How Angela Ortiz Stays In Tune
I’ve always loved taking in the sights and sounds of the TCS New York City Marathon. Last year I stood amidst the chorus of loud cheers on my home turf in North Brooklyn, rooting for runners representing our eclectic neighborhood team. And the race didn’t disappoint as it was chock full of dramatic feats and major breakthroughs.
Among all of the dedicated runners that day, Angela Ortiz took center stage as far as everyone on our team was concerned. She ran all 26.2 miles in a remarkable time of 2 hours 42 minutes and 52 seconds. This qualified her for the Olympic Trials in 2020; an accomplishment any runner can tell you is worth a standing ovation. But what stands out to me is that Angela isn’t just a talented runner; she spends most of her time practicing for a different kind of performance for her work as a professional musician.
I wanted to hear more about the method behind Angela Ortiz’s training and what similarities there are between music and marathoning.
When it comes to marathon training, every runner has their own approach. I was curious about Angela’s weekly mileage in the months leading up to the NY marathon. In preparation for the race, she did a 10-week marathon specific build up for NYC in 2017, with her mileage ranging between 70-90 miles a week. Most weeks she hovered in the mid-80’s (averaging to about 11.4 miles per day) until it was time to taper.
Was that last long run any indication that Angela was ready to run a sub 2:45 marathon on race day?
“It’s always a bit hard to tell what you’ll feel like on race day when you’re in the midst of training because you’re tired from the cumulative stress of many weeks of hard work— so all you generally feel is tired,” Angela remarked about that non-stop 22-miler in Central Park. “Running on tired legs is part of marathon training. So, I think I felt tired of this one, especially towards the end, but I saw that tired feeling like a good opportunity to practice not breaking form, as one often does at the end of a race, and to work on positive self-talk.”
A lot of athletes attest to the mental strategy crucial for racing, and Angela elaborated upon this. “I think the mental aspect of running is often overlooked, and usually the missing piece in a lot of build-ups to big races. So much time is spent discussing training plans, shoes, gear, nutrition, etc. And while that’s obviously all very important, none of that will really matter if you can’t handle yourself when things start to feel difficult— and it will start to feel difficult at some point. So, every workout I do is just as much of a mental exercise as it is a physical one.”
She went on to explain how easy it is to want to slow down when feeling fatigued, but it’s so important to practice staying strong during workouts so that you’re more likely to endure the challenge during a race.
“I don’t think I finished this long run and said, ‘Oh yeah, OTQ here I come.’ But I was happy that I got through it and was able to work on the things I mentioned,” Angela said.
During race week, Angela had some idea that she could come within close range of breaking 2:45 for her race, given how smoothly her training cycle had gone and that she was healthy. “It was just a matter of how I felt on the day,” she said.
I wondered if Angela had any mantras to help her stay in the right headspace for the toughest moments of marathon training.
“When my legs start to burn in the last couple of reps during a workout I tell myself just to focus on the rep. Don’t worry about the next one or the one before it, this rep is the only one that matters. Execute this one, and then worry about the next. The same thing during a race, I tell myself all I need to do is successfully execute each mile. Finish this mile, then worry about the next. Don’t think too far ahead, and don’t worry about what’s already happened.”
Angela’s job as a musician has a few common denominators with running. She explained how the two intersect when it comes to success.
“The ‘dirty work’ is often done alone,” Angela said. “You don’t just show up at a gig one day and blow everyone away, same as you don’t run an Olympic Qualifying Time out of the blue. I think there is natural talent required to do well in both fields, but ultimately, the what, when, how and the why of your daily practice is what determines your success. There are really no shortcuts for either. Whether you isolate yourself in a practice room for hours or haul your butt out of bed at 5 a.m. to head to the track, the ideal end result is the same—control and mastery.”
For Angela, there is a lot of emphasis on the discipline leading up to the execution, whether it’s training for a race or practicing to play for an audience. Both efforts require consistency and dedicated practice as well as immense focus and energy.
Since athletes have such a wide range of how they fuel their bodies for optimal performance, I wanted to learn about how Angela eats. I asked her to describe what role diet and nutrition play in her running routine— and whether she consumes certain foods or actively avoids others.
And as it turns out, Angela’s diet is pretty simple. She generally opts for veggies and protein for lunch and something similar with a bit more carbohydrate for dinner. Other than that, she isn’t obsessed with any specific macro guidelines or restriction.
“I don’t really think about it too much, to be honest. My main concern with food is that it tastes good,” Angela said. “I also don’t deny myself anything— if I feel like having it, I have it.”
It’s important to note that she doesn’t use that intuitive-based eating plan as an excuse to plow through a pint of Ben and Jerry’s every night. Fueling by feel, or rather, eating palatable foods with some notion of what her body is craving has been what really seems to work for her to continue running fast and far.
Currently, Angela is building up to return to the NYC marathon in a month. Her training has looked a lot like it did last time around since that served her well. Her coach will tweak a few workouts to reflect her level of fitness this year, but the weekly mileage is pretty much the same. While I totally can’t wait to see how she does this year, I wondered what else Angela might be working on in her life right now.
“I’m always trying to improve my piano technique and widen my classical repertoire,” she said. “When I have a spare moment— which is not as often as I’d like— I like to take a book down from my shelf of very dusty classical rep and just play through pieces.”
I always find it interesting when dedicated athletes have diversified interests, and it’s not just running all the time. In Angela’s case, the disciplines she’s acquired from practicing music seem to help with the work ethic required for running. And no matter the endeavor, I’d say she’s got a good rhythm going.