those moments when I realized that I might be able to be successful beyond college. My brother was there because he was going to grad school in New York. My mom was there. My dad was there. Having my family around me in those big moments made them much more special
Amusing memory When I was in high school during my senior year of cross country, there was a picture in the newspaper after I won Sectionals. I am working hard and holding off Connor Olson of Wayzata. Behind and between us in the picture is my dad cheering me on, but it looks like he is running and getting third place. Mom has a caption in the scrapbook below the picture that says, ‘When Barney gets 3rd place’
Favorite places to travel In the U.S., I truly love going back to Minnesota. If I could go anywhere right now, I would probably just go back to Minnesota. I enjoy it there. I do like travelling for racing. We go to Orange County, California and its beautiful there. The weather is great. Internationally, I never left the U.S. until I went to Tokyo for the Olympics. It’s been fun to visit all these new countries. I have my list that I want to travel back to for leisure versus racing. I want to get back to Tokyo and Japan because, during the Olympics, I couldn’t experience the city. We couldn’t leave the Olympic Village. I want to go back to Tokyo because it seems like an amazing place. This year I travelled around Europe a bit. The cities where I have good memories seem to be where I raced well. So, I may be biased but I like Oslo, Norway. That is another place I want to get back to. We spent a lot of time in Switzerland and Zurich, and I love the city. Is has fun stuff to do. So, those are my top three international places I want to get back to for running and for leisure and to enjoy the culture