Saturday, June 2, 2007

A word with Graham Cooper, before Western States

I caught up with Graham shortly after we finished the Ohlone 50K. We ran together from mile 9 to 13. I then told him that, if he'd wait for me at the finish, I'd like to interview him for UltraFondus, a francophone ultra running magazine. Eventually, I didn't have to wait too long for Graham at the finish, he was just 3 minutes behind! Oh well, it was only a short 50K for him, not to mention the Davis Double Century he had run yesterday (200-mile bike race)...

[Below are my own pictures. You can find more pictures of Graham at Western States last year in his photo album.]

So, Graham, the big question: after winning Western States last year, ready for this year, for a double?

I don't know about a double, but I am in decent shape. I felt good last week at Quick Silver 50 miles, beating the course record by a couple minutes. I went for a 200-mile hilly bike ride yesterday, and today at Ohlone I improved my time from last year by six minutes. So I'm feeling pretty good.

Last year, you took a 5-month break between jobs and focused so much on training for Western States. How did your new job impact your training this year?

This year I mostly trained early in the morning, before going to work. The family has been very sympathetic and understanding. Hilary and I have a 5-year old boy and 6-yr girl. I'm the CFO of a biotech company in San Diego, flying down there from Oakland for 4 days a week (Monday-Thursday). While there, I can focus on work and training. Some days while in San Diego, I can get in double days, adding an evening training session, such as biking or rowing. I miss my family, but not having to get home for dinner has its benefits.

Typical training week?

I only run 60 miles a week.

"Only" 60 miles? Isn't Tim Twitmeyer running even less while training?

I'm not sure about Tim, I think he was running more the years he won Western States. I'm just not one of those guys who can go out and run 100+ miles a week. But again, I cross train quite a lot too. I actually don't keep a log, I don't plan any workouts. I run and train for the fun of it, and I do whatever I feel like doing on any given day.

How did you get into running?

I have been running since age 9. I ran the San Francisco marathon at 13 (in 3:24). My dad was running marathons and got me involved. I got to Berkeley for College and stopped running. In 2002 a friend wanted to run the San Francisco marathon and asked me to train with him. So I got back into shape and even ran Skyline 50K that year. I was 32. And then I found that I was doing better than runners with 100K or 100-mile race tshirts. So I figured out I may try longer distances. I ran the Helen Klein 50-mile in 2004 and qualified for Western States. Got picked in the lottery the following year, 2005, the first time I applied.

How did your first Western States go?

I really enjoyed it and took it easy at the start. I was 104th at the Lyon Ridge aid station. Then down to 43rd by Foresthill (mile 62, or 100K), and kept passing runners to finish 18th overall. Got lucky again with the 2006 lottery. So, in January, I left Deutsche Bank and spent 5 months training.

Were you planning to win last year?

No. I knew I was in a good shape, but I didn't want to feel and have to handle the pressure. As a matter of fact, Brian (Morisson) was 6 minute ahead of me by No Hands Bridge (mile 96.5). Technically he finished 12 minutes before me so I think he pushed harder than he needed to. I think some of the pressure came from the fact Scott (Jurek, 7 consecutive wins at WS from 1999 to 2005) was there.

Brian Morisson at the famous "Dick (Wedge)'s car wash", at Last Chance (June 24, 2006)

Anyway, upon finishing, I was resting and my pacer Suzie Lister whispered that something happened. She heard Brian collapsed on the Auburn track, right before the finish, and got support from Scott and his pacer to pass the line. But we had to wait until the WS Board of Directors meet to decide if Brian was getting disqualified or not. And a few of the Directors were actually on the course, either running or volunteering, so we had to wait until 11am on Sunday morning before knowing the final result.

Graham at the Last Chance aid station, mile 43, in 2006

And for this year, who are your contenders? I exchanged emails with Brian, he is quite upbeat.

Yes, Brian came last year to win, but it's a lot of pressure. Very different from just running your best. There is also Andy Jones-Wilkins who came second to Scott (Jurek) in 2005. Sim Jae-Duk from Korea. And then Lon Freeman, who just smashed the course record Carl Andersen had set at Miwok 100K 8 years ago (see Scott Dunlap's interview). Erik Skaden is also running well, and he finished 2nd last year. The field is quite open this year. As for me, I'd just like to finish in the top 10.

Eric Skaden at Last Chance (June 24, 2006)

Who is crewing and pacing you? We read that crews and pacers should be prepared for their runner being mean to them during a race.
How does that play for you?

My wife, Hilary, is crewing. She is joined by two friends, Chris and Cindy Hook. They didn't know anything about ultra, didn't do any themselves, but they have learnt very fast and do a terrific job.

My pacer from Foresthill to the river is Dan Williams. Dan holds 18 silver buckles, the third highest number after Tim's 25 record and Gordy 21. Dan is 58 and he has so much experience and knowledge on this course. I think he'll be a great pacer. I'm also going to have my father there to pace me in the last seven miles.

And, no, I'm not mean to them, I'm actually pretty easy going. You really have to take it easy during a run, not get upset if something doesn't turn out as planned, and not get into the blaming game. But my crew is very organized, very efficient. They don't make many mistakes.

A word on your running equiment? You ran in Brooks today, are they sponsoring you? You always have the same logo on your shirt, what is it?

Yes, I run in Brooks Adrenaline shoes, road shoes. More cushioning and they come in narrow width which I like. But I'm not sponsored. I don't want the pressure which comes with it.

The logo? That's the Olympic Club, a sporting club in San Francisco, actually the oldest in the US, established in 1860. The logo is called "Winged O".

What are your long term plans in ultra?

As long as I remain in the top 10 and get an automatic entry, I'd like to run Western States.

In addition I'd like to do an Ultraman, a double Ironman. I've done a few Ironmans. I'm not a good swimmer, but a decent biker and a decent runner.

We crossed alpine-style meadows today, any plan and interest in running ultras in the French or Swiss Alps? The Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc?

Good question! I actually ran the Chamonix marathon a few years ago and really love Chamonix. So yes, I'd very much like to go back and run over there again.

I may see you there, some of my friends are asking me to setup a trip there in 2008, as Agnès and I know the area very well.

Thank you, Graham, you definitely are in a top shape this season again. I'm amazed at your athletic achievements, yet how cool you are with regard to your training and while racing. Seems like it's all about numbers at work, but not in your training program.
All the best for Western States. I'll see you at the start, and at the training camp next week!

PS: wondering why so many pictures from Last Chance? My running club has been manning the station for 25 years (26th this year), and I've been the captain for the last 4 years.


Anonymous said...

Graham, I love your training plan, take off work...dont have a as far as you feel that day..only 60 miles a week...and ultimately have fun! That is how a Wahsatchspeedgoat does it too, run well this year my man, and don't get caught up going to fast early, it's all about the second half. Baaaahhhh, 3 scrapes

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...


Thanks for the wonderful interview with Graham Cooper. You told me about it at Ohlone 50K finish and I eagerly waited for it.

I've been in a few races with Graham, but he was always far ahead of me, (actually won them and set course records). Glad to know this great, low-key, and easy-going athlete. Wish him run his best in WS100!

Thanks for you and Stevens Creek Strider at Last Chance, even if I have not had chance to be in WS100.


Rajeev said...


Thank you for a great interview. Congratulations on your Ohlone win.

Graham - Good luck at WS. I hope you repeat your win from last year.


willgotthardt said...

Excellent Jean/Graham...enjoyed the interview. Best to you both in WS100 '07.

Cheers, Will G.

Jean Pommier said...

Karl, thanks for stopping by. Of course, you'd get bets on a win too, would you be in the starters list!
I'm curious: has the lottery prevented you from running States, or too many 100-milers in the US to pick from?
Keep flying on the trails!

Anonymous said...

Jean, thanks for sending us this link. I'm truly amazed at how much cross-training Graham and Lon do! Good job at Ohlone; maybe I'll see you at WS!

Cialis said...

That was a great interview!

Elliott Broidy said...

How awesome!