The Matt Thull tips4running Interview

I was lucky enough to run in college with Matt Thull. He works hard at being a great runner and coach, but more importantly, he is very smart about his hard work. Matt was an All American multiple times at UW-Oshkosh and also had a very successful post collegiate running career. For years in Milwaukee he would dominate the annual 5 mile Al's Run. Currently he coaches at the college level, and owns his own running company. ThunderDome Running is a great online coaching service where Matt designs personalized running plans for runners of every ability level.

David Tiefenthaler – You’ve coached high school and collegiate running teams. Why did you decide to take on coaching individuals through your business ThunderDome Running?

Matt Thull

Matt Thull – Each level of coaching has been a challenge and a ton of fun up to this point on both the high school and college levels; but both of those levels has limiting factors to each runner in terms of the race seasons and the sheer huge number of races you have to run. There is a special something about post-college being able to call your own shots by picking your own races, traveling to your own races, and to be your own boss in a way with your running as a runner. It is that freedom that has motivated me professionally as a runner to this day and I see that spirit and fun in all my ThunderDome runners. There is way less burn out or over-training in that type of setting post college. Plus each runner I coach has their own training schedule, strengths, weaknesses, and race goals; the variety of runners I get to coach is limitless from beginners to professional runners.

DT – I love the name of your Running Company! This isn’t the most serious of questions, but why “ThunderDome” Running. Are you a fan of Mad Max?

MT – My favorite band of all-time is AC/DC so I was trying to lift one of their song titles or lyrics in a way for the name of the business but I could not make it work after months of trying. When I was finally pushed to come up with a business name I remembered the Mad Max movie and the sporting/game sequence where Mad Max was up against pretty much the best of the best of the city in the ThunderDome competition…it just fit. I wanted the runners I coached to have that attitude and drive.

DT – You coached at the high school level, but now coach collegiately. Why did you decide to coach at a higher level?

MT – To develop each individual runner on the high school and college level takes a lot of going away from the today coaching norm. That might mean a lot more rest weeks when your college runner is supposed to be racing or NOT tripling a high school runner at conference meets or regional meets. Those instances many times hurt the runner you are coaching, but within the high school and college system so much success if measured on conference championships. That is the way it is. When I was given free reign on my distance runners in high school those runners worked within my coaching system, sometimes not racing every week, and went on to work towards state titles and it worked. At my last high school coaching track position I was not able to have that power or trust within the coaching staff. It just was not fun because it hurt the overall development of the distance runners I was coaching because those runners were way over-raced. On the pro level my runners can race one time a year or 20 times. There is total freedom to work towards getting a Boston Marathon qualifying time or a United States National Track meet qualifying time, there are no limits, constraints, or no one to answer back to.

DT – What was the most difficult part of starting up your own coaching business?

MT - The most difficult part of starting the business was getting word out that ThunderDome could make a difference in “your” individual running. The trust factor. There are so many blanket, general, and internet training plans out there to follow; but I was basing my business on individualized training that was most likely different from anything most runners had trained like in the past. The trust factor in running is so huge so going away from what maybe kind of worked in the past to a new coach is hard for some people to let go of. It is always hard for runners to think that maybe there is something different out there in terms of approach and philosophy that might help there running. I had to sell that new philosophy and comfort level. All the state 3200m champs, top 10 USA road race champ finishes, or Boston qualifying runners does not mean everyone is going to sign right up for ThunderDome.

DT – What types of runners do you coach? Strictly high school athletes, or would you coach an old runner like me if I were to try my first marathon?

MT – The fun part about working with ThunderDome runners is I get to work with high school runners out of season, beginner runners who start out with a walk/run, professionals, or ex-college running stars like you who need some structure to get back on track with some training. First time marathoners like you make up a lot of the ThunderDome team of athletes. You would be surprised how “easy” it is to get back into training when you know what/why/how far you need to go each day following an individualized schedule.

DT – As I was reading through your website, I noticed that in order to use your services, you ask a prospective candidate to fill out a running survey. What are some of the more important questions on the survey?

MT – The quality of my ThunderDome coaching depends on knowing as much as I can about past running history for possible new clients The new runner history survey includes past training mileage, long run info, past injuries, short term and future goals/races, and persona records. The more I know about each runner’s history, the more coaching I can do.

DT Can you explain the process if I wanted you to design a running plan for me after I answered your questionnaire?

MT – I review the running questionnaire and take some notes/observations and then we set up a time to talk on the phone to see if we would be a good coach/running team together. My new runners have to be comfy with me and I have to be confident that the new running client will actually follow the training plan. I am in this fully but need to know my runners are too so I can see if they are really serious about training when we talk on the phone for those 30 minutes as we review the survey.

DT – Do you keep coaching some clients (who aren’t in high school or college) on all year?

MT – Many of my running clients who are onto their 3rd, 4th, and beyond training cycles (16-20 weeks) are really reaping the benefits of solid, uninterrupted, challenging training. I can fix a lot of runners in say a 16-20 week training cycle. For example I have a dad of 6 who was invited to run in the USA Master’ Marathon champs this fall at Twin Cities Marathon, he is in his 5th training cycle with me and he ran his marathon PR after the 3rd training cycle in his 20th career marathon. He is now ranked as one of the top 20 masters runners in the US. The training is not an instant fix or immediate success rate and I tell everyone that when we begin. Many of my post college runners need to be one training cycle removed from their college work to really take off with ThunderDome training. Even beginners or runners who have not trained for years need a cycle or two to feel great.

DT – How successful are of some of the high school runners who use your personal plans for their cross country or track seasons?

MT – ThunderDome had the opportunity to work with several motivated high school runners over this past summer or winter. There has been a pretty good success rate in those runners reaching the goals they set for themselves which invariably means wanting to run at the state meet. From that group we worked with a runner from the state champ D1 CC team in the fall and in track a runner from the all time record setting 3200m relay team this year in D1.

ThunderDome Running

DT – You had a very successful high school, collegiate, and post collegiate running career. What would you say was the highlight of your personal running career?

MT – The highlight of my career was running a PR in a 10 mile race (47:46) one year at the USA Papa Johns 10 mile road race championships and then having a private Eddie Money concert after the race paid for by the Papa John. There were only like 25 runners from the race at the concert. On top of that the 10 mile race qualified me for the USA ½ marathon team that raced in Portugal in the World Half Marathon championships.

DT – Now that you are coaching runners, do you find it as rewarding as chasing your own running goals? How is it different, and how is it similar?

MT – It is way more rewarding to coach runners but nerve wrecking at the same time. I had way more control in my own running in training and racing, but with coaching I have a lot more trust that my runners are doing what is on the training schedule. My favorite part is getting the Sat or Sunday race report from all my ThunderDome runners. The variety of those results range from first time marathon times to USA championship results, I love getting those race updates. When I was competing I was way more critical of things even when they went well in a race…kind of that never happy thing. With my runners now I make sure that if a race is awesome they know that.

DT – We both ran for Coach Zupanc at UW-Oshkosh. I took for granted all the things I learned about a healthy lifestyle and running from him. Do you find most people don’t have the same background knowledge of running that we have, even if they did run in high school or college?

MT – Some of the biggest parts of coaching are the outside of running habits that you and I learned from Coach Zupanc at UW-Oshkosh. Getting enough sleep, nutrition, and handling life stress all negatively brings down great training. I stress those things every single day with my runners, because all the running and training does not matter if you don’t take care of yourself.

DT – Although we both ran at UW-Oshkosh together, we were very different runners. My strengths were in the 400 to 1500 where you were an excellent 5k to 10k runner. Let’s say you were coaching me for a half marathon or marathon. Would your plans be altered a bit for someone like me who has more speed but less endurance?

MT – For sure that is the biggest challenge and most fun in coaching, a runner with your leg speed is going to still be fast for the marathon without being on the track as much or by doing as many intervals within training. Your speed will come out even more by just being a strong runner. Someone like you may be running a PR in the 5k off of all base work & mileage and throwing in a few stride days after your runs as compared to the endurance runner who maybe has the long run in place but lacks the leg speed to make 5k/10k pace feel easier and eventually marathon pace feel easy. Those are all the secrets you get with the individualized coaching.

DT – Do you alter workout plans as you go based upon what results runners are getting?

MT – With ThunderDome you get a 4 week plan each month-- emailed to you with factoring all your running history along with short term and long term goals. Seldom do things go 100% as planned on a daily basis in training whether you are a beginner or pro. That is why this type of coaching works. We take the “what do I do now” out of your training thinking if you miss a workout or run. We also use workout and race results to change up workout paces over a training cycle or readjust future races goals.

DT – Have you ever considered creating a “cookie cutter” plan for people, or do you prefer designing individual running plans?

MT – During my 15 years of coaching I have yet to do a cookie cutter plan, and that is why I believe my runners have had a lot of fun and individual success along the way. Anyone can find those cookie cutter plans out there online or in books and there is nothing wrong with those schedules, but those plans over time unfortunately do not get the same positive results as individual training.

DT - Thanks for your time Matt!

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