Q + A WITH KELSEY ARMSTRONG
Interview by Dave Milner 04.02.09
With a 1:20:58 clocking to earn an overall female win at last week's Covenant Health Knoxville Half-Marathon, 19-year-old Kelsey Armstrong, who hails from Talbott, has now gone unbeaten in her last seven road race outings. In the preceding 4 months, she won overall female honors at the Mountain Makin's 8K in Morristown (30:55) on October 25th, Knoxville's Autmnfest 8K on November 29th (clocking 29:40), the St Jude Memphis Half-Marathon on December 6th (1:22:45), the Reindeer 5K in Anderson,SC on December 13th (18:27), the New Year's Day 5K in Knoxville (17:58), and the Strawberry Plains 10K (37:37).
She might be one of the fastest female runners in the south who hasn't run on a college team. All that will change next fall, when the Clemson University sophomore, who struggled to make the varsity squad at Morristown West High School, will represent the Tigers, and should, on paper, be a major contributor. TR caught up with the promising teenager to find out a little more about her.
TR: Kelsey - First of all, congratulations on another half-marathon win, your second in 4 months. Were youexpecting to run as fast as you did, given the windy conditions and pretty hilly course?
KA: Thank you! Well, in my head I set my goal to beat my Memphis time. Lately, my goal has been to set a PR at each race. Everyone had warned me that this course would be tougher but I prefer courses that have some hills because that means downhill as well rather than just running flat the whole time. Actually, I don't really remember the wind affecting me all that much unless I let it push me from behind some! I was very shocked though when I actually was able to improve my time because it was indeed a much more challenging, but more
TR: Let's rewind a little: Tell us how you got started running competitively.
KA: I have been running since back in middle school. However, at the time I was more focused on competitive cheerleading for an all star team and cross country/track were just something I did to be involved in athletics at school and because my dad and sister have been runners. Once I moved on to college, running turned into something I chose to do and it was a good chance for me to be alone and enjoy the outdoors! I joined the running club at Clemson and started doing some local races with them just for fun. Back in the fall, I surprised myself again with a last-second win during the National Intercollegiate Club Cross-Country race. Now, I run as many as I can because I enjoy the crowds and having others to try and compete with to push me.
TR: You ran on a very strong Morristown West high school team, but you were hardly a stand-out. Tell us a bit about your experience on that team. What were your high school PRs?
KA: Being a part of a back-to-back state championship was awesome but also kind of discouraging at the same time. I got to run at state my freshman year but that was it b/c I always seemed to have some kind of injury. I always wanted to be one of the top 5 but it would only happen if one of the other girls had a bad day. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect that I would be the one running in college! I still remember the day at practice when Coach Farmer asked me if I was planning on running in college and I basically just laughed at the absurd idea. Realistically, at the time, I knew I did not have times worthy of competing. Oh gosh, my PRs were probably in the mid-20 minutes or so. It varied with each season. Typically around 23 minutes or so for a 5k; sometimes they could even beas high as 25 or 26 minutes!
TR: Was your decision to attend Clemson solely based on academics?
KA: I chose to attend Clemson partially because it was a big football school with a spirited campus that was in the south. The fact that it was located in South Carolina really attracted me since this is where I hope to live one day. Academics was a focus for me, but I wasn't sure how focused the school actually was since it was a public university was, but I was surprised to see how high we were recently ranked.
TR: It's my understanding that you're going to join the Clemson cross-country team next fall. Is that true? And if so, how did that come about?
KA: Yes I just signed last week. Everyone back home kept encouraging me to contact the coach to try running for Clemson. So after a few wins at races, and after winning the collegiate club nationals (results here), I decided to e-mail the coach, but I never got a response. Then, I ran a 5K near Clemson and ended up beating a few of the girls who were already on the team. He said he had seen the results in the newspaper. He told some of the guys on the team that he was interested in me, so they told me to call him and introduce myself. My dad and I then had a meeting with him. He invited me to come out and try a few distance runs with the team so I did and really enjoyed being coached again and the support from the girls on the team. Now, I am planning on starting to compete in the fall with cross-country.
TR: So what happened to the prize money you earned at the Knoxville 'half'?
KA: I asked the race director to donate the money to a charity called Young Life. It's basically a non-denominational organization where college leaders minister high schoolers about coming to know Christ
TR: Have you had any coaching since high school, or have you been self-coached?
KA: I have not had any formal coaching since high school. My dad gave me some suggestions for speed workouts that I would do on the indoor track at our recreation center on campus, but other than that I would just go out and run based on however I was feeling that day. When training for my half marathons, I do use the online training guides off of runnersworld.com, but I didn't truly follow it that much.
TR: What is a typical training week (non-racing week) for you, and how many miles per week do you typically log?
KA: Well, since I never know where I am going to run and don't always have a way to measure my distances, so typically I just run for time. This is how I can guarantee a similar intensity workout each day no matter if I am at school, home, or on vacation. I usually run between 45-55 minutes Monday to Friday, with a longer run, usually over an hour, on Sunday. Also, I really enjoy swimming laps, so I swim about a mile 3-4 days each week.
TR: When is your next race?
KA: I am actually running the Cooper River Bridge Run 10K [in Charleston,SC] this weekend. Last year I was injured prior to the race so my time was not that great. I am ready to redeem myself this year! I am excited to have some really tough competition in such a big race, but it is also a really fun event since tons of kids from Clemson travel to this race.
TR: What do you like to do to relax, when you're not running or in class?
KA: Being in college is tough, sometimes, and definitely time-consuming with homework! Being a Young Life leader takes quite a bit of my time during the school year, going out to their school lunches. I love baking and cooking, and doing random activities outside when its warm, and just chilling out with friends. Oh, this is kind of ironic, but I really love long slow walks!
DAVE MILNER is the editor of TR. His longest road race win streak is three (Music City Half-Marathon, Team Nashville Half-Marathon, Gupton Jeep Wrangler 4-miler in the fall of 2007). He hates walking unless it is with his 6-year old Siberian Husky, Zola.