Q & A: Marathoner Desiree Davila
Desiree Davila, Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher celebrate while holding American flags after the U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials January 14, 2012.
Desiree Davila is the smallest and most experienced member of the 2012 US women’s Olympic marathon team. The 5-foot-2, 100-pound runner has already competed in seven marathons and on August 5, she will line up on the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace to try to become the first American to earn an Olympic marathon medal since 2004.
Until then, Davila’s most famous race will remain the 2011 Boston Marathon where she engaged in a gritty battle over the final miles with Caroline Kilel of Kenya. Davila lost by 2 seconds, but her time of 2:22:38 made her the third-fastest American woman in history at that distance.
On Thursday, TeamUSA.org caught up with Davila in New York City as she prepared for her final race before London: an all-women’s 10K in Central Park on Saturday called the “New York Mini.”
With 59 days before your Olympic debut, at what point are you in your marathon training?
We’re really just getting started in marathon-specific training. Monday [June 4] was my first workout at marathon pace. It was six [repeats] of one-and-a-half miles – so nine miles of work – at 5:24 to 5:25 per mile. I always feel like I’m a little bit behind, but it always works out. The flip between building into it and being in it is pretty quick. There’s not much backing down.
You may be ramping up now, but when do you start going down the other side?
About one month out, we do 26.2 kilometers. That’s our simulator. Each “K” represents a mile. It essentially simulates the last half of a marathon. Because you’re [still] on a 120-mile week. That’s the idea behind it. We have three big workouts following that, and about two [weeks before the marathon] we really back down. Our taper is 85-90 miles that week. It’s not traditional taper like a 60-mile week that feels so fresh. You kind of have to keep the body in a routine, otherwise you just end up lethargic.
What kinds of things do you like to pay attention to when you’re training? Does how you feel matter?
On a day-to-day basis, I think evaluating how you feel turns out to be kind of a bad thing. You’re in marathon training. You should be dong heavy mileage, you should be tired, and your legs should feel flat. A lot of people are like: ‘I don’t have that pop in my leg. I want to feel a little bit quicker. My legs don’t feel fresh.’ That’s the kind of thing we’re trying to get rid of in marathon training – until the very end when you hope it comes back. You’re trying to run on tired legs every day so if you evaluate it all the time, you just end up upsetting yourself.
The 2008 and 2012 Olympic qualifier Ryan Hall is trying to self-coach his way to an Olympic medal. How much do you lean on your coaches, Keith and Kevin Hanson?
I rely heavily on them. I just really trust in their program. If I have a question or don’t like the way something is, they’ll explain it, and I’ll be like: “Okay, I get it. They’re always right – which is annoying.”
Does one Hanson brother train you more than the other?
Nope, they’re like the same person. They do everything together.
Mention “Hanson Brothers” and a lot of people immediately think of the comedic characters from the movie “Slap Shot.” How would you describe the two?
They’re super intense. They’re detail guys. If you want to know anything about the turns in London, those are the guys to ask. They have charts and mapped out a similar course at our park. It has, like, nine hard right turns – not exactly – but it’s really similar. They know all that stuff.
Kevin is older, and they’re totally brothers – they’re competitive about everything. If we’re driving to the airport in separate cars, they’re racing to get there. They don’t verbalize it, but when you get to the airport it’s like, “Get your bags. Hurry up,” because they want to beat the other one. They do that with everything.
Does it make you laugh or does it make you more competitive?
A little bit of both. Depends on the day. Most of the time it’s pretty funny. But when they’re coaching me, it’s relaxed. It’s not like work when you get to the track. It’s a lot of fun. It makes it easy.
Have you been training at all with your Olympic marathon teammates Kara Goucher or Shalane Flanagan?
No, they’re out in Portland, [Oregon]. We’re staying in Michigan. I’ve been with the Hansons-Brooks training group for seven years. Since right out of college [Arizona State]. We’re a marathon-specific group of five to seven women, and some men.
How many times have you seen the London course?
Last year, I ran a 5k on the track over there. We went eight or 10 days early. Didn’t talk about it, just got on the course every day.
Before you even made the team?
Yes. And this year, during the London marathon, I got on it a couple of times so I know it well enough.
Kara said it’s really turny. It’s a rhythm-breaker. Does that suit your style?
It is a rhythm-breaker. I don’t really think it really suits anyone. But Kevin has set up a course that simulates that to get used to that change in rhythm and get better at it.
Do you still think about your Boston second place?
It’s motivating. It makes you want to get out and get it right next time. The last six miles are so tricky. Mile 25 was slower than it should have been, but I competed the best I could on that day.
It’s definitely changed my mentality. I [proved I] can compete at the front, and I can contend for a win in a major race. That helps.
[Note: there will be no Kilel-Davila rematch in London because Kilel wasn’t selected for the 2012 Kenyan Olympic team.]
You’ll be turning 29 during the Olympics, on July 26. Are you a birthday person?
No, not at this age.
Any plans, though?
Actually, Keith [Hanson] and I will fly into Paris and stay there a few days to get used to the time change without having to go through all the processing stuff right away. So I’ll just be in Paris with Keith – which is really boring. (laugh) Maybe I’ll make him take me out to dinner.
Are you injury free?
I had a little thing bothering me after the B.A.A. 5K [in Boston in April] so we changed the schedule, and now I’m fine. It was on the outside of the left foot, some stress on the fifth metatarsal, and that can go bad real quick. We were gearing up for track season, and running a 10K on the track just seemed like a bad decision. If you turn 25 laps hard in spikes, it seemed like: Why risk that?
What’s the best advice you’ve received as you look forward to your Olympic debut?
We had a summit in Palo Alto to go over a bunch of different things. Dr. Dave Martin – who wasn’t there but does a lot of science with the USATF – has a great quote. He says, “Capture the electricity of the event without being electrocuted by it.” I think that’s perfect advice.
Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.