Mark Rowland, 56, is in his 11th year as coach of Oregon Track Club Elite, a Nike-sponsored world class distance program based in Eugene, Oregon. So far, four members of the current team have qualified for the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar – Hanna Green, Ben Blankenship, Hassan Mead and Nijel Amos. Green, Blankenship, and Mead will represent Team USA, while Amos, ranked No. 1 in the world in the 800 meters, competes for his native Botswana.
Mark is well versed in global track and field competition. He won the bronze medal in the 3000m steeplechase at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, accomplished with an 8 second personal best of 8:07.96, which still stands as the British record. He was a close second at the 1990 European Championships. Treat yourself to the race videos on You Tube.
Before moving to Eugene, Mark held many positions in UK athletics, including head distance coach at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. And then the phone rang: it was Vin Lananna calling from Eugene. Mark and Stephanie Rowland have been married since 1983, and are the proud parents of three children – one son and two daughters.
1. Though one of the UK’s best in the 1500m, you changed coaches during the 1986-87 season to prepare for the 5000m and the 1988 Olympics. Instead, Alan Storey, your new coach, suggested you try the steeple. Why and how was the transition?
I wasn’t fast enough in the 1500 for world competition. Realistically, I thought the 5K would be my better option to compete at major championships even though I hated the event. It was too painful and too long. Qualifying for world competition in the steeple was not considered to be as intense. My first year was dreadful. It seemed everything went wrong. I neglected to go over the final barrier at the 1987 British Trials and missed out on selection for the World Championships. But in the winter leading up to the Olympics, it got better thanks to some great coaching from Storey, and my new hurdles coach, John Miller, whom I saw weekly.
2. In your time on the track, British world beaters included Seb Coe, Steve Ovett, Steve Cram and Peter Elliott. We don’t see the like now, save Paula Radcliffe, Laura Muir, and, of course, Mo Farah. Why?
The sport sometimes runs in cycles for a variety of reasons. Cultural, education, money, drugs, etc. There was a slight drop-off but the UK has always produced athletes capable of competing on the world stage. At present, they are doing very well. There is a new group of talented runners coming through, and time will tell whether they can emulate the U.S. and win medals at major championships.
Money is a big reason. British football is wildly popular and pays very well. There is no track and field in UK high schools. It’s a cultural thing. Hopefully, it’s cyclical and track will be back.
3. OTC Elite is closely associated with Orreco, a cutting edge sports and data science entity focusing on reduction of injury, loss of training time, and to provide actionable data to optimize performance and make decisions. Where/how is that seen in your athletes’ routines?
Ideally, everyone gets a full blood test at the start of the training program to gather baseline data. I determine when and how much each individual is tested based on their background, commitment and stage of development. I do not want to suffocate athletes with too much information in the early stages.
We are fortunate to use cutting edge technology to help us test oxidative stress which we can apply and monitor athletes on a more regular basis. Such tests provide baselines, indicate what to watch for, and what needs attention.
4. How has Orreco changed your habits and programs?
I’m always wanting to have updated information available, and I continue to learn for my own education. The science is always changing. You have to stay humble and keep an open mind. We need to find out what works best for each athlete.
5. The aging, anxious OTC Masters need a tip or two. Your advice?
Work hard when you feel you can, but also fully enjoy whatever you do. You will need to take more easy days and recovery runs between sessions.
6. How often, how much weight work for your runners?
We’re in the gym 2-3 times a week. Everyone starts with an activation warm-up. The routines vary widely based on individual characteristics, needs and specialties. An 800m runner works more on dynamic power and plyometrics, while the 10,000m runner is focused on postural and function control.
7. Still running? Last race? Why do most great runners stop competing?
I can’t remember my last race. Maybe 25 years ago, Berlin Grand Prix? Maybe I don’t race because I’m not that guy anymore. We change so much. When I can, I aim to walk and run for 40 minutes. Or I walk the dogs, hopefully, without seeing or talking to anyone so I can escape and spend my time thinking about the athletes’ workouts and plans.
8. Advice to your younger self at 15 years?
Be a better football player! Don’t ruminate over mistakes. Deal with them and move on quickly. Take responsibility. Total positive attitude. Don’t be influenced by negative things beyond your control.
9. Name three of your personal heroes and why you admire them so much.
I don’t like the word “heroes” as it’s used flippantly and too often. Sportsmen I admire are those that make it look easy, as class does.
Pele and George Best. The former was an all-around genius the best football player ever, while George was a flamboyant entertainer that lit up the football field for my favorite club (Man United). Both were prepared to do something different and special to not only entertain but to win.
Steve Ovett. I trained with him (invariably from behind) because of the location (Sussex) and the event I really loved (1500m).
Daley Thompson. World champion decathlete. Admired for his bluntness and directness.
P.S. – My pro tip of the day. A recent video: In Search of Greatness.
10. What special moment or insight caused your devotion to running?
No special moment. I was good at running, and had a strong desire to be the best, and a drive to win and be the best that I could.
11. Your most gifted or recommended books of interest to runners, athletes, those with focus on healthy living?
I liked Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog. I enjoy good biographies, especially those about successful people, what made them tick, their traits and instincts that made them successful.
12. In your recent years, what has become more important and less important?
Slowing down. Creating more time to think and reflect clearly, and not be distracted. I walk away from the computer when it ain’t happening in regards to planning or writing training programs.
13. Three things that make you grumpy?
Only three? Lack of sleep and fuel. Talent that doesn’t execute on their abilities. Time keeping. Laziness and lack of commitment to a chosen profession or task.
14. Your obsessions on evenings and/or weekends
That’s easy. Golf. Wine. Watching football (soccer) live.
15. Best track & field documentaries or movies.
I don’t like the track movies. If pushed, I confess I liked Chariots of Fire. I was asked to be a part in that (probably a background runner), but was too young and in school. Sic semper Gloria mundi.
Take the Factfulness Test. Takes less than 5 minutes. Almost certainly you will score worse than a chimpanzee.