Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - With the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for the 3000 meter steeplechase preliminary heats completed just days earlier, and the fastest time of 8 minutes 22.01 seconds recorded by the wearer of the racing bib with UPDIKE emblazoned above the Eugene, Oregon moniker of TRACKTOWN, 2010 Ketchikan High School graduate Isaac Updike is relaxing on Thursday, just a day before the Friday finals that could put him in the Tokyo Summer Olympic games.
“That is all I have been doing,” Updike said when asked if he had a chance to relax.
Updike stays at his brother Luke’s house, a UPS driver in Eugene who knows the town as well as Updike knows the oval at Hayward Field, the site of the USATF team trials.
“He lives in town, which makes it pretty convenient for me whenever I jump on through for a track meet,” Updike said. “Just because it is a little more homey, a little less of a hotel feel or like I am away from my house. It’s nice. He drives a lot so I have the place to myself. I just hang out and watch Netflix and doze in and out of sleep.”
Between the preliminary heats and Friday’s finals, the dozing is broken up by a light load of training miles. A light load by Updike’s standards, that is.
Tuesday was an eight-mile hour run at roughly seven-minute-and-change pace, Wednesday a double of six miles in the morning and three miles in the afternoon.
“Pretty low for what a normal training block would be but just enough to make sure you are not getting flat leading into the finals,” he said. “It is all pretty easy, all conversation pace. That is a good descriptive word for it.”
In his preliminary heat win, Updike and second place finisher Hillary Bor talked to each other, exchanged pleasantries, and cruised across the finish line.
Updike was reminded that his conversation pace is above average for the Sunday morning fitness buff.
“I deserved that one,” he laughed. “It is probably a seven to 7:30 pace. Coming from altitude (he trained in Flagstaff, Arizona) that is a factor as well. Everything feels quite a bit easier right now.”
A lot of his “conversational” pre-final runs are with his girlfriend, Justine Fedronic. She pedals along on a bike next to him as he jogs through town.
They may stop at Run Hub, a running shop that supported Updike when he lived in Eugene and in which also sells some of his girlfriend's art. She crafts inlayed wood panels, one featuring the caricatures of two runners on a wilderness path.
Sometimes they travel onto bike paths and through a trail system that Eugene is known for.
“It is easy to just pick a random direction and get 20 or 30 minutes that way,” he said.
More often than not the direction takes them onto Pre’s Trail, a four-plus-mile-long wood chip path on the north side of the Willamette River named after 1972 Olympian Steve Prefontaine.
Prefontaine was a fan of the cross country race courses and trail systems in Europe and helped local officials plan a trail system in Eugene’s Alton Baker Park.
During Olympic Trials, the national-class runners do shake-out runs or post-race cool-down runs on Pre’s Trail. High schoolers train there. Locals include the outing on their jogs, hikes or pedals.
Sometimes Updike’s outing takes him to Pre’s Rock, the spot where Prefontaine was tragically killed in a car accident at age 24 before he had the chance to see the trail completed. Pre’s Rock is a large black stone featuring his image and a written remembrance. Athletes come from training backgrounds world-wide to leave medals, flowers, shirts, energy bars, handwritten notes or just to reflect at what is known as the “Church of Pre.”
Today was expected to be another easy day.
A warm up of 25 minutes at conversation pace, some activation drills, and a couple 200s and a couple 100s over barriers. He added an extra of each.
“It varies with how I am feeling and what I think my body needs,” he said. “That is all I do in terms of running the day before such a big meet.”
The rest of Thursday was to be spent preparing for Friday. Prepping electrolytes. Placing in the fridge foods he may like to snack on. And staying hydrated for the race day weather.
“It is supposed to be another hot one,” he said. “And then continue to get hotter into the weekend. So electrolytes for me are a pretty big key to making sure I don’t feel any dehydration effects.”
Updike’s phone pings. Another message. He has received a number of congratulatory pings and he is thankful for them.
“I just really appreciate them,” he said. “I have been getting so many texts and messages throughout all social media and it has just been wonderful to see. I had never expected to have so many people rooting me on. I even saw a tweet from Don Young.”
Updike laughs when asked if the two of them would ever be on the track together. A non-political environmentalist runner in his late 20s and a Republican congressman in his late 80s.
“We will have to set that up the next time I am home,” Updike said. “I have never had the chance to speak with him face to face so that was pretty funny and unique. I just appreciate all the support and I am looking forward to representing Alaska.”
Friday’s final is at the same time of the day as Monday’s prelim was.
Updike will not set an alarm.
“I will get up whenever I get up,” he said. “Probably eight or nine. Have a little breakfast. A little coffee and then do a 10 minute shake out of a super easy pace, just enough to warm the body up. Maybe do some activation drills, get the body waking up. Then, funny enough, after getting everything waking up, fall back asleep.”
His last meal will be four to five hours before the race and he will stick with his preliminary heat choice from Laughing Planet.
“I may as well,” he said. “It seemed to have done the trick. I didn’t bonk or anything like that energy level wise. And it didn’t sit weird in my stomach.”
Ninety minutes out he will have a light snack, head to the Hayward Field track and start warming up.
In Friday’s field the times will ratchet up a notch. Many of the top finalists, including Updike, have hit an Olympic qualifying standard of 8:22.00 and some have gone much faster.
Updike set a personal best of 8:17.74 on this same track in April and finalist Mason Ferlic ran 8:18.49.
Hillary Bor, the co-conversational pace runner from the preliminary heat, has gone 8:08.41 in 2019.
Benard Keter ran 8:20.40, Sean McGorty 8:20.77 and Daniel Michalski 8:21.25, all in May.
They will be among the 14 runners seeking one of three spots on the USA Olympic steeplechase team.
Yet Updike remains relaxed.
Like a Prefontaine he is laid back and down-to-earth.
“That is just who I am,” Updike said. “Obviously the goal is trying to win one of those three spots. If I get to 400 meters to go and I am in a position to fight for one of those three spots and something happens, I don’t want to say that would be fine, but it is not going to be the end of the world. It is just exciting. And I have done a lot of training and prep for this. So I try to keep the nerves to a minimum because I have done all the work. At the end of the day why do I have to be nervous about this because I have prepped well. I have done the right races and I have the marks that say I should be able to do this. It is just getting in there, putting your nose in it and everything should work out.”
The best case scenario is Updike goes straight into post race processing for passports into another country and such after winning one of the three spots. Worst case is consolatory reflection on the race.
In any scenario, chances are on Saturday, Updike will be on a shakeout run, along a four-mile-plus stretch of trail made famous by a runner similar to him, with the warmth of the day caressing the footfalls of a champion.
Above - Isaac Updike and girlfriend Justine Fedronic outside running store Run Hub in Eugene, Oregon, during the Olympic Trials. The couple hold running art by Fedronic that the shop carries. Run Hub supported Updike when he lived in Eugene. (photo courtesy Isaac Updike) Below - Isaac Updike during the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. (photo by Courtney White)