FIRST YOU PLAY SOCCER. Then you start running, become a prep superstar. The next step, of course, is you win an NCAA title. And after that? If you’re Grant Fisher and you want to be an Olympian, you go and jump into the deep end of the pool.
In turning pro and signing on to train with coach Jerry Schumacher and the Nike Bowerman Track Club’s stable of world-class runners, the Stanford alum found himself underwater at times.
“I’m trying to survive,” the 23-year-old Michigander says with a chuckle. “I think there were a few times Jerry threw me in with the wolves and wanted to see what would happen.”
Confession: we were tipped off on that by clubmate Woody Kincaid, who told us, “We split up into small groups and Grant trained with Lopez [Lomong] and Moh [Ahmed] and he was able to hang. This guy, yeah, he’s continued to surprise me all year.”
Fisher responds, “He was probably alluding to a few workouts where I obviously had an incredible performance a couple weeks ago. I was holding on for dear life, but it’s cool.
“You can learn a lot. There are little things to learn from each of these guys. At the same time, we’re all at a high level, and there aren’t many egos on the team. That’s something that I was hesitant about when you go into such a top-notch team. A lot of us do similar events. I didn’t know how the dynamic would be, but people are supportive. I think everyone has bought into the idea that if we raise the level for everybody and we work well together, we can do some cool stuff.”
For Fisher, the cool stuff boiled down to a few key races in a C19-abbreviated season. Indoors, he produced a PR 7:39.99 over 3000 in Boston. Outdoors, at the end of June, he improved his 5000 best from 13:29.03 all the way to 13:11.68 to finish just behind fellow Cardinal alum Sean McGorty. Three weeks later, he took his 1500 best down by more than 3 seconds with a 3:36.23.
Of the 5000 PR he says, “It was uncomfortable early, which was honestly something that I was looking forward to. In my senior year at Stanford, I never really was in a 5K where it went fast early or where I went to the front and made it fast early. It was nice to be in a 5 where you’re getting after it from the first lap.”
“It’s certainly an increased challenge than what Stanford training was. The volume is higher and the intensity of the workouts is certainly higher,” he says. “But at the same time, I’m only spending my time running and recovering. It’s interesting to see how much faster my body can adapt to stuff and how much more of a training load I can handle when I don’t have to go to school and stuff.
“The guys welcomed me with open arms. There are a lot of people on the team who have done really impressive things and things that I definitely have goals of doing as well.
“Every day can be challenging. The group’s so big and so talented that on any given day, somebody probably feels good. If you want to really extend yourself, you can find someone to go toe-to-toe with. This has been really fun and I’ve grown up a lot.”
The youngest member of the Bowerman group says that he’s formed a special bond with the oldest, the 35-year-old Lomong: “He’s kind of taken me under his wing a little bit. I’ve had some really fun workouts with him and he’s been really encouraging, especially on days when I’ve been struggling and getting dropped by the group.”
The step up to the pros came after a college career that saw Fisher win All-America honors 12 times, capture 3 Pac-12 titles and finish as runner-up in 3 NCAA finals (Indoor 3000, Outdoor 5000 and XC) in addition to his ’17 victory in the Outdoor 5000.
Fisher had picked Stanford—and then-coach Chris Miltenberg—because he was looking for a program that would let him grow steadily without overtraining or overracing. “I was ready for the added volume [of pro running]. By the time I graduated at Stanford, I felt like I was ready for more and I didn’t feel like I had exhausted avenues of getting better, which was nice. I was still running moderate mileage. My workouts were solid, but they weren’t crazy. I felt prepared”
Now Fisher—who in high school rarely topped 50mpw as a sub-4:00 miler and 2-time Foot Locker champ—is logging about 80 with Schumacher. He’s quick to point out that those are “Jerry Miles.”
Prodded, he explains, “I believe originally they were called ‘Badger Miles,’ but people on the team that didn’t go to Wisconsin [where Schumacher coached for 9 years] decided to change them to Jerry Miles. They’re the way we report our mileage to Jerry. Essentially you do all your runs based on time. And then you figure out the mileage at 7-minute pace. So if I were to run 70:00, it wouldn’t matter if I was running, you know, 5:30 average just hammering this run. If it’s 70 minutes, then at 7-minute pace that would be 10M. So I have to log it as 10.
“It serves a lot of purposes. Yeah, it keeps you thinking that you’re not running as much mileage as you actually are. And it keeps things consistent. You don’t really need a GPS watch to be checking every mile for an easy day. You can listen to your body.”
Fisher, who has a degree in Electrical Engineering, doesn’t get too bothered by the imprecise data in a country where most runners are measuring every step. “It can be a little annoying sometimes when you ran maybe 11M and you have to log it as 10, but we’re consistent with it, so it doesn’t really matter.
“I like it. I don’t have a GPS watch. I just like not having any data to check. If I had the GPS watch and I was logging it that way, I think I’d be more prone to let the watch dictate my runs and let the watch influence how I think I’m feeling.”
As for growing into the increased training load, he says, “I had to be adaptable because some of the thing I was doing were things I ‘d never done before. I didn’t know how my body was going to respond to it. On any given rep I often didn’t know if I was going to hang or not. I had to do the best I could and accept what the results were in that given day. And not beat myself up too much knowing I was training with some of the best guys in the world and things will come if I just stick with it.
“I started to see more towards the end of this year, things coming round and feeling like I could really hang with a lot of the guys. But yeah, I definitely took some beatings.”
Fisher moved to Portland last September and as winter waned the pandemic hit: “It felt like every week we’d have a different cancellation or different protocol to follow. Ultimately, we were able to race, but it was constantly changing and after a few of those changes, I realized you just have to be flexible.
“You can’t get too upset about it because at the end of the day, it’s just running. And this pandemic is a lot more serious than that.”
Looking ahead, Fisher explains, “The more I thought about [the postponement], I do feel like it’s a bit of an advantage for me being on the younger side of things as a professional. After a year of Jerry’s training, I’ll be better set up for the next year than I would have been for this summer.”
As for the Olympic Trials, he says, “Right now I’m still leaning towards the 5K, but things can change. They can absolutely change. I still like the 1500.”
But does he have the speed to kick with the 1500 crowd? “That’s a thing. I’m really not sure,” he admits. “All the races we’ve done have been paced. A critic might call it a fabricated race because we had rabbits. It was just our team and it was controlled conditions and that’s not how championship races go. We’ll see.”
As for the crowd he runs with, no regrets on Fisher’s part: “Personally, I’d much rather train with who I think are the top contenders to make the team, than show up on race day and not know what all the top guys have been doing. At the end of the day, there’s more people to race than just Americans. So if we can get to a really high level–there are only 3 spots—but I think if we were to miss out on a team, we’d rather be competitive on the world stage, than not make the team and not be competitive on that stage.”