Interview conducted by: Paul Matuszak
Spotlight on: Geraint Davies
Good evening. Tell us a little about your background. How did you end up in Philadelphia and how did you get involved with running?
I came to Philadelphia to start my Ph.D in organic chemistry at Penn. I have been running since I was pretty little; the first real distance race result I can find was for a local 5k when I was 9 (25:24). I ran 4 years of track and 2 years of XC in high school, at which point I thought my running career was over. During freshman year, I tried out for Emory’s soccer team and ended up playing rugby until I broke my hand. The orchestra conductor was not thrilled with that development, so I decided to move back into non-contact sports, and wound up back running my last three years of college.
Justin Simard gave you the nickname of Big-G, but was unsuccessful in having it stick. So please, let the general public know the derivation of your name and how it’s pronounced.
Haha, Geraint is of Welsh origin with traces back to Arthurian legend. Pronunciation is – G EH – r ih n t quick tip – Ger-aint rhymes with “Bear-pint”
Can you elaborate a little more about your Ph.D program? And after you finish explaining, please dumb it down in one or two sentences for those not named Nate Ennist and Joe Binder.
So I’m in the Chemistry department, in the Organic division, where everything is based on developing the chemistry of molecules with carbon in them (all of organic matter). We design new disconnections and strategies to build molecules of interest from available building blocks. My main focus is on azaborines; we look for ways to make molecules where a carbon-carbon double bond can be exchanged for a boron-nitrogen bond. This allows the molecular scaffolds to retain similar shapes and properties, but provides new avenues for function. This also allows us to access new molecule designs that could have potential applications in either medicinal or material systems.
You and I first met at a Widener University track meet back in April 2014. That evening, you “pulled a Geraint” by PRing in the 5000m on a double (you ran 10 miles in the morning). Perhaps calling it “pulling a Geraint” is a little unfair considering I also managed to match your “Geraint-ness” that evening by doubling back in the 10000m 25 minutes after the 5000m. Regardless, you have a reputation for gutting through some pretty monster runs. What’s the craziest training session you’ve logged?
So the week of that 5k was probably the most insane week of training I’ve ever run. First, the 5k was a 31 second PR and yes I had done a 10 mile run that morning. Furthermore, I came back on Sunday to run a 31 mile long run, averaging 6:31 pace, culminating a 131 mile week, all of which are distance PRs. The only other workout that has come close to that week was a 16 mile tempo I did in preparation for Boston last year. With several members of the club out to help pace different sections, I managed to average 5:23 pace, closing in a 5:02mile. Ultimately it was to my down fall, as I was a little too excited after that and went out too hard in the first half of Boston only to be chewed up by the second half hills.
Has you outlook on training changed over the years?
In college, I was often injured from pushing too hard and not providing my body enough time to recover after workouts. As a result, my mileage barely reached over 60 mpw, and it was difficult for me to develop any consistency. Since graduating I have cut back on the number of workouts, focused more time on recovery and developed more base mileage to have the capacity to cope with challenging workouts. It still amazes me how switching this focus has enabled me to unlock much higher mileage potentials than were possible in college.
How does your specific training impact your approach in coaching the Penn Running Club?
I try to take the lessons that I’ve learnt from my own running progression and apply them to the undergraduates in the club. First off, I think it is really important to explain the why of a training process. There are several different philosophies on training; the key thing is to trust the system.
Two of the key fundamentals I try to emphasize in training are consistency and patience. Becoming a good runner doesn’t happen overnight, it takes years for the muscles and bones to develop and strengthen. That development can be expedited with consistent progress and avoiding injury. But the ultimate goal is to provide an enjoyable atmosphere for people to train and be excited about running.
The approach seems to be working well with Penn placing 4th as a team at the NIRCA (National Intercollegiate Running Club Association) cross country nationals in 2015. This was the highest finish in Penn’s history. Are you pleased with the results? And what’s up next for the Penn Running club?
It was a very exciting fall for the Penn Club. The men narrowly won the region (by two points) for our first title. Finishing 4th at Nationals took a really big effort from everyone on the club and really helped to establish us as a respected program within NIRCA. We have been fortunate to have such a good connection with Philly Runner Track Club, which I think has really helped some of the undergrads realize what type of potential they have as athletes. I’m excited to see how they finish out the track season building into XC next year where we should again be competitive for a Nationals podium spot.
I’d wager your performance at the 2015 Broad Street 10 Miler is among your top running accomplishments (editor’s note: Geraint finished in the top-5 for Americans while cracking 51 minutes less than two weeks after the Boston Marathon). Can you briefly describe that race?
That was a pretty special race, not so much for my time or place, but because we had a really deep group of PRTC guys running it. It was so neat to have Nate and Kevin right there with me throughout the race. I think there is a picture of the start and there are at least 6 PRTC jerseys on the line. Coming off of a disappointing race at Boston, I really wasn’t sure what would be remaining in the legs still. When the gun went off, I was a little cautious for the first few miles, trying not to get sucked into too fast a pace, hoping that as the race went on my legs would loosen up. Having Kevin and Nate there was a huge benefit as it meant we could work together to pull back some of the people who went out faster. Hitting the gates to the Navy Yard, I knew I needed to make a break for it, as there was a pack of 5 running 8-12th and I couldn’t last in a shorter kick. I was fortunate to be able to hold on just long enough to secure the last American podium spot.
Any other races you consider on par to or higher than your 2015 Broad Street performance?
Since college, that has definitely been the top highlight, my close 2nd and 3rd are breaking 15 in the 5k at Widener, alluded to above, and winning the Atlanta Half Marathon, breaking 70 for the first time.
This year you will be carrying a similar workload running both Boston and Broad Street. What is your strategy going into the upcoming racing block?
Yeah, this year has been a little bit tougher. I think I am just beginning to hit my stride in training, which is a little later than usual. I’ve still got three solid weeks to build some momentum. You never know how the body is going to respond after a marathon. There will be a lot focus on active recovery in the short time between the races, but the main focus will be the marathon. Whatever I have left for Broad Street will be icing on top.
Outside of running and chemistry, we know of your violin playing skills and past involvement in rugby. Are there any other tricks up your sleeve you’ve kept silent on?
I think you’ve got most everything, just add piano to the list and it’s been reported that I can make a pretty mean BBQ chicken on the grill.