Sunday, January 1, 2006

INTERVIEW: Clara Grandt

January 2010 - Former Doddridge Co. High School runner Clara Grandt is having a year that only most runners could dream about. Her success is the direct result of consistancy, hard work and the willingness to never give up on her dreams. She comes from humble roots as a 5:18 miler and 11:27 two miler to one of the best runners in the country in the 5K (16:21 indoor) and 10K (33:16) in just a few short years. In the fall she was an integral part of the WVU Cross Country team that finished 4th in the nation. She earned All-Big east and All-Region honors and just missed out on All-American status by a half a second. During the winter months Clara came back with a vengence to attack some more Cross Country races. She ran at the USA Winter Cross Country Championships against the nations best runners and finished 8th overall. Based on her place at the meet she was nominated to run for Team USA at the NACAC meet against runners from Canada, USA, Central America and the Caribbean. In that race she ran away from the field and crushed everyone to get her first ever win at a National Cross Country meet. A few months later Clara flew to Stanford to tackle the 10K for the first time in over a year. She latched onto the lead pack and ended running 33:16 (which is 2 x 16:38 5Ks back to back....nasty) which broke the WVU school record by a minute and puts her 2nd in the NCAA going into Nationals. We catch up to Clara who is sitting on Cloud 9 awaiting her chance to run the NCAA National meet in Arkansas in a two months.

Congrats on your season so far. With all that you have accomplished this year, what would you say stands out as your proudest moment?

Goodness, I think that's a hard question because I was proud of three in particular (USA XC Champs, NACAC, and Stanford 10k.) I do have to say that the one I felt the most proud of immediately after I finished the race was USA XC Championships because I knew that my place would put me on one, if not both of the USA teams, and it is such an honor to represent USA. Of course winning NACAC was also a proud moment because I knew I had represented USA well and was a champion. However, if I had to pick the race in which I was most proud of how I executed the race, Stanford 10k is still probably the most impressive out of the three, and it was a huge relief knowing I'm going to Nationals no matter who runs faster than me, not to mention breaking Tara Stryuk's WVU record was such an honor because she was such a great runner.

Have there any moments this year that things did turn out quite the way you had hoped, and you were maybe a little disappointed in the results?

Yes, even though I've accomplished some cool things already this year, there were still a couple of things I was disappointed with. I was actually really hopeful to make the USA World Cross Team. When I knew I wasn't going, I did feel a little sad, but instead I was able to run a great Stanford 10k which definitely made up for it so I guess I can't be disappointed about that! The other thing I was a bit disappointed with was my indoor track season, which was extremely short. I only had two races (3k home meet, 5k Big East.) The 3k was only to qualify me for Big East and the Big East 5k was my only chance at making it to Indoor Nationals. Even though that 5k was a PR for me, I don't think it showed my true potential because championship races are always so tactical and no one wanted to take it out at an honest pace so I had to lead most of it if I was going to go for a time to get me to nationals. I'm not one of those runners who can depend on my lighting fast speed in the last mile, I can just handle the grind better than most. That was my biggest disappointment and knowing it was my only chance to extend my indoor season due to the cross country racing I was doing at that time made me a little sad. Racing cross country meets while trying to do indoors isn't easy to balance and sacrifices had to be made somewhere, but at least I have something to show for it with my cross races.

I guess it goes to show that it doesn’t matter who you are, runners at ALL levels can be disappointed with their running at certain times. What do you do to get over those humps and keep your mind in the right place?

I allow myself about a day to be mopey about it. Then I just let it fire me up for the next race. You can't dwell on things you aren't happy with. You have to figure out why you aren't happy with it, what you can or can't do about it, and do what you can do about it. Don't let disappointments get you down for too long. Instead, learn from them and let them fuel your desire.

At Stanford you ran a huge PR and broke the already impressive WVU school record by a minute. Can you tell us what was going through your mind during that race?

Haha, what was going through my mind for the first 5k was actually something like,"Wow, I feel really good still. I hope it doesn't hit me in the last 5k. Don't look at the laps, just listen for Sean's splits. Keep your eyes on that girl's back. Don't make any stupid moves that will cost you. Run smart. Stay relaxed." The second 5k was more like, "Okay, not hitting any walls so this is awesome. I'm going to go under 33:30!!" Probably a bazzilion other things went through my mind, but that's the gist of it. I think in a 10k, a big part of it is staying focused on what you're doing lap after lap without letting the monotony of continuous laps get to you because if you start falling off a little, that can start to add up, but if you can press just a little bit more each lap, that can also make a big difference too.

Do you think that you’ve got a better 10K in you?

Oh yeah! I'm not maxed out! Haha, I just learned how a good 10k race feels, and I can hardly wait to run another one. I'm not saying that I'm going to PR again this year because Stanford conditions are pretty much ideal, but I do think that I have a lot more experience now and can do well at Nationals. I do think that my 10k potential will be in the 32's soon, but I might have to wait until next year before I run that kind of time. Who knows though, maybe we'll get a freakishly nice night at nationals! We're just assuming it will be hot and humid.

Did you change up your training after running this 10K? What kind of mileage are you putting in right now?

To tell you the truth, training hasn't changed a whole lot but we are starting to add in some more key strength stuff that we were doing in cross country. I hadn't been doing anything much over 6 miles for workouts before this 10k but we're going to add in a few longer workouts now. You know, things like those awesome 10 mile progression runs and longer tempos. My mileage usually ranges between 85-95 each week.

You can get a rundown of the type of training Clara did over the past year by clicking here.

You are sitting 3rd on the NCAA National List in the 10K with Nationals quickly approaching. What kind of goals have you set for yourself going into this race?

Actually I believe I'm still 2nd. The woman that won was a professional so she doesn't count in the collegiate scene! I keep checking all the meet results each week on flotrack and has 2009 outdoor collegiate rankings which is the next best site I've found with a rankings list since trackshark was sadly shut down. But anyways, goals for nationals. I won't lie, they're pretty high, but I believe they are totally achievable. All-American is definitely on my list, and I'm not looking to just squeak in the last spot either. I want to run an amazing race. That's about all I want to say about that. The rest I'll just keep to myself. It's making me nervous and excited just typing about it!

Going back a few months to winter, you took a unique approach to the winter season and focused your efforts on Winter Cross Country instead of Indoor track. What made you and Coach Cleary decide on this path? And are you happy with the results?

I think the path chose itself. I was pretty torn between the two the entire season of indoors but when I ran USA XC Championships, that led to NACAC and the possibility of World Cross, so I think cross started to dominate the winter due to my performance at USA's. Ideally, I probably would have red-shirted indoors if it had been possible so that I wouldn't have felt like I was wasting or not fulfilling one of my eligible indoor seasons, but that was already used my freshman year due to injury. I am definitely happy with the results that I did have and I think it has enabled me to transition into outdoors nicely.

After Winter Cross Country nationals you were one spot away from going to World Cross Championships in Jordan. Be honest, were you hoping a piano would get dropped on one of the runners ahead of you on the list?

Haha, of course I was! I even thought about sabotage a few times. You know, sending someone out to track down some of the runners on the USA team and "take care of them." Haha, not for real, but I was hoping something would happen that wasn't devastating so that I could go. I just think it would have been so awesome to travel overseas to race for the US. But like I said earlier, I wouldn't have my Stanford 10k if I had gone to World Cross because they were the same weekend.

When you got selected to the NACAC Team you were sent a box full of Team USA gear from USATF. Did you immediately put on every article of clothing and go running through town for everyone to see?

I laid out all my outfits, tried everything on immediately, wore it to my workout that day. I was very excited. Who wouldn't be.

Any chance you would part with some of that swag?

Not a chance. Not this time! The first time making a USA team, the gear definitely has some sentimental value, and you're talking to a girl who still has the dirt off of her spikes from her first high school cross country meet. I'm not parting with it. Maybe next time I'll be a little more generous. :)

I think an area of interest to a lot of runners in this state, who would like to follow in your footsteps, would be the jump you made to become a National Class runner. What are some of the things that allowed you to go from a very impressive 5:20 high school miler to someone who can run that pace for a 10K just a few short years later?

I've always had big dreams in running and not giving up on them has definitely helped. Plus, Sean taught me to take my training to a new level without asking me to do anything beyond what I am capable of. It's just been a gradual increase of mileage over the years, bringing down the paces in workouts bit by bit, being ready to work hard when it's time to work hard, and backing off when it's needed. I've always had a great support group as well (thanks to all the coaches I've ever had, my family, my friends, teammates, and Jason) and that really helps when people believe in you because it makes it easier to believe in yourself.

Who are some of your role models in this sport?

I have so many. There are so many people who work so hard and are so dedicated. Even some of my teammates are my role models. You can really learn from a lot of people. I would definitely say Ryan Hall is one of my all time favorites, though. I think he is what a distance runner should be.

Much like the terminator I overheard someone say this about you. “She’s a machine. She can’t be reasoned with. Can’t be bargained with. She feels not pity. No remorse. No Pain. No fear. She will not stop. EVER. Until you are dead.” Is that what a normal long run with you is like?

That's pretty close to what some say and it's usually true. I have backed off for running partners from time to time, but my long run has become a key component of my training. It is a glimpse into my future. I just get into this groove and it usually doesn't slow. I can tell myself before I go for my long run that I will run an easy pace, but my body does what it wants and I think it likes the grind. Jason accompanies me on his bike and that is a big help, but I don't think anyone will run with me regularly. I don't approach it like a workout, but I do take it seriously. If I don't want to slow for you on a long run, I won't. So you'll either have to drop back or stick it out because much like you just said, I'm a machine, I can't be reasoned with, can't be bargained with, feel no pity, no remorse, no pain, no fear, I will not stop. EVER. Long runs are my territory, and when you're in my territory, you follow my rules or get out. Haha, that's probably the meanest I've ever sounded, but it's true and it's made me the runner I am today and will make me the runner I want to be. Anyone who want to do something great has to have that fire in them.