Just To Be Asking: What's your speed?

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Forest Park senior Keith Hurst used to start races slow and steady, but at the urging of coach Philip Wolf, he’s learned to zip out to faster starts.

KEITH HURST, Forest Park
Your coach said he gives you very regimented instructions for how to run the beginning, middle and end of each race. What is it that he wants you guys do uniformally?

He just wants us to go out hard at the start, kind of fall in with the top runners and keep the pace for the first mile and a half. Then for the second mile and a half, start picking it up slowly and getting in front of people, make sure nobody passes us, and just keep pushing the pace till you cross the finish line.

Even though he gives you specific instructions, it sounds like you still have to tailor those to how you’re feeling and if there’s someone you may be trying to catch or keep up with.
You kind of have to take what Coach says and then kind of mold it into however you’re feeling that day. Sometimes, going out real hard at the start, it’ll kill you real early and you’re not feeling up to it. You’ve got to make sure you have enough for your finish.

How do those directions he’s given you maybe differ from the way you used to run?
They differ quite a bit from how I used to run. I used to go out real slow and then I’d sprint it in, and I’d end up finishing the race having too much. Taking Coach’s advice, my times have improved a lot, and I’m doing pretty good in my races.

Did you struggle at first with the new stragegy, maybe thinking a mile or so in, “Shoot, I’m really winded already?”
Yeah, the first couple races I wasn’t doing too well. I felt like I was out of breath a lot sooner, and I felt like I’d have a hard time finishing up. But keep doing that for more races, and my times kept getting faster, and I kept getting better.

Your coach also mentioned that you rededicated yourself to cross country for your senior year. What prompted that, and what sort of things did you do to dedicate yourself to it?
Well, my brother (Nick, a 2010 graduate), he was running in the 16:50s as a senior. And I started putting in a lot of hours over the summer, which I hadn’t really done in the past because I had a summer job. But I’d get up at 5 a.m., go out running, then I’d go to work, come back at 6 p.m, and I’d run again. I’d be getting in about 10 miles a day. It’s paid off.

Well, the big question: Have you caught up to Nick’s times yet?
Well, close. I think his best time is like a 16:40. My fastest so far is a 16:51.

Sounds like catching him is still within reach.
I definitely think it’s a high possibility I’ll be able to catch those times.

Your coach mentioned that you’re the type that prefers to begin races slower. He said he’s wanting you to add more speed at the start.

Yeah ... I’m trying to work on it.

What’s your preferred style, then?
Usually, I don’t go out as fast and I try to catch up during the race. But today (at the sectional), I tried to go out a little bit faster than before.

Was that a one-time thing, or are you going to try to make it more regular?
I think I’ll try to make it more regular, because I did really well today, compared to my times before.

When you do start off fast, at what point does it catch up to you?
It’s not at the start, it was more at the finish. But either way you do it, you should be winded at the end, because either if you start out hard and stay in a pace or you work your way up through the whole race, you should still be winded at the end because you’re working hard.

As far as your usual strategy of working up bit by bit, does that give you a little jolt of energy, picking off other runners as you go?
It really does. It gives me self-confidence, passing the people and knowing that you’re passing them for good and you’re right with them ... even though you may be in like the same spot.

Do you ever watch runners start off in a mad sprint and just think, “I’ll be catching you later”?
Yeah. I see some girls and they start off real fast, and I’m just like, “Heh, I’m going to go out and get you. I’ve got you.”

According to your coach, you have a great start to any race. When did starting fast come into play?

It was freshman year, my coaches always said to start going out fast and get a good start so you can get away from the crowd. I guess (other runners) try to save their energy, but I get out and it helps me get away from the rest of the other teams. It helped me have a good start.

Are there ever any times when you do regret going out a little faster?
Yes. Sometimes I try and stay with faster people and I end up dying by the 2-mile marker.

How much freedom do you have to run your own race or your own pace? Does your coach leave it up to you, or do you have specific orders?

They kind of just leave it up to us. We pick our own pace. I just go out and run; it’s different every race. I don’t have a certain time. I look at my watch a lot to help me keep track of where I should be.

You go with the watch — how often are you checking that out?
A few times throughout the race. I try not to, otherwise it’ll slow me down. Coaches say not to stare at it the whole time, but I’ve worn it ever since I started running. If I don’t have it on, it feels weird.

Do you ever envy or hate those runners that hold back at the start and then pour it on at the end, maybe pass you?
It actually happened this year, I was coming in, I was really tired and it was toward the end of the race, and (Latesha Merkel, from Northeast Dubois) came out of nowhere and she sprinted to the finish line. And I was just wondering where she came from. I wish I could have gone with her, but I wasted my energy throughout the rest of the race.

JALEN SEGER, Northeast Dubois
You apparently have a bit of a different strategy than most. What is that?
I normally take off pretty hard, and after the first 100 yards or so, I’ll settle into my pace. There’s times in the race where I like to do a little sprinting, and then settle in again.

Any certain point where it’s time to start sprinting?
I like the hills, I try to sprint on them. Up them, down. Whatever.

Some runners say going down hills is more difficult than going up. Not a problem for you?
A lot of them say when they run really fast, it jams their leg in really bad. But I just have a natural tendency to be able to go down quicker.

How did you find that style works for you?
It was probably last year when I figured it out. I tried to do the normal strategy; I just felt like it wasn’t working for me. So last year I kind of tried it, sprinting a little bit, then this year I stepped up a lot, felt like I really put it to use.

You’re probably one of the few who likes seeing hills. When you get there, and others might be struggling, are you thinking, “See ya later?”
Oh yeah. It helps a lot. It really helps.

Interviews by Brendan Perkins.

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