December 14, 2023
"I think I have a good shot, but it's also very competitive and a lot deeper than people realize. This is probably a 20-person race. You only hear about maybe five or seven names, but it's a lot deeper than that."
CJ Albertson is back on the CITIUS MAG Podcast just days after running 2:11:08 at the Baja California Marathon in Mexico this past weekend. The thing is – it comes a week after he ran and won the California International Marathon in 2:11:09.
With the performance in Mexico, he got under the 2:11:30 mark making him eligible for selection for the U.S. Olympic Team with a top-three finish at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. Instead of having to worry about a time in Orlando, he now just needs to finish in the top three.
A reminder to the listeners trying to keep track of things – The U.S. currently has two spots guaranteed for Paris thanks to Conner Mantz and Clayton Young’s performances at the Chicago Marathon. The third spot will likely be unlocked in May based on World Athletics’ rankings. It’s a bit confusing but CJ talks a bit about it in the episode as well.
We touch on his decision to run 3 marathons in 2:11ish over 40 days and why he believes his chances of making the team are better than ever. Plus, you have to hear about his infrared treadmill setup.
The following interview has been edited lightly for clarity and space. You can listen to the full interview with CJ Albertson on the CITIUS MAG Podcast – available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your shows.
CITIUS MAG: Why did you decide to give the marathon three shots in the past 40 days? You raced in Fresno, CIM and then finally went down to Mexico. How did you come up with this plan?
CJ Albertson: I wanted to (race) Fresno to get under the minimum standard so that I can be used as a replacement in the event that the U.S. has three qualifiers and I'm top three (at the Olympic Marathon Trials). So we went through the certification process but the race ended up not counting anyway because there was a piece that had to be submitted on the World Athletics calendar…
(CIM) was just a good opportunity to race and make a decent amount of money. It had nothing to do with Olympic qualifying or anything. It was just to keep me in the zone of training because I wasn't specifically training for that race or doing a huge buildup and tapering for it. I was using it to keep me engaged as I got through the fall with work and just having a race to look forward to where I could make some money and have fun. That was that goal and I accomplished that by winning…
I saw the Baja California race on the (World Athletics) calendar and saw that it was certified. I couldn't find any other information about it so I kind of just forgot about it. And then, for whatever reason, on Wednesday (after racing CIM) it popped into my head. I did some searching through Strava and was able to find people that had run it in 2022. I could see that the course was perfectly flat, that it was just one huge loop and then a smaller loop and that there were hardly any turns, at least on paper… I set up travel plans and basically everything in a matter of an hour. I decided, ‘I guess I'm going to race. This is going to happen.’
CITIUS MAG: Right now we're in Orlando training. From the looks of it on Strava, you're on the Peloton treadmill. The thing that sticks out to me from this week is that your fingers are crossed for ‘hellish conditions.’ There's also a short video of you on the treadmill with infrared lights and it says ‘98°F.’ Take us through what’s happening in this video and what you’re hoping for in Orlando.
CJ Albertson: I have 11 heat lamps, just like you'd buy for a chicken coop. I just hook them all up and put them on different circuits. I have three different circuits and have extension cords going to different plugs around the house. Then I just crank it up. I'm still trying to get the humidity higher, so I've been putting pots of boiling water in the room to try and keep the humidity a little bit higher. That’s my plan. I'm hoping to do normal runs outside in the mornings and do a lot of my speed workouts on land and then get at least one run a day, and maybe a longer run midweek, on the treadmill.
CITIUS MAG: How did you mentally put yourself on the starting line of the Baja California Marathon?
CJ Albertson: I was sore coming off (CIM) but by race day I was feeling fine. But I've also never done marathons back-to-back, especially after a race like CIM. I was fairly calm though and felt like I could do it, or else I wouldn’t have made the trip. But I also knew that if things weren’t going well I could just step off and go home – no one knew I was there. I think I told my dad, my wife and my uncle. It was just kind of like I’ll take a shot and see what happens.
CITIUS MAG: Compared to 2020, do you feel like your chances at making the 2024 Olympic team are better than the last time round?
CJ Albertson: I've run so many marathons, have done so much training and I've improved quite a bit. There's a lot more unknowns but I know how to race better. I think by the time we get to the (2024) Olympic Trials, I'll be in really good shape – hopefully the best shape of my life. It's going to be a tough team to make… I think I have a good shot, but it's also very competitive and a lot deeper than people realize. This is probably a 20 person race. You only hear about maybe five or seven names, but it's a lot deeper than that.
CITIUS MAG: The Olympic Marathon Trials start time changed from noon to 10 a.m. What were your impressions as everyone was taking to social media to voice their opinions?
CJ Albertson: I needed to run the time so that I don't have stress (heading into the Olympic Trials). And now that I've run it, I don't have to worry about that part. So now it's probably beneficial for me to have poor conditions or hotter weather. Other people are going to train for it too – it's not like I'm going to be the only person doing this type of stuff. People are going to train and do the best that they can… It’s a win-win because if there’s good conditions, it’s just a normal race. But if it's hot, I'm probably even more excited. It just makes it fun because it's a win-win for me either way now.
CITIUS MAG: What do you think about Paul Chelimo? A seasoned marathoner like you probably thinks it's tough to finish top three in your first ever marathon.
CJ Albertson: That's true. But those guys are concerning to race against because you know how talented and fast they are. For someone like me that thinks the marathon isn't necessarily as hard as other people might view it, I'm like, ‘if someone's run under 13 minutes for a 5K, they can run 2:06.’ If you dedicate a season to doing some 25 mile long runs, you're going to run 2:06. In my mind there's no way you don't do that. Obviously it doesn't go like that and it’s hard to make the team on your first shot, but he's at least going to be there for 30K or pretty close to it.
CITIUS MAG: When everyone thinks something's crazy. You come up with a logical response. Parker Valby’s training has been talked about a lot within the last couple of weeks. She runs two to three times a week and spends a lot of time on the arc trainer. Why isn't her training crazy?
CJ Albertson: If she's really cross training for up to two hours a day, who's running two hours a day? What other woman in the NCAA is running for two hours a day? Probably not very many. So she's aerobically training just as much and probably even more than anybody. So that's not crazy. Let's say you're looking at it from a physiological perspective – her heart's getting the stimulus, her cardiovascular system, her blood vessels, mitochondria. They're all getting the stimulus for the same amount of time. So that is perfectly logical…
Most people don't cross train because it's way harder psychologically. For me, I can’t get my heart rate high enough on the bike. I can't even get up to 140. It's different – my cardiovascular system is super fit, but the muscles used on the bike, I'm just not good enough to work hard enough to get the same workload in. Most people could still benefit from cross training, but if they tried to copy her, they simply wouldn't. It would take them a long time to actually be able to work hard enough so that the training is equal.
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Chris Chavez launched CITIUS MAG in 2016 as a passion project while working full-time for Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and grew his humble blog into a multi-pronged media company. He completed all six World Marathon Majors and is an aspiring sub-five-minute miler.