Betsy Saina Q&A: “I’m Running For The Whole Family Now”

By Kyle Merber

January 10, 2024

With all the excitement leading into the Olympic Marathon Trials on February 3rd, it seems like a good time to reacquaint readers with some of the contenders. This week I spoke with Betsy Saina, the former three-time NCAA champion from Iowa State and fifth place finisher in the 2016 Olympic 10,000m. In April 2021, Saina shifted her allegiance and is now eligible to represent the United States. Following her 2:21:40 finish at the Tokyo Marathon and a win at the Sydney Marathon on a hot day in September, where she ran 2:26:47, there is certainly a possibility of her being in Paris on the horizon.

I put out a poll to readers asking who they want to hear from and you are popular! So first off, how has preparation been going? Are you healthy? Is confidence high? And everything going according to plan?

When I just came back from maternity leave I don't know how things will unfold, but the progression has been really amazing. I feel like you need to be better than where you left off – that's what people always say. Going from training to leave, I came back feeling strong. I have had enough time since my son is two years old and things are clicking. I'm excited to see what I can do in Orlando. I've had a solid build up.

How do you manage training so early in the morning and finding that balance as a parent?

The reason why I'm in Kenya is just because I wanted to get enough support whereby I would not be worried about who is going to be with my son when I go running. I have full-time help – she’s like another mom and has been helping take care of Kalya since he was two months old. I can do my training at 150% because I don't get interrupted. Then when I'm recovering I get to spend time with him. He knows mommy's home. It’s why my body has been unfolding really well.

Compared to the previous build ups for the Tokyo and Sydney marathons last year, which both went really well, are you doing anything differently?

Going into Sydney I was pretty much doing 115 to 120 miles a week. Same for Tokyo. After Sydney [in March], I came back and my coach said we're not going to change anything except bump my mileage up. In mid-October I got up to like 130, 127, 125. This week was like 123. It’s been a slight difference just going up to like, 130, just to see how it went.

You're a unique athlete in the sense that you were on maternity leave during this period of time in which the shoe technology completely changed. Do you feel that it has made a difference in your ability to train more? I think a lot of people say it helps on race day, but just as much in training and ability to recover.

Like two weeks ago I had a 20km tempo. And before, when you finished running something like that at half marathon pace, it would take a lot of time to recover.

But now that we have these new shoes, I finish my workouts, get a massage and I’m recovered in two days. You feel really ready to go again. I feel like it's helping a lot because, you know, you're not on the floor when you're running a lot. You just bounce back.

Looking back a little bit now, in 2016 you were fifth at the Olympics and eight years ago till now it's a long time. But how different of a runner would you say you are? In which ways have you evolved and are you better off today than you were then?

As you grow and you become more experienced you feel like a different person. Especially for my case, I am a high mileage person. When I was in college, I could go up to like 90 miles, but now I’m doing up to 130 without feeling it too much. So a lot has changed.

And I’m 35 – okay, how long do I have before I retire? Give yourself a window, you know? It makes me think more and be like, okay, I have to do this. Now I have to put everything out there because I don't know what is coming tomorrow.

Of course, a big change as well is you were competing for Kenya then, now you're going to be representing the United States. How special would it be to make the US team?

I'm really excited. Like I said, things have changed a lot. The U.S. has become my home because it's been over ten years since I moved there. That makes me feel really emotional. My heart is full. I'm so grateful to be able to represent the U.S, after all I've gained in living there: to my two sisters living there, my son being born in the U.S. – it's a family thing for me. So I'm running for the whole family now.

How nice is it to be able to prepare with someone of Joyciline Jepkosgei’s capabilities, without having to be competing for the same spot? How is she as a training partner?

I went to high school at the same time as her, so I knew her from back in 2005. When I made the decision I really wanted to train with her because we have had a long time friendship. But I was a little bit like, ‘oh my gosh, she's run 64!’

But I looked at myself and I was like, ‘I need to challenge myself every day.’ When you're running with someone who is better than you, it's a privilege.

I remember when I was training for Sydney and we were doing the same workouts, and my coach could use the time [difference between us] like, ‘hey, for this long run you still have like one or two minutes, you know, that you need to improve on.’ And I remember when I started maybe it was like four minutes and then by the time I was going for the race, I was closing down to like a minute.

It's been a big challenge, in a good way.

She's been helping me so much for the last month. She's not super competitive in training. Like, I know some people, when you're training with them, they can start saying, no, I don't want her to be close to me. But for Joyciline, she really wants me, you know, to be on the same caliber with her, especially knowing that she's not in the same team with me. I love training with her. And when I come back from the Trials, I'll be able to keep training with her, whatever happens.

And then I guess my last question is, a lot was made about the decision to hold the Trials in Orlando. What’s your impression of running in the heat? Did you get involved in any of the discussions about changing the time?

I didn't worry about it. At the end of the day, all of us are going to compete in the same environment.

I was really excited to acclimatize and start to do things like go run down from Iten some days. You feel it when you go down that mountain like an hour – you just feel like you're running in like, 110 degrees or something like that! It's been amazing just to go out and see what I can do there.

I am just excited to see what we can do.

I'm sure because of all of the conversation around it, it's going to end up being freezing. Well, Betsy, thanks so much for taking the time to chat. I'll see you in Orlando very soon, but hopefully the final few weeks of training go really well for you, and we can get you on that team!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The full interview will be released on The CITIUS MAG Podcast. Subscribe here.

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Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.