Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lynryd Skynrod: An Interview with "The Real Deal" from Reno

One of my favorite things about running (and blogging) in recent years has been all of the wonderful people I have met. Most running events, and ultras in particular, are imbued with friendly positive vibes and the runners who radiate them. We runners can be competitive, sometimes that’s part of the fun, but after the race everyone seems quick to offer each other a heartfelt “good job.” Smack-talking is frowned upon, and even elite racers can often be seen near the finish line long after their own race is done, cheering for the mid-packers. Race reports on blogs extol the virtues of fellow runners, race directors, volunteers, course markings, scenery, race schwag, you name it.

And then there’s Lynyrd Skynrod.

Proudly hailing from Reno, NV, Skynrod burst on to the local racing scene in 2007 with impressive finishes at the Squaw Mtn. Run and Reno Journal Jog as well as a win at the Tahoe Triple. Sporting slicked black hair, a handlebar moustache and a Marlboro dangling from his lip, Skynrod is anything but your typical runner. Although he’d look more at home among a pack of Hell’s Angles or NASCAR fans than on a marathon starting line, looks can be deceiving.

Lynyrd Skynrod on his home turf (photo courtesy of coach Jackson Fairbanks)

Skynrod can claim bragging rights to a marathon PR of 2:39, although he claims that will drop following this Sunday’s Tahoe Marathon. His best posting in the half-marathon distance came last spring when he won the Rockin’ River Half Marathon in Reno with a time of 1:12:52. Last fall, he also claimed victory in the Tahoe Triple, with a cumulative time of 8:33 for the three marathons.

Clearly Skynrod is more than just a one-hit-wonder on the racing scene, but what can we learn from this elusive character? I tracked him down at the Gold Dust West casino after last Saturday’s Reno Journal Jog to find out.

I have to admit, I was initially intimidated about approaching Lynyrd Skynrod. A friend of mine, who is a speedy local runner himself, recently confided to me, “That Skynrod guy is a total ass!” Nonetheless, I was intrigued by this aberration among runners. I knew enough to ply him generously with Jim Bean, and after enough shots and a few beers, the words were flowing like the sewers through Reno after a summer storm.

It only took 3 shots to convince Lynryd that I was not actually Emma Garrard of the Sierra Sun, and to start talking

When did you start running? Have you always been athletic?

Course I’ve always been athletic. I been racin’ since I was 11, dirt bikes that is. I kicked ass ’til that one time I endo’ed onto some razor wire fencing and ripped open the tendons in my left wrist. Didn’t heal right. Never used them breaks much for dirt bikin’ anyway but once the circuit hears you don’t got no stoppin’ power, you end up blacklisted from all their events for liability reasons. I heard you also get blacklisted if you’re suspected of substance abuse.

Do you prefer roads or trails?

The hippies can have their trails. Motorcycles, cars, and people all go faster on fresh, clean, asphalt. I’m a big fan of all things fast and a marathon on the dirt is just never gonna be as fast as a marathon on pavement. Maybe I’ll change my mind if they ever move NASCAR onto a dirt track. That’s not a bad idea, but as it is there ain’t a monster truck driver who stands a chance against Dale Jr. and I’m pretty sure that’s cause it’s a dirt sport.

What do you do with your time besides training and racing?

Yer lookin’ at it. I prefer a cold one and a smoke to any kind of work or hobby. Of course I’ve got a few business ventures on the side to supplement the race winnin's but my associates don’t appreciate me talkin' about ‘em in public. Don’t need to bring the dang Feds sniffin’ around again.
How do your friends and family feel about your running? Are they supportive and do they come to races?

I'm gonna be honest with you. I don’t like reporters and questions and such and you ain’t a reporter I guess so you got that goin’ for you, but why does everybody gotta ask me about my family? Do I look like a family man to you? I gave some square fella that story once and I don’t feel like repeatin’ it, but I will tell you this: you won’t see any blood relative of mine at any races. Friends? I haven’t been able to lure any of them out to any races yet and I can tell you exactly why. No incentives. Not one of these races have a damn beer garden at the finish. The entry fees are so high at some of these things that you could buy a keg with the money collected from one runner, but instead the organizers are blowin’ it on charities and pocketin’ the rest from what I can tell.

What’s so great about living and running in Reno?

What’s so great? Best damned city in America’s all. I like to think of it as one of the last great waterin' holes in all the US of A, where the danged government and stupid liberals haven’t yet taken away all our freedoms. Yep, an oasis of freedoms is what it is. Course they did come over and started taken away smokin' indoors couple years ago, and technically prostitution isn’t legal in this county either, but you can see what I’m gettin' at.

Um, okay, and the running?

Nope, they haven’t taken that away yet.

What are some of your favorite races and places to run?

Shoot, in Reno? I can’t think of anywhere that’s not good for runnin'. You got Virginia St, McCarran Blvd, 4th street, and there’s probably 15 miles of paved river trail, which is not only good for runnin' but there’s sections that are ideal for squattin’ if you’re down on your luck. You also got easy access to Glendale Blvd and that spot where contractors’ll pick you up and pay you cash for carrying their heavy crap. You hear what I’m sayin’? Cash, and then Uncle Sam can’t get his dirty mitts on it. That’s right.

What is your preferred distance?

That’d be the one with the cash prize. 'Round here I suppose that'd be the marathon and the half marathon. Jackson says “I cater your training to the marathon” so I s’pose that’s what I prefer. Mostly I just prefer to earn some extra money to keep me livin’ the good life.
What is atypical training week like? Do you cross train, or just run?

Yeah, Jackson’s got me on a runnin' schedule and I stick to it when he’s around. Usually there’s a few days of speed work, where he chases me around on a damn bike with a taser for when I fall off pace. Then we do pain threshold drills on those days too. There’s board drills, bamboo drills, badger snare drills, and some others. I’m pretty sure he got the idea for those while he was a P.O.W. Do drills count as cross training? Then I get to recover the rest of the week and do what Jackson calls the “unnecessary and overly common long run on pavement” on Sunday.

Tell us about your diet. What are your favorite foods for training and racing?

I think Dog n' a Draft is the official meal of Reno these days, and the price is right. You know what’s hot now, though? Energy bars. I could go a whole day on just one of them things. These damn scientists are gonna have us eatin' outta tubes next thing you know. That’s what I’d invest in, if I were you. Tubes.

You had an impressive performance at the Tahoe Triple in 2007. What type of training did you do for the race and how did this differ from what you have done for marathon training in the past?

That season Jackson told me “We’re doin’ less speed and more endurance and pain threshold drills.” Oh man. I remember runnin' further and on pavement more often and somehow that bastard Fairbanks got a hold of one of them electric cattle prods. He called it the “whiphammer” and that damned thing would knock me flat on my back. Training like that’ll make a man grateful to only have to do three marathons in a row.

I noticed there are photos on the Tahoe Triple website of most of the champions from the past three years except you. Why do you think that is?

That’s probably cause I like to keep a low profile. Hell just the other day some bald guy comes up to me and says "You Lynyrd Skynrod? You’re like the Kaiser Soze of runnin’. I got the RGJ callin’ me trying to get a hold of you." Now, I didn't know who that bald man was and I’m not positive about who this Kaiser Soze fella was, but I’m pretty sure he led the German army in WWI. And that’s exactly what I’m sayin’ to you. I’m in your face like a blitzkrieg.

In an article last spring in the Sierra Sun, Emma Garrard suggested you could be the alter ego of a local runner from Truckee. How do you respond to such allegations?

I get that kinda crap all the time, and now they’re callin’ me a Californian. When you’re in the spotlight you gotta be ready to get slammed with the lowest of insults. Like Jackson says, “Lynyrd, you gotta rise above,” and that’s what I plan to do.

So, d’ya know where she lives?

What goals do you have for the Tahoe Marathon this weekend?

Let’s see, I got’em on a piece of paper here somewhere. Okay, 5:55 per mile for the first 5 miles and then pick it up from there. Jackson says that pace should win it and if I’m feelin’ spry, I could go for the course record. Course record’s 2:28 I believe.

What’s next for you? What races are on your list and what are your goals?

I know Jackson has plans for me. He talks about havin' me set that world record in the Triple Marathon and havin' me qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon. This year isn’t the year for either of those things though. Right now just this Tahoe marathon and then maybe a few more half marathons in the spring. I figure marathoning’ll be our focus for the next few years. Fairbanks knows I’m not fond of leaving this state so I don’t know why he thinks I’m willin’ to go to any of those other marathons. Lake Tahoe is plenty far into California and hell will freeze over before I cross those damn mountains to the west. He keeps sayin’ “what about the Vegas marathon?” and I keep tellin’ him everybody knows Vegas is really just Los Angeles sprawl. Then he says “What about St. George? That one’s fast and it's only about as far out of Nevada as Tahoe,” and I keep tellin’ ‘im any state tha’s known for religion makes me nervous and that town's even named for a saint.

Well, that’s all Lynyrd would give me before he became more interested in smacking the cocktail waitress on the ass, but I was pretty pleased with our interview overall. (Especially considering Lynyrd rarely speaks to the press.)

I will always prefer the elite runner who wants to stick around the race and cheer for others over guys like Lynyrd, but I can appreciate that he is shaking up the scene a bit. It goes against the mindset of most ultra-runners, but in Lynyrd’s world, nice guys really do finish last, and there’s no prize money for second place. (Most of the time there's none for first either, but I didn't want to point that out to Lynryd.)

One other thing I learned: watch out if you’re going to spend an afternoon in a casino with Lynyrd Skynrod. To my chagrin, I was incapable of driving myself home after the interview and I had gambled away all of my cash for cab fare. Andrew was not pleased when he had to drive to Reno to pick me up, and it didn’t go a long way toward convincing him that running is not a crazy stupid sport.

Lynryd enjoys a typical post-race meal after the Reno Journal Jog


  1. What a great interview, Gretchen! Very entertaining. Maybe I can get Chris and Rebecca one of those whipphammers (or "wimp" hammer?) to keep me moving!

    Looking forward to see Lynryd fly by me on Sunday :)

  2. 5:55 miles? Give me a pack of them smokes!

  3. Gretchen, great interview. I've been hearing about this guy so it's great you got a chance to talk to him. Yes, very entertaining.

  4. Hey, isn't that Jason Lee from My Name is Earl?

    Funny guy. It shows that he actually does care, though. You can tell by the race plan. A REAL badboy would just go out hard and finish harder, that's what I say.

  5. Omigosh what an awesome interview! He sounds like a real characther. I'll have to direct folks from my blog to here, soon as they recover from my flurry of posts.

  6. Hilarious!!!

    I've got to meet this guy.

  7. I thought at first this was a joke, like you were making him up! Great stuff / what a character. Flicks off spectators cheering for him. This was an awesome interview, way to score!