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Marathoner Gabe Proctor Hopes His Many Travels are a Precursor to Rio

USATF celebrates Black History month in February with weekly features on African-American athletes, coaches and administrators in the sport. Elite marathoner Gabe Proctor trains with the Mammoth Track Club in Mammoth Lakes, California, and he shared his story with contributor Tom Surber.

All elite-caliber marathoners accumulate countless miles in their training sessions, but very few long distance runners have traveled as far as Gabe Proctor has in chasing his dream of becoming an Olympian and one of the world’s best.
Born in Ethiopia on April 29, 1990, Proctor and his two younger siblings grew up in South Royalton, Vermont, after being adopted and brought to the U.S. in 2000. Since graduating high school, Proctor’s running exploits led to a stint at Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kansas, prior to landing at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado.
Proctor currently resides in Mammoth Lakes, California, as a member of the famed Mammoth Track Club that trains and nurtures many of America’s most accomplished distance runners. Since its inception in 2001, the Mammoth Track Club has produced an impressive resume that includes 12 Olympians, three major marathon wins, 12 World Cross Country Championship medals, one world record, 23 national records, 64 national championships, two No. 1 world rankings and two Olympic medals.
For Proctor, Mammoth Lakes is the perfect place to train as he prepares for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Marathon on Saturday, Feb. 13. in Los Angeles, where the top three finishers will qualify for the Team USA roster that will compete in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“For me, it’s everything,” Proctor said of his Mammoth Lakes training base. “I can put on my shoes and hit the trails in five minutes or so, which is a huge advantage for me. Everything is really, really close. I know for people who like the city, it’s probably not the place to be, but if you like the outdoors, it’s an unbelievable place to train. I’m really fortunate to be able to train at altitude, and also if I want to go do speed work. I can go down to like 4,000 feet within 30 minutes, which is huge, and we have a track and a great coach. The town is very supportive and the whole community, my team of supporters and my coaches, are all very knowledgeable and supportive. That’s why I love Mammoth. Everybody helps everybody, so for me, being here is a no-brainer.”
Following a competitive middle-distance and cross country running career that lasted 15 years, Andrew Kastor has become one of America’s leading mentors of distance runners. The owner of a degree in Exercise Physiology, Kastor created and coached a non-profit running club called the High Sierra Striders. Kastor is currently the head coach of the Mammoth Track Club and a huge influence on Proctor.
“He’s made me believe that I can be a great runner one day,” Proctor said. “I have a long ways to go. But in the short time I’ve been with him, I’ve had a few successful races. I feel like the secret is as you get older as a marathoner that you put in the miles every day and every week for two and a half years now, and he’s instilled in me that I can be the next big thing, eventually, and I believe in that.

“There are a lot of great marathoners ahead of me here in the U.S., but I think eventually I will be there. I just have to keep believing in what he’s telling me to do day in and day out, and eventually it’ll come through. He’s a great motivator and he’s given me a chance fresh out of college when I didn’t really have the best times coming out of college, and he took a chance with me, so why not? Maybe I can be the next big thing one day.”
More accomplished members of the Mammoth Track Club include Kastor’s wife Deena, the 2004 Olympic Games marathon bronze medalist and American record holder in the marathon and half-marathon, and Meb Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist in the men’s marathon, who finished fourth in that event at the 2012 Olympics in London.
“It’s very humbling to have them on this team, but also very inspiring,” Proctor said. “Deena makes everything look so effortless. It’s hard to do, but she’s enjoying what she’s doing and you can always learn from that. There’s always joy in what she does, so from that sense it’s very contagious. Sometimes we neglect to do the little things, but the little things add up to be big things and she does those. That’s probably why she’s so successful, so you just have to put your head down and put in the work. Deena, Meb and Ryan Hall (two-time U.S. Olympic marathoner) have come through this program, so for me it’s encouraging that there’s that tradition and history, and I feel like somebody from our team will make it. We put in good work here, and I believe in my teammates and they believe in me, and we’ll do our best at the Trials.”
The forecast for Saturday’s Trials in L.A. is for warm temperatures in the 70s, which will make the race more challenging for many athletes in the field who prefer cooler conditions while running a marathon. As for Proctor, he couldn’t be happier about it.  
“Trust me, I was hoping for heat,” Proctor said. “I like running in the heat and I welcome it, as well as the cold to be honest because all of my life here in the U.S. for 15 years it has been somewhat cold. I grew up in Vermont and it was cold. In Colorado, it was cold and at Mammoth Lakes, it’s pretty cold in the winter time. So I’ve adjusted to both extremes and I’ve dealt with heat all my life, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s hot or cold - I’m going to be just fine.”

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