If you race in MKE, you’d recognize Matt Kruger. He’s the tall redhead that starts and races from the front at distances from 5k to the marathon.
What you might not know is that Kruger lives with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism that affects his ability to understand what other people are thinking or saying. But instead of using Asperger’s as a crutch, he believes it’s one of the sources of his running success.
Read on to learn more about Matt’s amazing journey from his start in a youth summer running program to training up to 120 mile weeks!
2014 Lakefront Marathon
Photo by Bill Flaws – Running in the USA
Years running: About 16 years
Team affiliation: Performance Running Outfitters
Favorite workout: Long distance along the lake
Favorite distance to race: Marathon and Half Marathon
Pre-race routine: I listen to my Christian music to get focused and do a light jog to get loose
Favorite post-race treat: Chocolate milk
– 6th place at Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon (2011) 2:39
– RACC winter race series champion in both the 5k and 10k (2011-2012)
– 2nd in the Heatbreaker Half Marathon (2012)
– Badgerland Striders Indoor 20k Champion (2013)
2012 The Elf Run
Photo by Bill Flaws – Running in the USA
How did you get started with running?
When I was around 8 years old, my parents put me in a summer running program with the Greendale Recreation Department to see if I had interest in the sport of running after showing some potential in gym class at school. After joining the program, I have been running ever since.
What does a typical training week look like for you?
Generally, I like to do a lot of high-mileage training. When I am at my peak of training, I can average anywhere from 90 to 120 miles a week. I like to incorporate some speed work and some hills into my training, but distance is mostly what I like to focus on. Usually my distance runs are at a pretty moderate pace, and sometimes I like to try to increase the pace for the second half of a workout. I also like to swim and bike as cross training workouts.
What was your most memorable race and what made it stand out?
I have to say that my most memorable race was the Lakefront Marathon in 2011. I ran my fastest time ever and finished in 6th place. The thing that stuck out with that race was that after not running for many years, my high school coach (Richard Dodd) would run his first marathon back. It was neat to see him cross the finish line and encourage him after running the best race of my career.
Can you tell us a bit about Asperger’s syndrome? When were you diagnosed with the condition and what does it mean to live with it?
I was diagnosed at 3 years old. I have trouble understanding what people are thinking and saying. I have trouble with my conversation skills, and find it makes it difficult for me to fit in socially. I was talking to a good friend of mine on the phone a few weeks ago and I asked her what her perspective was on how I could improve socially, and she gave me really great advice. If I could learn to be a better listener, I would be a blessing to those around me. I have always talked and struggled to really listen to the person that I was talking to, which makes it very difficult. I have been trying hard lately to become a better listener. I realize I have a long way to go yet, but I am realizing that if I learn to listen more, my relationships with my friends will be much stronger.
Does Asperger’s syndrome affect your running? On the flip side, how does running help?
I have a certain routine when I race, and if that routine gets compromised, I am worried I won’t perform well. By consistently doing it a certain way, I get more organized before a race.
In addition to Asperger’s syndrome, I also have Attention Deficit Disorder, which sometimes makes it difficult for me to stay focused at work and stay on track. I work at Wisconsin Detail Services, which is an automotive detailing shop in Glendale, and so it is very important for me to stay focused at work in order for me to stay productive on the job. I find that running helps me out a lot when it comes to focus and concentration, because running and relieving that energy after work helps me feel much more refreshed and ready to focus the next day.
With Asperger’s, I tent to fixate on things. When I am with friends and I see something that I like, I tend to fixate on it. For example, classic cars, which I have great interest in. If I see a Corvette driving down the road that catches my eye, I tend to ramble on about the car, even though some of my friends might not have the same interest as I do. Running has been another one of those interests that I tend to fixate on, and it has helped and harmed me, both at the same time. I like to make goals to stick by and really fixate on those goals, which motivates me to do better.
But sometimes my mind starts to fixate on thinks like what the competition will be like, how much prize money is offered, and who will be on the race course cheering me on. These things distract me from running my own race, and those things in the long run are meaningless anyway.
I have taken the past month off from running, including training, to cleanse my mind of those things that I was so fixated on before and have now learned to focus more on serving my God who has given me this gift to run in the first place. My Asperger’s will continue to cause me to fixate on things, but I pray that the Lord will allow me to control those fixations and focus on the things that really matter.
I would like to thank God for giving me Asperger’s, because without it, I might not have had the strength to stick with it as long as I have and not quit. Asperger’s has helped me a lot in my running, but it also has its challenges, so if I continue to seek the Lord, I know that he will give me the strength to use Autism as a tool to make me a stronger runner, because I know that Asperger’s is what makes me more passionate about the sport than anyone I know, and I have to learn to ignore the distractions that erupt because of this passion, and not let them hinder my running.
Do you have any running role models or mentors that have positively influenced your running?
One of the individuals that really inspired me ever since I set foot on the high school track is my high school coach, Coach Richard Dodd. He has been a real role model to me, and he was the one that started me on this journey that I am on right now.
When I started my freshman year of high school at Whitnall High School in Greenfield, the first person that I met was Coach Dodd. After running my first high school cross country meet in the junior varsity race at Sheridan Park in Cudahy, Coach saw the potential in me as an athlete. He pulled me aside and told me of this potential. He also realized the challenges that I have with Asperger’s and how that could affect my relationship with my teammates. So he spoke with my teammates and told them of the potential that I had and the challenges that I have socially with Autism. After going through middle school with problems with bullying and teasing, it felt good to be a part of a team, with a bunch of athletes who understood and respected my potential as a runner. It also felt good to be a part of a team of individuals who accepted me for who I am.
I continue to seek out Coach Dodd to this day, because ultimately he was the one who put this fire in me, and without him I might not be the man I am today.
Where are your favorite places to run in Milwaukee?
My favorite place to run in Milwaukee would have to be along the lakefront. The best place to run by far is the Oak Leaf Trail through Cudahy and St. Francis. It gives you a spectacular view of the lakefront, as well as downtown Milwaukee. Another great place to run, as I run there all the time throughout the winter months, is the Pettit National Ice Center. It provides a relief from the ice and snow that make up our Wisconsin winters. I really enjoy running there because I get to talk with some of my friends who are on the US Speedskating team, as well as meet new friends every time I run. It is also great because there are always fast runners there that I can hook up with to get some speed work in when I need it.
2014 Heatbreaker Half Marathon
Photo by Bill Flaws – Running in the USA
What are your favorite Milwaukee races and what do you like about them?
I really enjoy the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, and I do run that one every year. There is a new race starting next year, the Milwaukee Running Festival, which is said to draw more of an elite level crowd. I definitely plan on running in that race because I have been looking for a more elite level marathon race in the Milwaukee area and this will fit the bill for me. Another great race that I really enjoy running every year is the Firecracker Four on Independence Day. The race is held at Hales Corners Park, and even though the race is only 4 miles, it has been a tradition for me to run in that race ever since my freshman year of high school. Coach Dodd was the one who started the race so I have done it ever since he told me about it prior to my freshman year.
What running goals are you looking to tackle during the next few years?
My main goal right now is to just improve on my times. I realized that the past few years I have been caught up on who was faster than me in a race and how I wanted to place in a race. I have been trying too hard to impress people who come to the races and have lost focus on the real reason why I race.
My biggest goal is to stop being concerned with who I am going to impress in a race, and focus on using my racing as an opportunity to worship God for the gift that He has given me. I have overcome a lot in my life. I have overcome and survived cancer and have been able to manage my Asperger’s syndrome. It would be awesome to show people the power of God’s love on the race course and for people to see me not only as a good runner, but as a follower of Christ and that the Holy Spirit lives in me.
It says in Philippians 4:13-14: Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
This is one of my favorite bible verses and it shows that no matter if I win or lose, I still have to keep my focus on the one who gave me this gift. If I get caught up on other things and use running as an idol, then that is when I slip and my times fall apart. If I can keep my life in perspective, nothing, not even an Olympic gold medal, is out of reach, because I know that nothing is impossible with God. I just have to trust in Him and let him guide me in my running career in whatever way He wants me to go.
Any other comments?
I really enjoy writing and have actually written a few quotes that I follow on and off the course. A race is not run when you cross the finish line – It’s how you get there. Training for the Olympic team takes more than just the will to achieve greatness, it takes countless hours of training and mile after mile of running. You have to eat right, sleep right and put a lot of focus on that goal. If you feel tired, or your legs feel tired or sore, do you slow down and quit? If you get that idea in your head, how then can you win the race? You are already defeated, because if pain is your competitor, how can you win?
It takes ultimate focus to run. You can’t let pain or fatigue distract you from reaching your goals. You do have to be smart with your running, yes, but to reach your goals, there will be pain and fatigue. If you feel tired, will you decide to go home to the couch to watch television when you could have been doing a workout? There are many days that I feel tired after work and would love to drive straight home and relax, however I don’t. I strap on my running shoes and take it all in stride.
Sometimes you let failures and memories of the past prevent you from realizing your dreams. When you race, you are to never look back, and instead, focus on the runner in front of you. In that same way, in our race of life, we should never look back. The race of life is in front of us. Remember that what happened in the past shouldn’t dictate what can be accomplished in the future. You need to pick yourself up, because just like the steeplechase, there will be obstacles in your way to jump over. Even if you fall, you have to pick yourself up and continue running.
When I was 17, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. I was unable to compete my junior year of high school as I underwent chemotherapy treatments and lost all of my hair. I didn’t let the fact that I had cancer affect me or my running. I never turned my head back and kept looking forward as I qualified individually for the Wisconsin State Cross Country Championship my senior year of high school. This was exactly one year after I beat the disease. I then went on to win the sectional track meet in the 3200 meter run the following spring.
I know that I have a God that loves me and that has blessed me in many ways. I will continue to serve Him and will put everything in His hands, because only He knows what is in store for me as an athlete. I will continue to serve God in whatever endeavors are in store for me, whether in running or in life. It is great to have a God who loves me and has continued to bless me in everything that I do. If I continue to honor Him in all that I do, I know that I will go far. God bless!
Thanks for chatting with us, Matt!
If you’re a runner in MKE, we’d love to chat with you. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to be featured or know someone who should be featured in an upcoming Let’s Get to Know . . . post.
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