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Parker Stinson on Goals, Training and Motivation (When it Doesn't Come Easy)

Saucony pro runner Parker Stinson had a breakthrough year in 2019. He set a new US 25K record of 1:13:48 and dropped his marathon PR to 2:10:53 at Chicago. He was ranked 7th going into the marathon trials before he announced that an injury would prevent him from racing. Then the world shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fleet Feet talked with Stinson about his racing style, what it was like to miss out on the trials and his strategy for healthy training when racing is off the table.

Fleet Feet: How did you start running?

Parker Stinson: I was super active, and did a lot of sports growing up. We would have fun runs at school where whoever did the most laps won a golden pair of shoes for the classroom. I got into it with that.

Then, my sister was training for club soccer with our Dad in the off season to increase her fitness. They went out for runs together, and I wanted to come along and be a part of it. I was four years younger, but when we ran I always wanted to go faster than them. …. They would go so slow. When my Dad would agree to let me pick up the pace, I would take off. And that came naturally to me. Plus, I enjoyed being faster than my sister!

FF: So it started as a sibling rivalry?

PS: Yeah, for sure. It felt good to be noticed and to be good at something. At an early age, I also saw that it was different from team sports, where you can work hard and bust your butt and you still don’t win. You’re dependent on your other teammates.

So I was really drawn to the individual aspect of running, even as a little kid. Like, if I showed up to more practices and worked harder I saw myself getting better. I also loved building toward something. Even as an 11- or 12-year-old, I noticed that. It’s addicting in a way.

FF: You said you felt like you were “noticed” when you ran. Can you tell us more about what you mean by that?

PS: Instantly at school I became the kid who could run and was good at it. I was good at other sports too, but I wasn’t the best. And to be known as the best at something while growing up? That’s a nice thing to have. I felt like I belonged somewhere.

When I was running, it always made me feel like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

FF: If you think back to when you were running with your Dad and sister, what did it feel like when you would take off and run fast ahead of them? Do you ever feel like “raw” love of just running as hard as you can now?

PS: We lived on top of a hill. Running up that hill, well, it feels like when I’m having a good race now. I’d get to the top of the hill, and be in a lot of pain, but I’d think that I could push harder. I could pour on more pain, and keep taking it. And that's still relevant. I’ve gotten older and faster and better, but it’s still the same kind of feeling. I can always push a little bit more. That’s what I've always loved about running. When you hit it right, you get into that flow state.

FF: You say you have a really aggressive racing style. Tell us about that and the idea of “pouring on the pain” or “pushing harder.”

PS: Racing is about pain management and doing your best. I like to run aggressive because it helps me make sure I got the best out of myself that day by managing the most pain.

So, I don’t like sitting back and feeling super easy the whole race, although that can lead to success. When I’m being aggressive and pushing up against pain, it makes me feel like I'm living in the present moment a lot.

FF: Bringing that mentality into the current situation: Do you find that mentality useful in the middle of a pandemic, to navigate uncertainty?

PS: Yeah, I don’t know if it does help. I think that it makes it hard for me, to be honest. I’m someone who likes to live in those exciting moments and push myself. And there’s not much to do right now. So it's tough.

FF: How do you navigate that?

I know there will be big races again someday. I know that when they start happening again I’ll be ready for them. Right now it’s just tough. It’s tough to stay motivated. It’s almost a “damned it you do, damned if you don’t.” You don’t want to be crushing it too much. You want to work on bettering yourself and being a more holistic athlete, but for me, big city marathons are what I get excited about.

But the worst thing I could do right now is to spend my time thinking about a big city marathon that probably isn’t going to happen. Because then I run the risk of running out of excitement and momentum. Right now, I’m just in the same boat with everyone else. I’m looking at other areas of life, spending time developing new hobbies.

FF: What have you been doing lately?

PS: I’ve been playing Call of Duty with friends, and some other games where we wear headsets and talk to each other. I live in Boulder. I’ve been going on a ton of hikes, too. I’ve never really been a hiking person, but I live in Boulder, Colo., so I’ve been taking advantage of all that the area has to offer. I’ve also done some rock climbing and scrambling, white water rafting … you know, all the outdoorsy Boulder things.

FF: Do you think anything you’re learning to do now will it help you when you get back into race season?

PS: Yeah, I think so. I already made a big step forward in the marathon last year that was less of a physical breakthrough, and more of a mental one. I’m learning to not be as aggressive, become comfortable feeling comfortable and toning it down a little bit when I need to.

This time is more practice at that. I can’t get too excited about anything right now. What if I started crushing my training, and ended up with an injury right when races start again? Then I’d be out for three months during races when I could have been patient, chilling, during the three months when no one was racing. I think remembering all of that, and not pushing hard all of the time will help me with my marathon demeanor and in life after running.

FF: Speaking of injuries, you were injured and didn’t get to run in the Olympic Marathon Trials. Can you talk a little about what happened after the trials in February and how you felt going into quarantine?

It’s been unbelievably hard. Dealing with an injury, then missing the trails. I was in really good shape, then I was dealing with that injury. On top of such a tough time in human history. It’s been incredibly hard, and really lonely. I lost my job, my passion. I can’t be around friends and family as much.

That said, I know it's going to help me in the long run for sure. But man, it’s painful and difficult to go through.

It felt so final not to be able to run the trials. I became numb to it. I knew I wasn’t going to get to run the trials but I never really let myself process it because it was such a huge deal to me. I still have only processed it so much. It still seems surreal. It doesn’t seem like it actually happened. You know, the team has been set. And I wasn’t a part of that day.

FF: Thank you for such a truthful answer. Looking ahead, what are your goals for when you can race again?

At this point in my career, and with the way 2019 went, I definitely changed as an athlete with what excites me. I don’t get excited about getting in shape for a little race. Or checking this box or that box. With breaking that record and running great at Chicago, that's what gets me up in the morning, to train. That’s what I think about.

I will have smaller goals, process goals before that. Getting injured doesn’t change who I am and what I’ve done. But I want to run great at the New York City Marathon one of these days. If I had to put a time on it, I’d love to run like 2:08 high, 2:09 low in the marathon. Something else I think would be really cool is I’d love to try to get Greg Myers’s 10-mile American record of 46:13.

So, I still want to do all those things. It might take a long time and it might be a really tough journey to get there, but that’s what does it for me.

FF: So, it sounds like your goals are more inwardly focused than maybe just racing and winning?

PS: Yeah, I do love beating people and stuff, but what I love about running is being faster and better than I’ve ever been. If all you care about is beating people that can be tough because it’s not fair to yourself sometimes. Maybe you executed a perfect race and lived up to your fitness but someone else was just better than you. So, I’ve always loved time goals for that reason.

FF: And what a perfect time to focus on time goals for our readers. With no in-person races on the horizon.

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