By Erin Masterson
He started the race hoping for a top-eight finish. When he crossed the line in fifth place in the 10,000-meter run at the NCAA Track Championships on June 6, it was clear to Michael Franklin that the years of hard work had all culminated on this day at the track in Eugene, Ore.
On the heels of winning a tough 5k/10k double at the 2013 Ivy League Outdoor Heptagonal Championships — leading his team to win the Heps title — Princeton’s Franklin finished his final race as a collegiate athlete in 29:42.34, the Tigers’ best-ever finish at the NCAAs in this event.
During his four years at Princeton, Franklin consistently demonstrated an admirable level of discipline, determination, and dedication to the sport, and his collegiate accomplishments indicate only the start of a bright future both on and off the track. After a few weeks off, both from serious training and before starting his new job as an analyst at the Department of Defense, Franklin is now looking forward to making the transition and becoming an elite post-collegiate athlete.
Franklin, 22, of Mendham N.J., will admit that his experience running for Princeton was not always without challenges. In his first two years of college, he did not contribute as a scoring member to the Princeton cross country team. He allows that one of his only regrets in college running is that he would have liked to have run better and supported his team more during these years.
His motivation throughout his junior and senior years was therefore to become a scoring contributor in cross country, and he realized he had to make a few changes in order to do so. While managing the student-athlete balancing act can be challenging for any college runner, especially for one at an Ivy League institution, Franklin found that his running performance was especially affected by lack of sleep. A dedicated student, Franklin acknowledges that staying up late to study wasn’t necessarily a bad choice, but the contrast in his performances when well-rested and not became more apparent as the years went on.
Franklin is no stranger to time management — in addition to his strict college academic schedule, he also held down a 40-hour week internship the summer before his senior year, while training for his last year of college track and cross country. However, when he decided to prioritize sleep, he noticed a significant improvement in his performance, and now makes it part of his routine.
In addition to the attention paid to nutrition, recovery, and sleep, the quality, consistency, and mentality of a coach can play a serious role in determining a runner’s success. For his first three years at Princeton, Franklin was coached by Steve Dolan, now the Director of Track and Field and Cross Country at the University of Pennsylvania. Franklin considers the best thing about running for Coach Dolan, aside from the obvious athletic training advice, was the mindset he brought to the sport.
“Coach Dolan looks at running and competition in a bigger sense; as an opportunity, and not a task,” Franklin said. “He encourages his runners to view themselves as fortunate to be able to do what we do.”
Although running can be an easy sport to love when you are racing well, Franklin adds that “it is more challenging to stay focused during less rewarding times. Coach Dolan helped me keep this focus during my early college years when I was running in the middle/back of the pack and not always staying motivated.”
For his part, Dolan says, “I was impressed with Mike’s determination right from the first time we met while he was in high school. He was a high achiever in the classroom and as an athlete and wasn’t afraid to work as long or hard as necessary to excel. Those attributes are essential elements that allowed him to have such an outstanding stretch run to his college career.”
Following Coach Dolan’s departure for Penn in July 2012, Jason Vigilante joined the Princeton coaching staff, having spent several years at the University of Virginia (2008-11) and Texas (2000-08). Franklin admits that he was wary at first of the coaching shift right before his senior year, but running for Vigilante turned out to be a great transition. Franklin says, “I really worked well with him and bought into his philosophy on running and training. He shook things up and renewed my perspective on a lot of things. Which is something I needed, honestly.”
Speaking of a change in perspective, Franklin now faces the challenging but exciting transition to running post-collegiately. In addition to relocating to Washington D.C., for a job at Fort Meade, Md., as well as starting a part-time graduate program in Computer Science at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Franklin recently decided to join the ranks of the Georgetown Running Club (GRC).
While in D.C. on a brief visit to find an apartment to rent, Franklin met with GRC Coach Jerry Alexander, a former collegiate track and cross country coach at American University and the University of the District of Columbia. Though he hadn’t heard much about GRC prior to meeting with Alexander, or explored in depth the other running clubs around the D.C. area, Franklin says “When I met with Coach Jerry, it all sounded phenomenal. It’s an ideal balance for me between running and pursuing my career, which is the same sort of balance you are looking for when deciding on a college.”
Franklin believes that Coach Alexander and the GRC team share his philosophy and need for balance. GRC runner Sam Luff (Cornell University, 2009) would agree. Luff says, “You do have to find the appropriate balance, and the threshold will be different for some people. You need to figure out how important running is to you, and then dedicate an equal amount of energy to it.”
With years of experience coaching post-collegiate athletes who also hold down demanding full time jobs, Coach Alexander understands the need to tailor workouts and training plans for each runner. He says, “This is not college, where the athletes have no excuse to miss scheduled workouts. I fully appreciate that Mike, like everyone else on the team, has other responsibilities. My approach is to stay extremely flexible to account for those responsibilities, and to productively use the training time the athletes have. In Mike’s case, motivation is not going to be a problem, so we’ll work together to get him on a schedule that works for him.”
The addition of Franklin to the GRC team will lend a healthy amount of competition to the growing ranks of a group of accomplished athletes. Coach Alexander says, “I am absolutely thrilled to have Mike coming on board. He’s an athlete who is going to help GRC in several ways. Obviously he will make an immediate impact with his performances. He’s also going to help the team by making everyone around him better. An athlete of his caliber will set the tone in workouts, and his teammates will work harder to hang with him. I expect Mike to continue to make progress with GRC, and to pick up right where he left off.”
GRC runner Sean Barrett, a Captain in the US Marine Corps (Harvard University, 2007), echoes this sentiment, saying, “Ever since Ricky Bobby courageously declared, ‘I want to go fast!’ I have been similarly inclined. Mike will most certainly help in this regard. Having someone of his caliber around raises the bar for everyone else and gives us someone to chase down.”
While the transition to post-collegiate running can be daunting for some, free as it is of the structure of collegiate athletics, to include easily obtainable dining hall food, full-time coaches, and access to the training room, Franklin is looking forward to running after college, observing that he will not miss the stress that running in college can bring. He says, “There’s no clock ticking on running once your college career has ended. Whatever you want to do, you can do, which feels very liberating.”
Franklin acknowledges, however, that he was concerned about losing the training framework, coach, and team camaraderie when he left college. While working at the internship the summer before his senior year, Franklin found training alone to be tough, and maintaining motivation to train amidst such a demanding work schedule to be more challenging than expected. He hopes to continue to have fun with running, as he does now, and he thinks GRC will play a significant part in this process.
Going into his first fall season as a post-collegiate runner, neither Franklin nor Coach Alexander have shied away from setting some lofty goals. Both believe that while he had a tremendous senior year, Franklin has some unfinished business on the track. Coach Alexander is confident that Franklin can break 8 minutes for 3k, 14 minutes for 5k, and 29 minutes for 10k, stating, “I have every reason to think he will meet each of those goals in 2014.” Other short term goals include running in the USATF Club Cross Country Championships in December 2013, racing a full outdoor track season in 2014, and perhaps competing in a few indoor track meets this coming winter.
Coach Alexander also has longer term goals in mind for Franklin, noting, “This fall, Mike will explore some longer races on the roads — we’re planning for him to run the Wilson Bridge Half Marathon and the Army 10 Miler — and that will be a good way for him to get a feel for the roads. Mike’s future may lie in the marathon, but we’ve got plenty of time to figure that out. But for the next year, the focus will be on the track, and then we’ll see what comes down the road.”
For his own five-year plan, there’s no telling what is in store for Franklin. Racing in the 2016 Olympic Trials for the marathon would be a significant yet achievable goal for him, and one Coach Alexander believe is within reach. Franklin agrees, but has more modest goals too. He says, “In five years, I hope to be running in some capacity, but I’m not too concerned in what way. I’ll run only as long as I’m still getting something out of it.” Anyone who knows him knows this love of running will take him far.
As Franklin’s former Coach Steve Dolan says “Mike loves to run and he put his heart into it! He is a sure bet for success in the future. I look forward to seeing what he accomplishes in the years to come.”
Note: Additional Ivy Leaguers on Team GRC are Dave Burnham (Dartmouth), Lindsay Donaldson (Yale), Susan Hendrick (Columbia) and Hilary May (Harvard).