The Minnesota native took down Mo Farah, the world’s best distance runner
On Saturday, Garrett Heath of the Brooks Beasts did something that no other U.S. man has done since before the last Olympics: beat Mo “double gold” Farah, which he did at the Great Edinburgh XCountry in Scotland. Farah, who has won both the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters at the last three consecutive global track championships, didn’t fall over, didn’t get clipped, and didn’t have an off day. He simply was out-kicked by a man from Minnesota.
Heath, originally from Winona, is a Stanford University alumnus and nine-time All-American track and field athlete. After college, he stuck around Palo Alto, California, training under his former collegiate coach and with his former teammates, until, one by one, they all moved on to other things. Faced with the prospect of training alone for the next three years for the 2016 Olympics, the 30-year-old says, “I was having a hard time visualizing grinding out solo workouts for that long. I wanted to find a team.”
In 2014, Brooks Running announced Heath’s sponsorship and impending move to Seattle as part of the Beasts, where he’s been ever since. Under coach Danny Mackey, he’s won the last three consecutive Great Edinburgh XCountry races against all comers, as well as setting personal bests over a variety of distances, including the 5,000-meter. The latter is a distance Heath says he’s just coming to accept after the majority of his career racing the mile. With a win against Farah, he’s now looking toward this summer and earning a spot at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
OUTSIDE: So have your returned home since your win?
HEATH: Seattle, yeah. It’s been a bit of an adjustment. It took a lot of coffee, but I’m finally back in the right time zone.
Let’s go back to the race. Walk us through that final mile.
It started closer to a kilometer out when Scott Fauble, my teammate, put in a move [Fauble would finish third]. Fauble’s move got me jazzed up, and I was like, “All right, it’s time to go.” I followed him, and then I took off into the back part of the course where it gets tight. I couldn’t tell where Mo was, but I kept the hammer down from there. We were running single file, and I kept hearing people, like, “Kick him down, Mo!” Shoot, he’s right on me, champing at the bit to take me down that last 200.
There was a stream crossing with 200 to go, so I jumped that. I slipped out a little bit. It turned me, so I had a chance to look over my shoulder and saw [Farah] just as he slipped out as well. I had a half-step, at least a little bit of something, and it gave me that hope in the back of my mind that maybe he’s not completely on me. I gave it everything I had from there, just thinking that last 200, like, “Here he comes.” I’ve just seen it so many times on TV, on the track, where he’s got such an amazing close. I kept waiting for it to come, and it wasn’t until probably 20, 30 meters to go that I finally felt like there wasn’t someone right off my shoulder. I couldn’t help but steal a glance—what everybody always tells you not to do—and saw that he wasn’t there.
At that point, it was a pretty unreal feeling: excitement, and relief that he wasn’t coming.
Watching that clip, your celebration seems so improvised, because it doesn’t look like you believed that out-kicking an Olympic gold medalist actually happened.
It really was. To get the win, especially this year, it was even more so. Everything that Mo’s done in the last couple years, he’s been unbeatable. So even though I went into the race with a strategy to take him down, I honestly didn’t believe it. I wanted to put myself in position, but it’s hard to actually visualize something like that.
You were a longtime Palo Alto, California, guy, training under your former Stanford coach, Jason Dunn. And then in 2014, you made the jump to a new state, a new city, a new coach, and a new sponsor. It was a completely new life. That seems like a big risk.
Yeah, it was. But I was ready for a change. I trained under Jason when he was at Stanford, but then he moved away to Kentucky a couple years after I graduated. So then I was coached by a guy out in Bozeman, Montana, who grew up in the same area that I did. He was coaching remotely. It worked great, and I was having success and progress, but after my brother [Heath’s brother Elliott is a professional runner for Nike], and Chris Derrick and Jake Riley and (Brendan) Gregg, all those guys took off to do their own thing, it became training alone. That’s something you can do for a short period of time, but as I was thinking about getting ready for the next Olympic cycle, which was three years away, I was having a hard time visualizing grinding out solo workouts for that long.
I wanted to find a team and that’s when I started talking to Danny Mackey, Brooks Beasts head coach, and Jesse Williams, and found out what Brooks was doing up here. I’ve always loved Seattle. The weather in Palo Alto is unbeatable, but luckily when they had me up here it was nice weather, sunny, and I was sold.
Looking back on that, do you feel you were hoodwinked by the weather that day?
Until now, no. Last year was super nice all year, and the year before that. Global warming’s done wonders for Seattle. This fall we’ve gotten hit with two months of rainy weather, but any time I feel bad for myself, I go back home to Minnesota and run in the snow and cold, and that resets what I think is good for running.
On your USATF page, they list your event as the 5,000 meters, despite the fact that you’ve been a miler for most of your career. How do you feel about that?
At this point, I’m accepting it. I wasn’t super pumped to move back to the 5K initially. It’s a different pain. The 1500 is that intense pain that doesn’t last as long, and the 5K is that long, grinding pain that eats at your soul. Last year, I kept trying to convince myself that I was still a 15 guy, but this year I think I’ve fully accepted the role of a 5K runner.
After your win in Edinburgh win, Flotrack tweeted that you were proof that cross-country isn’t just for aerobic monsters. Your teammate Cas Loxsom rebutted them, saying you are an aerobic monster. Which is it?
I don’t know about “monster,” but I’d lean more toward the side of Cas, that the aerobic side is probably my biggest strength. Even as a 15 guy, I’ve always done a ton of aerobic training. I was a cross-country runner in high school, and I think I forced myself down into the mile area for a good portion of college to try to break four [minutes in the mile]. But Cas is probably closer to what my strength is. We’ve been doing long tempos this fall, up to ten miles. I love this time of season, I love doing all the aerobic stuff.
You were a five-time high school Nordic skiing state champion. How do you think that affected you as a runner? Do you still ski?
I’ve gotten out a few times this fall. I went to Methow Valley in the eastern side of Washington for a weekend early in the season, and then I was up in Bend with the family over Thanksgiving, and then got out one more time over Christmas break back home. But I don’t do a ton of it anymore.
I think it helped with aerobic development, because with cross-country skiing, you can go for so much longer. We’d do long training sessions back then of, bare minimum, an hour-and-a-half, but you could ski up to five hours, which is just something you can’t do running. But one of the downsides is that it builds up a ton of upper body strength. That’s maybe useful for cross-country, but on the track, you look at all the best guys in the world, and everybody’s pretty lean. I’m hauling around a couple extra slabs of meat on my shoulders and back. Overall, especially in a place like Edinburgh, I’ve raced so many times in the cold and snow cross-country skiing that it does help with your mindset.
Let’s play the optimist: you make this year’s Olympic team and end up seeing Farah in Rio. What do you say to him?
I talked to Mo a lot this weekend, even post-race, and I was really impressed with how gracious and respectful he was. For a guy that never loses, I can’t say enough how nice and how personable he was. I think it would be a pretty easy conversation. We traded jerseys post-race, so I’d probably joke about that with him. But he’s a super nice guy.
One race can sometimes become a turning point in an athlete’s career. Kim Conley snuck into that third spot in the 5,000 meters at the U.S. Trials in 2012, and she’s since emerged as a dominant runner. Any thoughts on what this race might mean to your career?
I hope so. It’s hard to tell at the time, probably, but I hope I’ll look back on this and think that the race was the time when everything clicked, and from there one, it went to the next level. I do feel like physically I’m ready to make another jump.