Since his days in junior high, Kevin Havel (Sr., Hersey, IL) (pictured left by John Herzog) has shown the talent and grit it takes to be a great distance runner. In eighth grade he broke Jorge Torres' state 1600m record with a 4:31.75 effort, which led to many labeling him as the next Jorge Torres when he entered high school.
Over the past four years Havel's list of accomplishments can be matched by few Illinois distance runners. Four top five finishes at the state cross country meet, a seventh place finish at Foot Locker Nationals and a nine-minute 3200m effort. With one last track season to go, Havel talks about his goals, what his high school career has meant to him, and much more.
An Interview with Kevin Havel
MileSplit (MS): You ran a fairly small schedule of races during the indoor season. Why did you race so little and what was your top performance?
Kevin Havel (KH): This indoor season I ran only four races, a couple of 800's and a 1600. My coach and I decided to take a long-term approach to the season, and we felt it would be more beneficial to do some tough workouts and keep the mileage up than race a lot. I was pretty pleased when I ran the 4:12 1600. I felt a lot better than last year when I ran 4:14. I'm looking forward to some fast races outdoors.
MS: We've heard that you ran a 9:02 3200m time trial a few weeks back. How did it feel to go 9:02 by yourself?
KH: I ran this about four or five weeks prior, and I felt really good when I ran it.
MS: Coming up at the end of this month is the Prospect Invitational, where you'll take on fellow Foot Locker finalists Griff Graves (VA) and Bobby Nicolls (CO), as well as many of the top Illinois distance runners. Any thoughts on how you'll approach the race?
KH: The Knights Invite is something I always look forward too. This year I'm especially looking forward to running a good, fast race, and it is exciting to see so many good guys in the race that can help make it happen. I always enjoy top competition, and this race definitely has it. Illinois has some great guys this year, and I believe we're the strongest state running-wise. Add in some other runners, and it will be a special night. Even still, we're going to approach this race with a long-term outlook, keeping in mind the state series.
MS: You've had one heck of a high school career. With your last season in full swing, what are the goals for the rest of the year?
KH: At the end of the season, I just want to be happy with my high school career. Like I said before, I believe Illinois is the toughest state to run in, which means many things can happen at the end of the year. As long as when I cross the line I know I ran the best, competed the hardest, and tried everything I could, I will be satisfied. The workouts are going great right now, and I believe that this will translate to get things in track. I honestly don't know what to expect with times and what races I'll run later.
MS: As I said in the last question, you've had a hyper-successful high school career. You've been top five in the state cross country meet all four years and you've run some outstanding times on the track. What was it like coming into high school and already being one of the best runners in the state?
KH: I had goals that I set in my eighth grade that no one in high school would believe. However, I trained hard, loved the sport and believed in myself. I would just run, not know whom these other people were, but I would believe in myself and race well. When I look back, I am proud that I did as well as I did as an underclassman.
MS: What's been the biggest highlight of your running career thus far?
KH: The biggest highlight of my running career thus far would probably be the Foot Locker race [Foot Locker Nationals]. I feel fortunate that this was a hard question; I feel that I have had multiple highlights that I've experienced. Even still, the Foot Locker race for me was a culmination of four years of work and purpose that ended on such a high note that it outshines other races and events.
MS: Speaking of Foot Locker, you seemed to take your training to another level this fall, which concluded with a seventh place finish at Foot Locker Nationals. What do you attribute your great post-season success too?
KH: Much of the credit for this year and all of my prior success has to go to my coach, Mr. Phillips. He has laid out a great plan since my freshman year, that while having a few bumps, was a brilliant plan. After cross last year, I promised myself that I would make Foot Locker next year. We realized that we could change a few things that would lead to great success in the regular season that could extend to the post-season. I trusted the training all year, even with some bad races during the year, and I knew I would be ready when it counted.
MS: After missing Foot Locker Nationals the three previous years, it must have been a relief just to make it. What was your first Foot Locker Nationals experience like?
KH: I was very excited this year when I made Foot Locker; it was a long term goal that I had set. In general, Foot Locker was a great experience. My failures in the past set me up for what I did this year. I was able to go in relaxed and confident without too much over-thinking.
MS: You signed your letter of intent with Stanford University back in February. Obviously you're going to one of the best schools in the country and joining one of the best teams in the country. How excited are you about your decision?
KH: When I visited Stanford, I felt that it was the right school for me. The team, the coaches, the school and the students were all things that I felt I could live with for four, five years. I feel privileged to go to my top choice and am excited for the future.
MS: Any ideas on what you'll major in?
KH: As of now, I plan on majoring in biology, but that could be subject to change.
MS: Fellow Illinoisan Chris Derrick is going there as well. Have you two talked about next year at all?
KH: Chris and I both visited Stanford at the same time, and I always thought it would be awesome if we could to go the same school. Chris is a great guy and I am anxious to get some great training in the summer together and be teammates next year.
MS: Being coached at the junior high level by the same coach that coached the Torres brothers [pro runners Jorge and Ed], do you ever get a chance to talk with them?
KH: I have talked occasionally to the Torres brothers. I'm able to learn little things from them that help them succeed at the highest level. In middle school, and even now, they are some of my biggest inspirations, and I always enjoy trying to out do them [ed. note. Jorge was a three time state champion in CC and Foot Locker champion]. I do different workouts than they do now, but they are still people that I hold a tremendous amount of respect for and hope that their Olympic aspirations come true.
MS: What's a typical training week look like for Kevin Havel?
KH: I run about 60-70 miles a week, with a couple of different workouts. I like to do the same workout in different weeks to try to beat the previous times. I'll do a long run, a tempo run, and one to two track workouts during a week for the track season.
MS: Your brother is a freshman on the Hersey team. What's it been like being teammates?
KH: My brother is awesome. I've never had him on a team before, so I felt fortunate that he chose to do cross country and track in my last year. I've enjoyed getting to know him better, see him improve as a runner and person. He has been my number one fan and supporter, someone who I feel I can confide anything with.
MS: You've been around the block a few times, what one piece of advice would you give to a younger runner who is just starting to find their stride?
KH: I really feel that to be successful you need to have a passion about what you're doing. With passion everything else comes, so it really is key. You need to really enjoy what you're doing to wake up at six on a Saturday, to go home early on a Friday night, to push through the pain in a race. Running is a great, life long sport; have fun with it!!
Quick Six (Six short questions, six quick answers)
MS: What does do you train in?
KH: Brooks Trance
MS: What spikes do you race in?
KH: Brooks Mach 9
MS: Favorite breakfast food?
KH: Waffle, with cereal and yogurt
MS: Favorite band?
KH: I enjoy a range, but probably Snow Patrol
MS: What kind of car do you drive?
KH: Mercury Sable
MS: Favorite athlete?
KH: Peyton Manning