Joanna Zeiger came from a swimming background before her stellar career as a pro triathlete, but she turned herself into an outstanding runner, which she turned into a trip to the Olympics and a 70.3 world championship. One of her secrets of mastering the run is to enter run races in the off-season. She is an experienced road racer, but last week she tried something new, and jumped in the US Cross Country Championship masters race in San Diego. She had an outstanding race and took second place, losing only to Colleen De Reuck, one of the most accomplished distance runners in America. Triathlete.com caught up with Zeiger to see how the race played out and to hear her plans for the season.
Triathlete.com: How did you find yourself racing the US Cross Country Championships?
Zeiger: I’ve done quite a few running races in the winter. I usually like to start my season with a half-marathon, but running cross country was a whole new thing for me. I was asked by a friend in Colorado, Darren De Reuck, if I would be part of a masters running team, and I thought it would be a really fun thing to do.
Triathlete.com: Do you train with (three-time Olympic runner) Colleen De Reuck regularly in Colorado?
Zeiger: Colleen and I did one together just by chance, but we don’t train regularly.
Triathlete.com: Did you approach the race differently than a road race or a tri?
Zeiger: I was nervous before the race, because I had no idea what to expect. Everything about it was very new. I talked to a lot of people before the race to get an idea of how things played out [in cross country races]. I was warned that at the beginning the race goes out really fast, like a triathlon swim.
Triathlete.com: And how did things play out during the race?
Zeiger: The biggest difference was the pace at which things start off. Before the race, I was advised to stay as close to Colleen as I possibly could. The pace was just too torrid and I was going to blow up, so I backed off and she pulled away so quickly I just couldn’t believe it. It was like the rubber band broke.
Triathlete.com: Did you have any specific goals going into the race?
Zeiger: I didn’t have any expectations going into the race, except to go out as hard as I possibly could. Once I was in good position, my competitiveness kicked in and I wanted to hold that position.
Triathlete.com: Do you think it’s beneficial for age-group triathletes to run off-season single sport races?
Zeiger: It’s hugely beneficial to do open running races in the off-season. All the athletes I coach are doing something, from 5k to marathon. It keeps you interested in training because it’s such a long time between the end of the triathlon season and start of the next one. For a lot of people, the run is a weakness and it helps [the athletes I coach] to focus on a weakness.
Triathlete.com: What is your next race?
Zeiger: The San Dieguito half marathon, next week in the San Diego area. The biggest aspiration for the 1/2 marathon is to feel really good and not have any residual pain in my ribs (Zeiger broke several ribs in a bike crash in 2009). If I can run hard and feel good, it would be successful. I have time goals, but the most important thing is running healthy.
Triathlete.com: Have you chosen a first tri for the year?
Zeiger: No first tri planned. I want to make sure everything is healthy before I start pushing it again.
Triathlete.com: Will you try to win the 70.3 world championship again?
Zeiger: I would love to do Las Vegas, but I’m so uncertain right now. Last year I set that goal and pushed too hard, which set back my recovery. This year, I am going to wait and see.
Triathlete.com: Thanks Joanna! Good luck next weekend.
Zeiger: Thank you.