1) You've made it through the season thus far undefeated, but there have been a few challenges along the way. Is it hard to keep a streak like that going, knowing you're the favorite, with a target on your back in every race?
The hardest part for me hasn't been winning every race, but being satisfied with my effort in every race. In many races the competition will hang behind me and make me maintain the pace by myself. When I'm trying to be satisfied with my time, not only winning, I'd prefer to have other runners help carry some of the load of leading. Earlier on in the season I was having difficulty racing to my potential when nobody else would lead. As I learned in the New England Championships, it is getting a little easier for me.
2) Your team and the Danbury squad have had some good matchups over the years. Can you talk about that rivalry, and what it means in a smaller state like Connecticut?
Last year during cross country our team was focused on making nationals. Beating Danbury wasn't our goal, just a step we needed to take in order to make our goal. At the New England Championships we were tied through five guys and lost in the tiebreaker. As frustrating as it was to lose by zero points, our team and the Danbury team are friendly and cheer for each other during races. The fact that Connecticut is a smaller state gives me state pride when it comes to rooting for the Danbury guys or other individuals in the state at out-of-state meets.
3) With the successes you had last year as a junior, did you make any changes to your training heading into your senior year? Increased mileage? Different workouts? Altered focus? How did you prepare to take it to another level?
I was originally looking forward to training at very high mileage over the summer. Unfortunately, I had my second stress fracture in the beginning of outdoor track. My coach decided not to push me as high as we originally planned, but I still hit a few weeks at around 85 miles. My 'altered focus' is the biggest change in this season. I have done very few runs since last December without envisioning Foot Locker Nationals. I owe most of my success to my coach, Peter Oviatt, even though he now lives in Washington. He has spent countless hours with me doing whatever he can to train me for Foot Locker.
4) After winning your third straight Connecticut Class LL title, you told a reporter you were hoping to "set a record that's going to last forever," at the following week's CT Open race. Instead, you ended up having a pretty strong challenge from Fairfield Warde senior Matt Kane. Can you discuss that race, and then how you turned it around the following week at the New England Championship?
My goal for that [CT Open] race was to feel like I pushed myself hard. I knew that if I ended the race and felt like I achieved my goal, I would have set a record that would last for a long time (maybe I shouldn't have said 'forever'). I was heading into that race never having raced all out on that exact course (it had been changed before the cross country season started). I figured I would be happy and have a comfortable lead if I ran about 15:30. I ended up running 15:32, feeling like my effort was decent, and winning by about three seconds. It was humbling to see that if I don't race as well as I should there are guys in Connecticut who will beat me. At New Englands I ran solo for most of the race and was very psyched about my effort. I think the change came from my training changing.
5) That New England Championship race was a triumph for you, but overshadowed a bit by the controversy surrounding a top runner from Maine, Mohamed Noor, having sand thrown in his face. Did you see any of that happen, or only hear about it afterwards? What was your reaction? Was it surprising to learn of something like that happening at such a big race?
I did not see this happen, but it upsets me that somebody would do that, especially to a teenager during the New England Championships. I heard about this for the first time the next day. If it was that easy to get away with a crime in such a public place, it makes every runner's security questionable.
6) You're considered a favorite to make it to Foot Locker Nationals after being one of the top returners from last year, but some have said your team is tentatively scheduled to run the NTN Northeast Regional on the same day as the Foot Locker Northeast qualifier (this coming Saturday). Are you able to discuss which race you'll be running, and the process that went into that decision? How did you discern how to balance team goals and individual aspirations?
It is really a shame that Nike scheduled its regional meet on the same day as Foot Locker's regional, but that hasn't brought any issues up for me. I don't know who said that Glastonbury was planning on racing at NTN NE, but at no point in the season was that on our mind.
Balancing the team's interests with my interests has been considered a lot during cross country and track. My teammates are very understanding and supportive of my goals. After our class meet I started to train on my own more often, because the guys were beginning to taper and I still had another two months to go. I put my training as my first priority, but ran with the guys as often as I could.
7) I read that you are considering Princeton and Harvard among your college choices, so obviously academics is an important part of your life. What subjects do you enjoy at Glastonbury, and what are you hoping to study in college? What sorts of things do you like to do in whatever small amount of down time you have these days?
I like Russian, Spanish, physics and biology. In April I will be spending two weeks in Russia with some of my classmates. My favorite subject is a science class that allows me to go with my friend to a nearby hospital every other day and learn from a cardiothoracic surgeon and conduct research. Sometimes coming to practice after watching open heart surgeries isn't the best idea. It took me a few times in the OR before I didn't get lightheaded from what I was seeing, hearing and smelling.
My favorite things to do are waterskiing, soccer, basketball, ping pong and beach volleyball. I've stopped playing soccer completely after some injuries made me take time off running, but hopefully after Foot Locker is done I can get in some pick-up games again.
8) Out of curiosity, how did you go from "Donald" to "Donn," with two N's?
In sixth grade, my handwriting was at its messiest. I would write my name on the top of my assignments as fast as I could. The second "n" just started happening occasionally. I liked it and decided to keep it. My full first name is still Donald, I wouldn't change that because then I wouldn't be named after my grandfather.
Photo: John Nepolitan