COACH’S INTERVIEW: SAUCONY ATHLETE (AND RHODE RUNNER’S OWN) KATRINA SPRATFORD

I think you need to be your biggest advocate, your biggest fan and know that you’re capable of so much. When times are hard, that’s when you learn the most about yourself and how much you love the sport.
— Katrina Spratford

At the Rhode we are all about supporting local athletes and teams. Back in February I had a chance to chat with Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier and New England Distance Project’s own Jake Sienko, right before he headed out for the trials.

This time around I sat down with another NE Distance Project runner, Saucony athlete and Rhode Runner employee Katrina Spratford. to get her take on training, racing, the US Olympic Track & Field Trials (which had just concluded) and a whole lot more. Katrina (or Katie as she’s known to many) talks about running at an early age, dealing with training and competition at various levels, overcoming injury and what keeps her motivated to keep pursuing her dreams. It turned into a very candid and refreshing look at the life of an elite athlete.

Coach M

Where did you go to high school and what was it like running there?

KS

I went to Voorhees High School in Glen Gardner, NJ (which is not in Voorhees, NJ coincidentally). My high school team was a powerhouse, we had a phenomenal coach. I actually started to get to know her when I was in middle school. I started running cross country in 4th grade, that’s when our school allowed us to run. I joined the team, fell in love with running and met her through some camps and all that so I sort of had a relationship with her already. Then I went on to high school and had a pretty good career. We were state champions my senior year, made it to Nike Cross Nationals, so we ran pretty well. We still have the state record for the fastest team average at the state course...

Coach M

Oh really?

KS

“I think it was in 6th grade I won my first cross country race or something and was like woah! I can be good at this!"

Yeah! (laughing) it still stands today, after almost ten years! So, it was amazing. I feel like that’s where I really learned to have this passion for running and my coach really taught us what it takes to be good runners. We were a serious team, so I felt like she taught us all about nutrition and mileage and pace...yeah, it was awesome. I loved it.

Coach M

So 4th grade, pretty early. Was that early compared to other kids you were running with?

KS

Yeah, we were the only middle school in my area that allowed 4th and 5th grade. Usually it starts at 6th grade. So we were pretty tiny people out there running (laughing). I think it was in 6th grade I won my first cross country race or something and was like, “Woah, I can be good at this.” That’s when I started kind of dreaming...in 6th grade I said “I’m gonna be a professional runner, I’m gonna run at the [Olympic] trials, I made these crazy dreams and here I am today, which is really cool.

Coach M

That’s where it starts though, isn’t it?? They were just interviewing Shelby Houlihan [at the Olympic Trials] and she said in the interview that she has been dreaming about this since she was a kid.

KS

"I was never a super stud standout but I was always very consistent."

I heard that and it really resonated with me, I was like “Same here!” (laughing) because it literally started when I was a kid. It’s funny because when you’re a kid you have no idea what it takes. You don’t know at all how hard it’s gonna be and the struggles and the positives, the ups and downs.

Coach M

Yeah, you just have a dream.

KS

Yeah!

Coach M

Going through high school, did you have a pretty good high school career?

KS

Yeah...my career has been pretty much the same since high school in that I improve every season. I was never a super stud standout but I was always very consistent. My freshman year I finished first on our team at States, kind of progressed really well and had a good finish to the season. Then by my sophomore year we had a stud come in who I had known through the middle school competition, she was a stud, full ride to Oregon, many state titles, state records so I was second to her. At the time it was a little tough because I was a pretty decent runner but no matter what I did she was always better, BUT in turn she made me better because she was absolutely incredible. Every year I got better and better...by my senior year I was 8th in States in cross country.

Coach M

Were you running track also?

KS

Cross country has always come a bit easier for me than track. I never really had much speed in high school. I think my best mile was a 5:15, but I ran a couple of 5Ks, maybe ran 18:08 I think that was my fastest, so yeah speed was tough for me (laughing).

Coach M

Okay but you did run track all four years, maybe even before HS?

KS

Funny story actually! In middle school I actually quit track in 5th grade. I just did not like it as much as cross country so I quit until 8th grade when I joined up again. It kind of makes me laugh now when I look back.

Coach M

Was Shippensburg always on your radar?

KS

Actually no! I got recruited by the University of Richmond. I attended Richmond for 2 years, a D1 school in Virginia. I ended up getting a scholarship to run for them but it ended up not working out for me. I wasn’t really happy. My freshman year went really well...I got A10 [conference] Rookie of the Year, I got 6th at cross country conference [championships], I had a really successful freshman year and then I got injured. I got a stress fracture in my femur and that took me out for a while. Pretty much all of my sophomore year I didn’t run at all. I was on crutches, it was really tough. I redshirted the whole thing and realized I wasn’t really happy with where I was so I ended up transferring to Shippensburg which is a D2 school in Pennsylvania. I had never heard of it...I actually had a friend from high school who went there so I visited her once and I fell in love with it.

Coach M

Did you meet the coach?

KS

I met the coach, I met the team, I met everybody. It was everything I was thinking of, which was funny. I ended up transferring and started my 3 years there...

Coach M

And they were thanking her for discovering you

KS

Yeah! (laughing)

Coach M

How was the transition from HS running to collegiate-level running?

KS

The transition was alright, but the workload was just intense. I went from running 40-45 miles in HS to 65-70 my freshman year. There was no smooth transition in that sense. I was doubling...I was doing really hard workouts with the top girls on the team and trying to hang on. It worked for a while, I qualified for USA Juniors [championships] but after that I was toast. It was a long season...not what I was used to. I raced all three seasons, not as much of a break as usual in between seasons, higher mileage consistently…

Coach M

Significantly higher mileage!

KS

Significantly higher, and the workouts were very intense.

Coach M

I’ve seen it from my perspective, but for people reading this especially those in that transition now, from high school to college or thinking about it, do the coaches explain it or do they just throw you into the fire?

KS

“I wanna be a really good 5K runner.”

I think I was just like “here’s the plan, this is what you do and I’m gonna follow it”, I’m very much a stickler to whatever my coach says. I didn’t really question it. I think that hindsight is 20/20. You look back and wonder “why did I do that” but I wanted to be the best I possibly could be, this is what they think is right so that’s what we’re gonna do.

Coach M

What was the key to your breakout senior year (especially indoors)?

KS

I think being happy with where you are is gonna lead to success. I also think the biggest thing as well was consistency. I trained for 3 years and leading into my senior year I was healthy, I had a lot of mileage and I was able to put it all together. At that time I was running probably 60-65 miles a week consistently...yeah, everything was just slowly building up. My workouts were getting a little bit faster...so cross country season went really well and immediately afterwards I raced an indoor track 5K to try and get a national qualifier for indoors [NCAA Indoor Championships]. I ran a big PR at the time, 16:34 and coming off of that felt really good, I was really excited and I think that put me at the top spot for the 5K going into nationals.

Coach M

You ran a variety of distances in college. You were in the 1500, 1K, 3K, 5K, 10K...do you have a favorite distance?

KS

I do love the 5K, I really do. I was kind of spread out in whatever events we needed especially at conferences. I wouldn’t even run the 5K or the 10K I would run the 1500, 3K, whatever they needed.

Coach M

What about now? Do you have a favorite distance now?

KS

Still the 5K (laughing). I wanna be a really good 5K runner.

Coach M

Well you got to that 16:08 mark this year!

KS

Yeah! Yeah I [also] think I’m starting to like the 10K more now that I have a bigger base and more mileage.

Coach M

So you join NE Distance in 2013. Was that you seeking them out, or the other way around?

KS

My Shippensburg coach had been in contact with the group. At the time, my training partner at Shipp and I were both looking for a group so we both ended up coming up here together. We met Molly Huddle...

Coach M

You met Molly Huddle on the trip??

KS

Yes!! She was at our interview because she’s on our board. It’s kind of funny because we didn’t know she was gonna be there for the interview. I walk into the Nelson Center [at Brown University] and there she is, I was like “Oh my God, this is crazy! Just keep cool” That was really cool! So we toured around and I just felt like it was a really good fit. We had our interview at Nelson with Bob Rothenberg, Nich Haber (Director of NE Distance) and Molly. Then Nich took us around, showed us a bit of Providence and we went to Woonsocket, he showed us around there. At the time it was a very small team, they had only been a team for about a year. It was David Goodman and Meaghan Hobson when I joined.

Coach M

So one guy and two girls.

KS

Yeah (laughing) and now it’s flip flopped. It’s seven guys* and one girl.

(*Julian Saad has since joined the team so the tally now is eight guys and one girl.)

Coach M

What’s been the key to your 2016 success?

KS

So it’s actually funny how it mirrored my college career. I moved up here in the fall [of 2013], another big transition, it was almost like going to college again you know, new state, new environment, I don’t really know anyone up here. It was a very small team so okay, these are your friends. Learning the area, learning the new loops, where to run. It all went really well. I jumped a lot in fitness, increasing my mileage, workouts were a little tougher and I did really well. Then February, a stress fracture knocked me out. So I didn’t really have a Spring season. My fitness was coming along really well and then done! Shut down, from February until July. It was long, there were 6 or 8 weeks where I couldn’t run at all and I was in a lot of pain. It happened literally mid-run, I was doing a hill circuit and my back just gave out and I had to hobble back to my car. Nothing leading up to it. I tried to come back with the Alter-G [anti-gravity treadmill], elliptical, swimming. I came back a little too quickly and it fired up again so I shut it down again and took a whole month off with no physical activity. I just had to let it heal up. Then I started running again in July and my mileage was a bit lower….I responded well to the training. I ran some cross country PRs, I did alright, then the same thing in the winter, I sprained my SI joint twice in 2 months, it shut me down again. It was a tough 2 years out. I would have these periods of training really well and then I’d get hurt. So this year we actually kind of figured it out. We took it back to basics and worked on what I needed to work on, glutes and core and really focused on what was causing issues and then just slowly built up the mileage. I respond well to less training if that makes sense. I don’t need super intense workouts. One workout, one long run and decent mileage and that’s kind of what’s been the trick for me. Pretty solid workouts but enough recovery in between the hard days. I’ve [now] been healthy and that’s been the key.

Coach M

Figuring out what works for you.

KS

Yeah! I ran my first road race, the US 15K and that was fun, I got 8th place there. I ran the 10K at Stanford [2016 Stanford Invitational], came close to breaking 33:00 and then same thing with the 5K [2016 Adrian Martinez Classic] so close to breaking 16:00. It’s cool to be PR’ing by close to 30 seconds in all my races and for me it’s about time.

Coach M

That’s great! Who’s your coach now?

KS

Kurt Benninger, Molly’s husband. He coaches most of the guys on our team. He’s also the volunteer assistant at Brown. He coached Jim Spisak who was at the Olympic [Track & Field] trials.

Coach M

We just witnessed some amazing performances in this year’s US Olympic T&F Trials. Molly Huddle’s double, Lagat winning the 5K at 41, the 18-year old high jumper [Vashti] Cunningham. We also witnessed the other end of the spectrum, Sanya Richards-Ross, Brenda Martinez and Alysia Montano going down, then Brenda redeeming herself in the 1500. Did you have a favorite moment?

KS

You can’t give up on yourself, you have to believe in everything you’ve done.”

I do, I feel like I learned so much from the trials. One thing that really stuck out to me...was when Alexa Efraimson took a hard fall [in the 1500 prelims] and she got up, responded and caught up to that pack to make the finals. I thought that was awesome. I think it’s really important to be able to shift focus and shut that out then focus on the next task. Of course Molly is incredible, just dominating and such a class act. The experience of the trials taught me a lot, including that anything is possible. You can’t give up on yourself, you have to believe in everything you’ve done.

Coach M

You and I have talked about your plans for the 2020 Olympics. Do you and your coach have a plan to approach that or are you just gonna take it one step at a time?

KS

I’m not done yet. I’m not ready to give up. I was disappointed I didn’t make it this year to the trials but again I was coming off of two pretty tough years with injuries and this was the first solid year under my belt. I can’t be too disappointed with that. It definitely gave me a lot of motivation to get there. I still love this sport so much and I still have that 6th grade Katie in my head saying that I’m gonna make the trials and honestly that motivates me. So 2020, definitely...5K, 10K, we’ll see.

Coach M

Along the lines of training toward your goals, how do you approach each week of training?

KS

Monday is usually just a regular run. Recovery run, whatever. Tuesday is usually a double day, so I’ll get in a total of 10 or so miles for that day. Wednesday is usually a workout, so fartlek, tempo, 400s whatever it is for that day so I usually meet Kurt in the morning. Thursday & Friday are recovery days, Saturday long...16-18 miles, Sunday is usually recovery. Really, it’s pretty simple. The biggest thing I’ve learned since college is recovery is key. I mean it’s huge. My recovery runs are probably a lot slower than I even ran in high school, and that’s okay. Sleep is huge, I’ve always been a really big sleeper. I need like 8-10 hours of sleep a night. Mostly 10 (laughing). I try and nap whenever I can. That gets a little tricky sometimes with work and coaching. Nutrition is definitely important. I was actually vegetarian for a long time. I just started eating meat again because protein is really important. Just making sure I’m getting everything I need. Especially for females. You need iron, calcium...and so on.

Coach M

Do you have any advice for the younger female runners?

KS

I would say to just continue to believe in yourself and in your dreams. The road is bumpy so don’t give up on what it is you believe in. I think you need to be your biggest advocate, your biggest fan and know that you’re capable of so much. When times are hard, that’s when you learn the most about yourself and how much you love the sport.

Coach M

Okay, now for some fun facts. I did this with Jake so it’s kind of like tradition.

KS

Okay!

Coach M

Favorite color?

KS

Green. Always green.

Coach M

Favorite food?

KS

Pizza.

Coach M.

Favorite track workout?

KS

I like 400s. 16x400. I’d say cross country over track though (laughing)

Coach M

Favorite time to work out?

KS

I like going in the morning.

Coach M

Favorite post-workout or post-race indulgence?

KS

Oh my God, I love french fries and ice cream. Not together though!

Coach M

Favorite running book?

KS

Born to Run

Coach M

Running idol?

KS

In high school it was Kara Goucher, Shalane Flanagan. As I got into college I have to say Molly Huddle.

Coach M

Is a hot dog a sandwich?

KS

I would say no, but I don’t know what else it is! I guess it could be a sandwich because it has bread and mustard and whatever else but I dunno.

We're proud to have you as part of our store team and wish you all the best this year and into 2017 Katrina!!

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