I recently had the chance to sit down with our friend Rolando Cruz, the manager of Berkeley Running Company in Madison, WI. Rolando is a 34-year-old ultra-marathoner from Spain who moved to Wisconsin as a foreign exchange student during high school. Rolando, like many of the all-star running staff at Berkeley Running Company, has proven to be extremely informative, very helpful, and an inspiration to the TR Crew, along with many other people in Madison. Because I’m sure his story and expertise will be inspirational to many others, I wanted to transcribe share this interview with our readers. And yes, he really is a runner with the last name Cruz…
Why or how did you get into running?
I have a passion for running, and I know what running does for me. It is like my therapy. It is amazing what you can accomplish when you go for a 30 minute or hour long run and how many things you can organize in your head. It is finding that sport that you like and focusing on how it is going to help your life in terms of how it makes you feel. One of the [many] reasons I do most of my running on trails is because when running on trails, there is a surprise on every corner. You could be running into a deer, or a turkey, or just this morning, I saw a coyote!
How long have you been running?
I think I started running when I was probably 4 years old. My mother was a big runner and my father was a pretty good athlete, and was in the military. My mother is 65 and she still goes for her 5 to 6 mile walks. Up until three years ago, she was still running 5 miles every day. I remember growing up, she would take us for long walks and then, when we had to rest, we would rest, but it was always endurance. Then, I remember between the ages of 6 and 8 she would send us to the store, which was about a mile or so away from the house. And of course, for us, it is totally different, because in Spain, everything is really close together and everyone really knows each other so 2 miles is more like a tour of the neighborhood. I can remember thinking to myself, how fast can I get there and get back.
When moving to the states, did you come straight to Madison? How did running effect your move from Spain to America?
No, actually, I was an exchange student and first moved to Delavan, Wisconsin. That is where running really made the biggest impact. I was a big athlete back home [and] no one ever really beat me [in] the 100m the three years I was in it, but when I came to Wisconsin, it was a different culture. I didn’t have anybody here, it was a different language, the only thing I knew was that I loved running! So, I wanted to, somehow, use that to be able to break the barriers of this new culture. I went out for cross-country and track, and I did really well in cross-country, which opened doors for me…because I became part of this team, those team members helped me get invited to football games and parties. It was all just from being a part of the track or cross-country team. Running was the key to breaking into the culture.
It is interesting, one of the fastest guys, if not the fastest, on the cross-country team, was one of those “All-American” athletes–he was doing football, wrestling, cross-country, and track. This guy was the one everyone wanted to be friends with, go out with, or go to prom with or whatever. When I started training, I was the only Hispanic in the group, [and] what happened is, I was trying to fit in focus on being part of the group. I knew that I could go faster [than him], and I knew that I could do different things, but in my head, I felt that if I did that, I was going to be looked upon as someone who was either showing off, or someone who was taking the stardom space. It was really a sort of double-edged sword where I wanted to do my full potential, but at the same time I didn’t want to deal with the repercussions of the ordeal. Not that something was going to happen, but it was something that was playing in my head. I was always sort of 1 or 2 seconds behind the guy finishing. My coach kept saying to me, why don’t you beat him? I would always say I’m trying and then one day it just happened. We were doing a race, which was a couple races before states, I remember running behind him and feeling like I was in second place, and then it just hit me. It dawned on me that I really should be myself, and so I just started running harder and I passed him, and as I passed him, I just felt like I had left everything behind and everything that was bottled in my head. I ended up winning the whole race.
After that, I moved to Madison and embraced the community and it felt like home, it was so diverse, and running became really part of me versus for social [gain] or chasing the clock.
My marathons started in 1999. When I moved to Madison, I decided that I wanted to start training for a marathon. I didn’t know anyone that did marathons, so I just started doing it on my own. I trained for one and did it in ’99 [in] 3:15. My goal for the next year was to go under 3 [hours], and then in 2000, I did it [in] 2:55. It wasn’t until 4 years ago (2008), that I wanted to do an ultra, just on my own, I wanted to try an ultra. I had always heard stories about the Ironman, and always sort of loved nature and loved the outdoors, so I trained for the Northface Endurance Challenge 50 miler, and it went really well. Then, 2 years ago, I decided I would try the 100, and I trained for it, [but, when I] got to mile 70, the nutrition got to me. I didn’t know much about the nutrition for that type of distance. In mile 62, the nutrition and lack of calories started to become an issue and I got to mile 70, and I just couldn’t stay awake. I was running but I was really tired and I didn’t take any sort of caffeine or anything. I decided to come back this year with a better plan. What I did is, every twelve miles, I had an Ensure, which has quite a bit of calories and finished the 100 miles in 25 hours.
Is this the longest run you have done? Do you have any others coming up?
This is the longest one so far… I want to do the Leadville, and in the next 2 or 3 years, I think I’ll be able to do it. That is the cool thing about having a passion for something, you can really commit, and you have a passion to learn about products, while I have a passion for pushing my body the extra mile.
When training for a race, what do you do for cross-training?
I bike to work, which saves on gas, and gives you that 8 to 10 mile bike ride; there is nothing like feeling the cold breeze in the morning and then knowing you have the whole day ahead of you. And I work out, I’m not big, as you can see (motioning to his arms), but it is mainly to gain overall fitness.
Nutrition is very important, which many of us take for granted. I tend to, sometimes, not eat enough or hydrate enough, which is important especially when you are training for an event. There is nothing worse than doing your 6 or 7 miles, and then feeling really tired and almost weak at 5 or 6 miles. You want to make sure that the nutrition lasts when you are really just focusing on getting your body to [go] the distance. You don’t want to worry about hunger, thirst, or dizziness. Those will all come from not having the right nutrition.
What do you suggest for nutrition?
We here in Madison are lucky to have all these pretty cool, health-conscious places. Whole Foods, I spend $6 for my lunch and get a nice sandwich with a salad and some skim milk and that’s it, or I can go to Panchero’s (for those of you unfamiliar, Panchero’s is similar to Chipotle) and get a $6 burrito. I mean, obviously, one is going to make me feel pretty happy the rest of the day. It is all about choices, everyone is different, I mean, I can take a goo every 45 minutes [when I run], and be okay, and then sometimes those goos don’t work with people, they have stomach issues. It is trial and error a lot of times, but you’d rather have that during your training rather than the day of the race. Runner’s World has a wealth of information where you can type in whatever you are looking for. You can come to the store if you have any questions…and we also have coaches who can help you develop a plan.
Did you ever think about going professional or even Olympics? Could you do it?
No, because for me, running has always been more about the passion and the therapy. I can’t deny the fact that I feel gifted when it comes to running because a lot of the races I do, especially the ultras, are just regular trainings. I don’t really train that much. I just do 10 or 15 or 20 miles. The only time I do more than 26 is when I do the marathon, the only time I do more than 50 is when I race the 50. I had never run more than 50 when I did the 100. The key with running for me is that it is my passion and I really enjoy it. I love what it does and when I compete, I really just compete with myself. Which just takes me back to cross-country where I wasn’t competing with myself, I was competing with someone else and so I knew if I started competing with myself, then I would be okay with the results.
What is your personal record on a marathon?
2:55 – 5th overall in the Madison Marathon, in 2000. Then the Boston Marathon was 2:55 in the Vibrams. Can I do a 2:40 marathon? I think so, but I think, with me, I need to train. I see people out there putting in 100 miles a week to train, but then they don’t want to get out there and run, they are just doing it because they have to, but for me it is just like, if I am going to do it, I better want to do it. I mean, yeah, you are going to have those days where you just don’t want to go out there.
For example, I did the 50k last month at Devil’s Lake. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I felt terrible, I couldn’t move, so I went to the doctor, and I had a pinched nerve in my lower back, so he gave me some pills, which I really don’t like taking, so I took one, and he said to stay off running for awhile. That Friday night, I was sitting in bed and thinking there is a race that I signed up for tomorrow and I’m not going to do it. I have never not done a race. So, I go out of bed, got ready and drove up to Devil’s Lake and did the race. It was one of those things where you finish and you feel great with what you have accomplished. It comes down to just having that passion and it transfers into a lot of confidence.
I hope you enjoyed your first look into the background and training of one of our favorite runners in Madison. I will be back soon with the second part of my interview with Rolando, which will be focused on his use of minimalist shoes. Happy running!