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Interval Session #66 - Madeline Morgan

By SteveU - September 12, 2008

The first time Madeline Morgan and her Mountain Brook AL teammates grabbed national attention among high school harrier fans was hundreds of miles from their Alabama home, when they traveled to the Bob Firman Invitational in Boise ID last fall and toppled a host of regional powers to score a big win outside the Southeast.  Morgan led the squad that day with an 18:25, third-place finish behind eventual Foot Locker finalist Nicole Nielson's 18:19.  That win propelled the team to a Southeast #1 ranking, and eventually helped them when they ended up third at the NTN Southeast Regional behind two lower-ranked teams. Morgan was individual champion at the regional, but even that success didn't suggest the race she'd have at Portland Meadows, where she emerged as perhaps the biggest surprise of the day, gapping pre-race favorite Katie Flood (Des Moines IA) in the closing kilometer to post an 18:54.5 NTN victory.  Her team, running as Caution XC, grabbed a sixth place finish that cemented them as one of the top distance programs in the country.

That recognition was only confirmed at the next national championship on the schedule, when Morgan was runner-up in the Nike Indoor Nationals mile to Jillian Smith of New Jersey, then led her team to a pair of gold medal finishes in the 4x800 (9:04.80 meet record) and DMR (11:57.60, with a 4:55 come-from-behind anchor by Morgan).  Madeline shut down her outdoor season after an Alabama state meet featuring a 10:36.04 3200, 4:55.61 1600, 4x800 triple, but she hasn't missed a beat at the start of the 2008 cross country season.  Ranked US#4/SE#1 this fall, Mountain Brook steamrolled a huge 50-team field at the Berry College Invite in GA, while Morgan ran 18:22 for the win. 

Dyestat Senior Editor SteveU heads to Alabama for a Southern sit-down with the senior leader of a talented team.
1. You and the team won the Berry College Invite last Saturday in the first big meet of the season.  How would you evaluate your performance and the team's for a season-opener?

I was really excited about the way everyone ran, it was great to start off the season on such a positive note! Given the heat and the earliness in the season, I felt like everyone did as well as, if not better than, expected, and I think the race has given us all a very positive outlook for the season. I was happy with my performance and am excited to see the times and places this season will bring us.

2. Did you have a pretty good summer of training?  Is everyone healthy and fit?  What kind of mileage and workouts did you try to keep improving?

I enjoyed training this summer; I was able to build up my mileage and get a good distance base which was nice. Towards the middle of the summer we started having optional team workouts a couple times a week with hill drills and light intervals to get a little speed work, which I found helpful. I had to run pretty early to avoid the heat though, and I don't go to bed early, so I got in a habit of waking up early, running, and then going back to sleep.

3. After you guys extended your cross-country and indoor seasons by running in the Nike National championship meets, it looks like everyone kind of shut it down after the early May state meet in outdoor track...true?  Was that a team decision or an individual one for you, and what was the thinking behind it?

I think that by the time May came around, everyone was pretty much ready for the outdoor track season to be over, since ours starts so early--we had already had some outdoor meets before going to Nike Indoor Nationals. Everyone made the choice to be finished for themselves. I think we all felt like we ended on a positive note with the state meet and were ready for a break and to start training for cross country instead of continuing to compete in track.

4. It was quite a year for you and Mountain Brook in 2007-08, especially with cross country and indoor track.  Can you compare the feelings and memories of winning NTN last fall with your triple (two relay wins, mile runner-up) at NIN?  What do you think about those meets now, with some time to reflect?

NTN was definitely a surprising meet for me, I didn't go into it with any big expectations other than for our team. We went out to Oregon with a great mentality and just had fun with it instead of letting pressure get to us; I felt like the team mentality played a huge role in my individual race. I wasn't expecting the win but just had something left towards the end of the race, it was a very surprising and exciting experience.

NIN was a little different since we all had individual events in addition to relays, but I think all of us placed the most emphasis on the relays. We didn't really know what to expect, we knew that if everyone ran their best races, winning might be a possibility. Winning the DMR on the first day pumped everyone up about the rest of our races; it was definitely one of the most exciting experiences of my running career.

5. You and a lot of your teammates are back from last year's squad, but of course history tells us that it's not always easy for already accomplished athletes in high school running to come back from a super great year and do it again, especially on the girls side where so many athletes are elite at a young age.  What are some of the things Coach Echols and the team are doing to keep it fresh and keep everyone motivated and looking to find ways to improve?  What are some of the best things about him as a coach?

I think one of the great things about our program is that each year, even though it's a different group, everyone on our team becomes really close. Coach Echols really works to maintain this team mentality; because we are all such good friends and teammates, we are constantly motivating and pushing each other. I think one of the best things about Coach Echols as a coach is that he always tells us to just have fun with running and love what we do rather than letting ourselves be affected by the pressure.  He also listens to what we have to say and does whatever he can to help us on an individual level.

6.  I read a story from June where you talked about the importance of being a real leader for your teammates going into your senior year.  Can you tell me what has motivated you to really take that on as a goal?  When you look back at yourself as a runner, from when you first started on the high school team while in middle school, to finally getting to your senior year now, what are some of your thoughts about the journey?

From the time some of my teammates and I started running up with the high school in eighth grade, the older girls supported and took care of us; I feel like they played a huge role in shaping my mentality and helping me become a better runner by keeping me motivated and making running a fun experience. Now that I'm a senior, I feel like it's my turn to step up and look out for the younger girls as a team leader like the older girls always did for me.  
7.  You've always shown you're the ultimate team player, but I'm guessing after a year like last year, you can't help but have some strong individual goals, too.  For both this fall and the track seasons beyond, what are some of the things you'd like to accomplish?

Individually, I'd like to have a strong, consistent cross country season, try to better my personal record, and try to go for a state title. I haven't really thought ahead to track yet, but I guess the same applies. I'd like to go back to NIN in the spring for indvidual events and relays.
8.  We've heard that when you're not running, you really love to sing, are very involved in church activities, and are a very good student.  Can you tell us more about these talents and interests and how they fit into your life and your future?

I've always loved singing, but mostly just for fun. On almost every track or cross country meet I've ever been to, we've brought the iPod splitters and sang on the bus rides. I used to take voice lessons and do choir and stuff, but now I just sing for fun. I have a lot of different Bible studies that I go to during the week; they are a big part of my life and are so much fun. Academically, I've always been a pretty hard worker which has paid off. I hope to eventually become a docter, most likely in the field of sports medicine.

Photos by John Nepolitan (top, winning NTN), and Vic Sailer, photorun.net (bottom, relay leg at NIN)

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