Q + A WITH TRENIERE CLEMENT
interview by Dave Milner 06.22.09
Knoxville's Treniere Clement was an 8-time All-American at Georgetown before winning her first national title at 1500m in 2005. It was sweet justice after the 2004 Olympic Trials sem-ifinal, when she was heartbroken after falling a few meters from the end and failing to advance despite a dramatic crawl across the finish line. Since then, Treniere has used the mishap as motivation, slashing 9 seconds off her personal best and twice defending her national title, making it three in a row, a feat that only one other 1500m runner has managed, drug cheat Regina Jacobs.
In the past few seasons, Treniere has emerged as a threat at 800 meters as well, setting a personal best of 1:59.15 at the Reebok Grand Prix in 2007. Showing great range, she also clocked a 5000m PR of 15:34.56 that year.
But an injury-plagued 2008 saw Treniere struggle to get going. Arriving at the Olympic Trials far from 100%, she had to battle to make the final and finished 12th, completely devastated. As she watched rival Shannon Robury lower her PR in Europe and then run excellently in Beijing, Clement was trying to get healthy and looking to start 2009 injury-free. That she has, and 2009 has seen her post solid times despite not backing off for any races yet, and, like training partner Hazel Clark, she will be aiming to make the team for the World Championships in Berlin in August.
Treniere lives and trains in Knoxville, and is coached by J.J. Clark. Sh is engaged to Paul Moser, a former Villanova track athlete, and now an agent for Global Athletics. They plan to wed on October 10, 2009.
TR caught up with Clement in Knoxville the weekend before the U.S Outdoor Championships in Eugene,OR.
TR: You grew up in Stow,OH (just north of Akron). Tell us how you got started in competitive sports, and why and when you gravitated towards track.
TC: I didn’t get involved in track until middle school. I was playing soccer pretty seriously, both with the school team and a travel team. It was kind of a cool thing to do; all of my friends were doing it. I really didn’t take track seriously until the end my junior year of high school, and then I ran 57 for the 400 and 2:11 in the 800. That’s when I started looking at maybe running in college.
TR: And how did you end up at Georgetown?
TC: Academics were important to me. I come from a family of educators, and I didn't want t o go somewhere where it was all about athletics. I visited Georgetown during the summer, just on a tour, not an official [athletics] visit. I really loved the campus, and the prospect of living in a big city like D.C was exciting after living in the suburbs all my life.
TR: You mostly stuck to the 800 initially as a Hoya. Did you race cross-country in the fall?
TC: I was recruited as an 800-meter runner by Ron Helmer. Georgetown's women's cross-country team was very strong when I got there, usually placing high at the NCAA meet, so it wasn't like they needed me. I wasn't very good. Maybe #14 on the team or something like that.
TR: At what point did you start racing the 1500 as well?
TC: In my sophomore year (2002), I tried a couple at the end of the year. I think ECACs, and a last chance meet at JMU. I ran 4:25.
TR: The following year (2003), you made great strides in the 1500, winning the Big East title, placing 2nd at NCAA Regionals, and 11th at the NCAA National Championships. You also brought your PR down to 4:15.00.
TC: I definitely became more comfortable at the distance, and I had more mileage under my belt for my junior year.
TR: The next year, 2004, saw a tremendous leap in progress, with you winning Big East and Regional titles, placing 2nd at NCAAs, and competing in the Olympic Trials. Did you do anything dramatically different in '04?
TC: I had a change in coaches. Julie Henner took over as my coach. Ron was so busy looking after so many athletes, as well as administrative duties, as the overall director of the program. Julie had had a lot of success as a 1500-meter runner and Ron thought she might be in a better position to help me than he was.
TR: Placing 2nd at the NCAA Championships brought some attention from shoe companies, I'm guessing, and caused you to consider running professionally. Perhaps for the first time?
TC: Yes. Before NCAAs, I was actually looking for jobs in the D.C area, and hadn't really considered running professionally. I figured I would just do what normal people do -- get a degree and then go out and get a job!
TR: So what did your educator parents think of your decision to run for a living?
TC: Well, Julie, who had run professionally, was great. She explained a lot of how it all worked to both my parents and I, and I think they felt a little more comfortable after that. I had several shoe companies make offers after the Olympic Trials, and Nike made me the best offer.
TR: It was around that time that you moved to Knoxville, right?
TC: Yeah, I made the semi-final of the 1500 at the Olympic Trials in Sacramento, and was running a great time - on my way to about a 4:09, which would have been a big PR - and I fell with just a few meters left. I made it across the line, but not to the final.
Shortly after that race, J.J. Clark came to talk to me, and invited me out for tea the next morning. I had met him briefly at a few meets before, but had never really spoken with him. But I agreed to meet him, and Jearl [Miles-Clark, J.J's wife and the current U.S record holder at 800m] came too. They were both just really nice, and had encouraging words for me. Later that summer, J.J. invited me to Knoxville to train with his group, and we just kind of clicked right away.
TR: What were the biggest shifts in your training under Coach Henner and being coached by J.J.?
TC: With J.J, I do a lot more running at race pace and faster than race pace. I still do quite a lot of distance work, but definitely the workouts are more intense and faster.
TR: What kid of weekly mileage do you log in a non-competitive period? And how is that week composed?
TC: Maybe 65 miles a week. I usally run 10-12 miles a day in six days, with about three doubles. I'll go up to abut 80 minutes on my long run.I usually take Saturdays off.
TR: And on those Saturdays, or when you have down time between workouts, and thinking about workouts, how do you relax?
TC: Well, I do spend a lot of time in between workouts doing maintenence - things like seeing my chiropractor, and getting massages. And I also see a Sports Psychologist at UT. But when I'm not doing any of that stuff, I spend a lot of time with Hazel Clark. We have become very close friends since I moved here. And we'll go out for lunch, go shopping, and things like that.
TR: Is Hazel your main training partner?
TC: Yes, Hazel and I train together. We've been doing it a really long time and it's worked out well for both of us. She's definitely faster than I am on the shorter reps, so she kind of pulls me along on those workouts. For the 1500-type workouts, I tend to be a little more dominant. She'll jump in and out of it. And then if I have to go longer, for 5000-type workouts, I do that stuff on my own. We've been pretty good training partners for the last five years.
TR: After winning your first U.S 1500-meter title in 2005, you competed, two months later at the World Championships in Helsinki in 2005. You placed 12th, clocking 4:16.51, in your preliminary heat in what must have been a disappointing run. Was this meet a reality check and/or a valuable learning experience?
TC: I don't know that I was disappointed. I was excited to be there, and I wasn't ready mentally yet for that level of competition. I was definitely intimidated.
TR: I think you'd agree that 2007 was probably your best season to date. You clocked your 800m and 1500m PRs (1:59.15 and 15:34.56 respectively), picked up your 3rd consecutive U.S title at 1500m, advanced to the semi-finals (placing 8th in 4:08.32) at the World Championships in Osaka, and then finished the season on a high note with a season's best (and your third best ever) of 4:05.68 in Rieti.
TC: Yes, everything was definitely clicking.
TR: In stark contrast, 2008 was a struggle. Hampered by injury, you skipped indoors altogether and only ran three meets before a disappointing Olympic Trials. Being ational champ in the 1500 for three straight years (2005-2007) before the Trials, most track fans - and surely you - thought you'd be on the team for Beijing. When did you get injured? Tell us what went wrong in '08.
TC: I had really been pretty lucky up to that point. I hadn't had any injuries. Well, nothing serious. I'd get sore calves, or tendinitis here and there, but it would heal pretty quickly and we were always able to train through, or bounce back after a few days off.
But last year, I just got recurring injuries, starting in the winter. I would get over one thing and another thing would pop up. I had tendinitis in my knee, tendinitis in both Achilles at one point, and I had strained my calf. It was just constant throughout the whole year, and I coudn't catch a break. I had planned to race earlier but we had to keep pulling out of races because we didn't think I was health or ready. By the time I got to the Trials, I was burned out a little bit because I was working so hard to get there. Mentally, I just wasn't ready.
TR: So when you lined up at the Trials final in Eugene, what was going through your mind?
TC: Honestly, at that point, I just put it into God's hands and hoped that I could make it. I think there were only four of us that had the (Olympic qualifying) standard. I did have that on my side, and I was hoping maybe by chance that I could possibly make it. I really just didn't know. My goal was just to get out there and race, and see what happens.
To be honest, I wasn't sure I was even going to make it to the final. I was in bad shape going into Eugene. The week before we left, I pulled my hamstring. That was another thing. I couldn't even work out going into the Trials, so we just decided to sit and rest. I don't know how on earth I was going to make it through three rounds. But we just took it one day at a time, and somehow I made it into the final. I thought, "I made it this far, so maybe I could still make the team." I just kept praying that things would go my way, but they just didn't work out.
I didn't take it well at all. In fact, I was pretty devastated. We just decided to take off the rest of the summer and just get ready for the next year - more to let my body heal, just because I wasn't healthy. It was actually kind of nice, since it was the firs time I'd had almost a whole summer off for four years.
I took a break and I was just a normal person. I went on vacation, I went to basketball games and amusement parks, and I just enjoyed my summer. I think that's kind of helped me regroup for this year. I went to Ireland with Paul.
TR: Speaking of going overseas: When you've competed in Europe and at major championships, did you have suspicions about the Russians 1500-meter runners (several of whom were banned in 2008 and 2009 for tampering with or failing drug tests)? How did you feel lining up against people who might not be playing by the rules?
TC: You know there are certain people on drugs and you know that others are clean. I just try to focus on the things I can control. Either way, I have to line up against whoever might be on something and just still be my best. I know last year it wasn't just the Russians. They caught quite a few 1500 women from various countries. I'm just glad the sport gettingcleaninged up. USADA and WADA are cracking down on athletes, and I think that's great for the sport.
TR: What about this week? Who do you see as the main contenders in the women's 1500.
TC: Well, I haven't looked at the list to see who has declared, so I don't know if the steeple girls [Jenny Barringer and Anna Willard] are running. But if they are, they'll definitely be a factor. And you can't count out Shannon Rowbury and Christine Wurth-Thomas.
TR: It looks like the race may be wide open this year.
TC: Yeah. I remember in '05, I was the only American who had the standard for the World Champs, so I was the only one who went to Helsinki. A lot has changed in three or four years, and it has been great to see Rowbury, Christin Wurth-Thomas, and Erin Donohue stepping up and running fast times. It's definitely a lot more wide open that it has been in the last five years.
TR: 2009 has been much more encouraging so far, with a 2:02.27 two-lapper in Jamaica, a 4:09.57 1500 at the Reebok Grand Prix, and a 4:10.73 at Pre. Is it hard, though, to not compare your times with what you did at the same meet in a different year?
TC: Yeah, sometimes. I try not to dwell on that, though. I'm a different athlete now than I was three, or even two years ago, I think. I think I'm training a lot smarter now. Not harder, necessarily, but smarter, and not forcing it before its ready. I definitely trained through Reebok and Prefontaine, not really backing off at all.
I'm feeling good about my fitness level. I've run some great workouts recently and am excited to get to Eugene and see what I can do.
TR: So I'm assuming all the injuries are well behind you right now, and you're flying to Eugene tomorrow feeling 100%.
TC: I've been healthy all year. My goal is trying to make the team for Berlin. I've been healthy and have had some great workouts lately. I just can't wait to put down some good marks and just compete.
You can follow Treniere on twitter at http://twitter.com/superchica
TR EDITOR DAVE MILNER HAS ALMOST IDENTICAL TRACK PRs TO CLEMENT BUT IS STILL WAITING FOR NIKE TO OFFER HIM A CONTRACT.