Monday, February 20, 2006

A Swift Gaites

SF Runner Makes A National Impact

by Tomas Palermo

You're as likely to see local Adidas Transports distance runner Craig Gaites casually busting out 5 minute miles at SF public track facility Kezar Stadium as you will on the national marathon and half-marathon stage. Gaites has risen from small town beginings to running neck-and-neck with Olympic qualifiers, all with a friendly humility still intact, and a distinctive eyebrow ring that lets you know he's not the run of the mill jock. Taking second place recently (Feb. 5 2006) at a briskly run Kaiser-Permanente Half Marathon, Gaites proved that he's definitely arrived on the Bay Area distance scene with an exclamation point. I caught up with Gaites as he was readying himself for the Austin Marathon (in which he took 102 overall, 17th in his division), a major qualifier for USATF sponsored athletes.

Congratulations on your second place at Kaiser Half-Marathon.

Thank you. I was very pleased with how this day went. The conditions were about perfect and the course very conducive to fast running.

How long did you prep for this race?

I ran this race as a tune-up for the Austin Marathon which will be on February 19th. The race was my last hard day before beginning the marathon taper and came at the end of a 16 week build-up from 40 miles per week to about 95 two weeks prior to the half marathon.

Did you have a goal time?

My plan heading into this race was to run the first 5 miles at goal marathon pace (~5:40 per mile), then to let things roll on the downhill section and bring it in under control. My goal for Austin was originally 2:25, but I have had some injury set backs so now I’m gunning for sub 2:30. For Kaiser I was hoping to run around 1:13 and feel good the whole way. I ended up a little faster then that and it felt great. I don’t think that it was marathon pace, but it felt like at least 30K pace. At this point I am very happy with the progress I had made since the Clarksburg Half Marathon.

What was your strategy once you were in the lead pack of four?

I just tried to stick to my pre-race plan and not ruin my chances at a good time in Austin two weeks later. However, I’m a competitive person and I have to admit I wasn’t about to just sit there and let the pack run away either. I just tried to mix it up and keep things under control. I knew the eventual winner, Tom McGlynn, by reputation as he was a 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier so when he made the decisive move at around 9 miles I didn’t try to go with him.

What was the most difficult section of the course for you?

The most difficult section of the course was around mile 8 when the downhill ended and the course set out down the Great Highway. All of a sudden the free ride was over and it took a while to get the legs going under their own steam again.

Did you know your competitors?

I knew Tom McGlynn by reputation and recognized Stephen Donahue from the Bridge to Bridge race.

You won the Bridge-To-Bridge race last year in October 2005. Tell me about the final 400 meters of that race. Were you battling anyone? What was the key to victory? How did you feel after you won?

The Bridge to Bridge race was definitely a highlight of my running year. It’s not often that a runner of my caliber gets to lead an event that large. Really I was quite surprised. I went out with the leaders of the 12K race through three miles in about 15:20. After that, the course for the 7K split off and everyone except me headed for the 12K. The last mile or so was a blast with lots of spectators cheering. My running fitness wasn’t great at the time so I really had to throttle it back after 3 miles since it was all uphill from there, but fortunately by that point the race was already over and I didn’t have to extend myself too far. I was thrilled to win having never really experienced a big road race victory before.

Then in November you won the Clarksburg Half in 1:12:17. That’s a pretty “marquee” race correct? Is that your record mark for the 13.1 distance?

The Clarksburg Half is actually pretty low key. This was the first year it was run I believe. The 30K, which is run concurrently, is the marquee event. Several of my Transports teammates ran this race and three of them averaged a faster pace over the 30K then I did over the half. They are animals. This was none the less a great race for me, my first half marathon, and current PR. It was a real turning point for me, and showed me that my best running days might not all be behind me yet. My girlfriend was even the second women’s finisher in the half. Neither of us could run a cool down afterwards.

You ran 20 (15:56) seconds faster at the Zippy 5K than at the Jamba Juice Banana Man 5K–what was the difference between these two races?

These two races are actually very similar. The Zippy course is probably slightly harder because it rolls a little more around Stowe Lake. Right before Zippy I was in really good shape and competing seriously in triathlons (which I had taken up after a series of frustrating running injuries). I was not doing a ton of running, maybe 35 miles per week, but the fitness from biking and swimming carried over. Before Jamba Juice I was sort of on a break after the triathlon season and actually had a pretty bad case of the flu I was just getting over. Sara Bei, the woman’s winner walked me down like I was standing still in the last 100 meters on the track at Kezar.

(See the pack, be the pack, beat the pack. Gaites 4th from left)

Do you have a favorite racing distance?

I prefer the 2 mile/3200M/3000M races. Unfortunately, you never really get a chance to run them after high school, except indoors. In reality I’m too slow to be competitive at such a short distance, but it’s still my favorite. It’s long enough for some strategy, but short enough to really feel like your flying.

What’s your favorite place to train in the Bay Area?

I try to get out to Marin County most weekends for a good trail run. I used to live in Fairfax and my favorite trails start from the Deer Park school off of Bolinas/Fairfax road. These trails have great views, plenty of hills, nice soft trails, and minimal weekend traffic. Now that I live in San Francisco I do most of my running in Golden Gate Park on all the little trails. I try to avoid the roads like the plague to ward off injury.

Had any injuries in the past two years? If yes, what did you do to recover?

I have had a string of frustrating injuries over the last couple of years. My college career ended when I ruptured my Lateral Meniscus in my right knee. It took me almost two years to really get back into running after that as my engineering career started to take off and I didn’t have a team anymore. Once I took running up again in 2004 I got about six months of good training in and just started to get back under 16 for 5K when I got a bad case of Achilles Tendonitis. After that was finally better, my knee started to bother me again. I was frustrated enough to switch sports to triathlon last summer which actually turned out to be a great experience. The cross training got me really fit and I built a big base with the swimming and cycling. Since I started the push for the marathon in October I have been pretty good injury wise, but the ever persistent ache in my knee has kept me from really laying on the mileage like I want to.

Where did you grow up? What high school? Any special achievements in high school running?

I grew up in the town of Sag Harbor, NY. The town is most famous for being located in the middle of famous “Hamptons” out on Long Island. The tee shirts call it the “Un-Hampton”. Unfortunately, unlike many of the other people who live in my town, I am neither rich nor famous. I ran for Pierson High School. We had a small team and were lucky to field five people for dual meets. However we had a knowledgeable coach and were actually pretty good. I left high school having at one point held the records for both fastest 5k (16:55 as a senior) and slowest 5K (~26:55 first race as a freshman) on our home course. Both have since been broken by significant amounts

Did you run in college, where? What were the highlights there?

I ran for Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. I was a fairly average runner for NCAA Division I, but was pretty proud to have made it from freshman walk-on to varsity scorer by my senior year. I left school with PR’s around 8:40 in the 3K and 15:00 in the 5K. I finally dipped under 15 on the roads shortly after. I had a pretty good winning streak in small meets my senior year.

How did you join Adidas Transports?

After the Zippy 5K race I was approached by the team captain. He let me know about the team, and it seemed like a pretty good setup as far as having some fast training partners was concerned. I work in the East Bay and until the clocks changed did many of my workouts at Edwards Stadium at UC Berkeley.

What is your personal philosophy towards running?

Two quotes:

“The more I ran, the more talented I became.”, & “2nd place thinks it’s about talent, the winner knows it’s about hard work.”

As a runner with moderate talent at best, I have always had to maintain the attitude that if I was going to ever win I was just going to have to work harder and keep at it longer than my more talented peers. I’ve come to realize that my talent is that I really enjoy running and I can keep doing it when a lot of my competitors throw in the towel.

Any other interests or obsessions outside of running? Are you in a band? Do you vote?

My first sport is surfing. I grew up in the ocean, and don’t think I could ever live more than maybe 25 miles from either coast. I also have always been into sailing. My dad taught me as a kid, and I worked as a sailing instructor every summer all through high school and college. Someday maybe I’ll have enough money to buy my own boat. At work I’m an engineer, and it’s no accident. I like all kinds of geeky stuff like robotics (I was a member of the robotics team in high school), Mensa puzzles, brain teasers, the show Myth Busters, etc… I also like (cheap, small) sports cars like E30 BMW’s and Miata’s. I currently have a nice yellow Miata that I like to work on. I voted in both the presidential elections for which I was eligible to vote (to no avail unfortunately), and plan to vote in this years mid-term elections.

How long have you been sporting the eyebrow ring?

I’ve had the eyebrow ring about 4 years. I got it in college where my mother couldn’t complain. I needed something to shake up my skinny geek look.

Craig Gaites Stats (race/place/time/pace)

Kaiser-Permanente Hal-Marathon 02-05-06

Run to the Far Side 10K 11/27/2005

Clarksburg Half Marathon 11/13/2005

Bridge To Bridge 7K 10/2/2005

Jamba Juice 5K Banana Man Chase 9/18/2005

Zippy 5K – Men 5/8/2005