As some of you know, this weekend is an important one in New York. With Halloween on Saturday and Marathon Sunday just after, it’s hard not to be a little homesick. If you’ve ever been in New York for the marathon – as a runner or a spectator – you know how contagiously and inspiringly awesome it is. Since volunteering there as a kid, handing out cups of water to runners, I’ve been intoxicated by the massive positive energy that surrounds this race, bringing together runners from all around the world who’ve trained with so much heart, soul and dedication for the 26.2 mile race. It’s impossible not be swept up by a wave of emotion while watching runners pass the corner at 110Th and Fifth Ave (just before entering Central Park for the final lap). It’s what dreams are made of. We recently connected with 2-time NY Marathon champion, outstanding coach, and exceptional motivator Tom Fleming – who shares his inspiring story as well as some training tips.
A native of Bloomfield, New Jersey, Tom Fleming discovered competitive running in his last year of high school. In 9 months of training he was down to a 4:26 mile and a 9:24 2-mile – and a passionate track and field athlete was born. Tom continued to train hard and had an outstanding college athletic career as a 4-time NCAA All-American, while graduating with a double-major in Special Education and Elementary Education at William Paterson University (he notes that’s he’s every bit as proud of degrees as he is of his athletic accomplishments!).
Tom Fleming went on to become one of the world’s best marathoners, with major wins in New York, Cleveland, Toronto, LA, Washington, D.C. and the Jersey Shore (3 times). With an impressive personal best time of 2:12:05 (in Boston), Fleming was a force to be reckoned with, thanks to his intense training regimen and his love of competition. Meanwhile, he received a graduate degree and opened Tom Fleming’s Running Room in Bloomfield in 1978 (until 1999), which was a running shoe store and a haven for runners in the area – eager to receive Fleming’s training advice; Tom had become famous for his hardcore training philosophy, his brutal honesty and his ability to motivate. A father of two, dedicated coach and elementary school teacher, Tom Fleming instantly inspires others; his passion for running, for his athletes, and for life make him an exceptional connector.
How Running Became a Passion. “Running was always fun for me as a kid. I loved to compete in schoolyard races – and win! I played basketball and soccer before running, though I always knew I could run faster than most kids. I didn’t find my passion for it until senior year, when my friend, captain of our cross country team, talked me into coming out for the fall season. Good move, eh?”
His Top 3 Favorite Accomplishments:
- The first time he took 2nd place in Boston Marathon (as college senior)
- Receiving the USA uniform for the first time and then surprising everyone – including himself – and winning the competition with a PR (personal record)!
- Coaching elite team Nike Running Room to win the National Women’s Team XC Championships in NYC in 1990, 1991 and 1992.
Why Run. “The feeling runners get from achieving a goal or dream – and all the hard work they put in, in attempting to complete their life goal – always creates great feelings. A classic example is your first marathon; the blood, sweat and tears that go into making it to the finish line after months of training is incredible. Passion is the world. You need it to succeed in anything!”
Advice To New Runners. “Build up gradually over several months. Start running about 3-4 times a week. Be consistent and have recovery runs built into your weekly program.”
Sources of Inspiration. “My parents had the greatest effect on me as an athlete. They supported me, but they also let me make my own decisions – to fail and succeed – and to learn how to ‘race the race!’ I love using my past experiences as an athlete in coaching today at MKA (Montclair Kimberly Academy). Anyone can become a champion through hard work, a consistent BIG effort and having achievable dreams!”
Thoughts on Speed work: “The amount of speed work you need really depends on the race you are training for. I feel too many athletes preparing for marathons do too much speed work. I think one long run and one medium length run per week are the most vital and needed part of race training. More injuries occur because of speed work – too much fast short repeats… and just too much, too soon.”
Cross-training For Runners. “I recommend cycling and swimming or a combo of both.”
If You Need Motivation. “Find a running partner. Get a group to train with 3 or 4 times a week — the more the merrier!”
Winter Running Tips. “Move to Arizona or somewhere warm (smile). It’s the damn snow and ice that are my biggest issues today as a high school coach. Last winter was just terrible, although it did make me appreciate summer and spring time all the more!”
He Didn’t Stretch But You Should. “I never stretched, but I was a freak of nature. I do very much believe in the stretching guidance given in The New Rules of Running!”
The New Rules of Running. This book is an excellent resource for runners of all levels. Released in 2013 by Dr.Vijay Vad, it contains useful training advice, pre and post-run stretches, and marathon and half-marathon training plans designed by Tom Fleming. It also includes valuable information about stretching, injury prevention and race day strategies. Definitely worth picking up a copy.
Track & Field Needs Support. “I sort of just made it work. But there wasn’t much support for athletes. I figured if I was one of the best runners, the governing bodies of our sport would have to help us achieve as athletes. I’m still discouraged today that our sport hasn’t moved with much speed in acquiring more prize money at road races. There should be a $250,000 purse to win the NYC marathon today. USATF still doesn’t let athletes have numerous sponsorships or race singlets. The sport needs help coming from outside the business of running!
Special thanks to Tom Fleming for the inspiring interview and running tips.
And to everyone running the NY Marathon this weekend: We’re sending you so much kickass energy and love for this Sunday’s race. GET IT!