Alumnus Ethan Coffey, who was a member of the Carnegie Mellon University cross country and track and field teams from 2001 to 2005 and studied mechanical engineering, has graduated on to a career as a research engineer along with winning races on big stages.
Coffey ran in the 2014 United States of America Track and Field (USATF) 50k Road Championships and crossed the finish with a record setting time of two hours and 53 minutes (2:53:32.78) on March 1, 2014, upsetting four-time champion Michael Wardian and back-to-back champion Joseph Gray. Despite being in a tight three-man pack with Wardian and Gray, in the final 10k of the race Coffey found himself running alone quite a distance ahead of the pack.
Coffey had entered into a number of other 50k and marathon races since he has been training, but stated this was the first one he ran as hard as he absolutely could. He remembered thinking, 'just two more loops,' as the course was made up of a 5k loop the runners had to complete 10 times.
"I knew going into the race that the course record of 2 hours and 55 minutes required 17.5 minute loops, so as I was running the last 10k alone I was doing some match and figuring out what I had to run to be under the record," Coffey said. "I was relieved as I crossed the finish line. I have had a lot of races end poorly because of pacing and/or fueling issues and I knew it was risky to start off so quick, but I was relieved that it all worked out this time."
Being prepared mentally and visualizing goals is just as important in distance running as the physical training to be ready on race day.
"If you are not mentally prepared for a race it is really easy to slow down and not realize it," Coffey said. "The mental preparation comes with the physical preparation by running long runs and races on tired legs and forcing yourself to push to the finish."
Not only did Coffey finish this race, but he won the event and set a new record, but that didn't come without a clear vision.
"I wanted to win. Going into the race I told myself I would go whatever pace the other top guys went for the first few miles (within reason). It turned out the other guys had the same idea, but I was the only one who could hold the pace through the entire distance," Coffey said.
Coffey began a new training cycle at the end of December to help in preparation for the Road Championships, but has been training for marathons and gradually increasing his fitness over the past few years.
"I ran a 50k training run in January in three hours and five minutes," Coffey recalled. "And I completed this one 12 minutes faster."
Increasing his fitness level has been a major goal of Coffey's during this training cycle.
"I run 110-120 miles per week during my hard weeks," Coffey said, "This generally consists of nine to 10 runs per week, with a long run of 20-30 miles, a medium-long run of 15-17 miles, and one of two hard workouts like six, one-mile runs at half-marathon pace."
The pace of his training is less intense than the pace during his collegiate career, but Coffey has tacked on the mileage to make up for it.
"When I was in college, I would get injured anytime I got over 70 miles per week, but I was always running as hard as I could trying to keep up with a group of guys more talented than I was," Coffey continued. "I run by myself a lot now so I take my light days really easy which allows me to be better rested for my hard days even though I am running more miles."
Running for Carnegie Mellon is an experience that Coffey is always grateful to have had.
"I gained a lot of knowledge about my strengths and weaknesses running at CMU," Coffey said.
Every October, Coffey returns to Carnegie Mellon to compete with other alumni on a team in the CMU Cross Country Invitational.
Coffey is next preparing for the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon taking place Sunday, March 30. This race is his final preparatory race before the Boston Marathon on April 21.
In Boston, Coffey is running from the finish to the start and then running the marathon totaling 52.4 miles for the day. He is raising money for the Be Strong Stay Strong Fund, which is a fund to help the victims of last year's bombings.
Coffey also has a blog where he is taking pledges for the charity and documenting his running experiences and training and fundraising progress.
Looking ahead to the 2016 Olympics, Coffey is hoping to qualify for the Olympic trials in the marathon, which would require a time of two hours and 18 minutes.
"That is significantly faster than I have ever run, but my recent results show that it may be a possibility in 2016," Coffey explained.
After an attempt at the Olympic trials, Coffey plans to move on to ultra-marathons with the ultimate goal of completing the 135-mile Badwater Ultra run from Death Valley to Mount Whitney in California.