Interview: Christ Church's Caroline Jennings looks ahead

Christ Church rising sophomore distance runner Caroline Jennings talks about how she prepared for the state meet and what it means to defend her titles. Jennings also discusses goals for the future and how she balances playing several sports.

Full name: Caroline Spears Jennings
Date of birth: June 1, 1995
Hobbies: Piano, cross country, track, basketball, road racing, acting, singing, and art
Academic interest: Languages, history, and biology.
Event PRs: 800: 2:22:39; 1600: 5:20.14; 3200: 11:36:91; 5K: 19:15

scrunners: How did you prepare for the state meet with the chance to win three individual events?
jennings: The main thing I did at the beginning of this season was focus on training really hard, and on getting in shape. I had played Varsity basketball for my team in the winter, and I got a little out of shape from that due to all of the food our team moms cooked for us, so when track came around, I really focused on eating healthier and losing a few pounds so I could feel lighter on my feet. Also, because of basketball, I missed a lot of the beginning of the season, so I had to really push myself to catch up to where everyone else was. Up until the Greenville County Championships, I hadn't set my hopes high for repeating my three victories at state because my times didn't really seem to be improving any and I was starting to feel frustrated and tired out, but then I had a really good race with two season bests and a personal record, so I became more motivated to try and win my events at state again. After that, I started really focusing on my speed by practicing with the sprinters. I knew that I really needed to work on my speed because throughout the season, I had gotten beat multiple times on the last 400 of my races. I knew that I also needed to build my speed if I wanted to have any chance of winning the 800 at state. On top of all of this physical preparation, I also had to prepare myself mentally. I used to get really nervous before races which hurt me a lot, but throughout this season, I got over that, and I learned to trust in my abilities and be more confident. I learned to start telling myself that I could actually repeat my three victories at state, and that gave me the extra drive I needed to achieve my goal.

scrunners: What does it mean to you to pull off those wins and help your team finish third in the team standings?
jennings: I am thrilled that I pulled of a repetition of last year, and I am really glad that I could help my team place so highly. Every person on my team trained really hard this year, and we all improved a great deal. The people that made it to the State Meet from our team showed particular dedication and hard work throughout the season to make it to that point, and when they actually got to State, they all performed incredibly well, so I feel like my contribution to our team's total number of points supplemented their hard work and accomplishments.

scrunners: Out of the 800, 1600 and 3200, what event do you prefer the most and what is most challenging?
jennings: I would probably have to say that I enjoy the 800 the most. Even though it is the most challenging due to all of the competition and the short amount of time you have to make a "move," it is nice getting to run only 2 laps instead of 4 or 8. I don't dislike the 1600 or 3200, but it is refreshing getting to run a shorter distance for a change. Also, my coach doesn't start putting me in the 800 until the Greenville County meet in order to prevent me from getting "burnt out" or injured, so I don't get as tired of it as I sometimes do with the 1600 and 3200.

scrunners: What does it mean to be a defending champion in three events for two seasons (800, 1600, 3200) and for three seasons in two events (1600 and 3200)?
jennings: It means that I am going to have to keep stepping up my training and really keep focused on improving and meeting my goals. The competition is only going to keep getting better, and there are a lot of really strong girls from Landrum and from other schools that are going to continue to challenge me in the future.

scrunners: How and when did you get involved in running?
jennings: When I was younger, I would frequently go on little three mile jogs with my dad around my neighborhood. At first, we would just go out and run them, but then, we started timing them and trying to get faster and faster each time. I remember that we hit 27 minutes one time and were really excited because that was our "PR." Then, the summer before my sixth and seventh grade year, my dad started taking me out to the Greenville Track Club summer track meets at Furman. It was all just for fun, but then I started realizing that I actually really enjoyed racing in them, and also that I loved being part of the whole running "community." I started improving a lot, and then when seventh grade rolled around, I decided that I might as well try out cross country and track.

scrunners: Do you remember your first road race? Please explain.
jennings: My first road race was Race for the Cure in September of 2005. I ran it with my dad. He jogged it with me while I raced it, and he helped encourage me as I struggled up the hills on the course. Then, with about half a mile to go, I decided to pick it up. My dad was certain that I would get tired and fall back after a minute or two, so he decided to keep jogging and stay behind me. However, with about .3 miles left in the race, he realized that I wasn't coming back to him, so he tried to speed up and catch me. It didn't work though, and, to his embarassment, I beat him. Even now, I still give him grief about how his 10-year-old daughter beat him in her first road race.

scrunners: Do you have any individual team rivals?
jennings: I have a lot of rivals from Landrum. All of the Landrum long distance and mid-distance runners are really talented, and they always give me good competition. We're only rivals while racing, though; off the track, we're all really good friends. The girls from Landrum are my main competition since Christ Church is in their division and races against them a lot during the season, but I also have a lot of competition from bigger schools like J.L. Mann, Mauldin, and Eastside. Races against girls from those schools are always the most competitive, but they push me the most and really help me improve.
scrunners: Do you have any other family members that ran or run?
jennings: My parents were huge athletes. Cycling was their main sport, but they also directed and participated in many road races. They don't really run anymore, though.

scrunners: What would you like to achieve with three seasons left of your career at high school?
jennings: I would love to win state cross country one season (and hopefully more). I would also love to eventually win the Greenville County cross country meet, and also some of my events in the Greenville County track meet. However, I mainly just want to keep enjoying cross country and track, and I want to keep improving my times.

scrunners: What would you like to achieve in the sport in the future after high school?
jennings: I haven't really put much thought into that, but I know that I would like to run in college.

scrunners: What have you seen change in the sport over the years?
jennings: The main change I have seen over the years is the trend towards dynamic stretching. When I first started cross country and track, dynamic warmups weren't very popular; instead, most people just performed static stretches before races and workouts. Now, more and more people are switching to dynamic stretching, and many do not do any static stretching.

scrunners: What kind of training do you plan to do this summer and will it change from past seasons?
jennings: I plan to do more cross-training than I usually do so I won't get burnt out from running. Over the summer, I usually just do some light running and get it some good base mileage, but this summer, I am going to add some strength training to that.

scrunners: How long of a break do you take after a season and what is it like for you during this time?
jennings: I usually take all of June off. During this time, I just go on light jogs and go to the YMCA to stay in shape, but I don't do any actual training. During mid-July, I go to cross country camp, so to build up to that I start getting in more mileage to form a good base. Then, after camp, I gear up for cross country season.

scrunners: Do you have a pre-meet tradition?
jennings: I actually don't really have a track pre-meet tradition. The only tradition I really have is eating some sort of pasta dish the night before the meet, and eating something like a Cliff-bar or bread with peanut butter and bananas the morning of the meet. For cross country, though, I do have several traditions. The night before the big cross country meets (like State), my team always goes to Olive Garden and eats a good carbo-loaded meal. Then, right before the actual race, we have this weird tradition of kissing our team "mascot" (which is a stuffed-animal seal) for good luck. Right before track and cross country meets, I always give a motivational speech to my team, too.

scrunners: Do you see yourself coaching in the future? Please explain.
jennings: I don't really see myself coaching as a full-time job, but I could definitely see myself helping out or being an assistant coach or something like that.

scrunners: What keeps you motivated on a daily basis for school and athletics?
jennings: I always try and remember the rewarding outcomes that I will get from my hard work. For instance, during track, whenver the training gets tough, I frequently find myself asking, "Why am I putting myself through this?" But then, I always try and think about how all of this training will pay off, and how I will accomplish so much more because of it. The main thing that keeps me motivated though (academically and athletically) is knowing that I don't want to have any regrets or thoughts like, "If only I had worked harder, then maybe I would have done better." If I were not to achieve something that I had been aiming towards but had worked as hard as I could to try to achieve it, then I would still be satisfied because I would know that I had put forth my best efforts. The worst feeling to me though is feeling like I could have accomplished that something if I had only worked a little harder.

scrunners: Do you or did you play any others sports? How did manage playing in other sports?
jennings: I used to play a lot of other sports, but now I don't as much. I used to play soccer, softball, and basketball, and I used to swim. The only other school sport I have ever done is basketball. I played junior varsity basketball for Christ Church in seventh grade, and then this year as a freshman, I played for my varsity team. Other than that though, I just do cross country and track. I am actually considering playing soccer for a season, and I am going to play church basketball next year. It is really hard to manage playing multiple sports, though, especially if you want to excel in one. I definitely am the most serious about excelling in cross country and track, but I still enjoy having other sports that I can participate in for fun. I think that it is good to have one or two sports that you can participate in as a break from the ones that you are the most serious about.

scrunners: What sport do you enjoy the most and please explain?
jennings: I probably enjoy cross country the most. Even though I enjoy track too, I do get a little tired of running around in circles. I like running on trails, and I like how there is something new about each course. I also enjoy the team spirit of cross country. Since everyone on the team is doing the same event and you all train together, there is more of a feeling of team bonding. I love how everyone on my team is really close to eachother, and how we are all friends as well as team-mates.

scrunners: Have you been injured? Please explain.
jennings: I have never really gotten seriously injured luckily. During my off-season right before track season of my eighth grade year, I had a minor injury. I kept feeling pains on the inside of my ankle whenever I ran. I went to several trainers and physical therapists, and none of them could figure out what was wrong with me. Then, finally, I went to one trainer that told me that he had seen this is a few runners before, and that it was actually from the sudden transition from the intense training that I had been doing during cross country to the minimal running I had been doing after cross country ended.

scrunners: How did you recover and stay in shape during this time?
jennings: The trainer simply massaged my ankle every few days, and finally, after a few weeks, it went away. It was hard to stay in shape, but I went to the gym a lot and worked out on the exercise equiptment there. Someone had also suggested to me that I do pool running. I attempted that, but I don't think I ever really did it right, so that was pretty unsuccessful. The trainer said that running wouldn't really make the injury any worse, so I was able to run a little even though it was really painful to do so.

scrunners: What do you recommend to younger runners to achieve their best in the sports?
jennings: I recommend that they need to work on their base mileage before coming into cross country or track season. At least for long-distance track and cross- country runners, it is important to build your endurance first to get a good base, and then to work on speed later in the season. If you enter the season with little base mileage, then the majority of your season will be devoted to building your endurance, and you won't have as much time to tweak your performance with speed work. Also, I know that a lot of my cross country and track team-mates who came into the season with almost no base-mileage got injured early in the season because of the instant transition to the high mileage that they had to do in practice.

scrunners: If any, would you like to see any changes in the sports?
jennings: I don't think any changes really need to be made. I would, however, like to see more participation in cross country particularly, and I would also like to see more interest in it from the public. Many people don't even know what cross country is. Even though cross country isn't really too great of a spectator sport, I would love to see it get more fans.

scrunners: If there is one thing in the world you could do, what would it be and why?
jennings: This is kind of random, but I've always thought it would be cool to be in a band or in a broadway production and be able to travel around the world to perform. I love music and the performing arts. Ever since I was little, I've always loved being on stage, so I think this would be incredible. I also love traveling, and I think it would be really neat to meet people from all over the world and be exposed to all sorts of different cultures.