Swinging the Pendulum (with Mason Ferlic)
Mason Ferlic is poised for excellence.
Leading up to his Olympic debut, Ferlic found himself unsponsored, yet undeterred. “I decided I was going to bet on myself. I knew I was going to make this Olympic team and my value is going to be way more after I’m ‘Mason Ferlic the Olympian,’ rather than ‘Mason Ferlic the Olympic hopeful.’”
And right he was.
Ferlic came away from 2021 with his first Olympic team under his belt and a shiny new sponsorship from Adidas. While his speed on the track is nothing short of impressive, Ferlic’s career off the track drops jaws as well.
An alumnus of the University of Michigan, Ferlic continued his career at the school as a part-time research assistant while he was injured during his first year of professional running. He is now pursuing his doctoral degree at the University of Michigan in Statistics.
“I was living with two friends at the time who were starting their young professional careers. I got injured and would watch them leave at 9am and come back at 5pm and would wonder, “what did I do?”. If my only goal is to produce track results and work out and get fit, it’s pretty hard not to feel like you’re kind of worthless. So I found a research lab on campus and started doing part-time work, and all of a sudden running got better,” says Ferlic.
Ferlic, like an increasing number of professional runners, is of the camp that being a well-rounded individual will not, in fact, destroy your running career.
“There’s a stigma in the sport that if you want to be the best athlete it requires 100 percent dedication. I push back against that,” says Ferlic. “I believe that the last 10 percent is the hardest, but if you’re willing to accept that 90 percent is enough, you can get a lot done with that.”
In the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19 and the cancellation of the 2020 Olympics, Ferlic decided to pursue his PhD in Statistics at the University of Michigan while continuing to train for the 2021 games.
“If you’re a person that enjoys having multiple passions or simultaneous trajectories, they can actually complement each other. I describe it as a pendulum that swings back and forth. In times when I need to really focus on track, that’s where my mind is at and that's the focus. The way our season works, in the fall there aren’t many races on my calendar, so it can take a bit of a back seat and I can focus on school or work,” Ferlic explains.
It’s in this balance, the brief moment the pendulum spends at center, that Ferlic challenges the status quo.
“It’s about taking your mind off the immediacy of training. It’s a long process and rushing it doesn’t accomplish anything. The best thing you can do is have a distraction outside of it and let the training and fitness come to you and not try to be overly prepared,” Ferlic quips.
The pendulum swung, and the fitness certainly came. Ferlic ran personal bests in the 1500m (3:35.45), the one mile (3:58.05), the 5K (13:24.94), and his specialty, the 3000m steeplechase (8:18.49) all in the spring of 2021.
“I came out of 2020 being sneaky fit because I wasn’t thinking too much about it but was still getting the work done. The academic calendar ended in April so I had about two month of dedicated time to set up for the Olympic trials.”
How does one even begin to balance doctoral study and Olympic-level training? During the off-season in the fall, Ferlic’s pendulum swings into laser-focused study.
“It’s tough. It’s not easy. That’s the answer,” says Ferlic. “My day is going on a run from 9am to 11am, do 16 miles, shovel down some pancakes, then hop on the laptop and work from 12pm to 10pm.”
Thankfully, this is Ferlic’s last semester of coursework as he’ll welcome a semester of research this spring, allowing him more time to focus on his next goal – qualifying for the World Championships.
“Knowing I can get in the same type of shape as at the Olympics, I can still have those big goals to make the finals for Worlds and to run fast,” says Ferlic. “So much of the preparation for the Olympics was focused on placing to make the team. [For Worlds] I can take some risks and see how fast I can run.”
Reaching for lofty goals is always easier in good company, and Ferlic has plenty.
“I’m leaning into this Adidas group we have in Ann Arbor,” says Ferlic of the Very Nice Track Club, made up of Ferlic, Hobbs Kessler, Nick Willis, and many others.
[You can follow along with the guys at their YouTube channel:
As Ferlic looks to the World Athletics Championships in July, he reflects on what keeps him motivated.
“Making an Olympic team and knowing the process going into it and knowing I’m one of the best steeplers in the country, that makes me hungry. Let’s do it again, and do it better,” says Ferlic.
And so again the pendulum swings, Ferlic finds his balance, and prepares to reach for excellence again.
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