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Are You Born with Athletic Skills?

Are you born with athletic skills, or are they developed? The following exchange with retired Colonel Mike Sinisi (U.S. Air Force) will offer some insight. The Army Ten-Miler is not limited to Army personnel only. Mike has made more than ten appearances and registered some impressive times. The important takeaway is not about how fast he is but the development of his training over the years.

Not all of us can “Be Like Mike” and keep up the running performance that outpaces his age. We all have to do the work and make sacrifices, no matter our performance levels. Mike doesn’t step out the door and say, “I’ll run fast today and be first in my age group.” Instead, his approach is to take advantage of the experience and adjust his goals to fit the situation.

Some days aren’t so excellent, and other days he can exceed expectations.

A dedicated athlete can shake off the bad days and process what went wrong to correct for the next event.

Take a few minutes to read over some thoughts from Mike.

How many years did you serve in the Air Force?

I served in the Air Force for 24.5 years (not including my four years at the U.S. Air Force Academy—I ran there too!), retiring as a Colonel. 

What motivated you to join?

I applied to the Air Force Academy, as I did not have any other options for college. I graduated and served in varied locations, including Germany. I once ran a 6-hour relay race in a small town in France where we had eight people running a mile at a time, and though we did not win, we did well, and I got a running hat from one of the judges (I asked, and he was kind enough to give it to me!).

How did you balance the training while on active duty?

I have run at lunch since I was a Second Lieutenant, blocking off the time as best I could. I kept it up consistently throughout my career, even when I was on my first tour at the Pentagon, where no one in my section even thought of taking a lunch break! I would have to sneak down to the gym and run (great running in D.C.!) and then sneak back into my office. This is how I trained for the Marine Corps Marathon in ’96.

What attracted you to running, and when did you first lace-up?

I started running winter track when I was 13 years old. My older brother (by three years) was into sports, wrestling, football, and track and field (he did field events). I thought joining a team would be fun but did not want to do wrestling, and track seemed more like me. I started with longer distances. I always “raced” from telephone pole to telephone pole in my neighborhood and was one of the fastest. I ran track, the 880, then the mile, then tried football in ninth grade (not a great move with me only 98 pounds), then the nest year, cross country! I set the junior high school mile record (ninth grade) at 4:54.1  

What is your running philosophy?

I believe anyone can be a runner, no matter how fast or slow, if they go out and run because they love to run, not because they think they have to (to lose weight or for cardio). If you don’t love it, you are a jogger to me, no matter how fast. That said, when I am driving and see someone running, besides mentally critiquing their form, I applaud them and wish I was out there with them. To me, running is a lifestyle. 

If you couldn’t run, what other forms of exercise would you do?

I would take up biking as it is cardio, though I could not do it during lunch as I do my running today. My son bikes, so I could potentially ride with him.

How do you balance family, work, and running?

I run at lunch, at work, and early Sunday mornings. I take about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes to run and change at lunch, so as not to impinge on family time. I have blocked off my lunch hour from meetings unless there is a customer meeting I cannot miss. 

What are the top three lessons you’ve learned from running?

Discipline, stress relief, and the desire to share with others. I eventually would like to coach running at the high school level. 

Are there days when you lack motivation?

Sure, running would not be enjoyable if every day were easy. I have gone on with the run unless it I had an injury or illness. It is not easy at times, and I have turned back after being out for a short time, based on feeling guilty about a work effort I may have pending. I try to recall that I am better off getting the stress out by running than stopping. I have run in very nasty weather (hurricanes, thunderstorms, snowstorms, and temperatures of -24 degrees Fahrenheit).

Is speed or effort more important?

Usually, it is about time; I’m very competitive like that. 

How do you handle the results when you fall short expectations?

Some runs and races don’t always come out the way you would want them to do. I usually am disappointed but realize that is normal and look to see what I did wrong, or if it was just an off day. I also think of all the elite athletes that also have their bad days. 

What performance stands out at the top of your list? 

This is tough, as I have had many races and runs that I have enjoyed.

I enjoy telling the story of how I ran in a 2-mile relay as a senior in high school., having never broken 2 minutes. I was the second leg, and when I took the baton, I was about 3 or 4 seconds behind a rival I had met several times before but never beat. I hit a 56 second quarter (my coach said, “what is he doing?” he later told me) but came back in a 63 second quarter for a 1:59 second time. I passed the baton even with my rival, but with the initial lead he had, I had beaten him!

My Marine Corps Marathon  was also memorable. I had never run one before, so I did not want to be stuck with the masses, so fudgde a finishing time (2:38), so I could get upfront. I was going to do every other water stop, but as I was running with the British Marine Corps team, they took water at each one, so I did the same. My wife was at this race, and I saw her twice on the course. I had three goals: run without stopping, run hard in Hains Point, and break for 3 hours. I did all three. At the finish line, my wife had met some folks along the way, and they were all there yelling, “Go, Mike!” But I did not see or hear them, so I focused on the finish line and did it in 2:45:59 on my watch. 

What words do you have for a novice? 

How would you describe “A Runner’s High?” It is time you spend with yourself; you are floating along, feeling strong but not hurting, just at the moment and feeling like you could go forever.

What injuries have kept you off the roads, and how was the recovery?

I have had a couple of injuries that stopped me from running. One time was my knee after my Marine Corps Marathon, as I started running too soon after finishing it. My quads were shredded, which could not keep my knee joint aligned, so I strained my ligaments and tendons—could not run for about six months. It probably would have been shorter if I did not keep trying to go out too soon!

I had another “injury” that kept me from running two times seven years apart. I thought I had a hip injury, could not lift my leg, hurt to walk, could not run. I had X-rays and MRI on my hip and back. They sent me to physical therapy, which I did not believe in, but I became a convert! My therapist diagnosed a locked back and glute muscle, and after just a few sessions, the pain was way less, and I could run again—eventually, her treatments “cured” me! I had a similar episode on the opposite leg/hip and had to go through some gymnastics with my insurance company to get back to the same therapist—she again fixed my issues—more glute and hamstring this time. 

How has COVID changed your running?

When it started, I still ran, did not wear a mask but avoided people, crisscrossing streets all the time, avoiding my favorite trails and paths as they had people on them. I have not raced in person at all. I was looking forward to my first one (Cherry Blossom in September). The delta variant infecting even vaccinated people has pushed me to wait until my wife or I get the booster (she has allergies, so higher risk). Once the science said safe to be outdoors, and I was vaccinated, I did go on my trails again. 

What changes have you seen in your running under age 40 to over 40?

I have not raced as often once I hit about 45. I look forward each time to a birthday ending in a “0” or a “5” as I go into a new age category. Over 40, I looked for races with five-year age groupings. I have also taken every Saturday off as a rest day. I still run faster than most folks (steady pace about 7:30/mile). 

Does it take more effort to maintain performance as you age?

I have learned in the past couple of years to add a second forced rest day. It has helped me run faster in my speed/tempo runs. I don’t run under 6 mins/mile anymore and am happy with under 7 mins/mile.

What attracted you to the Army Ten-Miler?

I had run many Army Ten-Milers, starting back in the mid-1990s when I was stationed at the Pentagon—it was the race to do in fall! I had run a few 10-milers before (one in Hampton when I was 23, did it in 55 minutes). The race was promoted in the Pentagon Athletic Club (i.e., gym). I enjoy the camaraderie of the run, the course, and also the after-race activities! I ran it when I was here on my two tours and since I retired. There have been years I have missed due to work issues or not being prepared to race. 

How many times have you run the Army Ten-Miler, and which race stands out?

I have run more than ten times, but I would have to count my coins! I was there when we were diverted due to a possible bomb threat and ran a short course and no official time. In 2000, I traveled up there for the USCENTCOM team, and we did very well. I also ran for the USSOCOM team for four years, and those were my favorite races. I lived in D.C., so I recruited their team until they no longer needed me (when they had younger, faster runners!). 

Author

  • George Banker

    George Banker was the Operations Manager for the Army Ten-Miler (US Army / MDW), one of the largest 10-mile road race in the United States. From 2003 through 2023, his responsibilities included the operational planning, logistics, community outreach, design of the course, volunteer recruitment, and support to medical and police jurisdictions. Prior to joining the Army Ten-Miler, he worked 25 years at IBM serving in administration and management within the federal marketing environment in Bethesda, Maryland. He is retired from the U.S. Air Force (enlisted grade Technical Sergeant), where his experience included ground refueling supervisor and cryogenic fluids production supervisor. He received 14 military decorations including the Air Force Commendation Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm, and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal (1969-1989). Since 1983, he has worked as a freelance photographer and journalist, contributor for the Runner’s Gazette, and He is the author of “The Marine Corps Marathon: A Running Tradition”. He is an avid runner, with 136 marathons completed.

1 Comment

  1. Sharita Knobloch

    Thank you for another insightful interview, George! Love Mike’s perspective and reflections on his running journey.

    Reply

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