5000m Ace Looks Forward to Outdoor Season
Still recovering from a pesky knee injury sustained while altitude training in Flagstaff, Ariz.., last fall, two-time U.S. 3000m indoor champion Matt Tegenkamp will skip the indoor season this year. Instead, he will slowly build up to his outdoor debut in the spring, hoping to be at full strength for the U.S. Outdoor Championships in June.
"I got a little banged up," said Tegenkamp in a telephone interview from the house he recently sold in Madison, Wisc., in anticipation of moving to Portland, Ore., next week. "We went up to altitude at the end of October and all of November; things were going great. Then I got to the middle of December, I got the same thing I got before the Trials: it was my knee."
Various electronic imaging tests showed that Tegenkamp's knee joint is structurally sound. However, the Beijing Olympic finalist in the 5000m had developed a hard-to-define inflammation problem.
"It could be something like bad tendonitis, or the plica band that wraps around the kneecap," said Tegenkamp. "It can get really, really irritated. It can cause the knee to track a little differently."
Tegenkamp, 27, has been receiving a variety of treatments, including a procedure where the anti-inflammatory medication Dexamethasone is passed through the skin on his knee from a special pad. "There is a ion transfer and that drives the medication down through the skin," he explained. He also said he had been taking anti-inflammatory medications and even took a "rich platelets" treatment. "They take a pretty significant amount of your blood, then spin it down just to the platelets," he said. "They inject the platelets back to wherever you're having the pain, and it makes a chemical reaction through the body and causes a huge rush of blood to that area. The point of it is that the body will heal itself."
Tegenkamp had to do a complete training shutdown in order to break the inflammation cycle. Today, he was to try his first run to see where he stands.
"I need to just get out and test it," he said. "It's going to be indoors in a prudent environment."
Olympic Year Did Not Quite Satisfy
Sometimes compared to American record holder Bob Kennedy, Tegenkamp and his coach Jerry Schumacher have set high standards. In 2007, he finished fourth at the IAAF World Championships, just 3/100ths of a second out of the medals. In 2008, he finished second at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 5000m, and advanced easily to the Olympic final. But the final didn't go the way he had planned, and he finished 13th in a fast race where Kenenisa Bekele set a new Olympic record of 12:57.82.
"There was some complacency on my side of the way we trained," he said. "We trained for a kicker's race. Athletes need to be patient and need to react to what happens. I was trying to predict when the major move was going to be made even before the race. I was up on everyone's heels and using up lots of extra energy. I feel if I had been more patient in that race, I would have run a much better race.
"That's where it dawned on me after," he continued. You have to have no expectations and totally react. It's all about competition You just have to fight and hang in there."
Tegenkamp said he needs to improve his overall strength and endurance, slowly working up to steady 100 mile weeks. Because he was injury-prone in college, he always kept his mileage lower than most top 5-K runners and worked, instead, on developing his speed. Now he feels he needs to lay down a thicker base to be his best.
"Basically we'll look at February to the start of May as the base period again," he said. He added: "You can still run really really well off strength (but) you may not feel good doing it."
Tegenkamp, and his wife Michelle, will attend the closing on the sale of their Madison home on Friday, then fly to Portland on the following Tuesday. His entire Madison training group will be reconstituted there under coach Schumacher. Training partners Tim Nelson, Stuart Eagon, Simon Bairu, and Jonathon Riley have already moved. Chris Solinsky, Tegenkamp's key training mate, is in the process of moving now.
Leaving Madison isn't easy for Tegenkamp, a place where he and Michelle both went to school and where his running career truly blossomed. But like any professional, he needs to uproot sometimes in order to advance his career.
"We just kind of had a big gathering on Saturday with neighbors and close friends of ours," he said. "It's going to be different.
We were definitely settled in Madison. We loved the house we were in and everything. But the athletic side of things for me is short-lived. We want to do everything we can maximize my potential."
Tegenkamp is already one of his country's fastest middle distance runners. He's the #5 American of all-time at 3000m (7:34.98) and #4 at 5000m (13:04.90). His 1500m personal best of 3:34.25 isn't too shabby, either. Still, he thinks he has the potential to do much better. He just needs to find the balance between training hard and training right.
"As an athlete I always wanted to push the envelope and ride the red line," he said. "It was kind of a wake-up call this year. I was fortunate enough to make the Olympic team, but I didn't perform well enough at the Olympic Games. That's what we're trying to change this year, to get back to the basics."