Track Chats - Clare Flanagan
This interview features Clare Flanagan, junior, The Blake School, Hopkins, Minnesota. In 2011 cross country, Clare was the Minnesota State Class A champion (4000m, 14:21.70) and 3rd at the prestigious Griak Invitational (5000m, 18:31.60). In 2012 track, she was the State Class A champion at 1600m (4:54.90) and 3200m (10:44.70), and finished fifth in the 2 mile (10:20.75) at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals.
1. When & how did you get started in cross country, or generally in your running career?
I was never very interested in running until I ran the gym-class mile in fourth grade, when I was about ten. I hadn’t really prepared for it, and was wearing a skirt and Crocs because I forgot my gym shoes. I ended up running it in about seven minutes and beating some of the boys. Every year I would shave a little bit more off my time, and some of the cross-country coaches noticed. They suggested that I try cross-country and track. Ever since then, I have been eager to see how much faster I can go!
2. Person/people most influential to your success in cross country, or generally in your running career?
First of all, my coaches have been fantastic and deeply influential throughout my career. I have known our head cross country coach Gary Lee, affectionately known as “Glee”, ever since he was my gym teacher in middle school. He and former assistant coach Keith Clark have taught me almost everything I know. My parents and my brother have also helped enormously by making sure I have the right nutrition, comforting me when I’m nervous, and cheering for me at every meet. Most of all, though, my past and present teammates have contributed to my growth as a runner. When I was younger, they showed me the ropes; and now they push me to succeed at every practice. They make it fun. When I’m around them, it’s easy to remember that fun is what it’s all about.
3. Your cross country coach(es)?
Mr. Lee’s coaching has just the right blend of encouragement, experience, and perspective; and he’s developed a lot of great runners with that outlook. He never gets too worked up, and he is always calm and positive while helping us to focus and strive for our best. He is a peaceful and Zen-like presence on our team, and I trust him completely. Keith is a little different: he is energetic, enthusiastic, and intense. He gives us tough workouts, helps us set high goals, and has taught me to always believe. I have done things I never thought I could do because Keith told me I could! Between these two coaches, I am blessed to have such great guidance. They really make a great team.
4. Keys to your successful training program?
Blake is not a high-mileage program, so I focus on quality rather than quantity when it comes to training. This summer I have increased my mileage a little bit, but only because I know I’m ready for it. We have been doing a mix of long runs, tempo runs, and hills depending on the day of the week, making sure to leave anaerobic workouts for later in the season. Strength training has also made a big difference for me in terms of speed and injury prevention. I’ve been working with an awesome trainer outside of school for the past year or so, and I feel like it’s made me a different athlete. Nutrition and hydration are important too. I always make sure I drink enough and have good balanced meals, especially before a race or tough workout. Of course, good balanced meals also include dessert – without chocolate and occasional days off, I would probably go nuts!
5. Why do you enjoy cross country?
The main reason I love cross-country is because it’s truly a team sport. Every runner is important, every spot matters, and everyone plays a role. I think that fosters a kind of unity that is hard to find in other sports, including track. I find that by the end of the season the team really comes together, and it’s just like a family! I also love the variety of terrain and scenery we get to experience. Running through forests and fields – and yes, even up hills – is definitely more fun than doing laps around a track. Fall is also my favorite season, so during cross-country I really get to enjoy the cool air and the beautiful leaves.
6. Your favorite cross-country meet(s)?
This is a tough one, because we have so many great meets on our schedule. I would have to say the Swain and Roy Griak invitationals, as well as the Section championships. They are very different, but they are all some of the most important meets we compete at, and the courses are really cool! Swain is a tough because it’s basically uphill both ways, but it’s always fun to take a trip up to Duluth and face the challenge. Griak is just awesome because of the atmosphere – it’s crowded, fast, and loud, and the great competition can really help you get a fast time. Sections take place on a great course, and both the girls and boys teams took first place there last year. That one will always be special to me because the team has really gelled, and everyone is ready to run fast.
7. Cross country athlete(s) you most enjoy competing against?
I have honestly never competed against someone I didn’t like, but I definitely have some favorites! Danielle Anderson from Eagan is a fantastic athlete and I’ve been lucky to get to know her better over the past year. We always push each other to be better, and I’m excited to race with her this coming season. Emi Trost from Cannon Falls and McKenzie Holt from St. Cloud Christian are strong Class A competitors that I have also enjoyed getting to know. Emi’s strength and determination are inspiring, and McKenzie works as hard as anyone I know. We even got to run together this summer! I should mention Maria Hauger from Shakopee too. Up until this season I was always a little scared of her, but I learned that she is a kind person and a fierce competitor. I’m really looking forward to racing with her this year. There are too many others to mention, but those are the athletes that come to mind first.
8. Your greatest cross country experience in your career so far?
Sweeping the boys and girls conference and section titles this past year as a team was thrilling. We set out to do it and it was a great feeling when we accomplished those goals. Getting third at Griak was also a special experience. We were in the gold race for the first time and I was very intimidated; but mid-race, something just clicked. I realized that I could run with these girls, that I could really do it, and it ended up being a huge confidence boost. We also did great as a team against some top squads from out of state. After all that, winning the individual state championship was icing on the cake. I had been dreaming about it so long that it hardly felt real when it happened. That win is something I will always remember.
9. Goals for the 2012 cross country season?
It has always been a dream of mine to win a state championship as a team. We came close last year, but we couldn’t quite do it. This year we are losing a few seniors, but hopefully we can come back strong with what we have. It would also be cool to win the conference and section titles again. Individually, I would like to become a stronger and more mature runner, both mentally and physically. Hopefully improving my leadership, confidence, and strength will lead to achieving some more concrete goals. Specifically, I would like to break 14:00 in the 4k and 18:00 in the 5k, win some big meets, and qualify for Nike Nationals. If I come away from the season feeling that I tried my hardest to reach these goals, I’ll be happy!
10. Long-term goals in cross country, or generally in your running career?
In general, I am hoping to win state titles, do well at the national level, and do my best to foster team success. If I finish high school having done these things, I’ll be satisfied. I try not to think this far ahead, but I would definitely like to run in college. I am hoping to join a good program with a history of team success, run some fast times, and maybe even become an All-American. Beyond that, I’m not sure. I just know that I want to run for my whole life, stay healthy and happy, and keep having fun!
See Clare’s MileSplit webpage at http://mn.milesplit.com/athletes/444735-clare-flanagan .
(photos by Down the Backstretch)