By David VergunJuly 5, 2016
EUGENE, OREGON (Army News Service) -- Spc. Shadrack Kipchirchir and Spc. Leonard Korir qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games by finishing second and third respectively in the 10,000-meter men's finals at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track & Field, held July 1, in Eugene, Oregon. Their times were 28:01.52 and 28:16.97.
Veteran runner Galen Rupp racked up his eighth 10-K title with a time of 27:55.04.
The fourth-place runner, Scott Fauble, came in some distance behind Korir, at 28:45.53, so it was mainly a battle between the top three runners -- and only the top three were eligible to qualify for the Olympics.
Kipchirchir explained the race strategy he and teammate Korir used, noting that they ran the 10-K on their own terms, not swayed by the pack that bunched out ahead for the first part of the race.
Rather, he said, they ran at their own pace, using experience as their guide. Eventually, the herd out in front tired from expending their energy so early and after several laps, Kipchirchir broke out, passing them one by one, followed later by Korir. Rupp, however, maintained his lead pretty much throughout, with Kipchirchir close on his heels for a time.
Kipchirchir and Korir's coach, 2004 Olympian at Athens and Oregon Army National Guard Maj. Dan Browne, explained the importance of placing:
"Everyone dreams of competing in the Olympic games," he said. "The Olympic trials have a pressure about them that in some ways is even greater than the Olympic games because in order to medal at the Olympics, you've first got to become an Olympian and it's that status of being an Olympian that all these athletes are dreaming of. It's a huge test of mind, body and spirit. There's a lot of pressure out there."
Both Kipchirchir and Korir, along with Spc. Paul Chelimo, are scheduled to race in the 5,000-meter men's preliminary, July 4, and possibly move on to the finals, July 9, in Eugene. That gives them a chance to capture a second U.S. Olympic team spot.
Chelimo said he wishes his teammates well in the 5-K. He said he has a slight advantage because he's had more rest since competing in the World Indoor 3-K in March and Kipchirchir and Korir will have had just two days' rest before tackling the 5-K.
Kipchirchir agreed with Chelimo that more rest would have been nice between the 10-K and 5-K races, particularly since the July 1 race was "brutal," with a stiff wind and temperatures in the upper 80s F.
However, Kipchirchir said he and teammate Korir are still in their peak-zone, meaning their bodies and mind are primed for the 5-K. They're especially motivated to repeat their performance, he said, after this win. "An opportunity like this comes just once in four years."
"The Army gave us a job to do and we're going to do it right and compete and fight hard in the 5-K," he added.
OTHER ARMY ATHLETES
A fourth Soldier, Staff Sgt. John Nunn, won the 20-K race walk, June 30. Although his time of 1:25:36.10 was not fast enough for Olympic qualification, he placed in the 50-K event in Santee, California, earlier this year, so his ticket too is punched for Rio.
Browne explained that it's not always enough to win the trials -- that an international standard time must be met by athletes in order to compete in the Olympic games. He noted that Nunn's stronger race is the 50-K anyway, so he should do well in that.
Other Soldiers who have shots at winning a place on the Olympic team are Spc. Marcus Maxey, who will compete in the 110-meter hurdles July 8, and Sgt. Hillary Bor, who will compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, July 4.
WINS FOR THE ARMY
Kipchirchir said he and Korir dedicated the 10-K to Soldiers everywhere on the Fourth of July weekend, marking their dedication and sacrifice, the race being a token of that.
"That's the best way we could honor them," he said. "We're fighting for them."
Browne explained what it takes to make a winning team. It's not unlike everyday missions that the Army accomplishes, he said. There's a long-term strategy leading up to taking the objective, or in this case, peaking.
An important part of peak-performance training is incorporating recovery phases into the hard training. Brutal workouts are only effective if the body can recover enough to adapt to it, he said.
"If you just break the body down continually and don't allow it to rebound, you don't become better," he said. The same principle applies to designing an effective physical fitness program for Soldiers everywhere, he said.
Although there are basic physical fitness principles that are used in any effective training program, Browne's Soldiers get a dose of specialized training not usually found in Army fitness regimens.
About a month out from the race, Browne took his Soldiers to Mammoth Lakes, California, to a training camp roughly 8,500 feet in elevation. There they lived and trained for about three weeks.
Browne explained the importance of training and living at high altitude, defined as about 8,000 feet above sea level and higher.
At high elevations, the bone marrow produces more red blood cells, he said. More red blood cells aid in increasing oxygen uptake efficiency, which is more difficult at higher elevations since there's less oxygen present the higher one goes.
It takes a few weeks for the body to produce the surplus red blood cells and adapt. That's why the Soldiers live and train there for that length of time, he said.
However, remaining at high altitude for longer than a month seems to diminish the benefits because in that harsh and demanding environment, the body's energy reserves become depleted, he said.
When the Soldiers come down to lower elevations like Eugene to race, the additional red blood cells acquired increase the Soldiers' aerobic capacity and they can train and run with much less fatigue than they would otherwise experience, he said.
Once at lower elevations, though, the body starts signaling to get rid of the extra blood cells, he explained. That process starts early on but the benefits don't completely diminish for several weeks.
That's why timing is everything, Browne explained. The Soldiers need to get to high-altitude living and training at just the right time and duration before a race.
There's one other aspect of high-altitude training, a principle known as "high-low training," he said. Although athletes live and train at high altitude, there are brief moments when they descend to about 4,000 feet to speed run. As soon as they finish the , they immediately return to high elevations where slower runs are scheduled.
While the "high-low" aspect has been adopted in the world of elite professional runners, Browne's Soldiers respond differently, he said.
Kipchirchir, Korir and Chelimo grew up in Kenya in the high-altitude area of the Rift Valley. As a result, their bodies were naturally accustomed to higher elevations, so some of their fast-run training was done at high altitude at Mammoth Lakes. "I grew up in Portland so I wouldn't have responded to the type of training like they did," Browne said.
There are only a few places in America where high-low training is feasible, meaning having the right facilities, Browne said. Besides Mammoth Lakes, there's Park City, Utah and Flagstaff, Arizona.
MENTAL & PHYSICAL FACTORS
Running is as much a mental activity as it is a physical one, Browne said. "Unlocking the mind's potential has a direct result on their physical performance," he said.
To do that, a coach must learn what makes each athlete tick. It's very much an art as well as a science, he said. "My job is developing confidence in them that beyond a doubt they belong on that line and they're here to win and they're mentally and physically capable of winning."
That they succeeded is a testament to those mind and body factors, he said. Of course to get to their level also requires a genetic component.
Successful athletes must learn to become accustomed to a certain amount of pain, both in training as well as in races, Browne said. It comes with the territory.
"I was not the most talented distance runner, but I always tried to be tough," he said. "If you can accept that and be excited about that painful process of getting faster and faster to accomplish your goal; if you can embrace that, I think the potential is unlimited."
TRIAD OF PERFORMANCE
Browne saluted the Army's emphasis on Performance Triad -- the importance of sleep, activity and nutrition as a path to becoming fit and resilient.
The night prior to the race, Browne said his Soldiers got a good night's sleep.
Besides that, they're incredibly disciplined about what they eat, how much they eat, and the nutritional quality of their food, he said. It's something all Soldiers and their families could benefit from learning to do.
Browne said that while he and other coaches keep up with the science and research of training, they still don't have all the answers.
"I find it intriguing when I'm at a starting line and I see people who look all the same, maybe within 5 pounds of each other," he observed. "Then all of a sudden you see someone who looks completely different. What makes him tick and how can he compete against all these other guys that are basically similar? I don't have the answer to that, but I suspect that the difference is in the mind."
Being a Soldier and a coach is the same as being a Soldier and working in any specialty, Browne said. It all comes down to accomplishing the mission, he said. "My mission just happens to be guiding Soldiers to medal at the Olympic games."
EDITOR'S NOTE: As of press time July 4, Chelimo and Kipchirchir both made the preliminary 5-K race and will advance to the finals.