Interview with Aislinn Ryan
by Ricky Quintana

Aislinn Ryan competes at the 2003 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.
(Photo: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)

Junior Aislinn Ryan of Warwick Valley, New York, used last summer's training to burst on to the national scene last fall. Running in the Nike Race of Champions at the Great American Cross Country Festival, Ryan stayed with the lead pack the entire race and finished second overall. Her time was the fourth best of all the races held that day.

Ignoring the promise she made to herself to never run the Foot Locker Northeast Regional again after her freshman year (when she finished 68th), Ryan placed third as a sophomore in 2003 to qualify for nationals in San Diego, California. At the national meet, she finished 12th; the second best of all the sophomores.

The modest Ryan has another hard summer of training behind her and is looking forward to this upcoming year with hopes of breaking her PRs.

Ricky Quintana: How had your summer gone?
Aislinn Ryan:
I've been training really well, training every day. I've been running with my older brother, Colin. We've been putting in the miles at a good pace and I'm feeling really good.

This is the first year I've trained with him during the summer. He ran for my high school and now he's at NYU. He's going to be a sophomore and he's going to go out for the cross country team. I know he's going to do great.

RQ: What kind of mileage did you do this summer?
I run by minutes, but I think I probably ran about 55-60 miles a week.

RQ: What are your reasons for running minutes?
I guess it's so I can run anywhere I want. If I want to go off the road, I won't know how many miles I've run, but I do know how many minutes I ran.

RQ: What does your typical week look like?
On Sundays, I do a long run. On Mondays, I do an up tempo run. It's different every week...

RQ: Last year, you had an opportunity to run against some good girls at the Great American Cross Country Festival. Can you describe your experience last year?
It was definitely a breakthrough race. It was one of those races I realized what kind of a runner I was. I like running in the heat, muck, and stuff better. That course was really difficult and I actually enjoyed it. Just trying to get through it and being able to run against Nicole Blood was fun. I tried to pace off her and run my best. My team did well and it was just a great race.

RQ: In ninth grade, how far were you behind Nicole?
It was totally different. She was in a totally different league. I didn't know a lot about running then. I didn't know about the competition outside of my team. Basically, I thought the best girl on my team was the best girl [period]. To me, she seemed so great. When I ran states, I came in ninth. That was so awesome for me. I didn't even think of anyone in front of me. [At the Federation meet], I came in eighth. I think that was the first time I ever heard about Nicole. I think she came in first in that race and all I can remember was that she ran well.

The first time I ran with her was at my high school's invitational. That was just awesome. Before the race, I remember my coach telling me to stay with her. I was like, 'Nicole Blood? I guess I'll try. I might as well try.' She's a great racer. She knows how to get out there. I tried to stay with her and I finished 15 seconds behind. That's when I realized she was going to be my competition for the year.

RQ: At the beginning of last year, did you really think you could make Foot Locker? Did you know anything about it?
Actually, I did know about it because I ran it in ninth grade. I really didn't like it. I promised myself that I would never run it again. But then, last year, I decided I'd give it another shot. I really didn't know about California or any of that until months later, in my sophomore year, when my coach told me that the top eight girls in the region qualified for the national meet in San Diego. He said I would get to room with someone from another part of the country and get to race against them. I was like 'Wow, that's pretty awesome!' When he told me that he thought I had a chance, I thought that was awesome. I was just like 'Maybe I can do this.' So I just tried to prepare myself mentally. I just went to the Northeast Regional and tried to stay with the lead pack and came in third.

RQ: How did you feel when you arrived in San Diego for Foot Locker?
It was really strange. It was an awesome experience, I learned a lot. Actually, my favorite part was the race. I was afraid to get on the line because I'd seen Foot Locker before on TV. When I was watching, I thought, 'They must be pretty nervous.' The next thing I knew, I was on the line. The gun went off so fast, and then I was halfway through the race. Then I finished and thought to myself 'I can't believe I just did that.' So many people dream of doing that, but I ended up doing it. It was really cool.

RQ: Were you happy with how you performed?
Yeah, but I always know that there's room for improvement. Actually, someone asked me the other day how I felt when I finished the race. I told him the only word that came to my mind was relief. With the TV cameras and rehearsing the introductions the day before the never really do that for any other race.

RQ: Do you have higher expectations for this upcoming season?
I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I try to do the right training that will keep me prepared for anything. Last year, everyone did really great and I'm sure everyone has improved, so I'm trying to just stay up there. I'm going to try to improve my PRs from last year, hopefully early in the season. Then I'll just try to work my way up.

RQ: Your coach mentioned that you were a soccer player before you became a runner. Can you talk about your background?
I wasn't really just a soccer player, I was into everything. I did [a variety of] sports because I liked them. I played recreation soccer. I wasn't great; the best part of soccer, for me, was running up and down the field. I was able to get to the goal first, but I couldn't score. In softball too, I could run the bases, but… [laughs]. I danced. I made the All-star team in softball. Once I started running, I decided that was something I definitely wanted to do. By ninth grade, I decided running would be the only thing, so I stopped doing the other sports and starting getting serious.

RQ: What has helped you to get better?
I always want to improve myself. I like the idea that anything is possible. I want to prove that a girl can do anything that she wants to do. When I was a freshman, I wanted to prove that a freshman could do whatever she wanted to do because usually freshmen just run freshman races. I'm energetic, so I kind of think of everything as a game, even when I go out to practice. I guess that's my motivation.
I try to represent my team and my family, and try to prove myself.

RQ: Have you done any races recently?
I've done some races on trails. I'm just trying to conserve myself for this upcoming season.

RQ: What do you think about the quality of girls' high school running in New York?
I like it that there are a lot of great runners in New York. It gives you something to work for. If everyone was mediocre, then it wouldn't be as much fun. You never know in New York. There are a lot of good runners and they all have potential. I'm sure there are some girls that no one even knows about and they're going to come and prove themselves this year, just like a bunch of girls did last year.

RQ: What kind of expectations do you have for the Great American Cross Country Festival?
If the course is the same, I hope to PR. If it's different, I hope to get out there and feel comfortable with myself, try my best, and have no regrets. Hopefully, I'll be in the pack and place high.

(Interview conducted August 21, 2004, and posted September 15, 2004.)

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