James qualified for the USA Olympic Trials Marathon both in 2004 and 2008. This weekend’s Twin Cities Marathon marks the 12 year anniversary since the last Nebraska male resident hit the standard. James was nice enough to spend a moment with us.
Will: Please catch us up on what you and Megan and the kids have been up to over the last 10 years!
James: Our daughters Ava 14 and Lydia 11 keep us busy. Ava is a Freshman and running cross country so I enjoy watching her compete and Lydia is involved in numerous youth activities.
Will: In 2001 a former Wayne State classmate suggested you as a perfect fit for my vision of Excellence in Nebraska Athletics, the original Team Nebraska. Thank you Marsha Krienke-Hansen! What were your first thoughts when I reached out to you?
James: Back in 2001 I had a goal of running in the 2004 Trials. When you first contacted me I was humbled and new that any assistance would be better than what I was currently receiving. From that initial conversation I knew the passion that Will had and have an individual take notice of my potential motivated me
Will: I often insist that Team Nebraska and the Nebraska USATF LDR program was built on your farm strong shoulders. Runner’s World did a story on you called “The Long Shot” portraying your hard work rustling cattle in Western Nebraska. How did the cowboy lifestyle inform your work ethic as a runner?
James: Growing up with three older sisters we did not have much extra. My parents were hard working and I started working in the summer at a young age. Entering 5th grade I walked bean fields to make money for school clothes we finished a field earlier than expected and I remember running about two miles to the farmers house so he would pick up the rest of the crew while they waited. I was the youngest but did not want to sit for an hour waiting for a ride. My wife grew up on a ranch 45 mile north of Hyannis it is my favorite running spot the soft trails, windmills, rolling hills, and wildlife. It is an endless adventure to run in. The article was an honor and humbling experience I am fortunate for the family I have.
Will: We share a special coach/athlete bond. Having worked together for both Trials, what stands out most about the training program we utilized?
James: The training and not the races is what stands out more. I disliked Mondays as it usually brought some sort of a paced tempo run that was difficult. I was always able to finish a hard training session fast which gave me confidence. Workouts were based on race performance and controlled yet the last mile of a repeat session was a measuring stick. At the time I was living in Shelton and the gravel roads were laid out in the perfect mile grid pattern and most fields bisected the grid with a pivot in the middle. Mile markers were intersections field breaks were half mile and pivot heads a quarter the perfect setup for training. The workouts enabled me to go from holding on the last 10k of a marathon to being able to finish a marathon the training program brought my racing to a new level. I recall Christmas of 2003 doing a 30 mile long run at my wife Grandmother’s in Valentine it was an overcast day lower 30’s the last 5 miles I ran at 5:20 pace Merry Christmas.
Will: You ran the 2003 USA Marathon National Champs in Birmingham, AL, finishing 12th in 2:20:51. Your introduction to the USA Champs circuit. How did this level of competition help your development?
James: I felt honored to be a part of the 2003 race. It was my first race on the USATF Circuit I had no idea of what to expect. My entry and travel were paid for that was good enough. The field was small fewer than 40 I knew I had to earn my travel expenses and perform. During the weekend my roommate Fred Keiser took me under his week we ran a majority of the race together and he led me to a qualifying time. I never wore a watch and with three mile to go he stated we need to pick it up or we won’t make the standard. He later told em he was lying & just wanted to see if we could catch 10th he placed 11th. The race directors put on a great event associated with the Mercedes Marathon. When I crossed the line I cried years of hard work and sacrifice became a reality. That experience opened my eyes to the elite level of running I had a taste but wanted more.
Will: The Trials on the same Birmingham course in ’04. You ran 2:26:09 for 47th overall. Any specific memories of that race that stand out?
James: Leading up to the trials I was ready. At the Half Championship a month earlier I set a PR for 13.1 on a 110 mile week. My last workout before leaving for Houston it was -16 when I ran that morning. I got off the plane it was 74 and 80% humidity. My goal for the Trials was under 2:19 unfortunately I got an intestinal virus the week prior a trip to the emergency room and 2 liters of fluids helped but 48 hours of no food and I was devastated. Six days prior to the race it was a struggle to walk I jogged a mile five days before and it was like the last mile of a marathon. As I got fluids through an I.V. I broke down and cried in my wife’s arms four years of work ruined by the smallest thing. As I left for Birmingham I recall the snow stacking up & I was looking forward to warmer weather. The race conditions were chilly with a 20 MPH wind and freezing drizzle. I probably would not have raced but I could not let so many people down. Looking back that 2:26:00 is probably the race I am most proud of given my condition.
Will: Your qualifying run at the 2006 Twin Cities Marathon (11th, 2:22:00) is one of my all time favorite memories. Standing with my USATF colleagues on the finish line, we all seeing you make the final right hand turn 600 meters from the ticking clock. The others offering me regrets, your hitting the mark seemingly impossible. And then a roar from the crowd as you went into a furious sprint over the last 300, gaining back with every stride, before collapsing into my arms as you crossed. I’ll never forget the words you told me. Do you remember what they were?
James: Twin Cities in 2006 was a gut check! I recall a pack of about 20 of us that ran together for about 15 miles. Around that point it broke apart and I was feeling strong leaving them and shooting for a top 10 spot. At about 22 miles the distance reared it’s ugly head and I was holding on, at about 23 miles I gave up 10th place but tried to hold on. At 24 miles I realized a qualifying time was in jeopardy. I asked the kids that at coached at Sidney High if it was OK if I skipped their conference meet to run the race. Our big theme was finish, how could I get on a plane knowing I ran 26.2 miles to come up 30 seconds short. I remember closing my eyes for a moment thinking it was only 2 laps around the Sidney Cemetery where we frequently held practice, FINISH! Once I turned the last corner I could see the finish area things got blurry. With a quarter mile left a volunteer moved to scream in my face you can make it dig deep. I lost body functions and remember when I came too I needed a restroom I could not have made it another step. I was just trying to get to the arms of Will. I think my first words were where is a bathroom???
Will: The Trials in NYC ’08. 2:25:10 for 69th overall. Running the criterium course through Central Park. The tragedy of losing Ryan Shay during the race. What did you bring back to Nebraska from that race?
James: The Trials in 2008 I knew would probably be my last as father time catches up with everyone. I remember turning the first corner and seeing myself on the New York Time Square Big Screen Running in the Trials. I smiled and thought a young boy from Cairo Nebraska on this stage I was truly blessed. The crowds of spectators of Central Park was special it made the event standout. Unfortunately I was following the collapse of Ryan Shay and as I ran by the paramedics were just arriving. I did not even realize who was in need or what was going on that event has made me think of my own well being. A tragedy to the sport on one of the biggest stages.
Will: You are Superintendent for the Brady School District. I know you coached while in Sydney, are you still working with your student athletes?
James: Brady started a cross country team 3 years ago and this year I have taken a volunteer role with the team. I enjoy giving back to a sport that has given me so much.
Will: Are you still running? Do you still have any competitive goals? Maybe some Run Guru Elite, Inc. age group records?
James: I still run every morning so if ever passing through on I-80 I’m usually crossing the overpass just west of the Brady exit at about 6:10-6:15 later on the weekends. My competitive days are over until I enter a race than my mind says you can beat this or that person the my body says what in the hell are you doing. My body wins out but once in awhile I tote the line.