Interview with Caitlin Chock
By Ricky Quintana

Caitlin Chock at the 2002 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.
(Photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)

In qualifying for the 2002 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships, Caitlin Chock of Roseville, California, had reached what is traditionally the pinnacle of any high school cross country runner's career. But instead of celebrating, Chock was at the end of a long spiral downward. She was coming to terms with anorexia nervosa, and after many attempts to remedy the problem, she was finally admitted to the hospital in March of 2003.

A slow recovery ensued and Chock began to run again. Bit by little bit, she was able to get back into the sport that she loved so dearly. Running for Granite Bay High School this past fall, Chock was back on track, and defended her division II California state cross country title in November 2003 with the fastest time of all the competitors, regardless of division. The next week, she missed another Foot Locker national berth with her 14th place finish at the Foot Locker West Regional.

In the spring, Chock decided to train with her club coach, Leonard Sperandeo, instead of her high school coach. Chock's decision left her unable to compete for Granite Bay High School during the track season. Under Coach Sperandeo's tutelage, Chock grew stronger, and eyed post season races to showcase her talents.

In a three week span in June, she did just that. At the Golden West Invitational on June 12, she raced to the third-best high school performance ever with a 9:58.51 for 3,200m. The following week at the adidas Outdoor Championships in Raleigh, North Carolina, she finished second in the fastest girls' mile field ever with another personal best of 4:42.51. One week later, after a rain delay postponed her race to the following morning, Chock blazed to a new high school 5,000m record of 16:10.60 at the USA Junior Track & Field Championships in College Station, Texas. The record eclipsed the 25-year-old mark of 16:13.7, set in 1979 by Mary Shea of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Now, back home in Roseville, Chock is anxiously awaiting the World Junior Track & Field Championships in Grosetto, Italy, July 13-21. Chock had originally planned to make the 30-minute trek to nearby Sacramento, California, to watch the Olympic Trials and had even bought a ticket. Now, she says, she'll have to sell the ticket. 'It's worth it,' she said with a laugh.

FW: You've had so many great races the past three weeks. Let's start with your 16:10 5,000. What was your plan going into the race?
I definitely wanted to get the qualifying time [16:30.00] so I'd be able to go to Worlds. I wanted to go out hard and see how long I could hold it. Obviously, I wanted to get the win as well. I was mostly focusing on the qualifying standard and definitely getting in the top two.

I believe I went out in 5:08 for the first mile. I felt pretty good and everything, I felt really strong. I decided I was going to try and hold it. I was going to try to [maintain] 5:10-ish pace, that was my plan. I was right where I needed to be the first mile. As the race progressed, I was right on pace. At the 3,200m, I was at 10:15. I knew I had a little bit of a cushion, which was really good. I knew if I slowed down a little bit, I could still get the qualifying time. I kind of died the last mile. I think I ran a 5:14. It was a little tough, just because I haven't been racing very many 5Ks. I definitely need to work on that a little bit. I was still very pleased with my time. I'm just very excited to be able to compete internationally and see how well I can do. I just can't wait.

FW: You were venturing into new territory. You're best going into the race was 16:49. Your probably set PRs from 2 miles in.
I was pretty surprised, actually. My 3,000 PR was 9:38, not counting the 9:58 3,200m one. I passed through the 3,000 in 9:37 at juniors on Saturday. So, I was pretty close to my PRs. I was like 'Wow, I feel good.' So, I kept chugging along to see how well I could do. I was really, really happy with a big PR.

FW: The 5,000 was rained out on Friday night. Did that mess with your mind?
Actually, I don't think it messed with my mind because at [the Adidas Outdoor Championships], the exact same thing happened. There was a delay. But at AOC, we were able to run the race that night. I just went with the flow. You have to take everything as it comes. I tried to stay composed. I actually like running in the morning more so it kind of worked out well for me, I suppose. It was a little awkward Friday night because I was disappointed. Things turned out well, so I was okay with it.

FW: Your coach must have known you were in that kind of shape. What kind of workouts were you doing leading into this?
We did a couple of workouts. I don't have that much speed. It's better than it has been. We did 6 x 400 and I averaged 69. We did a couple of tempo runs. Everything seemed like it was clicking and indicated that I could run a time around 16:10. I decided to go go for it. I knew I had to go out hard and just remain confident. We knew I was in shape for a good PR, so we were shooting for that.

FW: You were entered in the 3,000 also. Was the 5,000 your priority?
Yes. I like the longer stuff. I definitely wanted to do the 5,000, that's for sure. I entered in the 3,000m, just in case conditions weren't good or I didn't do well in the 5,000. I wanted to make sure I could have a second event [in which] I might be able to go to Worlds, just because I had the qualifying standard for the 3,000. If something had happened in the 5,000, I would have a security race to fall back on.

FW: You opted out of your high school season. How did you approach your racing schedule once you made the decision to not run the high school season?
We knew I had to peak [later in the] season. I wouldn't have any sections or state or anything. All season, I was [focusing on] different races than the other girls. My big peak races were going to be Golden West, AOC, and USA Juniors. I was training harder for longer in the season. My peak was just a little bit later.

FW: What kind of volume did you do? It sounds like you are a strength-oriented runner.
Yeah, I definitely like the longer stuff. We'll do tempos and fartleks. I average about 50 miles a week. Sixty is the most I've ever done. We try to mix it up, too. I'll do some 200s — they're slower than what a lot of the top girls do, but I do do a range of workouts to work on my speed and strength.

FW: Do you do most of these on your own?
I train with my coach, Coach Leonard, his wife, and some girls in my training group, the Running Zone Mizuno team. A couple of them have qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials. They are all great runners in their own right, in the events that they do. It's really exciting. People say 'Caitlin, you don't have a team!' But I do have a team. The Running Zone team is just great. I love the girls I work out with. We even have a guy that runs with us, too. I have a good group of people that I run with. If I don't run with them in my workouts, my mom runs with me on my easy days, when she's not injured.

FW: Your mom was a former Olympic Trials qualifier, right?

FW: Is she able to keep up with you?
Yeah, on my easy days and long runs. She keeps me honest. My coach says, 'I can't let you go too hard on your easy days,' so my mom makes sure that I do take it easy on my easy days. She's a great training partner.

FW: I know you sat out your high school season. Did you go and watch the California state meet?
Oh yeah. A bunch of my friends were running and I wanted to be there to cheer people on. It was really exciting. Everyone there did awesome. It was spectacular to watch.

FW: Was that hard for you, or had you come to terms with not running at the state met?
Up to then, I think I had come to terms with it. I knew I would have other opportunities to race against them at Golden West. I can honestly say that it was hard to watch the two mile, just because I would have liked to have been a part of it, but it was okay. I knew I would have other opportunities.

FW: The 9:58 at Golden West was a real shocker.
Yes, it surprised me a lot. My coach kept saying that I could definitely run sub 10:10. That was the concrete goal. If everything went perfectly, he said I could go under 10:00. I said to him 'Leonard, you have to be joking with me. I think you are overshooting this just a bit. I think you're aiming just a little too high.' He said ' No, Caitlin, your workouts indicate that you can do it.' I just went out and did my best. Basically, I was just surprising myself the whole last mile. I was like 'Oh my goodness, am I actually going to do this?' It's cool when all your hard work pays off and everything clicks on the right night.

FW: I spoke to Katelyn Kaltenbach and she said that you two talked before your race.
Oh yeah. She was doing her cool down and I was doing my warm-up. I met her at Foot Locker when I went. She's such a great girl. We were talking about my goal and then the race. She said 'Caitlin, I know you can go under 10:10 and I know you can run sub 10:00.' I said ' Katelyn, I don't know girl.' She was cheering me on every lap I saw her. I love that girl. She's awesome.

FW: Then you went to the mile at AOC. You told me before the race that you didn't have that much speed so you were going to push it. Can you go over that race?
The race went out perfectly. Jenny [Barringer] took us out. I wanted to go out in about 69 or 70 for the first lap. Jenny took it out nice and hard, just like you said she would do, so that was awesome.

We came through the 800m a little bit slower than I had hoped. I was going to try to hit about a 2:20. I took the lead at that point and tried to push the pace as much as I could. I knew if anyone was with me the last lap or shorter, I was toast. I took the lead from there and worked off my own pace. I pushed it as hard as I could.

I hit the 200m to go mark and I heard the announcer say 'Oh, and here comes Nicole Blood!' I was like 'Oh no, she's coming.' I started to pick it up as much as I could. Down the final straightaway I could hear her and obviously see her at that point. I just tried to focus ahead and just do my best. She had an incredible kick, so major props to her. It was a great race and we both ran great times. I was really excited with the PR. It was an exciting experience.

FW: Did your coach predict your time?
Yeah. He thought I could go low 4:40's. So that's what I was shooting for. Again, I thought he was setting the bar a little too high. It's so funny because he's always telling me these goals. I tell him 'No Leonard, I couldn't do that.' He tells me ' You've got to believe in yourself.' I always believe him. When he says he thinks I can do something, I totally believe him. Going into a race, I hope to get that time. I'm really excited that I did get those times.

FW: You've some a long way since your much publicized bout with anorexia nervosa. How have you managed your season?
It's kind of been a whirlwind. Coming into this season, I didn't even run my junior year because I had the anorexia situation. Everyone always told me that once I got over that, I would definitely improve. I can't say that I'm 100% over every issue that I have, but I definitely improved in that regard and I can see that translating it into my running. Going into the season, I think my 1,600m PR was like a 5:04. I cut off quite a bit of time there. In all my events, I've improved dramatically. I can attribute that not only to hard work and coaching, but just being healthy and keeping everything in balance.

FW: What are the things your doing differently now to be healthy?
I just try to eat more balanced, and eat more, obviously. I try not to focus that much on my body image and comparing myself to other people. [I know] that it's just me and I need to eat healthy. 'Food is fuel' is what I always tell myself. I need good nutrients and a lot of calories just to maintain my weight and run strong.

FW: Your mother mentioned to me that you had to eat about 3,500 calories a day just to maintain your weight.
Yeah. I eat quite a bit. I think I kind of messed up my metabolism a little bit with all I've been through. I do eat a lot. It's working right now, so I'll just keep doing that.

FW: What advice would you give someone in similar circumstances, after what you've been through?
I would just say, that you need to be healthy because it's not worth it. It's all about where your priorities are. You could be sick and end up in a hospital. Life is going to be miserable. I went through it. You lose a lot of your close friends. Your family loses trust in you. On the flip side, when you are healthy and getting better, and you are in recovery, everything goes a lot smoother. I'm a lot happier, just because I'm able to enjoy life. It's just not worth being sick and anorexic just to be skinny. Your not going to run faster. Some people think that lighter is faster, but I can tell you that since I put weight on, I've actually improved a lot. It just goes to show that anorexia is not worth it. It's a slippery slope, but you have to be careful. Just take strides forward as best you can, and just work toward recovery and being healthy.

FW: You've signed with the University of Richmond. Are you excited about that opportunity?
I'm really excited. I love the coaches and the whole team. I've been talking to the team. I already have a best friend there. I think I just really clicked with the team and the program. I'm really really excited just to meet everyone in person again and see what we can do. We're getting a really good recruiting class [this year]. Hopefully, we'll improve and do our best this season. I'm really excited to run with a great group of people.

FW: I read in an interview that you liked Stanford and some others. Were those schools possibilities for you?
My junior year, I went through phases and had my mind set on certain colleges. My senior year, when I was talking to the Stanford coach and a couple of other coaches I was trying to focus on who I clicked the best with, what kind of program I wanted to go in to. Academics [were a factor] as well. Obviously, Stanford has great academics, Richmond does too, in it's own right. I wanted what was best for me. I wanted a smaller college. Richmond just happened to be exactly what I was looking for.

FW: Richmond isn't known for their cross country.
No, they're not. We're hoping to change that. We'll see. We hope to be a force [in the future].

FW: When they first called you, did you know who they were?
No, actually it's kind of a funny story. When they first called me, I was like 'University of Richmond?' I read that they only had 3,000 students. I said 'They aren't even Division I! No way.' I spoke to them some more and the coach told me that they were Division I and had great academics. Once I spoke with them some more, they were really nice. I decided to take a visit. It was my first official visit and I fell in love with it. The campus is so beautiful. Everyone there just welcomed me. The guys and the girls all get along and they train together. That's something I wanted to be a part of. Even though I hadn't heard of them at first, once I got to know them and the program, I wanted to be a part of it.

FW: What other schools did you visit?
I had seen Stanford, just from their track and cross country meets. I also took an unofficial visit to Colorado. I was able to talk to Jay Johnson and Coach [Mark] Wetmore. Those were the only three colleges I saw.

FW: Did you ever imagine making the World Junior team?
No, until recently I didn't really think I had a shot. It's something I've always wanted to do. I remember my freshman year, people were going to the cross country and track championships. It's something I always wanted to be a part of. I just had never been able to do it. Now that it is actually happening, I'm just in shock. I can't believe I'm leaving for Italy and representing the US It's such an honor and I'm really really excited.

FW: Fitness wise, do you think you can maintain for that long?
My coach is awesome. I totally put faith in him. He's great at peaking his athletes. Even though I kind of have a long peak, he's changing my schedule and working it around so that I peak in Italy for my race.

FW: Do you think you can lower your time considering you'll have more competition?
I hope so. That's the goal going in. Obviously, they'll be a great group of girls there and I'll just try to cling on for dear life and go with it, just see what I can do. Hopefully, a PR is in the works.

(Interview conducted June 28, 2004, and posted July 1, 2004.)

Nothing contained herein may be reproduced online in any form without the express written permission of the New York Road Runners Club, Inc.