FTC Runner Neil McDonagh Qualifies for the Olympic Trials

By Stephanie Williams
Florida Track Club member Neil McDonagh ran 1:04:12 at the Jacksonville Half-Marathon to reach the 2012 Marathon Olympic Trials qualifying standard of 1:05:00. He will make his first attempt at the full marathon distance in Houston on January 30, 2011. Neil coaches a variety of local athletes, including University of West Florida’s men’s cross-country and track teams, a group of local recreational runners training for 5K’s and half marathons, and a youth team, The Pensacola Wings. Along with his coaching and running efforts, Neil makes his own preserves and recently started his own company, Jam! That’s Good.

Neil joined the FTC last year when he was renewing his USATF membership, which requires a club affiliation. He recently competed with the FTC Elite at the 2010 Club Cross Country meet in Charlotte, NC, on December 11. Although Neil knew local member Brent Schneider, this was the first time Neil actually met members of FTC and he represented us well, finishing 24th out of 400 runners.

We caught up with Neil to ask him a few questions over e-mails a few days after his half-marathon.

We asked him the following 10 questions:

1. How on earth did you grow such a fantastic mustache?

A: Just like staring down the barrel of a hard workout, growing any amount of publicly recognized facial hair was a daunting task for me. Do you train for a marathon the week before the race? No, no you don’t. I started growing my mustache in early October mainly in hopes that I would have a 9th grader-esque collection of hairs by race time. What I ended up with was a genuine mouth mitten, two and a half months later. And of course, I was obligated to wax it into a handlebar, lest we let the terrorists win.

2. What are your thoughts on fun?
A: Everyone should be having it. Some people don’t practice it often, and consequently aren’t very good at it. As we all know, there are many types of fun: familial, friend, academic (not my favorite), and geographic, just to name a few. I think there should be a daily fun recommendation pyramid.

3. How does it feel to be an Olympic Trials qualifier?
A. It’s a great feeling. I took running very serious for the last 17 years, and not until this past year did I really relax. I just run for enjoyment now. I think a Trials qualifier would have been surrounded by relief and stress if I was still ultra-serious about my running. I run with a smile every day, and derive great enjoyment from running as fast as I can just like when I was a kid.

4. Has making the Trials been a goal all along in your training or is it a bonus to qualify?
A. About three years ago a Trials qualifier was very important to me. Once 2010 rolled around I had changed my whole philosophy towards running. My satisfaction is not graded by times or awards, I have a blast running races or just down the street. A qualifier is a nice feather in the cap, but I wouldn’t have been upset if i never made it either. January 1st of 2010, my half-marathon PR was 1:11:30, and 11 months later it is seven minutes faster, there is no way I could have predicted that.

5. Can you (briefly) describe your race experience in Jacksonville?
A. The weather was great on Sunday morning, drizzling and overcast. I grew up in San Francisco, so that is my favorite weather, I melt in the summer here in the South. There was a slight headwind and I figured from the gun I needed to press to get on pace. I didn’t really have any plan or time in mind, I just knew that I wanted to run hard. I went out very hard gapping the field quickly. Well, my first mile was too hard, passing in 4:36, but I regained composure and started ticking off 4:50 miles. Once I got around 9 miles, I realized that I had a good shot at sub-1:05. Up to that point I was just waiting to bonk after the hard opening mile. The last 5K I just in and focused on pressing the pace, plus finishing on a track is always a nice added perk.

6. Do you have any goals the Houston Marathon?
A: I am just excited to race in a competetitve field. It’s really nice to have a qualifier mark heading into the race. I have no particular time goal, but I have the utmost respect for the distance.

7. What is your current marathon PR?
A: Nope. This will be my first one. As long as I finish it will be a PR!

8. What or whom inspired you to begin running?

A: I was a kid who could never sit still at a young age. I started youth track when I was about 11 years old, but alas my 400 meter/long jump career was short-lived. By the time I entered high school, I had dropped other sports to focus on running track and XC. Well at least during the school year that is. It took a little while longer to get me running during the summertime.

9. How has coaching affected your running?
A: Coaching on the college level has been interesting. I give instruction and direction to my athletes on a daily basis. Coaching is like having someone else proofread your paper. You are bound to miss your own mistakes. I constantly find myself correcting something with one of my runners, and quickly reflecting that “Hey, I make the exact same mistake!” I would never have noticed it in the scope of my own running until I point it out to an athlete on my University of West Florida team.

10. What are you doing with your evening?
A: Printing out labels for my budding company, ‘Jam! That’s Good.’ I am staring at two dozen different varieties of jams and preserves. I am in the start-up phase with my jam company. Today I made: Strawberry Jalapeno jam, Rhubarb Cherry jam, and Peach Mango jam. It probably won’t be in your grocer’s aisle anytime soon, but it’s getting a grassroots following. A few jars have made their way to Gainesville, just ask Captain Brent Schneider about my finished product.

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