US 800m runner Erik Sowinski is set to appear at all four European stops on the IAAF World Indoor Tour, and that’s just for starters. The world indoor bronze medallist tells SPIKES why he's always ready to run.
“I like to compete,” Erik Sowinski tells SPIKES in a Dusseldorf hotel. Not half. Few US athletes will be as prominent on the European indoor circuit as the 27-year-old.
He is set to race in Dusseldorf and Karlsruhe in Germany, Torun in Poland, Athlone in Ireland and Birmingham in the UK, before heading to Albuquerque for the USA indoor national champs. To become a better competitor, he says, you have to compete.
“My coach, Joey Woody, was a professional and he said they’d race every other day,” Sowinski says. “We embrace that mentality – race as many times as you can. With that comes the experience and better times.”
And besides: racing beats training. Sowinski’s main training base is in Iowa, where he went to college, in the American Midwest and far away from many elite middle distance groups based around hubs on the USA’s east and west coasts.
As a Midwest native from a “pretty small” family, familiarity is important, and informed his decision to stay put after college.
“I have all the resources that I need at Iowa, whether it’d be athletic training or strength training. So it’s more a comfort thing than anything else,” explains Sowinski.
“I think I’ve been going in the right direction since I graduated college, so there isn’t really a need to change things up.”
Yet it’s not a totally perfect set up, and it benefits for Sowinski to get away from Iowa.
“Training by myself kinda gets to be arduous day in day out, so competing against different guys and going to different places makes things a little more exciting.”
On the road it’s usual for rivals to train together. In Dusseldorf, for instance, Sowinski coordinated his sessions with Poland’s world 800m silver medallist Adam Kszczot.
“Getting to meet all these guys and being on the track with them is fun, but getting to know them off the track is even more exciting, I think,” he says. “Seeing the different places people come from, and how they train.”
The results he’s enjoyed back up his methods. In the 2016 indoor season, Sowinski raced in six meets across five countries to warm up for the US indoor nationals, where he finished second. A week later he claimed bronze in the Portland World Indoors.
This indoor season does not have a world championships glistening at its conclusion. Rather than gunning for medals, Sowinksi simply wants to “break up training” and find good form early in the year.
“I didn’t race at all after Rio last year,” he explains. “Usually I race right through the middle of September, so I’ve been training for a month and a half extra of what I normally do. I just want to get some good races in and get myself ready for outdoors.”
His 2016 outdoor season did not go to plan. Though he notched wins in Kawasaki and the Beijing World Challenge (both with 1:45s), and performed strongly in the rounds at the USATF Olympic Trials, ultimately he finished fifth, missing the top three and a place at Rio 2016 by less than a second.
“Obviously it was hard,” he admits. “Some circumstances I couldn’t control, but I kind of just had to get back on the horse.”
Sowinski capped his hectic 2016 indoor season with bronze on US soil the Portland World Indoors
The horse took him to a win at the TrackTown Summer Series in Eugene – the same track where he had experienced the disappointment of missing a spot for the Rio Games. “It was more mental than anything. I knew physically I was in good shape, I just had to keep going.”
Getting a chunk of indoor races under his belt gives Sowinski a chance to get his mojo in order for later in the year.
“I think I’m in a better place than where I was last year as far as fitness goes,” he says. “Mentally I feel recovered, too, so I think I’m in a good place.”
One of his first ambitions for the outdoor season will be to join up with the US team at the IAAF World Relays, which return to the Bahamas in late April, where he helped his country win 4x800m gold at the last edition in 2015. If that opportunity does not arise, this willing competitor will be ready for whatever alternatives come his way, wherever that may be.
“I’d love to run [at World Relays] if I get the opportunity,” he says. “The rest I don’t know. My schedule always tends to be pretty last minute, so wherever they want me, I’m usually pretty open to run.”