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Interval Session #42 - Kathleen McCafferty

March 27, 2008

Many times on the national prep landscape, the most successful girls make a splash early in their careers and remain on the scene for years (think Jordan Hasay and Ashley Brasovan). In other instances, the progression is more measured, occurring in fits and starts, with injuries and setbacks sprinkled into the evolution. Such has been the case with recent Nike Indoor National 2 Mile champion Kathleen McCafferty of Oak Knoll HS in New Jersey. No secret in the Garden State, Kathleen has been steadily improving since starting in the sport as a seventh grader, making waves in New Jersey but lacking that big breakthrough on the national stage.

After struggling with anemia during what should have been her breakout junior year, McCafferty rebounded well enough to win the Emerging Elite section of the Girls Mile at last year’s Nike Outdoor Nationals, and then used a strong summer of training as a springboard to a Foot Locker qualifier at the Northeast Regional. A bout of illiotibial band syndrome slowed her at FL Nationals (28th place), but McCafferty swam, aqua-jogged and ran her way into 10:32.73 shape by the time Eastern States rolled around in late February. Still, her US#1 10:24.53 romp at NIN felt like a revelation.

DyeStat Assistant editor Dave Devine heads back East to put in a few miles with this Georgetown-bound Jersey gem.
1) Congrats again on your win at Nike Indoor Nationals and your US#1 in the 2 Mile. Can you talk about how that accomplishment felt, once it had a little time to sink in? Did the race unfold as you imagined in your head before the meet?

To tell you the truth, it still hasn't fully sunk in that I am a national champion. That day was probably the greatest day of my life thus far. Ever since my freshman year, I have been working so hard and to finally reach this goal is amazing to me. At my school, a really small, all girls private school, running isn't really the premier sport. Most girls play lacrosse and/or field hockey. Usually people only join the track team after getting cut from one of the other sports! We don't even have our own track. It's made it pretty tough because I've had to do most of my training on my own. This past summer and fall, I trained with a running club that my coach used to be the head of. I did a lot of tempo runs and really tough hill workouts with them, which helped me a lot. My coach, Dean Shonts, has done such an excellent job with my training. He knows running like the back of his hand and he knows what I need to do to be good, but he never overtrains me. I never run more than 40 miles a week. Without him, I would not be where I am today. It's also taken tons of hard work and dedication to get to this point in my running career, and even last year, if someone had told me that I was going to be the national 2 mile champ this year, I wouldn't have believed them. I'm just so grateful that everything is all coming together this year. It's a nice way to finish off my high school career.

2) Early announcements about the field being assembled for the NIN Girls 2 Mile had then-US#1 Emily Jones MA and Foot Locker National XC champ Ashley Brasovan FL in the race. Both eventually had to withdraw with minor injuries, depriving you of a chance to race them head-to-head. Was that a bit of a disappointment, not getting a chance to race two such accomplished runners?

I actually stay in touch with a lot of the runners from Footlocker. I e-mailed Emily when I didn't see her on the starting list for the 2 mile and she told me she was ending her season early this year due to injury. I was really bummed when I found out because she, at that time, had the best 2 mile time in the nation, and I wanted to race the best in the nation. Also, I was really excited to get to race Ashley Brasovan because at Foot Locker, I was injured, and wasn't really running with the front pack. I knew that I had a chance to win the two mile, so I was eager to see what I could do when racing against her and Emily. I knew that if all three of us were in the race, it would be really competitive.

3) When we spoke after the NIN race, you mentioned struggling with anemia during your junior year, and how that wiped out much of the year in terms of being competitive. Can you discuss how you came to realize you were anemic, what you had to do to recover from that, and how you made such a leap forward in 2007-08?

I started off my junior cross country season hoping for a breakthrough season. I had run a 5:05 outdoors for the 1600 which was decent and I had made it to the Meet of Champions in NJ in XC the year before, which was a huge accomplishment for me. I came in like 80th overall, though. Junior year, I hoped that I could make an improvement. Well, the opposite happened. I won many of the smaller races, including our conference meet, but came in 5th in the county and didn't even qualify for MOC. I felt horrible. I struggled through the training, and didn't understand why I had no energy. Every time I stepped up to the starting line to race, I thought, "Okay, today's the day. Show 'em what you got," and then I would just struggle to finish. The same thing continued into indoor track season. I made it to MOC in the 1,600, but all season had not been able to break 5:20. That's when I decided to go see the doctor. They did a test to see if I had allergies or asthma, and both tests were negative. Then she tested my iron and ferritin levels. They were both extremely low. The fact is, I had stopped eating red meat and rarely ate any meat the previous spring, and that made a huge impact on my running performance. I started taking iron supplements and began eating more meat, spinach, and other iron-fortified foods. I just have to be conscious about remembering to eat enough iron. That spring, I went on to win the Nike Outdoor Emerging Elite Mile in 4:56 and I was thrilled—I was back and felt stronger than ever.

4) Besides those junior year struggles, I recently read that you missed part of this year's indoor season with illiotibial band soreness, and spent a good bit of time in the pool, swimming and aqua-jogging. Given the fact that you'd probably rather be running, is there anything you enjoyed about aqua-jogging? What are the best and worst parts of pool workouts?

Yes, right after my race at the Footlocker Northeast Regionals, the outside of my knee started to really hurt. I saw a doctor and was told that what I had was very common among distance runners, Illiotibial (IT) Band Syndrome. It was basically just an extremely tight muscle that caused me pain on the outside of my knee, where it connects. The doctor said I could run on it but that it would hurt a lot. He was right. I continued to train for the Foot Locker National Finals in San Diego, but it was tough. Every time I ran, the pain was almost unbearable. After Foot Locker, I decided I needed to give my leg a break. I started swimming and aqua jogging every day. I was in the pool for almost an entire month before returning to running. It was tough, more mentally than physically. I actually really like to swim, and I was on the swim team when I was younger. In fact, it was the only other sport I was ever good at, because, like running, it required no hand/eye coordination. Aqua jogging is different. Basically, you just run through the water. It's extremely boring, but really effective. It really gets your heart rate up a lot, which is what I needed to stay fit. Overall, swimming and aqua jogging are okay, but I'd much rather be out running than stuck in a pool for an hour. Although I think any runner would feel the same.

5) How did you get your start in running? Was it something you've always done, or did you begin with other sports first, and work your way into running?

When I was little, I was extremely artsy. I started singing around the age of 4, took acting lessons, dance lessons, and participated in choirs and musicals all the time. By the time I was 10 years old, I believed I was destined to be on Broadway or in Hollywood someday. I had tried to play basketball and that didn't work because I was so small. Softball was okay but I never made it to first base- not because I couldn't run fast enough though! I just couldn't hit the ball. I was decent at soccer because I could run really fast, but I didn't have very good aim. Swimming was probably the only sport I was ever good at, before running. Basically, I had given up on sports. When I was in 7th grade, in gym class, we had to run for physical fitness testing. I remember my teacher coming up to me after class and asking me to come out for cross country. I ran cross country that year and did pretty well. I was the second best runner on the team and ran some fast times. It was really low key, though. Then, the next year, at the same school, after attempting to try out for the tennis team the first day of pre-season and being absolutely mortified, I decided to go out for cross country, remembering that I had liked it the year before and was pretty good. I fell in love with running that season and my coach was amazing. Running is such a huge part of my life now and I couldn't imagine life without it.

6) Competing at Nike Indoors takes you pretty deep into an already long indoor season. Are you taking a break before outdoors? What sorts of workouts are you doing at this point, and what events are you keying on for the spring?

I'm not taking a really long break between indoor and outdoor because I had a month off this winter. I cut my mileage back a lot last week, swam a couple of days, and right now am just doing base training. I'm not doing any speed work. I am going to focus on the 2 mile again for this season because I've actually only raced it twice so far—at Easterns and Nationals—so I'm excited to see what I can do this season. My next meet is the 3000 at Penn Relays. Emily Jones told me she'll be running the 3000 there as well, so I'm excited to finally get to race her and have some good competition.

7) I saw that you're planning to attend and run for Georgetown University next year. Were you following the Hoyas in the NCAA basketball tournament? Bummed to see them exit so early, or not really into March Madness? What things are you excited about for next year at G-town?

I'm so excited about Georgetown next year. Coach Miltenberg is amazing and he's done such a good job with the team and it's only his first year. He's an All-American miler himself and he really knows what he's doing. Also, Emily Infeld, who was third at the Nationals in the 2 mile, will be on my team next year which is awesome. I think we're going to be really hard to beat next year.

I didn't really follow the basketball team, but my coach did and he kept me informed. I was a little bummed when I heard they lost.

8) It's been a good year for track and field athletes from your neck of the woods in New Jersey. Freshman Nick Vena of nearby Morristown High also won a national title, in the shot put, and has been destroying records this season. Have you seen him throw? If so, which would be a closer competition: you vs. him in a shot put competition, or him vs. you in a 2 Mile, and why?

Nick Vena is amazing, that’s all I can say. I did get a chance to watch him throw at the New Jersey Meet of Champions. You watch all the other kids and then you watch him and there's no comparison. He's in his own league. The really amazing part is that he's only a freshman. It will be exciting to see how he improves in the next three years.

I'd have to say that it would be a closer competition in the shot put than in the 2 mile! Although I'm sure he can run fast as well, I'm pretty strong, especially for a girl! I actually can do about 14 pull ups and I do push-ups every day. I haven't tried the shot put, though, and I know a lot of technique is involved, so I guess I'm not really sure.

Photos by Vic Sailer, photorun.net

Interval Sessions Indoors 08