Sean is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. And along with his uber friendly personality comes a humility that might allow you to believe that he leads a pretty chill life – nothing out of the ordinary from the average 24 year old. That is, until you get to know him more, and you find out that he not only runs for the ASICS Aggies, but he runs fast. Taking days off from work here and there, one might never suspect that he’s competing across the country with elite runners, unless some prodding is done.
So here I am. Prodding away. I had the opportunity to ask Sean some questions about his running career, and he was gracious enough to provide me with answers that not only give us insight into his running career, but also shed light on some of the challenges that many collegiate runners face post graduation.
Tell me your running background.
My running career began my freshman year at Royal High School; I joined the long distance team mainly because some of my best friends were doing it. My first one-mile race was what got me hooked on the competition and I haven’t looked back since. I loved everything about it: the team camaraderie, the sense of achievement, the satisfaction that comes with being able to push the limits of my physical and mental ability, and the list goes on. After four good years at Royal, I went on to run for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and now I run for the Asics Aggies, continuing to train in SLO while working full-time at Running Warehouse.
What were your college PRs?
- 1500: 3:53
- Mile: 4:08
- 3000: 8:08
- 5000: 14:17
- 8000 (cross country): 23:30
- 10000: 29:08
Is it easier or harder to set aside time to train and run now that you are no longer in college but working a full time job?
Definitely harder. Being a student that typically took 12 units a quarter, I rarely had more than 4 hours of class a day and sometimes no class on Fridays. This afforded me a lot more time to focus on training. However, working a 9-5 job usually means you have to find time to run super early or late in the evening, while doing maintenance work at lunch. This type of schedule can be pretty demanding during peak training blocks.
How hard was it to get plugged in to a local running club?
The transition from my college team to the Aggies was near seamless. My college coach, Mark Conover, is a good friend with the coach of the Aggies, Joe Rubio. Not one week after my graduation I was in contact with Joe and I’ve been a proud member of this club ever since.
With a college team, you have the same group of guys that you run with day in and day out for a number of years. After college you don’t always have a group (such as the Aggies) to run with. How has having a group of guys to run with kept your motivation high? How important is it to run with others, or do you like to run alone?
These guys are important to me as any other factor that keeps me running. It really all has to do with training partners. Being on a team with elite athletes like Scott and Phil helps keep me humble and realize how much more there is to achieve in this sport post-collegiately.
Having a group of teammates competing at every level gives this club the feel of a college team, and it makes the whole experience so much richer. They are also friends – people I can confide in – and they understand my struggles and successes. They are also competitors that push me farther than I think I can go. I try to picture running 5-6 mile repeats at 4:45 pace by myself and it seems impossible. But with these guys, it’s just another Saturday workout.
Without these guys to run with I feel like I easily could have seen the end of my running career shortly after college. They help keep me motivated on off days, push me harder than I think I can go, and I’m also privileged to call them my good friends. We have team BBQs, a silly group text, and travel together for races. They are a huge part of what has made the sport of running so enjoyable for me.
When you run post-collegiately, there is a lack of different resources such as a gym/fitness center and an athletic trainer. Now, when injured, you have to seek out medical help from different areas instead of having someone on site. What challenges have you faced in this arena?
Ironically, I never really had a serious injury that prevented me from training during college, when all the resources were available to me. Post-collegiately, however, I feel like I tweak something every other week. It’s tough because in any given area there’s a ton of massage therapists and chiropractors, and you have to go through this trial and error period to know which ones are right for you. And there’s also the factor of paying them large amounts of money per hour if your insurance doesn’t cover their services. This is all completely new territory for me, but in a way I’m glad I’ve had to go through it all because it’s really helped me understand running related injuries more, so I can pass some knowledge on to others.
When you raced in college, you had a coach that picked the schedule based on the need of the team. After college, you have more freedom to pick your own schedule, but this can lead to over-racing as you chase prize money or a lack of focus as you try to figure out what you want to accomplish. What have you found to be the challenge in this, personally?
This is also new and frightening territory, because sometimes I don’t feel like I know what’s best for me. Communication with my teammates and coach has been crucial in figuring out a schedule every season, but at the end of the day there’s never been a race I’ve regretted participating in. It was extremely tough at first, because I had no idea what any of the races were about, but I’ve found you really just have to experience as much as you can to get an understanding of what the racing circuit looks like. Once I familiarized myself with a lot of the races that go on, it made the decision process a whole lot simpler.
How much do you train on a weekly basis? Is it more or less than you did while you were in college?
I typically try to get in about 80-85 miles a week, which is about the same as I did in college. I’ve wanted to increase it up to 90-something for a while but it’s tough to balance running and work without overdoing it. I’m glad I’ve been able to still find success at my current weekly mileage.
How are your goals shifting as you pursue professional running after college?
My goal remains the same – to be the very best like no one ever was and really just keep improving. My expectations have always been pretty lofty. If I don’t get a personal best at a certain race distance, a part of me is going to be disappointed regardless of race conditions or preparation. However, right now I’m really just setting up baselines for myself since I only started road racing about a year ago. Professional running has broadened my scope – I never thought I would run a half marathon or marathon this early in my life, but being on this team afforded me that opportunity and I’m very grateful for that.
What has been the most memorable race you’ve run since college?
For my most memorable race, I feel inclined to say the Olympic Trials Marathon. It was probably one of my worst race performances. I was hurting more than I ever have, and eventually had to drop out at mile 20. Halfway into the race, I was going slower than I have ever run in a race and got to the point where I was barely able to jog. It was such a humbling experience, but a real privilege to be a part of an event of that magnitude.
What has been your best race since running with the Aggies?
My best race with the Aggies was the Jax Bank Half Marathon that gave me my qualifying time for the Olympic Trials. I don’t think I could think of another point in my life where I was more focused on a goal than this race – it was sub-65 minutes or bust. The race was set up perfectly for guys near the qualifying standard to surpass it, and it was paced to perfection. All I had to do was hang on for dear life. I remember going into the last 250 meters of the race knowing I would qualify for the Trials, and it was such an incredible relief to see my training and determination culminate to this single moment.
What is the next race on your radar?
The next fun race I’m doing is the Bay to Breakers 12K. Just as in past years, we get 13 of us Aggies tied together with bungee cords and race like a centipede. The next serious race I’m looking at is a 10K at the Portland Track Festival on June 11.