Luke Puskedra (Sr., Judge Memorial, UT) loves to run through the thin mountain air of Utah. It makes him tough he says, more so mentally than physically. Puskedra uses that toughness and makes sure he sets a torrid early pace regardless of what type of race he is running. Over the past year the 6' 5" senior has towered over his competition in numerous ways. He was the only person to challenge German Fernandez last fall at the Foot Locker West Regional, then taking his front running talents to Foot Locker Nationals where he led the field through the mile and stayed in contention nearly the entire way to finish fifth in one of the great fields ever. Since the fall Puskedra has dominated on the track, running 4:08.77 in the Reebok Boston Mile, then winning the NIN two-mile in 8:49.58 , good enough for U.S. #3 all-time. In this interview Luke talks about his expectations for his final track season, his training, his college decision and much more.
King of the Mountain: An Interview with Luke Puskedra (UT)
MileSplit (MS): First off, congrats on your big Nike Indoor National performance a few weeks back. Your 8:49.58 effort ranks you third of all-time indoors for two-miles! Take us through the race if you could.
Luke Puskedra (LP): It is a great honor to be on that list with those big names. During the race I went out at a pretty good pace and had Colby Lowe right there (Puskedra pictured left, leading the NIN two mile with Colby Lowe following closely behind. Photo by John Herzog). During the race we switched leads almost as if it was planned. I knew that Colby was a beast, so I tried to put together a good time in order to get him. I split the race into three segments: two twelve hundreds and the last eight hundred; going through the first twelve hundred in 3:21 (I was right on), the second twelve in 6:39 (I was 6:42), then try and kick in the last eight around 2:04 (I hit 2:08). The time goal was 8:44, which I thought would be a reasonable goal because I hit 8:57 at 4600 ft. altitude three weeks earlier in a solo time trial. I knew that I had to run a fast time to try and run away from this very deep and talented field, and knew to save some in the tank because Colby Lowe would definitely be right there.
MS: You tend to take out the pace very quick seemingly every time you race. At Foot Locker Nationals you dictated the pace early. Is an early fast pace part of your racing strategy?
LP: I like to toe the line every time I race so that I put together an honest race. I figure that if you run a good time, this time will be remembered and instead of thinking, "I could have done this or that." If you put it all on the line these thoughts will not be as big. It was definitely a humbling experience at Foot Locker Nationals. I was very naive to think that I would be able to run away from the group of legit guys that were in the race. But I believe you learn more from loses than wins and in this case I learned a lot about my racing.
MS: The Arcadia Invitational is coming up. What event are you running and what would you like to accomplish there?
LP: I'm very excited for Arcadia and I will be competing in the two mile as I did last year. It should be a very good race with many top athletes rolling out to it. I am excited to get in a race with German Fernandez as well, who is coming off of a stellar cross country season after Worlds. I don't like to really sit down and think about time goals for a race longer than a week out because then this is all I will think about during workouts instead of what needs to be done in that certain workout.
MS: With so much talent in the distances this year, we assume you've had to take your training to a whole new level. What does a week in the training life of Luke look like?
LP: I just like to have fun with my running. My mileage depends on the season or the week, according to what tempo runs or interval work I am doing that week. During the track season I hit in the neighborhood of sixty miles so that I can hit the split times that I need to hit for my speed. I do a lot of drills and stretching to try and improve my range of motion and to better my running. All of my success is truly reflected by the help that I get from my coaches, who help make sure that I stay healthy.
MS: You train at altitude if I remember correctly. What's the elevation at Judge Memorial (Salt Lake City, UT)? Does this affect you're training at all?
LP: Yes, I train around 4,600 ft. altitude. I think that altitude training helps, but it helps in more of a mental way than it does for your aerobic side.
MS: you still have a lot of track season left to run. Do you have any specific goals lined up that you're focusing on? Do you have any more traveling planned after Arcadia this coming weekend?
LP: The way I set up my schedule this year is that I have one race a month when I will really go to the well and try to hit a good time. The next races I am looking at in the season is maybe the Penn Relays, BYU Invitational, States and NON, but I have a pretty open schedule to try and go after different races.
MS: While many of your peers chose places like Stanford, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State to attend next fall, you chose Oregon. What factored into your decision to take your running talents to Eugene? What other schools were in the running?
LP: This year's recruiting class has definite talent, and with this much talent there are obviously going to be schools that pick up more kids for different reasons. I was pretty dead set on going to Oregon just because of the running tradition and the current team that they have up there. After my recruiting trip I was sure Oregon was the right school and fit for me, so I didn't go on the rest of my visits, which many people may think is foolish but I just got a feeling with Oregon that was indescribable when hearing where Oregon has been, where it is now and where it is moving towards, this is great for the sport. Also, just seeing that Vin Lananna is a very established coach that definitely shows with his time at Stanford and with Ryan Hall. I also went on a recruiting trip up to Georgetown and was planning on taking a trip to Colorado and Wisconsin, the other running powerhouses, but decided to stay with Oregon.
MS: Obviously Coach Lananna is one of the finest coaches in the nation. What does he see you focusing on during your collegiate career (mile, 3k steeple, longer races)?
LP: What really appealed to me about Coach Lananna's program was that he definitely could tell what I would excel at with what type of running style I have right now. I will probably be trying my hand in the longer races.
MS: How did you first get into running?
LP: I first got into running when we had the mile run in middle school. I ran a 6:32 as a third grader, then worked my way through Junior Olympics (USATF), then to high school running.
MS: You're pretty tall. Are your parents tall? And the obvious question, did you play basketball growing up?
LP: My dad is six foot tall and my mom is five foot tall, but I have cousins that are also pretty tall. I played many sports growing up and basketball was one of them. Let's just say that you shouldn't expect me being drafted into the NBA anytime soon.
Quick Six (Six Quick Questions, Six Quick Responses)
MS: What training shoes do you wear?
LP: Saucony Guide
MS: What spikes do you wear?
LP: Miler ID with all mesh upper.
MS: Do you have any pre-race rituals?
LP: Yeah. I like to hit the yoga mat to get the good vibes moving.
MS: Favorite movie?
MS: Favorite athlete?
LP: Haile Gebrsellasie
MS: Favorite word?
Thanks Luke and best of luck this season!