Interview With Carol Henry

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Above and Below: Carol Henry competes in the steeplechase at the 2002 NCAA T&F Championships.
All Photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners

Carol Henry capped off her freshman year at University of North Carolina with a third place finish in the NCAA 3,000m steeplechase. Henry, who hails from Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada, set a PR and a new Canadian record with her time of 9:51.16. Already experienced in several international competitions, Henry only began seriously running distance events in her final two years of high school. Henry first taste of success on the track came in the sprints and hurdles, making the steeplechase a natural event choice down the road. In the fall, Henry contributed to a 7th place finish by the Tar Heels at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, placing 31st individually. On the indoor track, Henry placed 7th in the 3,000m with a time of 9:16.81. Relaxing at home for the summer, Henry told us a bit about her first year in Chapel Hill. Congratulations on an impressive track season! Were you pleased with how it went? What were the highlights for you?
Carol Henry: Yeah, I was really happy with how it went. I guess NCAA outdoor was pretty much the best thing all season.

FW: What was it like for you to be in NCAA competition? Did you find it a big change from high school?
CH: It was a lot more competitive, but I kind of got used to it from cross and indoor, so by the time outdoor rolled around I was kind of familiar with it. But it is a lot more competitive than I was used to.

FW: How was it at first, when you were running cross country in the fall?
Just with having so many people around you, I'm not used to running in big packs like that. It was kind of overwhelming.

FW: Do you think your experience on (Canadian) World Cross Country teams (in 2000 and 2001) helped to prepare you for the experience of NCAAs?
CH: I think in a way it did, but I only ran at two. The biggest thing was that every race was competitive where normally I'm used to just training for one race, like world cross, and I'm just training for that. But this time it was like every race I was in was competitive.

FW: You didn't start your running career as a distance runner - you were originally a sprinter and hurdler. How did you first get involved with running?
CH: It was my older sister who sort of got me into it because she started running when she was younger. I did a few races just for fun and I joined the team during high school. They thought of me as a sprinter so I became a sprinter. I ran 200m and 400m for most of it and then once I got to high school I started doing 300m hurdles and [it moved up to] 400m hurdles. My coach (Jim Slepica) actually ended up leaving for grade 11, so I trained on my own for hurdles in that year. I ended up winning OFSAA (the Ontario High School Championships) in hurdles so I was pretty excited for [Canadian] Nationals but I got injured the week before. So I was out for that whole summer.

FW: And the next year you started to run longer distances?
CH: I started running cross in the middle of September. And then we had our nationals in November and I ended up winning that, kind of out of nowhere, I guess.

FW: Had you run any cross country before that year?
CH: Yeah, I'd done it just kind of for fun but I hadn't really trained for it. That fall, just because I felt like I was in pretty bad shape from taking the whole summer off, I decided I'd train a little bit with the cross team. And then I ended up winning our provincials. I wasn't going to run nationals, but I somehow got talked into it. And then I ended up running it and making the world team.

FW: What was your training like that year?
CH: I ran [some] track races in the winter. And then I pretty much just did everything outside, because we don't have a track. I couldn't really do all that much in the winter because the roads were all covered in snow. So for a while it was just easy running and I'd do a hill workout once a week and a tempo/threshold run once a week. I did pretty much everything by myself. I trained sometimes at my sister's track club but it was three hours away so I didn't get down there very much.

FW: Do you miss doing hurdles and sprints at all?
CH: I do, but now that steeple kind of combines it, I'm kind of getting back into it.

FW: What were your experiences like on the world cross teams?
CH: My first world cross team (2000, in Villamoura, where she was 15th in the junior race) I was just extremely excited. I didn't know any names; I was kind of just out there running, just trying to run hard. I didn't really get nervous, just excited. For world track (2000) and world cross country (2001 in Ostend) after that I was kind of injured so I didn't really run that well. Making teams definitely is a fun part of [running]…

FW: Did you know right from the start that you wanted to go down to the U.S. for university?
CH: Yeah, pretty much. I decided after my grade 12 year. I was actually going to leave after grade 12 because it was kind of hard training here, but I was talked into doing my OACs (Ontario Academic Credits, grade 13 in Ontario) just in case it didn't work out. So I ended up deciding to stay for that.

FW: Where were you thinking of going after grade 12?
CH: I was actually thinking of going to Villanova.

FW: What schools were you considering in your last year of high school?
CH: The ones that I visited were Wisconsin, Michigan, Villanova, and North Carolina.

FW: How did you come to choose North Carolina?
CH: It was hot there! (laughs) And I really liked the coach (Michael Whittlesey) and the girls on the team.

FW: What are you studying there?
CH: I'm undecided right now.

FW: Tell me a little bit about the team at UNC. What are your teammates like and how is the coaching?
CH: Our coach… I really really like our coach. He's pretty motivating, really positive. He lets us have a lot of say in our workouts, and if we're feeling bad, we tell him and he doesn't push us through anything horrible. You hear these horror stories about coaches just running you into the ground... He's definitely really good. I guess he just believes in us a lot, so he makes us kind of believe in ourselves. The girls on my team… they work hard and they're fun off the track. I mainly train with Shalane Flanagan and Erin Donohue. We work really well together.

FW: Did the other freshman girls coming in have pretty varied experience?
CH: Yeah, there's a big difference. You go from people who were running 30 miles a week coming out high school to 100 miles a week!

FW: What's your training like, what kind of mileage are you doing? Do you lift weights?
CH: Probably low 50s. We do weights twice a week.

FW: Was it much of a change from what you were doing before?
CH: Yeah, just working out three times a week. We usually have Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday practices, which was a change. [In high school] I usually did one really hard workout a week and the other two wouldn't be quite as hard. So, [this year] getting on the track and running fast quarters every time was kind of a big step, but I got used to it.

FW: What about during cross country season? What was your training like then?
CH: We did longer stuff. I guess it was a little more mileage than I was used to. I hadn't really counted my mileage in high school so I'm not really sure what I did then. We're really team oriented in cross, we all work together and run in big groups.

FW: What was the adjustment like going into the cross country season?
CH: Well, actually, I found it a bit hard in cross. I was kind of having a hard time adjusting to the workouts and just racing with so many people around me. My coach and I worked on just trying to relax and run behind people and not get uptight. I think I got better as the season went on.

FW: Do you live with other girls on the team?
CH: I actually roomed with Alice Schmidt last year. She won nationals in the 800. It was good; she was a fun girl.

FW: Was this your first year running steeple, or had you run any before?
CH: This was actually the first year that I ran. I wasn't sure if I'd do it my first year but I knew that I'd eventually do it just because of my hurdling background. Then I qualified and I'd run a fast time so that's what I ended up focusing on.

FW: Do you think that the steeple will end up being your main focus through university?
CH: Yeah I think so, that's what I want it to be.

FW: What are you doing for the summer?
CH: I'm pretty much just hanging out with my friends and I'm working a little bit. I live on a lake so I do a lot of water skiing and windsurfing in the summer.

FW: Are you running much?
CH: Just kind of easy, nothing too intense or anything. Kind of relaxing, running for fun. I had actually decided not to run [Canadian] nationals because I just wanted to rest and get ready for cross.

FW: Do you have any goals next year for cross country?
CH: I don't really know what to expect. I want to place higher than I did last year… that's pretty much my only goal.

FW: What does the team look like for next year?
CH: We have a few good recruits from North Carolina coming in next year. I think they [run] longer distance, so they should be good.

FW: Do you have any long term goals in track, beyond university?
CH: I was just told the steeplechase is being introduced in the World Championships in 2005, I think. So that will be right when I'm finishing school. So, that's pretty exciting.

Liz Ben-Ishai runs for the University of Toronto, where she is completing her degree in political science.

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