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Jake Riley — December, 2020
Jake Riley is a member of the 2020 United States Olympic Marathon team which will compete in 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. He finished second in the 2020 Olympic Trials Marathon with a personal best time of 2:10:02. Jake was first American and ninth overall at the 2019 Chicago Marathon in 2:10:36. Chicago was also the site of his debut marathon in 2014 and he finished in 11th place in 2:13:16. Despite injuries and hot weather, Jake was 15th at the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon in 2:18:31. He won the 2012 USATF 10k Club Cross Country Championship and 2014 Chicago Bank of America 8k after a 2nd place finish the previous year. In 2015 he finished second at the Edinburgh, Scotland 8k Cross Country Meet, Chicago Bank of America 8k, Washington Credit Union 15k, Great Cow Harbor 10k and Philadelphia Half Marathon. Additional top road races were his 2012 New York City Half Marathon 11th place in 1:02:56 and 2016 Grand Rapids Riverbank 25k 3rd place in 1:15:56. Jake is a graduate of Stanford University where he earned eight All-American honors; twice in cross country, twice indoors at 5,000 meters, and outdoors once at 5,000 meters and three times at 10,000 meters. He helped Stanford to three NCAA Cross Country top five team finishes. At Sehome (Washington) High School, Jake finished third at the Washington State 3A Cross Country State Championships in 2005, leading his team to the title. He won individually at the 2006 2A Cross Country State Championships. Jake finished fourth in the 1,600 meters and second in the 3,200 meters at the 2007 Washington State Track and Field Championships as an integral member of the State Championship team. His personal best times include: 3,000m – 7:54.51; 5,000m – 13:32.82; 10k – 27:59.37; half marathon – 1:02:56; 25k – 1:15:56;30k -1:35:01 and marathon- 2:10:02. Jake is coached by three-time Australian Olympic marathoner, Lee Troop. He resides in Boulder, Colorado and was kind to spend nearly two hours on the telephone for this interview in late 2020.
GCR: You came into the 2020 Olympic Trials Marathon with a goal of making the U.S. Olympic team, raced extremely strong and made the team by only a few seconds. Now that you can reflect, how does it feel to know, even though you haven’t experienced the Olympics yet, that you are and always will be an Olympian?
JR With all the events of this year with COVID-19, I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling myself an Olympian until I have run the race. Olympians didn’t get to go in 1980 and they still call them Olympians, but I am holding off until embracing that name until I get to the finish line. There are still some concerns as to whether the Olympics will happen. It seems that they will, but I don’t want to jinx myself. I am starting to come around to the idea and every time I think about it, that gives me a jolt of happiness.
GCR: How odd has it been to face the Covid-19 Olympic delay that has extended the time between the Trials and Olympics from six months to eighteen months, not just in training, but the mental and emotional aspects where there is uncertainty?
AA Because there was a slow build with the rumblings of COVID-19 coming, then it hitting, and then cancellations left and right, I had kind of come to terms with it early on. The USATF were clear that we were still going to have our spot on the team. But the event we were looking forward to was cancelled and everything else was too. I perform best when I can build a training segment around a goal race. I like to have a goal I can visualize, and every race adds a step-by-step process toward that goal. My coach, Lee Troop, and I did a good job with that in training for the Chicago Marathon and the Olympic Trials. It’s hard to implement that sort of strategy when races are getting cancelled the week before they are supposed to happen. I’m trying to keep perspective. 2020 isn’t a lost year as we could still make some fitness gains, but it certainly has been hard to focus. Some people have responded well to the pandemic. I have had some decent performances, but I don’t think I have performed up to the level I thought I would. After the Olympic Trials, I thought it would be all a smooth downhill and I would be crushing everything left and right. I was on this very high cloud and the pandemic and a hamstring issue and knee issue took the air out of my sails. Now that we are coming up on 2021, I have a viewpoint that once we get to January the Olympics are more in sight and are close to our buildup. I’m starting to get excited again. It has been an emotional rollercoaster. Like many people, I have dealt with Zoom fatigue and lockdown fatigue and it has been hard to stay completely motivated. I’ve handled it about as well as can be expected. I haven’t knocked it out of the park but haven’t sunk into despair either.
GCR: Since this was your second Olympic Trials Marathon, can you compare coming into the 2020 Olympic Trials healthy and fast and with a shot to make the Olympic team versus in 2016 when you were experiencing Achilles tendon issues?
JR Anyone who has dealt with chronic injuries knows that, as runners, we get good at training through pain. We get used to pain management. That is what we do. When we deal with an injury and decide to train through it, we are good at making that decision, but we don’t quite realize the amount of emotional effort required in getting out the door every day. When I was about a month out from the Trials in 2016, for thirty, forty or fifty minutes of a run I would hurt. I would be limping almost the entire time. I noticed it from the minute I woke up until the minute I went to bed. It was always there. Workouts didn’t feel as good. I did put in decent volume. I think I hit a hundred and thirty-five miles a week going into those Trials. I was hitting the right paces on the workouts but was just trying to get through it. There was no feeling of excitement. I went into the 2016 Trials thinking that afterward finally I wouldn’t have to hurt for a while. Once I got through this race I would get to stop having to push through pain for a while. I ran well, but everyone had a positive split race because it was very hot. I fell off the foot of runners, but I went in already with the mentality to get it over with and without excitement. In coming into the 2020 Trials, I had come off the Chicago Marathon and crushed it. My buildup had been very, very successful. My body didn’t hurt, which was a huge difference. There was a whole bunch more of excitement and enthusiasm about the race and that made a huge difference and perspective. Also, the way that I ran in Chicago was good to prep me for the Trials. In Chicago I had finished with a very competitive last couple miles. I hadn’t had that kind of experience. The buildup leading up to the 2016 Trials had been a mixed bag. It was okay as I had finished seventh at the Twin Cities 10-miler, and I went 1:03 at the half marathon in Philly. There wasn’t a lot of momentum from the buildup. In Chicago, I had not only run a fast time, but had raced it competing against some guys who were competing strongly with me and I was able to distance it from them over the last few miles which was the exact kind of race that will prepare a runner for a kicker’s race. So, I had a lot of confidence going into the 2020 buildup.
GCR: As you mentioned, the Chicago Marathon was a big step forward. You had a major breakthrough with a three-minute personal best of 2:10:36. What were keys in your training in 2019 that propelled you to such a great performance?
JR Lee has a marathon plan that is his tried-and-true system. I was following that program. Also, I have found that I race better when I don’t go in with an expectation of how I should perform. I think that is true for a lot of athletes. If you go in with an expectation that you are going to knock a race out of the park, when it gets tough in the middle of the race, it is hard to prepare for that pain and goes against knocking it out of the park. So, before Chicago, we thought if we finish this race and it is anything but a compete blowup, it will have been a success. So, we were going to lay it all out there. All we had to do was run under 2:19 to make the Olympic Trials and even that wasn’t necessary because we could come back if we wanted to. I went in there with the mentality of nothing to lose and everything to gain. It was my first major buildup after my Achilles tendon surgery, so it was a joy to be able to train hard again and see my fitness come around. Lee’s training regimen was very different from anything I had done before. It had much shorter, faster running and pace changing. It isn’t a big secret but is a component of Lee’s training especially for races like the Trials where we must kick. We do a lot of pace change workouts. In a lot of marathon programs, they pick a pace they want to train for and do variations on that and pace work. For example, if the target is a 2:11 marathon, there are a lot of repeats with five-minute mile pacing. With Lee’s training, we do almost nothing paced. There is a lot of fartlek and go intervals where you push as hard as you can. I did most of it solo and that prepared me well for a race where at a certain point you had to grind. It’s when you have to go and there shouldn’t be any limits. I didn’t have a pace ingrained from training. We had an effort ingrained from training for both the Chicago Marathon and the Trials.
GCR: When I was training during my peak years, I would take a workout where many runners did a time fartlek of a minute on and a minute off and tweak it. I would do a three-minute cycle of a minute fast, then alternating fifteen seconds fast and slow twice before the minute easy which made me realize I could sprint and kick even when I was tired. Did you mix in any workouts like this into your fartlek sessions?
JR We did more of that on the track. We have a couple workouts that are almost identical. We will do 100 meters on and then 100 meters float. The 100 meters on will be in fifteen or sixteen seconds and then you float through at 20 to 22 seconds and do four laps. There is another variation that is 200 meters on and 100 meters float. In training for the marathon, it is a bit less intense than that. We do Moneghetti fartlek which is one of our big workouts. You get gradually faster throughout the workout. You start with one minute on and one minute off, then you get down to 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off and finish with 15 seconds on and 15 seconds off. It’s one of those workouts where there isn’t a rest interval. Your baseline is tempo, and you accelerate out of that. You are never quite comfortable and because the intervals are getting shorter you get progressively faster as you go along. It is very good to train you to ratchet down pace as you get more tired, always be constantly ready for pace change, and to force you to respond on tired legs which are very big for that second half of the marathon when your legs are starting to go dead.
GCR: Before we chat in more detail about the Olympic Trials Marathon, how did the coach-athlete relationship you built with Lee Troop help you both as you rebuilt your training after major Achilles tendon surgery, personal issues and moving and he rebounded from Jon Grey passing away and losing his running store in 2018? Was it symbiotic as you both rebuilt in different ways together?
JR I think so and I imagine Lee talked about this with you as he is open about it. What everyone knows about Lee is that he brings a large emotional component to everything he does. I don’t think Lee has the phrase ‘its just business’ in him. It’s always personal. When he was managing and working in the running store, that was a personal endeavor. His coaching is personal. With his athletes there is a large emotional component. Obviously, Jon’s death hit him very, very hard. There was a restructuring that went through the team but, with the athletes who stayed on, Lee had an outlet where he continued to develop runners who were committed to the process. That helped him through it. With me, he was basically building me back up from zero. Having a project had us both kind of coming back at the same time. It was never explicitly said, but we recognize it in retrospect. I think my segment, being the first big one back after he kind of came out of that emotional hole was certainly very meaningful. After crossing the finish line in Chicago, I hugged him, and I cried. That makes a very strong bond.
GCR: After the 2019 Chicago Marathon, I asked Lee if he changed your training and he said he didn’t do much differently. What did you feel as the athlete that was a little different or were you building in the same pattern over the next few months going into the Olympic Trials?
JR Lee’s motto was, ‘The same, but better.’ Our idea was that we found this pattern that worked, so we used essentially the same schedule. It’s about a four-month block. There is a three-hour run that we do. There is a run we call ‘Teller Farms’ that is a strong workout for us. We run a half marathon effort run about a month out. Then we have a simulator run. We put all those four primary workouts in the same place and the pattern of the other workouts is the same almost to identical mileage. The idea is that for each one of these workouts we had a baseline for what we did before Chicago. Using those initial workouts as a template, we tried to be a little bit better and run slightly faster. For the ‘Teller Farms’ run I was ten or fifteen seconds faster. It wasn’t huge, but there was an improvement. The other big thing was my familiarity with the program. I had done it once and seen it work. Now I knew that it worked last time and we could continue to do this. Lee brings a lot to our training as he is compensating for mistakes he made when he was an athlete. He thinks he did too much messing with the formula. He was successful early on and then he kept trying to outdo the training. In trying to find the perfect formula, he ended up getting overtrained in some places and going into races overcooked or emotionally drained. What Lee emphasizes with us a lot is no single workout is particularly important and that its about consistency over time. He may get upset if we run a long run too hard as he doesn’t want us to knock those out of the park. Any particular workout isn’t about crushing it – the goal is consistency and maintaining what we were doing before so we will be able to do similar effort over four months and come in ready to run our fastest event. Going into Tokyo, I imagine it’s going to be almost the identical plan. I can’t imagine we are going to increase mileage much, if at all. We will put workouts in approximately the same place of the training program and make small concessions to the expected course and temperature. We were thinking last year about trying to get out to Kentucky or Virginia to do some humidity training. Going into the Trials we got on some hillier courses because we knew it was going to be a hilly racecourse. But other than that, it will be almost identical.
GCR: Let’s talk about the Olympic Trials in more depth. First, what was your race plan, and can you take us through the first fifteen or sixteen miles or so when everyone is running their pace, checking to see their comfort level compared to the other athletes and before any substantive moves were made?
JR You just described it. The night before, going into the race, we had a list of five to ten guys that we wanted to have eyes on. If this group of guys goes, I had to go with them. We were confident that with the race being that hilly and that windy, trying to press early on, especially if it was solo, was going to be a mistake. We thought if anyone tried to do that and make a hard move, they were going to pay for it in the second half of the race. But, if a few guys took off that we thought were going to be competitors, such as the Army group and Fauble and Ward and Galen, we would have to go as there would be a group of six guys. We thought that some of them would pay for it, but not all of them. So, if that big of a group went, I would have to go with them. But otherwise, the plan was to stay in the pack, stay out of trouble and try to get as far as I could with as little excess effort as possible. So, stay tucked in and Lee’s instructions were to get to eighteen or twenty miles before I made a hard move at the goal. The only interesting thing that happened in the first part of the race would be if someone from that group made a hard early move. A couple guys did go out hard, but they weren’t people that we were particularly worried about. At that point we just decided to settle in as it seemed it might be fifteen or sixteen miles before anyone might do anything. Everybody in the pack seemed like they were more interested in maintaining pace. So, the strategy was to tuck in, stay out of trouble, get my water bottles and be ready to go when I needed to go. At about fifteen miles is when Galen Rupp started doing his little fartleks and breaking the pack up. He made a little move and Sam Chelanga, Abdi Abdirahman and some of the Army guys went with him. Things started to string out a bit and that was a little before we had talked about. I hung back and felt especially comfortable with that decision because Scott Fauble, Jared Ward and Chris Derrick didn’t go with the guys who moved ahead. I respect Jared Ward a lot because he has been one of the most consistent performers. I feel like he has a very good handle on race pacing and race strategy. So, I was keying off him quite a bit. He was still in the pack as was Fauble and I felt comfortable hanging back a little bit. We were out on this long straightaway avenue out-and-back stretch and made the hairpin turn to head back toward town and we were getting closer to twenty miles. Nobody in my group had made a move. This is when we planned to make a move and I was kind of hoping someone would go with me. I tested the pack a bit and every time I opened a slight gap, no one would go with me. I thought that if I were going to do this it would have to be solo. Then it was just head down and grind the downhills and try to make up distance.
GCR: Will you describe your race execution physically, mentally, and emotionally from twenty to twenty-six miles as you had dropped strategically at least thirty seconds behind the podium places and then slowly reeled them in for the final push?
JR Between fifteen and eighteen miles they opened a gap and at one point were forty-five seconds ahead. I was having some intestinal distress. I was coming to terms with the gap maybe being too much to cover. When we came back into the city and I made my move there was uphill and wind. I was trying to press and open a gap on the guys coming forward while trying to catch the guys coming back. Some of the guys who had gone early were starting to pay for it. I saw a guy in a blue uniform and thought, ‘Okay, get to the blue uniform.’ Then there was a red uniform ahead, so I went after the red uniform. Around mile twenty-three I finally had eyes on that Army group pack that had Abdi, Korir, Maiyo and somebody else. I think they had slowed down once Galen Rupp opened a gap on them so I could see that I was making chunk gains. Anytime I would look up or turn a corner and catch eyes on them again I would be significantly closer. By the time we got to twenty-three miles it was clear that I was going faster, I was feeling good and I was going to be able to catch them. I thought, ‘we’re going to get there, we’re going to grind and, once you get there, be ready to push again.’
GCR: I was there near the finish line watching the end of the race. Can you take us slowly through what it was like mentally, physically, and emotionally in the last couple miles and especially in that last minute of the race when Abdi Abdirahman, Leonard Korir and you were sprinting at sub-4:30 mile pace and it was a three-man battle for the final two Olympic team spots?
JR It was nerve wracking. Once I caught the pack, I felt confident that this was doable. I caught them about twenty-four miles. It was Abdi and me and I thought we were going to drop Korir. I was mostly focused on staying with Abdi. I kept trying to open up a distance on him on the up hills, but he would close the gap on the down hills. I realized that I didn’t have the legs to drop Abdi. At that point, I decided to maintain energy to make sure I was the one with the last kick. I kept expecting Leonard to drop off, but I was hearing cheers for him, so I knew he was back there. I knew I only had to beat one of the two, Leonard or Abdi. Going into that final homestretch, I felt good that I could beat at least one of them. I had tested Abdi out a bit and, even though he was responding, he was a bit slow to respond. I knew that if I was the last one with a kick that I should be across the line in no worse than third. I knew I needed to maintain and hold, hold, hold and then when it was time to go to give it everything I had. That is how things turned out and it ended up that Leonard didn’t quite have the legs at the very end. It’s one of those situations where it was all business. The way many Olympic Trials marathons have played out, the qualifiers were able to celebrate in the last couple miles because, at that point, the race is completely over. I didn’t have that at all. I wasn’t able to fully immerse myself in the crowd noise and everybody going nuts until ten meters from the finish when I realized, ‘There isn’t going to be a response. You’ve got this. You’re going to the Olympics.’
GCR: How exciting was it when you crossed the finish line as I’m sure you were very tired? How was it emotionally and mentally to know you had done it?
JR First, there was relief that I didn’t have to be stressed about the people behind me. I got to the finish. Then there was this wave of euphoria. I was walking around pumping my fist and thinking, ‘You’re doing this.’ There is no accurate way to describe it. Think of the happiest you’ve ever felt and then it keeps hitting you. Then they gave me a little flag to drape over my shoulders. Then I got to experience the excitement again when I saw Lee and again when my parents came over. It’s amazing. It’s a rush. It’s a constant rush for twenty, thirty, forty minutes. I can still get a good dose of it now when I think of it.
GCR: We’ve been chatting about your recent success, but now let’s do a segment about your other professional racing before we go back to talk about high school and college. How did you find the transition to pro racing and decide to join the Hansons-Brooks team? How was it adding road racing to the mix of track and cross country plus being an athlete rather than a student-athlete?
JR I chose the Hansons-Brooks group because they were a marathon training group, and I knew that was where I wanted to be. Coming out of college, I had good credentials, but not great credentials. I wasn’t going to get one of the top contracts. So, no Nike contract and my skill set didn’t quite match up with the Bowerman group. I needed a smaller group and that is the Hansons focus. They take people who were good, but not great, in college and give them an opportunity especially at the longer distance. I went out to Michigan and talked to Keith and Kevin Hanson and we had similar ideas about where I wanted to go. They offer a ton of support. It was an easy decision. I liked all the guys on the team, and we got along very well. Cross country is my favorite because of the team atmosphere, but there isn’t much after college, so road racing is as close as we can get to that team feeling. I love road racing and had some decent success right out of the gate. There are bigger fields, and we were able to travel to different cities. The road courses vary as opposed to the track where it is loop after loop. At that point in my career, I wasn’t that interested in being on the track, so I loved the transition to the roads. I had success in the middle long distances like 10k races and ten-milers. When I moved out to Michigan, because of the way the Hansons contract works, I couldn’t support myself just by running. So, I started working part-time in their running stores. I think things got worse when I stepped away from that. I’m a person that thinks it is good to have something going on in life besides running.
GCR: Could you expand on that thought?
JR Our sport is interesting in the world of professional sports. There are some sports where essentially you can do something all day long. If you play football, when practice is over, you can watch film. Swimmers can train for four or five or six hours at a time. It’s the same with ballet and gymnastics. They can put much more time into training and are constantly on. With running, if we try to train that much, even if we our adding strength training, it’s only going to take up four or five hours out of our day. If your running is going badly and that is all you have, it can be a real grind. When running was going well, it was great to be mostly focused on running. But when my Achilles tendon was going bad, I was spending five hours a day on the couch worrying about how my Achilles was feeling. Since I left the Hansons and have transitioned to other situations, I’ve tried to make sure I have other things going on in my life. And I mean stuff that is completely not connected to running. When I first moved out to Colorado, I enrolled in grad school and have been working toward my master’s degree. I worked as an SAT tutor. Part of that was to support myself. Now I have a running contract, but I still work as a tutor, not because I need the money but because it is this separate component of my day that provides structure and something different. I think that is very important. I didn’t recognize this at the time I turned pro, but it is something I would recommend to athletes who are starting out. Give yourself something to do. It could be like Lauren Fleischman starting Picky Bars. That is a separate business. Stephanie Bruce does a lot of things other than specifically running, especially since she has three kids. People talk about how great it is that Martin Hehir runs so well being in Medical school and having two kids, but there is a strength to having that outside of running. You run and get done what you can but can’t spend too much time dwelling on it and getting too much in your head when you have these other things. That has value though it can also be stressful at times.
GCR: You were talking about when you started out as a pro and I reviewed your initial pro races in 2012 which included the Twin Cities 10-mile 47:22 for second place, international racing with a 10k in Japan and an 8k cross country in Scotland and some track racing in the summer of 2013 in Ireland and Belgium while also winning the USATF Club Championship cross country. Were you trying to figure out where you wanted to focus while mixing in a bit of everything?
JR Certainly. One of the great aspects of running is that we have different seasons. You can jump between one thing and another. I think road running and cross country go together very well. As I mentioned cross country is my first love. That club cross country win was very good for me. I tried to parlay it into making the U.S. team for World Cross Country, but that didn’t happen. The international team experience with that Scotland trip and making the Japan Ekiden team were very good to get international experience, more road experience and cross-country experience.
GCR: The year of 2014 was a year of change as you popped a 1:02:56 for 11th place at the New York City Half Marathon in the spring of 2014 and then you debuted in the marathon at the 2014 Chicago Marathon in 2:13:16 for 11th place. What gains were you realizing in training as you had been with the Hansons team for two or three years and how did this culminate in racing well at the longer distances?
JR One of the biggest arguments for group training and especially what the Hansons do is the institutional memory available to you. When I joined the Hansons, Mike Morgan was on the team and he had run maybe twenty good marathons. There were some guys a little closer to my age that had already run three to four marathons like Drew Polley and Robert Scribner. If you needed someone to run 2:14, Mike Morgan was your guy as he ran it about five times. The nice thing was working with so many guys with that much experience and on the women’s side with Des Linden and Dot McMahon, was that any mistakes that could be made at the longer distances, they had already made them. When I went through my first marathon segment, we had four or five guys doing the same plan for the same race. We would put our head down and ‘Do what Mike says’ was my mantra. Keith and Kevin have coached an absurd number of marathons, so it was nice to not have to figure things out. A lot of runners have a hard time initially in the marathon because we bring this track mentality of going out hard and being able to grind. The marathon involves a lot more patience where you need to be mentally prepared to hurt for two hours though you must relax early on. From talking with my teammates, I didn’t have to figure out the race doesn’t start until twenty miles because I heard it from fifteen different people. They had already gone through the whole buildup and were able to tell me which workouts were important and what I should be doing. Honestly, that first marathon was easy because I didn’t have to figure anything out. This was not new territory for anybody except for me. It was just riding the wave and it worked out exactly as we planned going into the race.
GCR: Early in 2015, coming off the Chicago Marathon, you had some strong races including second at the Great Edinburgh XC, second for 15k in 43:28 in Washington, D.C. and a sub-28-minute 10k at the Payton Jordan Classic. Were you really rounding into great shape for the 2016 Olympic Trials and what happened that caused your Achilles tendon to become increasingly problematic?
JR That cross country race went great and then we took off a little time going into the ten-miler. I was absolutely crushing workouts and having some of the best workouts I ever had before the ten-miler. I knocked the race out of the park, and it went very, very well. We came back and I think we started back into training a bit too quickly. Ten miles is starting to get into those distances where you need more than just a few days to recover, especially at the age I am now. But, even then, I needed a week before I started to get after workouts again. But I was so excited that I was out three days later hammering repeats. We kept that mentality that we were doing great now and let’s keep doing great. And I got overtrained. You kind of notice when a wheel gets loose how it starts to wobble before it finally comes off. That is kind of what was happening after that ten-miler. I was still enough on track that I was able to hit that 27:59 for 10k, but even then, I could tell that I was in better shape than that and the wheels were starting to come off. When I got to the U.S. Championships that year, I was ready to be done. Every workout was going badly, and I felt like crap. I was just toast. We took some time off and decided to do a fall segment for a half marathon. We thought about maybe going to Twin Cities, taking some time off and getting ready for the Olympic Trials marathon. I just didn’t have quite the same fire and hit the same marks. As runners we get used to training through aches and pains and, at that time, I did that to a fault. When you are out of college, you don’t have the training room and have to organize your own routine. We did have access to all that but it’s not unusual to wake up with calf tightness, Achilles tightness, quad tightness or whatever. The transition from what is general soreness from running a hundred and fifteen miles a week to what is a problem that needs to be addressed, I don’t think I’ve always been the best at realizing when I need help to get through it. I’ll just stretch and do exercises I know and figure I’ll be fine. And then I kept not being fine. I would take time off and then go into the next training segment a little bit more hurt. Then we would get to the middle of the segment and an injury would be nagging me. The thought was that I had come this far, couldn’t shut it down and would continue to train through. I figured that when I was able to take some time off, I would rehab, and it would get better. I think I had that mentality for two buildups and, by the time I got to the Trials, it had not gotten better. It was to the point where I knew I had to take some time off to take care of it and I needed a big intermission. But it was the Olympic Trials and there was no way I was going to miss the Olympic Trials if there was any way I could train through this. I went into the Trials buildup with the thought that whatever it takes we are going to get to that starting line and we will deal with the Achilles tendon afterward. That isn’t a great mentality, but I ended up fifteenth at the Trials. That was fine. I ran 2:18:31. Compered to what some other people ran that day, it was okay. It was a grind the entire way. I was with the lead pack with a lap to go but I was hanging on by my fingernails at that point. As soon as the pack opened up, there was no way I was going to be able to go with them. Going in with that mentality of hanging on was not the way to go into the Trials.
GCR: How tough were those next couple years fighting injury, what was the impetus to have surgery and how patient: did you have to be during the recovery process?
JR After the marathon trials, I had a qualifier for the track trials. If it was bad for the marathon, it was even worse for the track trials. I went into the 2016 Olympic Track and Field Trials thinking, ‘I need to not be running anymore.’ So, that race did not go well. I think I finished decently high because several runners dropped out, but I was never in a position to do particularly well in that race. At the end, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to do this again. I was not going to put a race on the schedule until this Achilles tendon rehabbed. That was a deal I made with myself. At the same time, I didn’t feel that the Hansons and I were still on the same page. I was tired of living in Michigan and felt like I needed a change. So, I left the Hansons in September of 2016. From then until I had the surgery, I had two aborted attempts to come back. I went and saw a new physical therapist and took a lot longer to build up mileage. But, as soon as I reached a threshold of thirty or forty miles a week it flared. A different person did more invasion intervention. I got PRP on my Achilles and took a slow time to try and build up again. At that time, I had moved out to Colorado to work with Lee. As soon as I hit thirty or forty miles a week, any sort of intensity and tried to put workouts on the board, the Achilles flared up again and I took time off. By the time I made the decision to get the surgery, it was that if this didn’t work, I was going to stop running because I didn’t like running in pain anymore. We went into that doctor’s office and told him I wanted the surgery. I was tired of taking three months doing exercises to not get anywhere. I told the doctor to cut off whatever was needed. It was a relief to get it done, though going under the knife was an intimidating process. This was the last roll of the dice and, if it didn’t work, I knew I could step away from running knowing I had done everything I could. If it did work out, then great. And it did work out. Afterward, I had to be very patient.
GCR: Let’s jump back to your first steps in running before high school and collegiate training and racing. First, did you compete in multiple sports as a child and how did you become interested in running?
JR I was a soccer player. I also played Little League baseball, though I was never very good at it. Soccer was my main sport and I kept playing up through my sophomore year in high school. We lived in New Zealand when I was a kid for four years. We moved there when I was seven and moved back when I was eleven. In New Zealand they had a city cross country race for Elementary school kids. There was a race at each school and the top ten kids from each school went on to the city race. I think we spent two weeks preparing for the race where we would run at P.E. for fifteen minutes. We had our school race and I qualified for the city race. We went to my first big race and I won. That was huge. The next two years I did the same race and came in second twice. When I was growing, up I was always the smallest kid or close to the smallest. I remember in Middle School I couldn’t beat any of the girls in arm wrestling, much less the guys. I was always a few inches shorter and was small. That doesn’t matter in running and a lot of times is a benefit. In Middle School I went out for the track team. I thought it would be fun to do a sport where I kind of already knew that I was okay at running. At my school on the first day of track practice each of us went around and learned about the events. This is high jump, long jump, shot put, the one-hundred-yard dash and so on. We tried every event. When I think about it now, it is crazy that we did every track and field event in one day.
GCR: Were you the top runner right off the bat in Middle School?
JR We had this kid in my school who was on one of those AAU basketball travelling teams and he was very cool and funny. Everyone liked him, he was a very good athlete, and he was winning everything - the high jump, long jump, two hundred meters, everything – he was crushing everyone except in the throws where we had a kid who ended up competing in college in Division I. We got to the 800 meters and I finished one second behind. Then I absolutely crushed him in the mile. That was big. I got into running because I was better than the other students. I like winning and there isn’t much I could win at athletically since I was so small. But I could win at that and it felt amazing, especially because he was this cool kid. After that running started to become my thing. We would do the beeper test in P.E. where you had to run back and forth across the gym and the beeps got closer and closer together. I would be the last one left there on the gym floor and would be out there for a couple minutes after everyone else had finished. In P.E. we would do the mile run and I finished a couple minutes in front of everyone else. That became my thing and I absolutely loved it.
GCR: What kind of mile time were you running and how was the transition to high school cross country running?
JR In Middle School I ended up running about 5:20 for the mile which, in retrospect, is not particularly good. We had a good girl who broke five minutes, and I was beaten by her. But at the same time, I was City champ two years in a row and that was awesome. Going into high school, I originally though I was going to be a soccer player, but they don’t have soccer in the fall in Washington, so I thought, ‘I guess I’ll do cross country,’ especially since a couple of the kids I had gone to Middle School with had joined the cross-country team the year before me. I figured I’d go out and see how it goes and it went very, very well. I made varsity as a freshman.
GCR: In cross country did you have a very good coach and what were the biggest things he did to take that 5:20 Middle School kid and help you to improve as an athlete?
JR My freshman year we had one coach and he left between cross country and track season. The coach I had the rest of high school came in at that time. Now he is known as one of the best coaches ever in Washington State. Our school is in a smaller division and either our boys’ team, girls’ team or both have won the State title for the past seven or eight years. Since I graduated there have been as many as fifteen State titles between the two groups. My coach has it down. He knows how to coach cross country. He knows how to coach distance runners. This past year they won the State meet but didn’t have anyone make All-State. They had this super tight pack. That’s when you know that a coach knows how to coach cross country. They had a thirty second spread from the first to fifth man from seventeenth place to in the mid-twenties. They won the State meet because they had that many consistent guys. In retrospect, he is a very good coach. I don’t think there is anything special about his training. You see that with a lot of good coaches. You get people who can run well out there and have a good team culture. I was lucky that during my freshman year there were a group of five sophomores that liked running which was rare enough in a school where there wasn’t already a running culture. And they liked training. They were self-motivated. No one had to tell them to run in the off-season. They just liked running. This group of friends who liked running was a huge force when the team and coach were trying to get people into running. It was one of those situations where there was an older group of guys who knew how to be good, they let me tag along and so I just tagged along. They also happened to be good runners. I tucked in, learned from guys who were older and got pulled along until I was good. That was added to my natural talent. Bellingham is a very running friendly city. There are lots of middle-class liberals who don’t like traditional sports. My high school football team was terrible, but that is what you want when you want good runners. A lot of kids who were soccer players were ready to come out for running so we had a very large team. I think it was culture more than anything particular that the coach did, though he was good at coaching.
GCR: By your junior year you were a good runner with 1,600-meter times in the 4:30s and a best in the 3,200 meters of 9:30 while you had quite a few second and third place finishes. Were you becoming a better racer and was your 9:30.16 at the State Championships a season highlight?
JR By the end of my sophomore year and beginning of my junior year I had decided to quit soccer and focus exclusively on running. So, I was starting to become running fit. Before that I was multi-disciplinary. Running became part of my persona. That third place at State cross country was big. Cross country was what I cared about. I like track but it was not what I loved to do. That was my first year making it to the State track meet, so I was in too much of a ‘happy to be here’ mentality. I got absolutely crushed by my cross-city rival, Chris Kwiatkowski, who ended up running Division I at Oregon. We had a rivalry where he was considerably ahead in head-to-head races. That State meet was not a particular highlight. I don’t think in high school until my senior year I knew what was good. I knew I was good for my school but didn’t realize what times were good.
GCR: What changed your senior year in high school?
JR In between my junior and senior year, the older guys introduced me to Dye Stat. I don’t think it is around anymore, but I was part of that first running generation that had access to the internet. Suddenly, I learned that there were national cross country meets and track meets during my senior year. I didn’t know that runners from other states raced each other unless they were from close by Oregon. I started getting interest from colleges. I had a very good PSAT score so several Ivy League schools reached out and better State schools in terms of academics that weren’t quite there on the athletic side also contacted me. I had to contemplate that I might be able to continue running in college.
GCR: In cross country, you were third in the State as a junior and won as a senior. How did coming so close as a junior push you to win as a senior and was it a close victory when you won?
JR I did not have a big battle my senior year with Chris Kwiatkowski. I think Chris had been dealing with injuries. Also, I was on a tear the second half of the season. At the State meet, I put in a move about halfway on this down hill and was basically able to run away. I won by between twenty and thirty seconds. What helped form the mentality I have now is that going into that senior season I thought I had third place the year before but, due to a restructuring, we went down a division from 3A to 2A. I thought, ‘You’re in a smaller division and you’re a year older. This is your year. You’ve got to be crushing it.’ I approached every race to go out as hard as I could and to absolutely crush it. That is a bad mentality to go out as hard as I was so, in quite a few races, I was only able to hang on because I was good. I had some bombs early on and developed some patience as the season progressed. By the time we got to the State meet, I had a very good handle on what pace I could run early, how to finish strong and that was a big learning season for me. Approaching that State meet, I had a successful District meet. Chris had been able to crush me for most of my high school career, so I felt good about beating him at that District meet. Then when I made the move at State there was no looking back.
GCR: You mentioned about your high school winning many State Championships. How exciting was it to be part of the State Champion cross country team your junior year and State champion track team your senior year and to be part of everyone hoisting the trophy?
JR That was fantastic, especially that junior year of cross country. That group of sophomores that was a year ahead of me when I started out – that was their senior year. These guys were the guys I had come up with. We had been talking about trying to win a State meet for a long time. We knew we were good. We knew we were competitive. On that State meet team, four or five of our seven runners were seniors. It was a very senior-heavy team, and it was awesome to send the seniors out with that big of a win at the very end. I think that is one of the reasons cross country is my sport. You have that team element that I got to love in soccer that isn’t quite there in track. You are teammates, but the throwers are off doing their thing and the sprinters are off doing their thing and distance runners are doing their stuff. There isn’t the same level of team camaraderie. I liked all my teammates on the track team but, in cross country, you are grinding together every single day. You’ve done it over the summer. To be able to lift the trophy together in cross country was fantastic. Winning that track State meet my senior year was almost a foregone conclusion. We had guys in the throws where we swept one of the events and got first and third in another. My teammate, Mason, who ended up becoming an NCAA 800-meter champion, and I had the distances covered. Between our two event groups I don’t know how many points we scored, but we absolutely crushed it. The meet was not going to be a close State meet.
GCR: At that State meet, you ran a personal best of 4:18.29 for fourth place in the 1,600 meters and, as we talked about, were second in the 3,200 meters. Was it exciting to be a major contributor to that State Championship?
JR I will say that the guy who beat me in that 3,200 meters was Chris Kwiatkowski, and that really burned. In that 1,600 meters, again Chris beat me, my teammate mason beat me and then Isaac Barbosa beat me. Fourth place was not quite what I wanted. In fact, I had run nine flat earlier that year and felt like I was on a high. I had already signed with Stanford, so I didn’t need the State meet to clinch a scholarship, but I totally wanted to go out with a track win as that had always been one of the weaker parts of my game. The State meet was bittersweet. It was nice to contribute, but I would have liked to perform a little better in track.
GCR: Though you had already signed with Stanford, who were you recruited by closely, what schools did you narrow it down to?
JR I wrote back to everyone who wrote and recruited me. I filled out ten or eleven college applications. I figured, ‘If you send me stuff, let’s do it.’ My five visits were to the University of Washington, Oklahoma State, Columbia, Oregon, and Stanford. Washington had been on me from very early on. They had been recruiting me since I had finished third in State cross country the previous year. Colombia was a school that fit because I had good grades and solid times. When the issue was getting someone academically into a school, I was a good candidate in that respect. This was before Oklahoma State had gotten strong in cross country. Coach Dave Smith was from Washington and did quite a bit of recruiting in Washington. They were one of those scrappy up-and-comers. They hadn’t won an NCAA title yet and didn’t have a track program. He was able to throw out a nice scholarship, I like Dave and I took my visit there. Oregon and Stanford came on late. I made Footlocker Finals that senior year. When I crossed the finish line at Mt. Sac, ten minutes later the Oregon assistant coach and Stanford assistant coach were both talking to my parents. I hadn’t heard anything from either of them until that point. Suddenly, I was on a whole bunch of radars where I hadn’t been before. Oregon had Coach Vin Lanana, who was one of the most storied coaches and they were one of the most storied programs. That was a no-brainer. Heck yeah, if they were interested, I was going to go and take a visit. My dad had gone to Stanford for grad school and they had a good distance program as well. That’s what perked up my interest.
GCR: It sounds like Washington had the inside track on you signing with them. What caused you to decide to go to Stanford?
JR As I said, Washington had been recruiting me hard, I liked the coaches, I liked the guys on the team, and I love the state of Washington. So, I was feeling strongly for Washington to the point where I went down to watch an indoor meet, I talked to the coach, I talked to some of the guys on the team and I was on the phone calling the Stanford assistant coach. They took a long time to get me my visit as it was around March. I had been through the process for a long time, I really liked Washington and I was going to commit. So, I called David Biedel, who was the assistant coach at Stanford at the time, to tell him I wasn’t going to take my visit and I was out and I’m going to sign with Washington. He didn’t pick up the phone and I didn’t leave a message. Then, I decided better of it later, ‘No, no, let’s take that final visit.’ Anybody who has been to the Stanford campus knows it is absolutely gorgeous. The guys on the team were awesome. As soon as I went there, I knew it made a lot of sense, this was home, and this was going to be great. So, once I took my visit to Stanford, it wasn’t too difficult of a decision anymore.
GCR: How smooth was the transition to cross country racing at distances of 8k and 10k and racing on the track at 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters after racing at shorter distances in high school?
JR It was easy. Two themes you see in my career are that I like to be with team members, and I like to be with mentors. When I joined the Stanford team, we had a group of four or five fifth year runners and four or five seniors along with a cohort of four other freshmen. There was a bit of a gap with not as many sophomores and juniors. Those upperclassmen were intimidating, but also super friendly. They gave advice. They helped us through workouts. They were open to freshmen coming in and hanging out with them. They were a great group of tight-knit guys that knew how to be student-athletes. One of the hardest parts of transitioning to college is that you oversee your own time management, you are in charge of your own nutrition, and you have to balance that with sleep and getting homework completed. They were very good with that and guided me through. They taught me how to do what they did in workouts and were very generous with their time and their mentorship. That was a plus where I didn’t have to think too hard about it. I didn’t have to make many conscious decisions. I followed the upperclassmen’s’ lead. I redshirted my freshman cross country season, ran indoor track, and debuted in the 10k outdoors at the PAC-10 Conference meet where I ended up getting eighth place. That was one of my accomplishments I am proud of in that I scored in every race I ran at Conference. I scored all four years.
GCR: I’d like to talk some about the 2010 cross country season which culminated in your sixth-place finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. What went right for you in that season and that race that led to your best NCAA Cross Country finish?
JR We had a great team. At that point we had teammates like Chris Derrick and Eliot Heath and those two guys were with me in every workout. It was the three of us together knocking every workout out of the park. We also had a very solid group of guys ready to back us up. In that season I came in sixth but should have been faster. We were trying to run the three of us together, but Eliot was having a bit of a bad day. There was a decision point where we had to cover a gap to go with the lead pack and Chris and I decided to hang back in the hopes that Eliot would be able to tack back on. That didn’t end up happening. I think if we had made a stronger move to go with the lead pack, I would have been able to finish higher because I felt great in that race. That season we had a solid group of training partners and it’s easy to be successful when everybody is committed to the same process and we all are firing on the same wavelength. We had a tightknit group of supportive guys that all wanted to be good and who all got along well. It makes it easy. That season was one of my greatest running memories because we swept PAC-10s. Chris, Eliot, and I went one-two-three and did that also at Pre-Nationals. We were on a roll and were heavy favorites to win NCAAs. We ended up in fourth place, so NCAAs was a little disappointing. We all came away frustrated which speaks to how high were our expectations. We thought we had that one in the bag and were that much better than the other teams. To come away with fourth, not even a close second, we absolutely got demolished and that was very frustrating. The early season memories were good, but it was a frustrating national championship.
GCR: Switching gears over to the track, your first All-America race was your sophomore year when you finished eighth in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Championships in 29:14.53 and were only six seconds out of fourth place but, the next year as a junior you scored an NCAA 10,000 meters third place in 28:57.41 that put you two seconds behind John Kosgei, but three hundredths of a second ahead of Mohammed Ahmed and a second or two ahead of Kiel Uhl and Joe Bosshard. What changed from your sophomore to your junior year that allowed you to kick more strongly and finish ahead of runners of similar ability?
JR A lot of it was confidence in my abilities. My sophomore year was my first nationals as an individual. I came in thinking, ‘Gosh, I’m at NCAAs, this is great!’ That wasn’t quite the killer mentality. Whereas my junior year I had come off that great cross-country season which was a big breakthrough for me. I carried that momentum through into track season. Also, a personal triumph was making it to NCAAs in the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters. That was a big ego boost for me. The 10,000 meters was my focus and the race I wanted to crush. In that race, Sam Chelanga was the big favorite and I didn’t think anybody else had a chance. He decided to run hard from the gun and the whole pack let him go. At that point, the strategy was to tuck in, stay in the pack and when it was time to go, then go. I was strong and, on a roll the entire season. I don’t know if anything particularly changed. I was totally in shape. Another of my claims to fame from that race is I outkicked Mo Ahmed and that is the last time that will happen. When I look at what he has done now, that is probably my most legitimate scalp from college. I’m able to say, ‘I beat him when…’ And since then he has crushed it at the World Championships.
GCR: You beat Mo Ahmed by three hundredths of a second which is the same amount Dave Wottle beat Arzhanov by when he won the Gold Medal in the 800 meters in the 1972 Olympics, so that three hundredths were big, right?
JR I remember he passed me going into the final turn and it was one of those moments where I didn’t fight him. I was thinking, ‘okay, he’s got his kick now and I’m going to be able to answer him when we come off this turn.’ Heading into the straightaway, I opened it up. The success of that type of move may have hurt me in a few situations. But the strategy was not necessarily having the best kick but having the last kick. That is a lesson I truly took to heart.
GCR: How strong and tough was the 2011 NCAA 10.000-meter field when you dropped your time thirty seconds, but it was only good for fifth place as the top six was Leonard Korir, Sam Chelanga, Stephen Sambu, your teammate Chris Derrick, you, and Luke Puskedra?
JR I like to say that was an all-star field. Earlier that year, Stephen Sambu ran some bananas time indoors, like 13:09. Leonard had been kind of off and on but was on a tear in the spring. I don’t think I ran as strong as I could have. I remember being in the middle of the race and there was an opportunity to close the gap and I didn’t make the move when I should have. But that was a strong field, and I don’t know that even if I were with those guys that I would have been able to close the gap toward the end. That was a solid group of guys.
GCR: What is your tentative 2021 racing plan as you ready for the Tokyo Olympics?
JR Lee and I are getting back into my workouts after a bit of an easy week. We will plan back from the Olympics and that plan is not even sure. But the Olympics are the only date that is concrete. The marathon build up will be about four months. We will put a half marathon in there. We will add some humidity training. Before covid-19 shut everything down in 2020, we had planned some shorter, faster track races and road races. I would imagine we are going to have a similar plan if possible. I was scheduled to run the Sunset Track Meet in San Diego and pulled out because I didn’t feel comfortable travelling. I don’t know what will be the status of the early track meets that we will consider. There is usually one in February in Texas and another in April as we get to the spring. A lot will depend on covid-19 case numbers and vaccine distribution. We would like early on to do some 5k and 10k oriented speedwork. I would like to get a road race or two in if we can. I prefer racing and something in that ten-mile to half marathon range I would like to do. But we might have to take what events are available. So, this planning is going to be more about when we want to start a particular build up and in what windows we want to race. Also, where do we want to put our emphasis? I imagine early on it will be track-focused and then will transition into a longer distance focus about four months out from the marathon.
GCR: Your coach, Lee Troop, is focused on his athletes minimizing the mistakes he made and, when I spoke with him, he was adamant that the big hole in his career are his three Olympic performances that weren’t up to his potential. What are the two of you doing to ensure that you race your best in Tokyo?
JR When Lee talks about the mistakes he made, he treated the Olympics like it was a different race. He had a formula that worked. In his first Olympics he trained that way, but he tore an abdominal muscle during the race. That result wasn’t his fault, but he came out of the race thinking it was a failure on his part, especially in his home country. I don’t think it was a bad race, particularly with a torn abdominal muscle, but races are weird, and we runners take them personally. He kind of spent the rest of his career trying to erase that stain. The way he tried to do that was by having the plan for the next Olympics that it would be the hardest he ever trained and the most focused he had been. He felt he couldn’t mess around. He used to drink a beer a couple nights a week, so he decided he couldn’t do that anymore. He thought, ‘If I was successful running a hundred twenty miles a week, I’m going to run a hundred thirty and do triple workouts.’ The way Lee approaches it now is that it was silly to take a formula that was working and to think that trying to add a bunch on to it was going to make it work better. When we were talking about getting ready for the Olympics, we discussed taking the same plan that we had going into Chicago in 2019 and into the 2020 Olympic Trials and it would be essentially the same plan. We would try to execute it a little better and slightly faster in our workouts. Just because the Olympics is a bigger stage, it isn’t a different distance or a different race. I’m going into the Olympics with a bunch of 2:02 and 2:03 guys that will be in this field and I’m a 2:10 guy. I’m not going out there thinking I must have some sort of spectacular strategy to beat a bunch of guys. If I’m going to be very successful in the Olympics, it’s going to be by running my kind of race. I’m certainly going in planning to run the fastest race I can possibly run. We will train with the idea that I am in shape to run a 2:06 or 2:07 performance. Whatever the race does, I’ll have the mentality that I’m ready to run the best race of my life, but to not go out with the leaders and run hard from the start. We will have the plan to go out conservatively and chase runners down in the second half. That is my strategy that is working, and we will try to execute that to the best of our abilities. The idea that something needs to radically change and that we need to mess with the formula because it’s the Olympics is as likely to get me into trouble as it is to yield successful results. We have a successful formula and let’s stick with it.
GCR: Do you see doing what an Olympic marathoner you mentioned earlier, Jared Ward, did in 2016 when he ran his race in Rio? He came in third in the Olympic Trials and then finished sixth in the Olympics doing exactly what you are talking about.
JR Jared is a smart guy. Jared is a runner I certainly take a lot of cues from. We are the same age, and we have very similar running and racing styles. He has been very successful with the ideas of consistency, being prepared, doing your work and that you don’t need to do anything flashy at any point. You need to get the work done and be a consistent powerhouse. He has been very, very good for a long time doing that. Jared is someone I have in the back of my mind. That sixth place is certainly a benchmark I have set for myself. Jared proved it could be done and let’s do that or do it better. He is someone I will be talking to and thinking about a lot during my build up while I use him as an example.
GCR: Even though you are focused on the upcoming Olympics, if we look ahead to the post-Olympic period, since you have raced well twice at the Chicago Marathon, is racing strong at the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon on your radar for 2022 or 2023? Do your goals include taking aim on a fast marathon course like Rotterdam or Berlin?
JR You basically named it all. I want to see how fast I can go in the marathon. That Trials course was a PR for me, but it wasn’t a course to run your fastest. I would like to see how fast I can go. The Marathon Project lit a fire. When I saw so many guys go sub-2:10, now I want a sub-2:10 and to see how far under that I can dip. So, I would like to run on a fast course. If we are doing it here in the States, you can’t do much better than the Chicago Marathon. I have a very good relationship with them. I would like to race Chicago again and go for it. I would like to do the U.S. Marathon major trifecta and to run at Boston and New York. Those races are bucket list races for sure and I’d love to do so as a pro. When there was an idea that there might be some fall marathon races in 2020 we were talking to the New York and Boston organizers to see if one of those might work out. So, I was getting excited about running one of those. I would love to run one of them as a post-Olympics race. I would love to run Berlin. I want to run as many different races as I can and let the train go on. I would like to race overseas. I’ve raced in Japan a couple times, so to run the Tokyo or Fukuoka Marathons would be very cool. I’d like to get a fast half marathon too. The half marathon seems like it should be a distance that suits me very well and I don’t think I’ve reached my potential there. I had a nice PR in Michigan not that long ago, but I don’t think I’m just a 1:02 guy. I should be in the 1:01s or potentially under 1:01 and I’d like to find an opportunity to do that. I could go to Houston or overseas and try to knock it out of the park at Valencia which would be cool. Also, World Cross Country is on my mind. That is one of my bucket list races. When I’m talking about my lifetime goals, the Olympics is 1A and World Cross Country is 1B. They are very close. Obviously, I want the Olympics more. But that cross-country team is very, very high on the list of what I want to do. This next year it is in Australia so to be able to go to Lee’s old stomping ground to run cross country would be very cool. I would love to make that cross-country team and to make a World Championships Marathon team. Running a fast marathon to make that team goes hand in hand with that goal. So, World Cross, a fast marathon and fast half marathon are the big three goals.
GCR: From your many years of racing and training in cross country, on the track and on the roads, 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?
JR In high school it is Chris Kwiatkowski. There is a little bit of a chip on my shoulder because of how much he had my number in high school. In college, Luke Puskedra was a big competitor. He is a very strong racer, a competitor, and a grinder. I ran a lot of races against him because he was at Oregon. Stanford and Oregon faced each other often so he was one I had my eye on regularly. Now as a pro, Jared Ward is someone I like to compare myself against. I know that when he is in the field it’s going to be a strong race. Scott Fauble is another big competitor that I key off when we race. Noel Draddy, here in town, is someone right here in Boulder and we see each other on everyday training runs. He’s another guy I’d like to have more opportunities to compete against.
GCR: I’m sure that during your time as a top distance runner that you have met many top athletes. Are there some that you have met that stand out or that you hope to meet?
JR Frank Shorter lives here in town and he is one of the icons of distance running. I think I have shaken Bill Rodgers’ hand. That was a big one for me. I haven’t run Joan Benoit Samuelson’s ‘Beach to Beacon 10k’ and that is a big bucket list race for me to get out there and run that road race and talk to her.
GCR: If we look ahead eight or ten years, do you see yourself pursuing masters racing, transitioning to coaching or otherwise staying involved in the distance running scene? Or could you pursue another career with your college degrees?
JR My undergraduate degree was in biomechanical engineering and my masters is in mechanical engineering. I would like to move into shoe design and work on the science and technology side of running. I’d like to have some sort of career in that field later on. That is one of the reasons I went into that branch of engineering. I like that marriage of the mechanical and biological. Being able to design better footwear is very exciting to me. So, post-running that is an area that appeals to me.
GCR: You started out as a soccer player, as we discussed, before transitioning to distance running. What advice do you have for younger runners to improve consistency, minimize injuries, reach their potential and keep running as a lifetime sport?
JR Consistency. Running isn’t a seasonal sport. There isn’t just cross-country season and track season. Running is a year around sport. That doesn’t mean you need to be hammering year around. But it should be a monthly habit, a weekly habit, and a daily habit. Today is the day I go running because it is a day. It isn’t special for me to go running because this is something I do every day. There is also patience to learn. Runners can’t try to do too much too soon. They should improve their mileage and keep at it every single day. Especially as a high schooler you don’t need to do a lot to make big improvements as you go through puberty and you are just starting running. You are going to get stronger if you just keep showing up. That is one of my favorite quotes ever from Desi Linden, ‘Just keep showing up’ and you are going to get your breakthroughs. It’s hard as a high schooler to recognize that when early on running hurts and can feel terrible a lot of times. In Washington state when I was in high school, getting out on those rainy days when it started to get dark at four o’clock in the afternoon could suck, but we could see dividends if we just showed up.
GCR: 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 any adversity you have faced such as your comeback from that Achilles tendon injury that is summed up as the ‘Jake Riley Philosophy’ of moving forward to be your best in athletics and in life?
JR The breakthrough will come. It’s not always easy to know when you are going to get out of whatever hole you are going to be in. It took me two-and-a-half to three years to finally get my Achilles tendon better. For some people, that trade-off of time may not be worth it. That can depend on how important a certain goal is to someone or how important it is in their life. If you can keep plugging away, its going to come. The biggest thing I have learned in my career is that you are going to have ups and downs, but you will bend toward success if you just keep showing up.
  Inside Stuff
Hobbies/Interests My girlfriend and I met playing pub trivia. It’s been tough to indulge our habit with covid-19. We do quite a bit of online quizzing. I like trivia a lot. Playing frisbee golf is something my parents and I do. On any road trip, my dad will plan it out so we have at least a couple stops where we play frisbee golf. I like hiking and camping. We went out to the woods to get our own Christmas tree and we decided to snow camp beforehand. I like to get outdoors to do hiking and backpacking. I do more car camping now because of my professional running schedule. One of the things I’m going to do when I retire from running is to do more backpacking
Nicknames ‘J.R.’ is about the only one
Favorite movies My favorite movie is ‘Baby Driver.’ I like a good fun action movie like ‘Die Hard,’ ‘Live, Die, Repeat,’ ‘The Fifth Element’ and ‘Gone in Sixty Seconds.’ Bruce Willis is in many of these favorites. The movies don’t need to be too clever, just a well-executed action movie
Favorite TV shows Right now, we are burning our way through ‘Narcos.’ The ones I keep going back to are ‘Parks and Rec’ and ‘The Office.’ They are high up there. Internalize ‘That’s What She Said’ and that is a big part of my sense of humor
TV reality show dream I’ve never watched it and don’t know what it entails, but the idea of ‘The Amazing Race’ sounds good. A race with weird challenges sounds good. Let’s do it
Favorite music My favorite artist is ‘The Hold Steady.’ I like some good, blues-infused bar rock. Some favorites are ‘The White Stripes,’ ‘The Black Keys,’ ‘Cake,’ and ‘Led Zeppelin.’ Just some no-frills hard-hitting rock
Favorite books Sci-Fi and fantasy books. ‘Game of Thrones’ was a big one for me. ‘Enders Game.’ I just made my way through a big Steven King binge, so I finished ‘The Gunslinger’ series which was very good. I’m trying to work my way through the Steven King canon now. He is a big part of the dark fantasy type of writer I like that has amoral protagonists. Larry McMurtry and ‘The Lonesome Dove’ series isn’t fantasy, but western, but has similar ideas of moral ambiguity with my heroes
First car My first car was a hand-me-down from my parents and was a Ford Ranger pickup truck
Current car A Scion xA – a little hatchback
First Job I was my dad’s field assistant. He does field research that is too in-depth to go through, but essentially, I was his gopher. I would help as he did tree cores and tree measurements and help to coordinate things. I can tell you a tree’s diameter and how old it is
Favorite Halloween costume As a kid I had a Power Rangers costume that was a Power Rangers ninja type of costume. It wasn’t the traditional costume. I wore it three years straight because it was my favorite costume. It was the blue ranger. Last year my girlfriend and I did Walter Wright from the first season with the blue shirt and underwear which was a fun one, especially here in Colorado where it was about thirty degrees on Halloween
Family I’m an only child. It is a point of pride that most people can’t tell that by talking to me. My parents are Kathy Peacock and Ralph Riley. Anyone who is successful as I am in running probably got here because they have very supportive parents. My parents are no exception. They are always there for whatever I need. They weren’t runners but have always been supportive. I feel like I’m not getting enough superlatives in there to convey the amount of support and love they have shown throughout my running career. It’s humbling. It makes me feel badly sometimes that I’m not quite repaying it. They have been an enormous part of my success. My mom is a fluvial geomorphologist. You might have to look that one up. It is a very niche science, and she is one of the best in her field. I think there are only three people in the field, but she’s one of the best (laughing). My dad is a biology professor. Both my parents are scientists, very smart, intelligent, fun people
Pets We had a cat when I was growing up. I’ve had a couple dogs in my life. Right now, my girlfriend has two cats
Favorite breakfast It varies. Right now, its breakfast bagels with a bit of turkey sausage, egg, avocado, cheese and spicy mayo – that’s my go to breakfast. I love a good a good hash that’s potato based with eggs and as many veggies as I can find. That will do it for me every time
Favorite meal Pot stickers. Those little Asian dumplings. There are packs of frozen pot stickers I can get at Costco. I must limit myself or I will fill up the freezer. One of those is a meal in itself as far as I’m concerned
Favorite beverages My favorite non-alcoholic drinks are root beer. I like to go to the sweeter side, so I’ll go with A and W root beer – not a sponsor. For beer, its almost annoying to be a cliché, but I love a good IPA. We have Avery Brewing here in town and that is my go-to beer for in-season. They also sponsor Lee Troop’s races so quite often there are some extras around. It helps to get a hook up that also is a local business and that tastes very good
First running memory My family is a very competitive family, so my first running memory is my dad and I doing some of those ‘the last one to the light post is a rotten egg’ kind of races. When I was growing up and we were walking around the city we would race to the next block, race to that tree or that rock or whatever it was. I’ve been racing since I’m old enough to remember
Running heroes Bernard Lagat was a big one. Ryan Hall went to Stanford, so especially my running there had me looking up to him. Ian Dobson was another runner I looked up to. Garrett Heath was a role model, and he is still running. He was an upperclassman who shaped who I am as a runner and a student athlete. Hakon DeVries at Stanford, along with Eliot, were models of what it to means to be good at running and good at life. Meb Keflezighi. Desi Linden – when I talk about my favorite marathoners and favorite athletes, Desi is very high on that list. When I came back from my injury, Stephanie Bruce, because she was running well, stopped to have kids, and then came back stronger. When I was dealing with my Achilles tendon injury and was concerned as to whether I would ever run professionally again at a high level or even run, period, she was an example. She was able to come back, and when she came back, she was better than she had been before. So, I knew it was possible to have that second career even if things hadn’t gone the way you wanted beforehand. So, as far as people I used as examples, Stephanie Bruce was a big one.
Greatest running moments Number one is making the Olympics. That is going to be number one with a bullet unless something very spectacular happens at the Olympics. It is going to be hard to beat the feeling of making that team. Number two would be crossing the line together at the Pac-10 Cross Country Championships my junior year in college. Chris Derrick, Eliot Heath and I went one-two-three. Finishing third at NCAAs in the 10k in track. Winning the State meet my senior year of cross country in high school and making Footlocker Nationals. I came in third in that race and it was a life-changing race for me. I didn’t know it at the time but, if I didn’t make that Footlocker team, I probably don’t go to Stanford and, essentially, everything changes. Afterwards, I was walking around and realizing what a big deal it was and that stuck with me for a long time
Worst running moments In 2015 at the U.S. Championships in the 10k. I was on about lap five of twenty-five laps, which is very early in the race, and I was already thinking about whether it would be more embarrassing to drop out or to get lapped. I made the decision that ‘you’re here, you’ve never dropped out of a race before, so I guess you’re finishing.’ And, sure enough, I got lapped. That was in that training segment where I was overtrained, I came in exhausted and it was kind of the cherry on top of a very lousy month or so. That stands out high on that list. My regular senior year, which was a redshirted junior year for eligibility, at Stanford we came into NCAAs ranked as the number one team and ended up getting thirteenth or seventeenth and had an absolutely awful day. The next year I didn’t have a good summer of training, so I tried to make up for it by training hard early in the season. I overtrained myself by doing too much too soon and I had a bad race at NCAAs. I finished twelfth or thirteenth and we finished two points out of fourth place. Again, it was a disappointing NCAAs. Those last two NCAA cross country meets were both very low
Childhood dreams I have a distinct memory of telling my mom I was going to be a policeman, entomologist, marine biologist. I was going to be the classic triple threat. Otherwise, I don’t think I had any specific goals as a kid
Funny memories In my first soccer game ever, so I must have been four or five years old, I got sent out not the field and the coach was yelling, ‘tackle!’ For some reason I ended up wrapping up a kid’s legs. He didn’t fall over, but I dove down to the ground and wrapped my arms around him. I was very happy with myself. ‘You crushed it!’ He got rid of the ball and didn’t even have it anymore, but I was holding his legs and feeling very proud of myself. I got called over to the sideline after the official called a foul and I was told I couldn’t do that. The coach said, ‘That wasn’t what I meant by tackle.’ I didn’t understand why what I did was wrong. That certainly stands out and I still cringe about that one
Worst date ever I did go on a date with a girl and she talked about feeding her dogs from the table. She told me she would have a plate with scraps from the table. I told her that when we had dogs, we would never do that. I had to spend the next ten minutes putting out a fire because she got mad at me that I didn’t feed my dogs from a plate. She didn’t understand why I was being so cruel to my dogs to not feed them from a plate. Not only did she think that I was wrong, but she didn’t think it was weird to feed your dogs from a plate. She thought that was a very common thing to do. Anyway, I did not see her again after that
Favorite places to travel Japan was amazing. It’s great that I get to go back there for the Olympics. Hopefully covid-19 will be under control enough so I can get to see some sights there. I love Scotland. I’m from a rainy climate so I feel at home in rainy, wind-swept mores. Going back to Scotland would be fantastic. Here in the States, my mom has a research site in eastern Oregon called Byers Canyon. It is out in the middle of nowhere, two hours north of Bend. This small little canyon out in the middle of nowhere is filled with juniper and sagebrush. When I was a kid we would go there and camp out for a few days. So, that is one of my happy places. I like the smell of dusk and sagebrush in that eastern Oregon desert. And the Washington coast and on the Olympic peninsula for some beach camping is one of the most gorgeous places in the world