Monday, May 23, 2011

Interview: Candice Schneider

This interview is the third in a series of exchanges with local elite runners. These are the men and women who train hard, take their running seriously, and work to compete--and win--on a local and national level. For all of these folks, running is a hobby. None of them make a living doing it. They continue to represent the best of amateurism, the idea that excellence in athletic endeavor is valuable for many reasons beyond financial compensation.

Most of these folks are friends that I have met during my time as a runner. They have offered me untold amounts of training advice, motivated me to get out the door, whipped my butt in races, and shared many a post-run beverage. Though this sort of runner is not famous at a national level, they are often locally known and help establish and maintain local standards of racing and training.


When I first met Candice Schneider, the only indication that she would become a serious road runner and a threat to win races was that, well, she was running with a bunch of folks she had no business running with. And keeping up. I remember talking with her about her 5k PR at the time and thinking, ummm, aren't we running that pace right now? Should I tell her that?

Since then, Candice has dropped almost an hour off of her marathon PR (yes, that's over two minutes a mile.) I think her answers in the interview below will illuminate the work and the mindset that it takes to accomplish such a feat. Candice also talks about living with another runner, her future goals in racing, and keys to being mentally tough in a marathon. Enjoy! (And check out her blog!)

Candice winning the Rockford Half Marathon, just a week ago!

LLD: Briefly describe your running resume. What are the most important moments in your running career thus far?

CS: I have been running since the summer of 2005, but didn’t start taking it seriously until sometime in mid- 2006. Since 2007 I have run 14 marathons and countless races of other distances shorter than the marathon. My first marathon was a 4:03. I was not prepared after going out at 3:40 pace in an attempt to qualify for Boston. My best marathon so far has been 3:09. I’ve been able to take off almost an hour in the distance, and I hope to take off more. I hope to do it soon.

I have a few important moments in my career thus far that stand out to me. The first was running an almost 19 minute PR at the Boston Marathon in 2009. This took my PR of 3:39:17 down to 3:20:25. I still say that I talked myself into it. For months leading up to that race I woke up every morning looking at the post-it note on my bathroom mirror that read simply “3:20.” I trained harder than I ever had. I logged more miles than I ever had. It was the first time I ran weeks at a time without taking even a day off. It was the first time I ran over 80 miles in a week. My then boyfriend (now husband) Ben coached me, trained with me, and paced me on race day. I ran what the post-it note said. I ran it because I talked myself into it. Because every day that I trained for it, I talked myself into it a little bit more.

Ben and Candice, crossing the line at Boston, sub 3:20.

The biggest moment in my running career came later that year when I knocked 10 more minutes off of my marathon PR at the Chicago Marathon. 3:10:48. When I crossed the finish line, I couldn’t believe it. The feeling I had that day is the feeling that keeps me lacing up my shoes and heading out the door. People always jokingly ask if you’re running toward something, or away from something. I’m running toward that feeling. Chasing it down. When you get it, you only get to hold onto it for a little bit. It escapes you, and you have to run it down again. Sometimes it’s just within your reach and you miss as you grasp for it. This makes the day you get it back all the more special.

Had I talked myself into that 3:10, too? I don’t know. There was no post-it note that time. The plan was just to run 3:10. And so that’s what I ran. I have been able to take about 90 seconds off since then, at Twin Cities in the fall of 2010.

I’ve also been lucky enough to win a few 5ks and a couple of half marathons. My dream is to win a marathon. It’ll have to be a small one without a super elite field, of course… but there are plenty of those out there. The closest I’ve came is Flying Monkey in 2009, where I placed 2nd, And Paavo Nurmi in 2010, where I also placed 2nd. A better performance was this year at St. Louis where I was 7th in a more competitive field. I figure If I’m ever able to win a marathon- it will be one of the most important moments in my running career. I want to break the tape. It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but I bet it feels really good.

LLD: I know you run some pretty serious mileage. What's your general approach to training for a marathon?

CS: The key that unlocked the door to my potential as a runner was finding out that simply the more miles I ran, the faster I became. When I’m not training for a marathon I slack off on the mileage a little bit for the sake of recovery. But when I am training for one, I know that I have to go after it hard. I have to run far, I have to run a lot of miles, I have to run daily- most days twice. I also have to make sure I’m getting in enough quality running. Weekly tempos and intervals are a must to remind the legs of their ability to turn over. It all seems to fall into place pretty well. You do things over and over, repetitiveness becomes your comfort. If you feel comfortable, then you feel prepared. And if you feel prepared going into a marathon, mentally, not much can stand in your way.


LLD: Most of the runners that you are racing and competing against had some sort of formal background in running, either in high school or college. Your path has been different. How did you get into running?

CS: I started running as an added form of fitness to my already well established work-out regime. I was doing a lot of kick-boxing and gym-rat type activities just to stay in shape. I was able to start off running 3 or 4 miles at a time right off the bat. It was never a struggle, running came naturally. I think this was due to my background in other sports (soccer, probably). It was a long time before it ever occurred to me that there was a point in running more than 3 or 4 miles a day. Racing had never crossed my mind. Until the one day that I signed up for one, and never looked back.

I wouldn’t say that the runners that I race and compete against necessarily have an advantage with their formal background. I would say that both types of backgrounds have their pros and cons. I can’t speak for runners who do have the high school/college team background . . . I don’t know what that was like or what they have taken away from that that helped shaped them to be the runners they are today. Personally, I find running to be about self. Nobody suffers if I race poorly. Nobody benefits aside from me if I race well. Self is all that I know. It is me, me, and me out there. Would I be a better runner if I had the same background in running as some of the people I race against? Maybe. Maybe not.

I do sometimes wish that Cross Country had been the “cool” sport at my school so that maybe I would have an answer to that. I do think that something I missed out on was the speed base that it would have given me. The marathon is my self-proclaimed distance. My marathon PR is my best. It predicts much faster times for most of my shorter distances. Times that I have not run. Had I run cross country or track, I highly doubt this would be the case. No doubt I would be faster than I am at the moment at every distance.

Some of the ladies who do have this formal background might be able to hand my ass to me in a 5 or 10k, but I’m faster than a lot of them in the marathon. Would I trade? No. And sometimes, yes.

LLD: Building off of your answer to question #3, how did you make the jump from better-than-average midpack runner to the type of runner that wins races? Did it take a shift in mindset or training, or was it just a matter of staying with training over several years? So many people want to make this jump, but relatively few succeed, especially without that team context. Any secrets that you can share?

CS: I have always heard that many people who lose a significant amount of weight at some point in their life tend to look in the mirror and instead of seeing a skinny person- they see a reflection of their former fat self. I have never been overweight myself but I think the same can be applied toward my success with running. I look in the mirror, I see someone who is not fast enough. Every race time is too slow, every workout wasn’t hard enough and every week there just were not enough miles ran. Every race. Every workout. Every week. This is just how my mind works. What does an overweight person do if they really want to lose the weight? They try like hell. Every day, I try like hell. It is the only thing I know to do. I believe the accumulation of miles ran, workouts done, and race experiences have contributed to the jump I have been able to make to the type of runner you speak of who occasionally wins a race or two.


I have always applied this “nothing is ever good enough” approach to life. I think it comes from the way I grew up, and the personalities of the family members I was close to. I once said to someone “I do not come from a long line of athletes, but I come from a long line of people who would have made excellent athletes.” A long line of stubborn, tough, and competitive people who just didn’t accept mediocrity. People who taught me, sometimes unknowingly, that you work hard for what you want. And if you do, you get it.

There is no real secret to getting better. There is no fast track plan for success. Run less, run more, run fast, run slow… You find what makes you your best and you either stick to it and see it through, or you don’t. This is all that I have done. If you wake up one morning and realize that what you’re doing isn’t working anymore, find a new way that works even better.

If you stop believing that you’re slow, you start believing that you don’t have to be. The problem is that most people don’t take the time. They don’t make the effort. And they’re filled with excuses. Otherwise, in most cases they could at least be a hometown hero. Cherry pick a race or two.

LLD: Your position as a competitive runner but also as the wife of a 2:28 marathoner must give you some unique insights into different challenges that men and women face in racing and training. How does your training differ from Ben's? Are you motivated and driven by the same things? Do you race in the same way?

CS: Ben is a completely different beast than I am. The training load he is able to withstand is beyond me. As is his capacity for food intake. Living with Ben is sort of like owning a horse, and I know, because I’ve owned a horse or two. The man was born to do this. His body accepts, responds, and rarely if ever breaks. His will and his mind are equally strong to his body. Actually living with someone and seeing how consecutive 120+ mile weeks affect them really drives home the statement I previously made. You really want to do something, you try like hell. If he’s ever tired from training, it rarely shows. I think that’s the thing that amazes me about him the most. He never lets on. It doesn’t seem to ever affect his life outside of running. I on the other hand get whiny and complain a lot when my mileage is peaking. The girl comes out a bit. But like me, Ben believes. Similar build to that of Chris Solinsky, it just works for him. Solinsky was quoted once saying “Nobody ever told the bumble bee he couldn’t fly.” I don’t think anyone ever told Ben that either.

Being a much slower runner than Ben I have to train a little differently. It doesn’t make sense for me to log 120 mile weeks. I’m not fast enough and it would be a little too much wear and tear on my body as I’d log more hours than him. Running around ~90 miles per week, I’m putting in a similar amount of time in training as he is when he’s just over ~100, probably also putting in a similar amount of tread on the tires. Obviously I’m smaller, more compact, different skeletal and musculoskeletal system. Built entirely different. My body just has different needs and responds differently.

Ben is my biggest inspiration. Knowing that he got out the door for 1 or 2 runs that day is just another motivator for me to do the same. There are no excuses for not getting a run in in our house. You either run, or you don’t. Most likely, the other person ran twice so you’re going to feel lazy if you didn’t at least run once. We’re both super competitive, and that’s what makes us work. It’s what makes our running work. We need to be somewhere in a couple of hours but we need to get a run in… well that’s why we have a couple of hours, right? I know in some relationships where one person is a runner, and the other is not, the non-runner rarely understands the importance or need to bother with a second run or squeezing a run in when there isn’t much time. Or even, running at all! We get it though, because we both hold our running as a priority. If Ben was not a runner, I would be a lot less successful as one.

I think we are similarly motivated and driven. Both being competitive by nature we seek out to “kill and destroy” when racing. I obviously do not know the thoughts that go through Bens head when he’s racing, but I do know that we make similar comments about how we’re going to approach a race, or how we felt about what it was like to battle with someone. Being a much faster runner than I am, Ben typically places or makes a good showing at even the most competitive of races and I know it is often his motivation to do so. We both like to prove ourselves, if only to ourselves. The Twin Cities are home to many top runners, home to Team USA Minnesota and a very competitive team circuit. The fields of the bigger races around here are just brutal. Absolutely brutal! It reminds me of my place, keeping me grounded. I tend to have to focus more on time at races like this more than anything. Whereas when I’m in a smaller race, I like to focus on placement. Focusing on and actually getting to race a human being instead of a clock is always more fun. It feeds the competitive hunger a little more. Something Ben and I both have a huge appetite for.


LLD: I've always thought that your strength as a runner was your toughness on race day. It was an awesome experience running with you for the first miles of your breakthrough race in Chicago. I remember being uncertain as to whether you would make it--you were running hard in the early miles--then shocked to turn around and find you crossing the finish line just after me. What approach do you take for mentally preparing for the marathon?

CS: I think you would be right in saying that typically race day toughness is my biggest strength. I don’t know what it’s like inside the head of other runners, but for me race day toughness comes from the practice of logging a lot of miles, a lot of excruciating long workouts and a lot of long runs. Just getting out there day after day no matter how terrible you feel, and shutting down mentally because of it. Shutting down is just something that comes naturally to me. Your body knows what to do. It knows how fast it can run and for how long it can run that fast. It knows if it can pick it up, or if it needs to slow it down. It doesn’t need your thoughts clouding its judgment.

My best runs are days where I went out for hours but couldn’t tell you anything that I thought about during the run when I returned. Running is primal. Racing a marathon is the most primal. You don’t need to think about it. As humans, we start to overthink when we’re out there. Have I drunk enough Gatorade? Too much water? Do I need to take another gel? Was that ten seconds too slow? Too fast?? I try to save my overthinking for my easy runs. Those are used for writing my blog entries.

The race you’re talking about, Chicago of ’09 (my breakthrough) stood as my PR until last fall. You were the 3:10 pacer and I fell off the pace group when I had to make a pit stop at a port-a-potty somewhere around mile 10. I think this setback only served to make my race a stronger one. After I returned to the course I set my sights on your pace sign up ahead, and for the rest of the race that was the only thought in my head.

The sign. Track down the sign. I don’t recall what I did, or how fast I ran to make up, I don’t even remember how it felt, if it hurt or if it didn’t. I only remember the overwhelming sense of calm. From the splits of that race, it shows that I slowly increased the pace which eventually closed our gap between each other to about a minute (since you brought the rest of the group in about 3:09:40ish if I recall correctly?) and when that happened, I stayed steady. I remember telling you afterward that I wanted to write about that race. I was never able to, because I didn’t know what to write about. There was nothing to say of any interest aside from “I ran a 3:10:48, and it was my best race ever. A 10 minute PR.” Since then, I ran a 3:09:18 which is my current PR. I don’t really have many memories from that race either.

Candice and yours truly after her Chicago breakthrough.

I always have the most memories from the races that went wrong. The “fails.” Those are the ones where I can tell you how bad my hip hurt, or the exact mile I took a gel, what a spectator yelled out to me, or how many kids I high-fived . After the good races I remember only these things: breath, the lub dub of my heart, the footfalls, the feeling of floating above and outside of my body. I don’t remember thoughts or words. I don’t remember if there was wind, or heat, or cold. If you have been to this place of no thought, you will believe in magic. And as a runner, as a marathoner, you need to believe in magic.

LLD: The runners I have interviewed thus far were at the end of their careers looking back. You are at the beginning of yours, looking forward. I know breaking 3 hours is a big goal of yours. What's it going to take to get there?

CS: Well, I think it’s going to take another shift. I’ve had success for the past two and a half years off of the same kind of training, and a LOT of the same kind of training. In the marathon I have gone from 3:39, to 3:20, to 3:10… to my current PR of 3:09. And now, I’m stuck. It’s time for a change. One of Bens favorite things to say is “Doing what you’ve always done will get you what you’ve always got.”

I recently started working with Luke Humphrey who runs for Brooks-Hanson ODP as my coach for the next 6 months (longer, if it works out) and we’re taking a slightly different approach with my training in hopes of reaching my sub 3 goal. I’m looking at the New York City Marathon this fall for my attempt. Probably not the best choice of courses for a PR, but something I’ve learned about myself through running is that I don’t ever take the easy way out of anything. I set high standards, lofty goals, and I do what I can to get the things I want. That above all else is what keeps me at it. If I were to set more reasonable goals for myself, I can’t imagine it would be half the fun. I enjoy the challenge, the pain that makes you feel alive, the distraught feelings of defeat that come with failure, and the pure joy that comes with success. Running has taught me above all else that anything you set your mind to really is possible. It has also taught me not to fear failure. Inevitably failure will happen over and over on the route to success, and it will happen more often. It is supposed to. It must be expected and learned from.

You asked what it will take for me to get there. Aside from the training approach- just believing and doing what it takes to follow through on that belief.

I will break 3 hours.

4 comments:

  1. I agree, Dirk. My favorite line was "I do not come from a long line of athletes, but I come from a long line of people who would have made excellent athletes."

    Thanks to Candice for putting so much time into the responses.

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  2. You're welcome Jeff :) It was my pleasure.

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  3. Wow! Just Wow! Now I know why I'm such a mid-pack blob of bland, I do not operate anywhere near that level of focus. What great introspection as well on Cadice's part.

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