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interviewed by Dave Milner 03.01.09

Signal Mountain’s Phoebe Wright has had a phenomenal indoor season so far. Sandwiched between two indoor PRs at 800m , she ran a strong lead-off leg on the quartet that set a new NCAA record in the Distance Medley Relay, and then, just last weekend, she destroyed a loaded field in the women’s 800 final at the SEC indoor championships, clocking a phenomenal 2:02.39. That time not only eclipsed her outdoor PR (set at last year’s NCAA Champs) by almost two seconds; it ranks her first in the nation going into this week’s NCAA Indoor Championships. It is an incredible achievement given that Wright was a walk-on from Red Bank High School with a PR of just under 2:16.

[Phoebe made three state appearances in track and cross country...Finished 12th at the 2005 TSSAA Cross Country Championships to garner all-state honors...Placed 98th at the 2005 Foot Locker Cross Country South Regional...She finished sixth, fourth and fifth in the 800 meters, respectively, at the state meet in her final three years of high school...Had a fourth-place state outcome in the 1600 meters as a junior...Won the 800m and 1600m at the 2005 Volunteer Track Classic at UT's Tom Black Track, earning the Best Distance Female Award...Prep personal bests include 2:15.95 in the 800m and 5:15 in the 1600m...Graduated fifth in her class at RBHS.]

Phoebe Wright's Annual Progression (D.O.B: 08.30.88)
  400m 800m 1500m 1600m 1 mile
2006   2:15.96   5:15.54  
2007 58.08 2:08.01     5:10.12
2008 55.80i 2:04.38     4:52.14i
2009 55.06i 2:02.39i     4:48.62i

TR: First of all, congratulations on an outstanding SEC meet. It must have felt great to win an individual title in a huge PR and be a key component in the team win.

PW: Thanks! It really did feel nice to go out and do exactly what I needed and wanted to do.

TR: Were you surprised that you ran so fast in the 800 final?

PW: My training has been going really well, so I knew that I had the potential to run much faster than I previously had this season. In all honesty, I knew I could run that fast, but to actually put the mark on the board was a little surprising. I knew I was running fast, because I came through the 400 in 58 seconds, but by the second 400 I was going for the win. I did not care if it was 2:10 or 2:00; I cared more about the win.

TR: You are now the fourth ever Lady Vol half-miler to claim an SEC indoor title, following Joetta Clark (880 yards in 1984), Kathy Harris (880 yards in 1985), and Nicole Cook (who won in 2004 and then again in 2005, setting the SEC indoor record of 2:00.75), but the only UT half-milers to have won an NCAA Indoor title are Joetta (880 yards in 1983) and Nicole (2004). Who do you see, at next week’s NCAA meet, as the biggest obstacle to you becoming the third?

PW: Wow! I did not know those stats! First, I know Joetta and Nicole, and they are tough athletes. Every race I strive to have the mental toughness of those two. As for NCAAs, I am not sleeping on any of the athletes in the field. They are the top runners in the country, and any of them on any given day can have a shot to win. All I can do is go out and run my best, and when it comes down to the last lap, be gutsy and go for it. I can only control what I can do, not everyone else's actions.

TR: In addition to your teammates, Coach J.J. Clark has a great stable of middle distance runners assembled in Knoxville, including post-collegiate athletes like Hazel Clark, Treniere Clement, Kameisha Bennett, and Nicole Cook. Do you do the bulk of your training with your Lady Vol teammates, or with the post-collegiate runners?

PW: It is an NCAA violation to train with professional athletes, so I only train with my teammates. Everyone on the team works to keep the team training hard. The milers on the team really push me on the distance days, and I like to think I do the same for them on more speed-based days.

TR : What are some of your key workouts at this time of the year?

PW: During the championship season it is more about quality than quantity. I work on all sides though: distance and sprints. To be a good 800m runner you have to be both strong and fast, so it is clutch that I have both aspects sharp.

TR: What is your typical total weekly mileage?

PW: Mileage? What's mileage? Ha,ha. I am on the track on most days, and have no clue as to how many miles I run a week. It's low. Probably typical for an 800m runner.

TR: What kind of training do you most, and least, enjoy?

PW: Deep down I want to be a pure sprinter. I love running as fast as I possibly can! 800m workouts definitely burn the worst. On those days I have to think to remind myself that the workout has a purpose, and the more I hurt now, the easier racing will be. My least favorite workouts are cross country workouts. I am used to only concentrating for two minutes or so. Running for a long period of time is a hurt that I am just not used to.

TR: Having chiseled your time down to 2:02 by the winter already, have your goals for the outdoor season been reevaluated?

PW: My goal is always to run as best as I can with no regrets. If I focus on what I need to do to be good, the times and big wins come much more easily. I do not stress, and just take one day and race at a time.

TR: Obviously your training takes up a considerable portion of your week, but what do you like to do to relax?

PW: Relax? I wish I had time to do that. Ha,ha. Seriously, my friends can always take the stress out of my life. Usually I just spend time with them.

TR: Outside of J.J, who have been the biggest influences on your running career so far?

PW: I have two. The first is Rodney Stoker, my old high school coach. He somehow convinced me that I could be really good. I probably would not have strived to be the best if he did not put that possibility in my head. Second is my teammate, Sarah Bowman. She is the hardest worker and a great runner. She always pulls through in workouts and races and is the most accountable, consistent runner. I find myself thinking that if she can do it, I can too. It's also refreshing to see someone devote themselves to becoming the best on a daily basis. I'd like to give a shout-out to my family, though. They have supported me the entire time.

TR: Few people would have predicted that a girl with a 2:15.96 PR in high school would be closing in on the 2:00 barrier and national titles just three years later. That you have come so far is a testament to your commitment and desire. What advice would you give to a high school middle distance runner who wants to adapt quickly and do well as a runner in college?

PW: First, you have to believe you are the best; regardless of whether, on paper, you are or not. No matter who I line up against, I know I can win the race. It feels vulnerable to put everything out on the line, but it makes you so much better. Second, be patient. There have been races where I left everything on the track and still not won or got the time I wanted. It was just not my time. You have to take the results, accept them, learn from them, and keep plugging away at training and racing.

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