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Riley Masters On Recalibrating His Olympic Dreams, Prioritizing Performance and Revisiting ‘The Real Maine’

“When you look at running and why we’re doing this, the ultimate pinnacle goal is to be an elite medalist but really to be an Olympian and have that title. For Sara (my wife) and I, when we think about why we do this, it’s to try and qualify for the Olympics or give it our absolute best shot. When you talk to someone who is not closely tied to the running world, that’s what they’re looking for. When they describe you to your friends, they’re thinking, ‘This guy is training for the Olympics’ or ‘He’s trying to make the Olympics’ and it’s so cool to them but if you take the Olympics out of it, it loses the allure of what we’re doing. It’s very unique.”

Consider this Part II to last week’s conversation with Sara Sutherland since we now get to interview her husband, Riley Masters. For those who may not be familiar with him, Riley was a standout runner at Maine before transferring to Oklahoma. He’s got personal bests of 3:36.49 for the 1,500 meters and 13:16.97 for the 5,000 meters. He serves as an assistant coach at Colorado where he works closely with his own coaches Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs.

Riley hasn’t raced in 2020 because he’s making his way back from getting surgery to correct Haglund’s deformity, which is a bone growth on the heel bone.

I’ve known Riley for years and as he’s now in his 7th year of running professionally, we were both together in Europe in 2013 for our rookie seasons at the top end of the sport. We catch up on what he’s learned in that span of time, why this year is the worst one that he’s faced but keeps him motivated to explore what’s possible in 2021.

For all my OG Real Maine fans – the documentary that brought some hype behind guys like Riley and Kyle Merber – we touch on the lasting legacy of that film.  Plus: An epic tale of a Jeep Cherokee being stolen and totaled in a drug-related bust…Riley’s Mt. Rushmore of runners from Maine and much more.

Photos courtesy of Kevin Morris

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QUOTES AND NOTES

– “In 2020, everyone has this meme about the year has been terrible for everyone but I think I top everybody where I broke my foot in January of this year. I had the first stress fracture of my career. I was trying to get ready for Millrose and was dealing with an Achilles injury on my left side. I was just throwing my right foot into the ground to try and compensate for that in an attempt to do well at the Olympic Trials and get fit. I ended up breaking my right foot, which is a little unique. That’s how the injuries started this year. Once I was coming back, COVID shut everything down. It looked like things were going well for me. It was a little bit of a blessing in disguise if things were going to be postponed. About five weeks into building back up, I just realized I couldn’t train with the Haglund’s Deformity I was dealing with. I decided to get that removed once elective surgeries opened back up. Now, here I am about two and a half months removed from surgery. I feel a lot better than I did but certainly feel like I have a bit to go until I feel like I’m back on my feet.”

– “In 2016, I was injured going into the trials and while I made the final, it was certainly not the performance I was looking for or prepared four years for. [For this year,] I had aligned myself where I had an outside shot of doing well at the trials and it would have just been so devastating knowing that I would not have been able to perform the way I know that if I was healthy I would have been able to.”

– “When I watched the world record in the 5K last week, I was on my spin bike with my laptop opened in front of me. I looked down at myself while I’m doing this and I’m thinking, ‘This is almost 40 to 45 seconds quicker than my personal best and I’m not even running right now’ so it makes it difficult to watch.”

– “When I broke my foot, I decided to also get PRP in my Achilles. It was during this 5K that we targeted at BU to run my Olympic standard. That race was happening as I’m getting PRP. I’m watching the race on my phone as they’re injecting the PRP in my plantar. It’s funny because I watch all these people run so fast – I don’t know if it was from the pain or the PRP or because I was just so devastated but I put my phone down, the doctor looked at me and asked, ‘Are you OK?’ I said, ‘I’m gonna pass out.’ The next thing I know I woke up 30 seconds later on the floor. You feel so helpless watching these performances knowing that you can’t train the way you want to or know you should be able to.”

– “You always have something you can get out of yourself in the sport. If you make the Olympic team or not, you can still be successful in the sport. You see that like Steph Rothstein or Sara Hall as these people who I would define as having had very successful careers who don’t have that title of being an Olympian. I think there’s plenty of things to do in this sport outside of making the Olympics. The Olympics is the thing that people want the most.”

– “The thing about Mark and Heather is that they redefined hard work for me. I thought I was training hard. I thought I was working well and doing what I needed to do to make the Olympic team but if I look back at my training logs for 2013 to 2015 and compare them to these last four years with Mark and Heather, I was training like a highschool senior is right now. It was nothing that was going to get me where I wanted to go.”

– “Truthfully, every event is competitive. I think what’s really funny is from a guy who focused on the 1500 for his first few years as a pro and in college, I always had this thought ‘I’m gonna jump to the 5K. I’m going to be great at it!” I feel like so many milers have that mentality. Kyle (Merber) and I are very close and I read The New York Times article where he said ‘I’m going to go to the 5K or the 10K and maybe it suits me better.’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘Everyone has that thought and I’m telling you right now, it’s not that easy!’ I know every miler has thought about it. The way I see it is I wish I could still run a fast 1,500 – I probably could – but it seems like that’s more open now too. There’s no easy way to make a team.”

– Reminiscing on The Real Maine 39-minute mark: “Sometimes I feel like it wasn’t so long ago and then other times I completely forget that it was part of my life. During COVID, people have reached out to us a lot more trying to watch it. I’m going to be honest, I don’t even know how you can watch it anymore.”

– “While I performed well in college and had this following from The Real Maine, it wasn’t enough where I was actually doing enough to get into some of these races.”

– “Doing this podcast, the biggest lesson I want someone to learn if you’re like a kid who is trying to run at this level, it’s run well and run well consistently. That’s one of the lessons that I’ve learned from Mark and Heather. Your brand is your performance not your followers on Instagram.”

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SPONSOR

😎  Support for this episode comes from GOODR SUNGLASSES  – I’ve been rocking Goodr sunglasses throughout the past couple of months and they’re the best. No slip. No bounce. No fog. Polarized. Ridiculously affordable starting at $25 a pair. No discounts needed when they’re already the most affordable performance shades on the planet. | Visit GOODR.COM/CITIUS to check out some of my favorite pairs.

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