MEMBER: Colin McGrath
Name: Colin McGrath
College: Northwestern University
By: Kevin Brandon (11/02/17)
Colin, thanks for taking time to speak with us. Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you end up in Philadelphia and running with PRTC?
Of course! I came to Philadelphia for a history Ph.D. program at Penn. Justin Simard, who recently graduated from the same program, told me about PRTC. I joined workouts sporadically over the past few years and have always enjoyed my time training with the group.
When did you first become a runner? Did a specific event compel you to take on the sport?
I played soccer in elementary school and spent plenty of time running around during games. I joined a track team during fifth grade — that’s what really got me into running. I think I ran the 800 and the 1600, but my main jam was actually the high jump. I was pretty alright for my age and placed well at a Southern California regional track meet. But then dudes started hitting puberty, and I did not. I showed up to the regional meet in middle school and everyone was about a half foot taller than me and had legit muscles. I didn’t do so well that year. Meanwhile, I had run a local 4th of July 5k a few years in a row and really liked the distance. So, going into high school, and not yet having had a growth spurt, I focused on cross country.
Once you began running, how did your career develop? Take us through day one to today.
In high school, I was pretty stoked to run 18 minutes for my races, but I was one of the faster freshmen on the team. A big highlight was running a 17:20ish race at the legendary Mt. Sac cross country course during my sophomore year. During my junior year, I finally ran some races in under 17 minutes early in the season. Our coach that year was inexperienced with high schoolers and had us running about 80 miles a week without much of a buildup. The training helped me run well in some early races but then left me burned out midway through the season. That feeling sat with me all the way through my senior year, and I couldn’t quite get my butt back in gear.
During college, I ran for fun. (I went to Northwestern, and they don’t have a men’s cross country team!). I did some mellow jogging a handful of times each week. I didn’t race or have any concrete goals. By the time I was about to graduate, I started training somewhat seriously again and found that I had gotten a lot stronger over the years. I ran a couple sub-17 5ks and started thinking about running a marathon. After college, I moved to Austin, TX and got pretty focused on running. I signed up for the 2011 Austin Marathon. Having a race on my calendar, combined with my fear of the distance, instilled some serious discipline. I lived a monkish life during the fall. I trained hard and started feeling pretty confident with my running. The race did not go as well as I had hoped (see “not-so-great moment” question below), but I learned some good lessons from that race. I’ve been training rather consistently since.
Can you share a favorite running accomplishment or moment?
I ran the Charlottesville Marathon a few years ago. I wasn’t sure what I was going to be able to pull off, and I knew it was going to be a pretty tough course. The course is a long series of rolling hills, and I I think that because it’s a slow course, people looking to post fast times don’t tend to sign up. I ended up winning the whole thing. I was pretty pumped about that.
How about a not-so-great moment?
I totally bombed my first marathon. I walked into the 2011 Austin Marathon thinking I could run under 2:40 and was hoping to run something like a 2:36. But I had no idea what I was doing. I actually arrived late to the starting line. I got stuck in line for the port-o-potty and was jogging up to the corral when the gun went off. I ended up way back behind the starting line and spent the first two miles of the race weaving through the crowd. Then, my shoe came untied at around mile three. I was so dead set on running 6:00-6:10 per mile that I refused to break my pace to tie my laces. I got a pretty serious cramp around mile 7, and while it subsided gradually, I felt pretty beat up by the half marathon point. I managed to cross 13.1 at around 1:19, maybe 1:20, but I fell apart from there. I stopped to tie my shoe once I realized that the race wasn’t going according to plan. At this point, I should mention that, while it was February, the temperature was in the mid-80s and the air was very humid. Of course, I didn’t think that I should adjust my race plans to account for this development. I slowed down considerably and eventually rolled through the finish in about 2:53. The last ten miles were excruciating.
On the plus side, I’m happy to say that Lance Armstrong was running the half marathon that day. The half coincided with the first half of the marathon, and I caught up to Lance around mile 8 and passed him. I felt pretty good about that.
Regarding your running future, what are your near and long-term goals?
I’m hoping to squeak under 2:30 for a marathon at some point in the next couple years–maybe even at this year’s Philly marathon. In the near future, I’d like to run a 5k in the low 15s or maybe even go under 15. Not sure how realistic that is, but a man can dream. I also have my sights on racing 1600m on the track this spring and getting into the 4-teens. I don’t really have goals in mind for club nationals, but I’m very excited to be running a legit cross country race soon!
A number of us recently watched you crush a mile time trial securing a new 4:23 PR on a Tuesday night. This is remarkable for someone training for a marathon. Just how fast should we expect your kick to be in a few weeks?
I’m planning to drop a 4:40 for the final mile. Watch out.
Can you tell us a bit about your professional life?
Certainly! My professional life has mostly involved tons of school. I’m still in the history Ph.D. program. I did a joint JD along the way and finished law school a little over a year ago. I spent the last year living in DC and working on my dissertation. I moved back to Philadelphia in August to start a year-long clerkship with a district court judge here.
Any non-running related hobbies, hidden skills or talents we may enjoy hearing about?
I play classical guitar. I’m a little out of practice but still play somewhat regularly. I also like to cook and make a pretty decent fish taco. Other than that, I’m pretty enthusiastic about cats. I enjoy sharing photos I’ve taken of my girlfriend’s cat with friends and strangers alike.