How to Go From a 17:00 5k Runner to a 2:25 Marathoner: Lessons From an All-American

I sat down with my good friend Adam Fitzgerald (no relation) to talk running and got a helluva interview. Adam is a Division III Cross Country All-American who’s run 2:25 in the marathon. But his freshman year in college he was running 5k’s in over 17 minutes. He’s also only had 2 injuries in the last 10 years.

Read on to learn how to improve year after year, never get injured, and have the most consistent training of your life.

1. Give us a quick overview of your running career (it’s ok to brag).

I ran two years of outdoor track in high school and graduated with PRs of 4:47 for the mile and 10:14 for two miles. At Connecticut College I was a New England Division III, NESCAC, and All-New England champion at 10,000m and ran personal bests of 14:53 for 5,000m and 30:53 for 10,000m. In cross country I was twice a first team All-NESCAC and All- New England honoree and competed twice at the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships. In 2003 I placed 25th at the NCAA championships and earned All-America honors.

Adam Winning a Local Road Race

Post collegiately I placed 48th at the 2006 USA Cross Country championships. I have lowered my personal bests to 8:30 for 3,000m, 14:53 for 5,000m, and 30:45 for 10,000m. In 2006 I ran 1:09:35 for the half-marathon and later that year ran my first marathon at the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon in 2:26:16. Since then I have completed 4 Boston Marathons, placed in the top 60 at the New York City Marathon, and set a personal best of 2:25:30 at the 2009 Chicago Marathon.

2. How did you make the transition from an average college runner racing over 17 minutes for 5k to somebody who has set a school record in under 15 minutes?

I had a good coach (Steve Lane) in high school. Coach Lane made sure that I wasn’t doing too much and set the foundation for a long career of consistent improvement. We didn’t run a lot in high school, by design, so that once we got to college there was a lot of room for improvement. One of my big goals in college was to improve at least 1 minute a year over 5,000m on the track and 8,000m in cross country. In the 5,000m I went from 17:11 my first year to 16:06 as a sophomore to 15:32 as a junior before running 14:53 my senior year. In cross country I improved from 27:01 my first year to 26:09 to 25:09 as a senior.

I was also very motivated to succeed in college.  After having a frustrating end to my freshman year, where I wasn’t focused and didn’t train as hard as I should have, I went home and told myself I was either going to give a 100% commitment to be as good as I thought I could be or I was going to quit.  It wasn’t worth it to me to continue competing at less than my best effort. I was so focused the next three years that my daily training dictated the structure of my day. Running was the first thing I thought about when I woke up in the morning and it was the last thing I thought about before going to bed (as well as a lot of the time in-between).

Finally, once I started to improve and see success, it made me want to train harder. The most important race I ever ran was the 2002 New England Division III 10,000m in outdoor track. I ended up winning the race and breaking a 20 year old school record. It was the first race I had ever won at any level of running. At that point I was hooked. That one race gave me the confidence that I could be one of the best division III runners in the country and I used that day as a springboard for the rest of my college career.

3. One of the main reasons for your success, besides your work ethic obviously, is your consistency. You run almost every day all year besides planned periods of recovery. How do you stay so consistent with regards to preventing injury?

I have been very lucky to be able to train as hard as I have while staying healthy. I’ve had very few injuries over my running career and my body has been able to handle both high volume and high intensity training. Staying healthy probably has a lot to do with my genetics, but I also think that my lifestyle contributes as well. I am very much a routine person. I generally go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. My training is mostly at the same time every day. I eat similar foods on a daily basis. All this has allowed my body to become very used to the type of training and recovery it will be asked to complete.

I have done core exercises at least 5 times a week since I was 10 years old. I played soccer at a high level for 12 years before I ever started racing seriously, which I think helped develop a strong aerobic base and strong muscles in my feet, ankles, and shins – all important (and injury prone) body parts for a runner. I like to think that my ability to run consistently has as much to do with my diligence and preparation as it does my genetics.

4. Is form work as important for runners as it is in other sports? What kind of drills and/or core exercises do you do?

I think form work is very important for runners. At some point there comes a limit to how much time one can spend actually running, and ancillary work becomes necessary for continued improvement. If someone has the time to run either 50 miles a week and do several hours of form work or they can run 80 miles a week but no form work, I’d say go with the 80 miles a week. However, if they have time to run the 80 miles and do form work they are going to see the most improvement.

My core routine consists of varying abdominal exercises and pushups.  Over time I have tweaked and added to this routine, but the key for me is that I do something at least 5 times a week.  In high school I added a weight training program that has also evolved over time. My weight program is done 2-3 times per week and includes standard gym exercises.

I try to do some form of drills at least twice a week, although there are a few exercises I do on a daily basis to warm up before a run. I have a routine of drills I do before completing a track workout and am incorporating more form work when time allows.

5. When you’re training for a marathon, what does a typical week look like for volume and workouts?

A typical marathon training week for me will generally include between 110 and 120 miles of running with 2-3 hard workouts.  Here is a sample week:

Monday: 11 mile easy distance run and 6 strides at the end.

Tuesday: A medium long run of 13-16miles w/ fartlek pickups of 1 to 2 minutes.

Wednesday: AM:  9miles easy distance run

PM:  11 miles easy distance run with 6 strides at the end.

Thursday: AM:  5 miles easy distance run.

PM:  11 miles w/ either a 25minute tempo run at 5:10-5:15/mile or 4-5x 5min hard intervals at 5k race pace w/ 2min jog recovery.

Friday: AM:  7 miles easy distance run.

PM:  11 miles easy distance run with 6 strides at the end.

Saturday: AM:  9 miles easy distance run.

PM:  9 miles easy distance run with 6 strides at the end.

Sunday: 20-23 mile long run.  Every 2-3 weeks the 2nd half of the long run becomes a progression run starting at 5:50/mile and going down to 5:10/mile at the end.

6.   What one piece of specific, actionable advice would you give to a new runner who wants to get faster and prevent injury?

The one thing I would say is to be consistent in your training.  It’s the first thing I tell anyone when they ask me about how I was able to improve.  I run every day, and I do it day after day, week after week.  If you can get into a consistent training routine and follow it for a significant length of time, you will improve. The more consistent you are in your training the stronger you will become and the less likely you will be to become injured.  Most injuries arise when someone is just starting out a training program or returning from a lengthy break or doing more than they are prepared to handle.  Consistency is the key to getting better and to staying healthy.

7. What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you while you were out running?

I’m glad you asked this question. While I have had several embarrassing running stories, nearly all of them center on my inability to control my bodily functions during a run.

The “incident” took place in 2003 at the Nike Green Mountain running camp. One hot afternoon we ran as a large group on a forest trail. I elected to run in the back of the group to make sure nobody got lost.  As the run went on, I realized I was going to be in desperate need of a bathroom. Normally I would just go in the woods, but I figured it probably wasn’t the best idea to go in front of 45 children (having to register as a sex offender wasn’t too high on my list of things to do…). I kept trying to fall way behind the group so that I could have some privacy to take care of business.  However, every time I did this, the female counselor ahead would stop the group and have them wait for me.  I tried politely to tell her not to wait for me and that I would catch up, but she just wasn’t getting it.

Adam Running for Connecticut College

After a few minutes, I’m able to distance myself from the group and think I’m all set to poop in peace in the woods. Just as I’m getting ready to go, another group of runners comes up from behind.  This group was about 20 middle school aged girls. I quickly pull my shorts back up and pretend like nothing is weird. They continue on their run and just as I’m about to go another group comes edon to the same trail. At this point there is no turning back so I, unfortunately, go in my shorts. It’s a real mess. I let that group pass me and then when the coast is clear, I do my best to clean up.  It’s the end of August and very hot and humid. I’m sweaty and covered in my own feces. Needless to say, I’m pretty miserable.

As I’m running to a creek where the kids swim at the end of their runs, one of the other counselors catches up to me and wants to finish the run together.  He comments that the dye from my red shorts has run down my leg (clearly it wasn’t dye…). At this point I just hope he can’t smell me. Finally we get to the creek and I take my shoes off as quickly as possible and jump into the creek. The creek water did a decent job of cleaning me up, but I tried to stay as far away from everyone else on the bus ride back to camp. All in all, it was pretty embarrassing.


Thanks for a great interview Adam! You are gross, but fast. We can all learn from your example.

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