The Journey to the Olympic Trials: Nathan Dunn
If you've ever taken a glance at our record board, then you are all too familiar with his name. Currently holding records in the marathon, half marathon, 8k, 5k, and 3k; Nathan Dunn holds quite an impressive running resume. But what's often not seen on the surface, is the work that it's taken him to get to that point. He didn't start off on day one breaking records, and it's been quite a long journey to get there.
Nate's career is one of extreme consistency, discipline, and sticking to a plan. It began in small town Covington, Ohio. A modest junior high campaign transitioned to a gradual progression throughout high school. After graduating, he spent one year running for a small community college before transferring to Wright State University to compete at the NCAA division 1 level. Years later, thousands of miles have led him to a USA Olympic Trials qualifying berth in the marathon. The penultimate achievement of a road runner.
Nate now resides in California. Representing Cincinnatus Elite on the west coast as he trains for the big race coming up in February. I asked him a few questions to get to know how his path that led him here and more. Read the interview below:
First off, how is training going currently? I understand you've been dealing with some injury as of late.
Unfortunately, I sprained my MCL a few weeks ago. I'm currently resting up and am hopeful to start training again in early November.
With the Olympic Trials just about 3 months out, what is the plan going forward?
Getting healthy is my main priority right now. After that, the plan is to safely get a decent training block in before the trials. What is your main goal for the Trials?
Before my injury, the goal was to place in the top 50. Now, I've adjusted my goal to just get in good enough shape to line up at the start line.
You qualified this past summer at Grandma's Marathon with 2:16:55. What was that experience like?
It was a great time. From the experience gathered at CIM, to the training block leading up to the race, I was pretty confident that I could nab the OTQ. I stayed smart throughout the first 18 miles so that I could finish the race strong. Running into the finishing town of Duluth was an out-of-body experience. Shouting and cheering spectators everywhere mixed with the realization that I was going to qualify for the trials was over the top. I will remember the last couple miles of that race for a long time.
What did the training block for Grandma's look like?
The training block started in mid-January. For the first half of the block, my coach and I focused on shorter races. I wanted to run a 5k PR, so I built up to ~90 miles / week and focused heavily on track workouts. I did marathon paced LR workouts every other week though to maintain marathon fitness. In mid-April, I ran a PR of 14:05. After that, I increased mileage to 110 miles / week for 5 weeks before tapering for Grandma's in mid-June.
Your debut in the marathon last year at CIM had you coming up just short of the OTQ with 2:18:03. What was that experience like? How did it affect your mindset at Grandma's?
I really wasn't expecting to run near the OTQ time going into CIM. I knew I was fit, but a marathon was uncharted territories for me as I had only raced a couple half marathons up to that point. From fueling during races, to racing for over 2 hours straight, it was all a new experience for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the race up until mile 21, where I started to bonk a bit. I found a new respect for the distance and was quite humbled during those last 5 miles. Missing the OTQ by a handful of seconds wasn't great, but I ran faster than I thought I could, so I wasn't too down about it. I was confident going into Grandma's. I had a nearly flawless training block and knew I was fit. It all came down to if I fueled properly and was mentally tough enough that day, which thankfully I was.
How would you describe your training philosophy? Are you being coached?
I'm coached by my college coach, Rick Williamson. He and I are on the same page when it comes to running philosophies. We believe in a slow, steady, career-long progression. This helps prevent burnout and teaches you delayed gratification throughout your career, since it's never going to be a linear progression. How did you first get into running?
I initially started playing football in 7th grade, but my friends convinced me to join the cross country team in 8th grade. I didn't really enjoy running until around my sophomore year. Once I started to enjoy it, I saw dramatic improvement in my performances.
What kind of times/results did you put up in high school and junior high? Would you have anticipated qualifying for the Olympic Trials some day?
In junior high, I was running 14 minutes for 2 mile in XC and 6:00 for 1600 meters on the track. My freshman year in high school, I ran 20:20 for 5k in XC, 5:16 for 1600 meters and 11:30 for 3200 meters. I ended up being able to progress to 16:40, 4:36 and 9:47 by my senior year. I never would have thought that the Olympic Trials would have been possible.
Your progression throughout your time in college was quite impressive. What was that timeline like and what can you most attribute that to?
My coach was great at formulating training plans tailored to individual growth, which helped me improve greatly each year. At the league XC meet, I went from 13th place my freshman year, to runner-up my senior year. I also saw improvements each year at the regional XC meet going from 91st - 71st - 60th - 36th through my four years.
What led you to joining Cincinnatus Elite? I know a few guys on the team and Kyle encouraged me to join. It's a great group to be a part of. Unfortunately, I've lived farther away than most of the team, so I haven't been able to train together much with them.
What is your best advice to someone new to running?
Don't be discouraged with how difficult it is to start running. Give it a few weeks and you'll notice it getting easier. From there, just realize it's a decades-long game of progression and learn to enjoy every step of the journey.
What is your best advice to someone dealing with an injury? Don't let it bum you out. It happens to all runners at some point and is part of the journey. I've had the biggest improvements in my career after significant injuries.
Do you cross train at all?
I rarely cross train, but when I do, I ride my stationary bike. I will be cross training more during this upcoming training block as I prepare for the Olympic trials to help boost my fitness.
What are your plans post Olympic Trials? Any other big goals/targets on the radar for the future? I would like to transition back to the track for the foreseeable future. I have run 14:05 for 5k and would like to break 14 minutes. I also want to run a couple 10k's, since I have yet to do so. If it seems right for the long term goals, I might race a marathon or two.
Favorite shoe? Saucony Endorphin Speed. It's great for track sessions, tempo runs and even easy days.
Favorite workout? 6x1k at 5k pace or 10 miles at marathon pace. It's a toss up between the two.
Best running memory? The last ~2 miles of the 2023 Grandma's Marathon. I knew I was going to qualify for the Olympic trials at that point, so I was just taking it all in.
We're proud to have Nate representing Cincinnatus Elite and we look forward to rooting for him on February 3rd at the Olympic Trials in Orlando!