Kyle Merber is the American Collegiate Record Holder in the 1500m with a time of 3:35.59 from his time at Columbia University in 2012. He spent 2013 running for U of Texas, and has since turned pro, now being sponsored by Hoka One One. Kyle was a feature member of the cast of the running documentary 'The Real Maine' produced in 2012. Kyle has had a redemption year in 2014, and is looking to build on his progress for the next cycle of global track championships.
Interview from August 20, 2014
TRL: Mr 3:35 is back in the game. How do you feel about your season? Did you achieve the goals you set out at the beginning of the year?
Kyle: This was definitely the season I was hoping for when I began setting my goals and laying out the plan for the year. Before things really started I had said that I wanted to stay healthy, get my consistency back, set some personal bests, and get over to Europe and learn what the international racing scene is like in preparation for years to come. Despite having a pretty big layover in the middle of the year with an injury, I was able to rebound well and still accomplish what I wanted to for the most part. You should always hope things go perfectly, but be ready and expect to adjust when they don’t.
TRL: How does this season prepare you for the upcoming three years of global championships?
Kyle: The biggest thing this season has given me was a sense of confidence that I belong. I know that I can be a factor to make teams and represent the USA the next few years, and that is always the goal. My closing speed keeps improving as I get stronger, and those final gears are necessary in the tactical championship races. But perhaps the biggest asset of this season has been my new partnership with Hoka One One as my sponsor. They’ve shown that they believe in my career, and to have their support these next few years will be fundamental to making it happen.
TRL: What’s next? Will you do any racing before the indoor season starts?
Kyle: I plan on finishing up my season at the 5th Ave Mile, and hope to mix it up well there. I am then going to take a little downtime, take a vacation to New Zealand (to visit my best friend who lives there now) and then after those few weeks I’ll build back up and get ready for the indoor campaign. My eyes are set on the US Champs Outdoors so everything will be building until then. This fall I will probably run the NYRR 5k Dash to the Finish, and there are some internal debates going on within our team about us potentially going to Club XC Nationals since it’s in our backyard. I haven’t decided what side I am fighting for yet.
TRL: You’ve publicly acknowledged the brilliance of Gags before, what exactly does he do differently to make the NJNYTC such a great program?
Kyle: Gags is a motivator. A lot of coaches know the ins and out of the human body, and will test your inner workings like you’re a mouse in the lab, but Gags keeps it simple for us. He has a system, and it works. He always says, “IF YOU PUT SPEED AND STRENGTH IN A BOWL AND MIX IT UP YOU GET A CHAMPION!” The basis is we work hard, we recover, and we repeat the process. There are no secrets. But Gags makes you believe in yourself like no one ever has before, and that’s what makes him such a great coach.
TRL: You’ve got Donn Cabral, Robby Andrews, Mike Rutt, and many more talented guys just like yourself to train with every day. The team dynamic has to feel different from college. How do you adjust from being at the top of the college scene to now trying to prove yourself at the professional level?
Kyle: The team dynamic is actually extremely similar to a college team. I live in a house with 6 other guys, and depending on what street you go down in our neighborhood you’ll run into one set of teammates or another. When we aren’t meeting Gags for a workout, we are sending texts the night before to determine when and where we will meet for our easy runs. And when we aren’t running together we are cooking, watching Netflix, having campfires or playing wiffle ball. In workouts, we get in line and we hit the times. It’s rare Gags will let us measure our manhood against one another, and so we work really well as a group. And although we want nothing more than to beat each other when racing, we are each other’s biggest fans when not.
TRL: NJNY isn’t tied to a shoe sponsor. With such a talented group, can you elaborate on why this is? Are there plans to bring on a major sponsor in the future?
Kyle: Gags moved back to the east coast for personal reasons, but decided to pick up a few local elite athletes to train after they convinced him to help. And so the NJNY TC was born. It wasn’t because a shoe company poured a ton of money into it, but because Gags wanted to coach who he wanted to coach. He believes in surrounding an athlete with the best possible training partners regardless of what shoes they wear. And even though I am with Hoka One One, and a few of my teammates are not, that doesn’t mean we don’t work well together in practice. Gags just wants to see his athletes get better--that’s his passion. And so we are are 501(c)(3) Non-Profit, and we function solely on donations (and it’s easy to donate at www.njnytc.com and is EXTREMELY appreciated!).
TRL: It’s no secret that money in track is not easy to find as a developing pro. Can you talk about what kind of financial support the club provides, and what you need to do to make ends meet, especially living in the NYC area?
Kyle: The club helps provide living expenses, travel costs, health care, therapy, training costs, and entry fees for athletes. For a lot of athletes, that is enough to make it possible to keep chasing their dreams. The majority of the team works in some capacity in a myriad of jobs from shoe stores, to physical therapy, to law offices and much more. We also have a lot of students who are still in school chasing degrees of higher education. Personally, even though I am now a contracted athlete with Hoka One One, I will still work for KindRunner.com as the director of Marketing/PR and pick up some shifts at the Sneaker Factory.
TRL: There have been rumors about a sequel to ‘The Real Maine’. Are these rumors true, and if so, when can we expect to hear more?
Kyle: We talk about it every now and then and what it would possibly be and what we could do differently or better. I am actually with Riley in Maine as we speak, and this time Garret Heath has joined us for a week in Vacationland for some training. Erik is the mastermind and director so it would be his call since he has the camera. But I know I would love to do something eventually. Hopefully we all have long careers and plenty of time to figure it out.
TRL: You’ve got one of the more interesting twitter accounts in track and field. Can you pick out a funny/interesting running story that was too long to post on twitter?
Kyle: I am really hoping interesting is used as an endearing description! I just try and keep things honest and light. Generally I can convey my thoughts with brevity, but one of my favourite running stories probably doesn’t fit in 140 characters. I was 14 and on a family trip to Italy. I would wake up ridiculously early each morning to go run so that way we could still go touring as soon as everyone else was ready. I was in Florence and the roads were terrible for running due to the cobblestone, and I kept twisting my ankle. So I hopped up on the sidewalk, but I was winding in and out of people and I’d hop back in the street now and then. Well I jump down and a bus is charging forward. The driver swerves out of the way, and hits a guy in the lane next to him off his moped. He falls off the bike and lands poorly and breaks his arm in the most brutal way possible. He was crying in the street and the bus driver looked horrified as pedestrians crowded around. We made eye contact, and he knew it was my fault. But I had no id on me, and my parents had no idea where I was. I didn’t know what they’d do to me in Italian prison, so I just booked it away. I still feel terrible to this day, and didn't actually tell anyone what happened for a couple years.
TRL: Let’s talk NCAA XC. Individual and Team winners, Men’s and Women’s. What are your predictions? Hopefully you’re less biased now that you've graduated.
Kyle: Predictions besides Columbia and Texas going 1-2 at Nationals?