By Dickson Mercer
Georgetown Running Company’s Sam Luff will attempt to settle some “unfinished business” tonight at Princeton University’s Larry Ellis Invitational. Luff and teammate Joe Wiegner are slated to run the 5,000, which is set to start at 9:50 p.m. Luff is also scheduled to race the 10,000 at the upcoming Penn Relays.
Luff’s running career began at Emmaus High School, where he was coached by Craig Souders and Eileen Shovlin. The Pennsylvania native was a two-time state runner-up, once in cross country and another time his senior year in the 3200 (9:10). That same year, he posted 8:33 for 3K at the Penn Relays.
Comparing it to what he achieved in high school, Luff, 24, said his four years at Cornell University were a bit of a letdown. In his freshman and sophomore years he struggled to adjust to the new lifestyle, he said.
Cornell’s assistant coach of cross country and track and field, Robert Johnson, the co-founder of Lets Run, had laid out his training during his freshman year. What Luff ultimately learned, though, was that you have to do more than just follow a training plan. You have to own it. He ultimately posted personal bests of 3:52 (1500), 9:06 (3K steeplechase) and 14:35 (5,000).
After he graduated from Cornell in 2009, Luff looked for a job and eventually found some good runners to train with in his native Lehigh Valley. In September, he PRed for 10K in winning the Great Race in Pittsburgh in 30:34.
A month later, Luff moved to Rockville and began a job with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), not long after he returned from racing in Japan. After being put in touch with GRC’s Karl Dusen, he was quickly absorbed into the team’s North Bethesda Distance Project.
In March, he won Baltimore’s Kelly Shamrock 5K in 14:51. In April, he ran a personal best of 50:45 at the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run.
Q: What’s a typical week in training for you right now?
A: I’ve tried to be in the mid 80s in singles. I’ve felt pretty good doing that. These next three weeks [he wrote this on April 16], with two races coming up, I'll bring it down to the lower 70s.
Q: You broke 15 on the roads for 5K in March then broke 51 at Cherry Blossom. Which distance did you feel most competitive at?
A: I think at this point I skew a little lower, like 5K or 10K, just because I haven’t consistently run those 100-mile weeks. I’m racing [the half marathon] at Grandmas in June with Karl [Dusen] and “Texas” Paul [Guevarra], so hopefully that will give a better indication about my potential in longer races. I’m also a bit heavier for someone as short as myself [he is 5'5 and 132 pounds], so the marathon might be too long for me to lug myself around out there.
Q: How has working with Georgetown Running Company’s racing team and its coach, Jerry Alexander, refocused your running?
A: I would say that Coach Jerry and the team have attributed to 99% of the success I've had so far down here. Group training has huge benefits, and just having the motivation to go and meet people for an easy run is great. At our Wednesday workouts we have a huge train of dudes rolling around the track at a good clip – and it's fun to be a part of. Coach Jerry basically does all the thinking; he lets me just go out and run. I've over-thought things in the past, so to be able to just trust him and see results has been great. He does a great job working with our schedules, demands, etc. And he’s fun to be around, even though he went to Columbia.
Q: Are you doing a second workout in addition to track stuff on Wednesdays? How have you been approaching Sunday long runs?
A: We’ve been doing a tempo-style workout on Saturdays. On Sundays, I try to keep the long run easy, especially after a Saturday workout. But we can get moving by the end sometimes.
Q: What are your chances of taking care of some of this unfinished business in your next two races on the track? Rumor has it you have been quoted as saying you’re in the best shape of your life.
A: I think I have some soft track PRs, and I hope these two races give me the chance to lower them a bit. I may have said I’m in the best shape of my life - that might be true. But it's also sort of a meaningless thing to say. For one, it's easy to say without backing it up - so in two weeks we might have a more definitive answer. Also, it's relative: I don't think I'd PR for 1500 right now, but I doubt I could have run that race at Cherry Blossom at any point earlier in my career.