Interview with Gary Reed, Canada’s 800m Record Holder

This is part 15 of the Freelap Friday Five Series, 2013 Edition. To review the 16 part 2012 edition, click here.

Part 1 was Matt Scherer, Professional Pacer-Rabbit.

Part 2 was Stuart McMillan, Bobsled and former UKA Sprint Coach.

Part 3 was Dean Starkey, PV Coach and former Elite Pole Vaulter.

Part 4 was Mike Hurst, Journalist and Australian 400 meter Coach.

Part 5 was Craig Pickering, UK Sprinter and Bobsledder

Part 6  was April Holmes, Paralympic 100m Olympic Gold Medalist

Part 7 was Chip Jenkins, former 600m AR, and 4x400m 1992 Olympic Gold Medalist

Part 8 was Kevin Tyler, former UKA Head of Coaching

Part 9 was Liam Collins, a 400mH, Bobsledder, and dancer with Faces of Disco

Part 10 was Doug Logan, former CEO of USATF and MLS Commissioner

Part 11 was Adarian Barr, Coach and Innovator

Part 12 was Bill Collins, former WR holder and Masters Sprinter

Part 13 was Jothy Rosenberg, of Who Says I Can’t?

Part 14 was Steve Walters, Paralympian Guide for Visual Impaired

Gary Reed currently holds the Canadian record in the 800m with a time of 1:43.68 in Rieti.

He won the 800 meter national title 6 times, competed in 2 Olympics and 5 World Championships.

His best performances include a silver medal at the 2007 World Championships and a 4th place finish at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

After his retirement, Gary founded the Reed Athletics Fund.  Please support his good cause (and we’re going to focus on this for the FFF interview). You can read the press release here.

I caught up with Gary Reed whilst in Vancouver for the Meeting of the Minds conference.  I’ll be here for a while, so perhaps there will be a Part 2, and we can talk more about training and racing…

Friday Five is sponsored by Freelap Track and Field, a leader in electronic timing.

Interview with Gary Reed

Freelap Friday Five

Q1:  What was the first idea you had to get your Reed Athletics Fund foundation, going? What or who inspired you?

How big do you want grow this? Is it just British Columbia now, will it include Canada, or will cover the World?  Is school a major prerequisite or can they just finish high school or would you like to see them go the University or Junior College?

What time frame do you give your athletes to get carded, assuming they are not funded by you?  And when they get carded, do you pull their funding or give it to somebody else who has needs it more?  (I am not joking here!)

Lastly, do you go looking for athletes or athletes’ come to your foundation and apply?

Gary Reed: I spoke about this at my launch party, and I think the idea came many years ago. I know it was buried in my head somewhere years ago, back when I was being ranked Number 1 in a country as a Junior athlete and having to hitchhike home from your National Championships… just struggling that hard when you are potentially an Olympic Gold medalist for your country.

There’s something that I just saw as a very big problem then, and didn’t really have a lot of time to address the issue, because obviously I was very focused on my athletics and didn’t have a lot of time to address the issue until I retired.

When I retired, that’s when the wheels started really turning.

There’s always going to be a lot of people and a lot of athletes who say that your career is defined by what you do at the Olympics or what you do at the World Championships, and that started to get me thinking. I truly believe that what I do off the track will define my career. Always have and always will. You know I’ve always been one of guys whose stayed humble through it all, same core group of friends, or when I’m around my family, or to the people around me. Track never changed me at all.

And so I think the big part of my running legacy will be my ability to stay close to what made me and give back as much as I can, and for me, looking for in the future, that’s what I want my kids to see and that’s what I want to really be known for.

In terms of size and growth,  we’re definitely going to focus… obviously you start provincially based. We are a national organization looking at athletes across the country and we’re looking at the talent all over Canada. We are not looking to go outside of Canada in terms of support and definitely want to support Canadian athletes… that’s a big thing for us. We understand that there are a zillion athletes around the world who need help, but we’re really concerned about our athletes, and trying to support the Canadian sport scene and improve the Canadian legacy and sort of change that culture.  I think to do that starts with Canadian athletes, so our end game take is very very National. We are provincially now, but we want to be more well known.

That whole model of “carding” is broken right now.. the whole model of developing somebody until they have success and then reducing them is broken, it’s been broken from the beginning, and it’s exactly why I started this.. it’s the same saying you’re going to invest heavily into a company, you know you’re going to buy shares in a company until the company becomes successful and then you’re going to dump all your shares! It’s a broken model it doesn’t work that way, we have a pro long term vision and for our athletes we want to not only support them as they progress and develop, but if they do become carded in a four year or a 8 year window…  whatever…  our 4 year/8 year commitment is depending on their age and event, and we want to make sure that we are there for them with them at their back pushing them harder and helping them more as they’re more successful, because that’s when it gets tough tough tough you know developing years are super tough, to develop top tier is very very hard to feel, and we’re very sensitive to that, we don’t want our athletes to think they’ll have really good year and do really well, and then the next year lose $10,000 off the funding from us.

It’s quite the opposite and we want them to know that there’s a certain financial threshold that will come into play. If some guys you know really do well in the sport and go on and not require funding, then it becomes into the athletic personal character. We put a lot of thoughts into that and we want our athletes to eventually give back to younger athletes and I think that the character of the individual will be able to tell us if they won’t be needing funding anymore, and that’s a huge thing for us right now. We want people who are astute, smart, articulate, good on the track and great off the track and understand to contributing back to the society and contributing back to the fund as they develop their talents.

In terms of University, it’s not really a priority for us as the commitment is a lifestyle in Track & Field, and we’re not concerned about their post-secondary. If they chose to put that on hold just like a lot of pro-athletes do or a lot of top athletes do, then that’s their own business. For us, we’re concerned about their lifestyle commitment to track and field, track and field is a full time sport, it’s a full time gig, you need to be more than a 100% life committed to do well at the top. We are looking for athletes who want to live it, guys who want it, breathe it, eat it, sleep it, and you know who are hungry, to become successful, and so on.

As for applicants, when we are in a position to take on another athlete we’ll do call for applicants, we don’t typically. Of course, we’re going to know who the talent is out there. We have a pretty even playing field when it comes to applicants, and what we’ll do is have a call for applicants when we’re ready, and those who apply will be considered and those who don’t, we’re not going to, you know we’re going to make sure that all athletes do meet that criteria are well aware of the application process but there’s myself and the four other directors and we all collectively come to an agreement on who our next athlete will be, and all of us have different ideas and I think some guys are very good at understanding what the athlete can give in terms of PR in terms of when there’s some sort of momentum in the community, and guys like me are very good at seeing their ability to develop the sport.

Gary Reed Arnoud Okken IAAF World Championships

Q2: Let’s talk about “challenges”.  Surely we’re not just looking solely at Mercier tables, right?  Their character, his family, financial, etc. must take in account?

In terms of weather, while you trained in Victoria, how do you deal with all this crappy weather? What challenges do we have for Vancouver based athletes?  Lots of Training camps?

What are the challenges do you have to face to get money from corporations, individuals, and from other bloggers like myself?  I see you have a two way model of individual payments or a monthly subscription, which must be a hard sell?

After the Olympics, there is always a drop in funding for 3 years, so hard is it to attract funds in a post-Olympics where nobody is trying to raise awareness?

Gary Reed: That’s right.. there’s a lot of different things that go into it because if you strictly go off the Mercier Tables, you’re going to miss the good ones, you’ll be staring at the chart forever.  There’s a lot going on and there’s a lot that takes to become a world class athletes and we collectively as a board understand all those different thoughts to become a world class athlete and to do very well, so we’re not looking for somebody who busted one good performance if they are not interested in contributing to the society, and not interested in helping the next generation. If they’re not interested in committing to a firm, stable coaching environment, if they’re not interested in having any financial needs then they’re not our candidate, so there’s a lot that goes into it.   There’s a lot of integrity in what we’re doing and we’re not interested in punk asses who can run fast if you know what I mean Smile

Our athlete we have right now is not Vancouver based, he’s from Winnipeg, he trains in Victoria and he spends some time in Scottsdale, AZ, and people know who he is in BC, for sure, and he was third in the country two years ago.  We’re a national organization, for us, our only concern is that we have our interns, we have Canadian citizens training in a stable environment but obviously this is the part of the problem if they need to be in a warm weather training. Who can afford that? Yes, that costs money, that’s where we come in and hopefully you can divide it amongst the system so that they can get to the warm weather training. We understand this isn’t optimal.  We just want to give them training at their best whatever it may be, we don’t care if it is on planet Mars.

I think you will have to fully understand when you get into something like this, not everybody cares but what we are interested in are people who do care.  So if there’s a hundred people that come through and there’s 15 that care, and they are passionate like we are, and they share our vision and share our belief then we’d love to sit down talk to them, so for us as board, we’re not out there trying to change people’s culture or beliefs about sport and it’s impact on human beings. We’re out there dealing with people who understand that sport is a character building thing, and creates a somewhat better human being to walk through that door in life, for your job, 20 years from now, 15 years from now, and so that’s who we operate with is people who share our faith, share our belief. It’s like anything… we can’t concern ourselves nor take into account any type of negative activity or comments that come our way because we’re too busy focusing for the good..

I think you have to remember something is… we’re very clear messengers, we’re developing athletes, we’re not in the business of somebody whose swoops in 4 months before the Olympic Games, gives an athlete $5000, and fund them when they are already almost qualified, sends him or her to the Olympic Games and cut him off next year… that’s completely 180 from us! That’s not how we operate. We operate on the premise of young developing athletes, who have an Olympic games in 2016, in 2020.  And if they do make it this year, great, that’s one more year experience, we’re not really banking on that right, quite frank, we’re not really baking on any short term success, it’s very long term and maybe that’s why for an 4 or 8 year commitment, it’s development because it takes years to develop an athlete. It’s not a six month play, it’s years, and it’s years and years of consistent support, consistently developing your athletes year and year out, support, support.. It takes time, takes patience, and if you don’t have those two then you shouldn’t be in the business of open athletes.

The athletes have to believe in themselves.  And maybe they need to be more committed than we could ever be, right?  We can’t be more committed than we have to be, they have to warm up more than us, they have to commit more than us, you know and that’s what we’re looking for, we’re looking for that type of athletes, that type of character.

Q3: So when you were on that BC Ferry moving to Victoria BC for the first time, no job, an empty apartment, what was on your mind?  At that time, did you believe you were are going to the Olympics or World Championships?   Were you already carded?  How did you fund yourself?

Finally, looking into the sunset, after the 2007 World’s silver medal,  I‘m sure it was a nice payday at the end of the day.. it must have been rewarding goal after several years of hard work?

Gary Reed: Absolutely, now that I have that vision, looking back before the move, I’ve done 1:48 something, and at that point once I had broken 1:50 one time and I was all of my races were around 1:50, but you know what, I was young, I was committed, I had vision, I had nothing, and I was just as the frickin’ happy with what I was doing then as I was when I was at the top of the food chain, because for me, it was what I wanted to do, what I believed. I have to understand that I wasn’t some type of miserable developing athletes who was roaming around, getting pissed for not getting this or that. [JIMSON’S NOTE: I think Gary is referring to athletes who get burnt by the system and switch coaches, countries or sponsors!]

I was just very positive, as everyday working very very extremely hard, and you know I really believed that it was going to work out for me and I luckily had some people who believed as much as I did. And that helped me bridge that gap and help me aneuver those wins, and that’s what it takes.  The premise of “less support equals better” is ridiculous, that is a ridiculous premise! That’s not true… any guy, I tell you, anybody, could have never had done it without the key support, very key people in my life, at certain key times.

Coaching and family, friends… all these things… supporting you at the right time, people moving with you and sending you letters saying “they believe in you” and “you’re not there yet” but you just keep going. And I can tell you, I know it may seem like I just moved in Victoria woke up 5 years later and was winning medals, but it was almost the year before that was key, and that’s where we are trying to come in.  My first Nike contact felt like “10 million bucks” to me,  do you know what I mean? It was like “10 million bucks” to me,  it really was.  It was two training camps here, extra flight, extra good food, an extra massage, it was just everything.

How much did I get in funding?  I got 500 bucks a month from the Centre!  And I wasn’t even carded.    And then I started down there [in Victoria] working.  I started at a shoe store, a Call Centre, etc.  I worked all over the place, whatever I had to do to make a few extra bucks so it was train train train train train.. I broke through to fight the odds a little bit, and as soon as I broke through, the world was a better place then, and I was lucky and fortunate to get that Nike contract, it helped to just take that pressure off. I had been carded the next year and suddenly I had more money the year after and you know it just kept going and going and going. And you know just in all those things, it would have been literally impossible, if not impossible, or it would have been tough. We are talking about T&F here, it’s a niche sport in this country is that anybody who knows it, gets it, right?  It’s truly one of those tough things.

After Worlds 2007, there’s no question about it, I was doing fairly well, you have to run through to get there, that’s right, over the pseudo force field you have to make yourself feel that you have grown up. But people don’t see the past, they don’t see the bags of groceries from the in-laws, and they don’t see the 500 bucks in the mail that I got from the relatives, they don’t believe it when I was 21, nobody sees that, that’s the bad side of it all, they only see the successful player, they don’t see and understand that it didn’t just happen overnight. It doesn’t just happen, it’s not just our training, it’s a combination of all these things, it’s holistic, it’s a million different things, trying to fill on the holes.

Q4: Comment on the life and skills that you have learned from Track &Field to your current job in Real Estate.  You don’t get nervous anymore, after competing in front of 85,000 people, no?

Gary Reed:   What I am today, it is no question, my character, it’s who I am.  There’s not a single challenge that I think I’ll ever see in my life again that will strike off fear from me to the point of immobility.  I’d laid in bed and try to win the Olympic medal.. it’s one of the most monumental tasks in the world, and when you are life-committed to that,  you know everything else seems attainable,  getting as close as I did certainly transfers over to this bridge. It can be a vision… the belief to know there’s a lot of things that are attainable.  Anything is almost as attainable as putting your head down, work hard, do your time and get the support where you can.

I don’t get nervous, but sometimes I do if it’s the right situation.  I guess you can say the internal is so strong,  you have to be excited about what you do try and not get nervous from it.  I don’t get nervous, I get excited.  It’s the right way to put the things like competing in the National relays and individuals that displays and builds your character.  I guess anybody who knows Track knows what the odds are winning a medal, like in a major championship, or even make an Olympic final.   The odds are against you,  they really are, coming from a country of 30 million people with the relative low level support I feel our amateur athletes get. The odds are very against you and we’re trying to just change those odds up again and really make an impact.

And I think that’s one message that we are trying to get across, anybody supporting this now has to understand that we’re not just swooping in along with 28 year olds in the peak of their careers and give them $5000 and to go with their kits [uniforms] and put our name on the … that’s not our thing.   We’re trying to develop athletes, human beings, and I don’t care if nobody else is doing it, we’re doing it.

Q5: Here’s a quick  training question.  On the Blog, there was the mileage debate…  how much do you believe in them? Can you give us an idea, some specific example there, i.e. 50 miles a week?  80?  I’m big believer of multiphase training, training at different paces (400m, 800m, and 1500/3000m)

Gary Reed:    A lot of it depends on where you are coming from. If you are a 1500m guy, you are dropping down in mileage.

You are challenging yourself to do more mileage if you’re an 800 or 4x400m guy moving up to be an 800 guy, then it takes years to be able to develop that ability to even to run  the 800 just be able to do it.  It takes a long time so, I think the real answer is, for me, I was sort of a medium to low mileage athlete for a couple of different reasons:

  1. I didn’t respond very well when I got too high in mileage, and
  2. I didn’t like going up in mileage, so for me it was two different things, then I didn’t feel great when I did a lot of mileage

Did I do my mileage? Yes. Recovery runs every night, for sure, it was lot of my mileage, hard and pounding, doing tempo runs, some of it are hard, but I will say when I probably ran, we’d go with INTENSITY-VOLUME-RECOVERY WEEK, maybe 50 miles, 70, week then 45 miles a week, you know the numbers Jimson! In the fall, 85 and some weeks were in the peak so summer was 20, so it depends where you are in the season and what you got going on, and where is the competition and whether your base training is when you do the most mileage of all year, and then when you get into season.  But I don’t know, you think people always say “the secret is more mileage or less mileage”..  I say it depends on the athletes.

I believe in multiphase training and that’s important because at the end of the day what people have to understand is when you want to win a medal you need to be diverse and you can’t have one gear. You have to get comfortable in all those of gears.   Get comfortable at 1500/3000 speed,  you know it was a slow 55.9 on that first lap then I went on to win the silver in 2007 WC!

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
  • I hope I can meet Gary Reed in person too. He is an inspiration to everyone who also wants to be successful in this sport. Track and Field is not easy. It requires time and determination. Sometimes, you will really have to give up a lot of things to become good in this sport.