Interview with Jenny Barringer
by Ricky Quintana

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

Jenny Barringer of Oviedo, Florida, has amassed an impressive resume in her three years of high school running. The senior has won five individual state titles in cross country and track, placed third in her first trip to the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships, and placed 35th at 2004 IAAF World Junior Cross Country Championships.

But Barringer's summer has been anything but typical for one of the top returning harriers in the country. The week after her final track meet of the season, the adidas Outdoor Championships, Barringer had major surgery to correct her jaw. Then, in mid October, her hometown of Oviedo was hit hard by Hurricane Charley.

Back running again and unharmed, the resilient Barringer spoke with us as she prepared for the cross country season.

RQ: Your hometown, Oviedo, was right in Hurricane Charley's path.
Our town was hit pretty hard. Our house was spared, so we're really happy. We didn't have any trees fall on our house or anything. We're happy and we were blessed.

RQ: I guess you still tried to get those runs in.
Actually, the first day, Saturday morning, I woke up, and I started out for my run, because you really couldn't drive anywhere. There were trees all over the road. None of the street lights were working and no one had power or anything. At about a half mile out, there was a power line lying across the road. I decided that my life was more important than a simple practice run. I headed back home and needless to say, I missed my Saturday morning run. The next couple of days, I went to the track to get a couple of miles in because I was so worried about downed power lines.

Just like any other disaster, everyone was really good about cleaning up the really dangerous stuff. Within the next day or so, I was able to get back out on the road. It was really strange. It made most of my old routes much more interesting because the scenery was so different. All the trees were knocked down and chopped up. There were a couple of times, I wasn't sure where I was, and these were trails and routes I had been running since I was a freshman in high school.

RQ: Going back to AOC, can you go over the two mile? That was an atypical race for you.
Yeah. I had competed for 11 months with very little time off. I took 10 days off after Foot Locker in San Diego. Other than that, I had been racing pretty consistently over the course of 11 months. I was really getting tired. At the beginning of June, when we were doing our last couple of tapers and workouts and stuff, I told my coach that I was tired. I wanted to run the races and give it my best shot, but once I got there, I knew that I had had a long season. I'm glad I went, but you could tell in that two mile that I was ready to take a break [she finished ninth in 10:40.80]. I don't regret doing it.

The two mile was tough. I tried to keep a level head, but in that huge pack at the beginning, I got pushed out to the outer lanes a lot. I worked my way in and out. Most of the girls in that pack are used to having an open track, because we're usually running by ourselves or with two girls or something like that in our state meets. Gosh, the level of competition has risen so high since my freshman year. It was quite different going from my speed workouts where I train all alone to now running with 15 girls on the track. So that psyched me out a little bit.

RQ: You came back the following day and ran a pretty good mile.
Yeah, I did. The mile was a totally different story [she finished seventh in 4:49.82]. I ran okay in the two mile. I ran the exact same time I ran at my state championship. I was still pleased with how I ran, but it wasn't at the level of competition that I liked to think that I can be at. I didn't feel I had the competitive edge that night.

So I came back the next day to run the mile. As everyone knows, or maybe they don't, I don't call myself a miler. I never intended to specialize in the mile. We just kind of ran the mile this year to get some leg speed for the two mile and then it ended up I was a pretty good miler, so I kept on running it. As I continued to do the mile, I got better and better. Almost at the last minute, I decided to double at nationals. So, when I went into the mile, I knew — and I don't like to say that I wasn't going to win — but I knew that there was a really, really strong field, so I thought I had nothing to lose. I just went out and gave it my best shot. Obviously, I went out very strong from the beginning [laughs]. I was really happy with how I performed.

RQ: I know Caitlin Chock and Nicole Blood credited you for the fast early pace. Did anyone speak to you about that afterwards?
Actually, somebody, and I can't remember who, came up to me after the race and told me, 'Man, you took it out fast. You really made me run for it.' There was no strategy to that, really. I was just thinking, 'I'm going to take it out hard' because half the time, especially in the mile, girls tend to kind of hang back and see what everyone is going to do and then they start racing on the second lap. I thought if I took out fast, they would follow me and it would be a really fast mile.

RQ: Did you take time off afterwards?
Actually, I took four weeks off. The next Monday that I came back from Raleigh, I had major jaw surgery planned. So because of that, I took about four weeks off. I was really nervous about taking that much time off, but I really needed it and I really enjoyed the time off. I spent a lot of time just lying around. Now I've gotten back into my training and I feel just as good as when I left.

RQ: Can you tell me more about the jaw surgery?
Basically, there were several minor deals. My jaw was set too far back and it wasn't a huge deal, but all the little things added up. It was enough of a problem that the surgeon I spoke to told me that I would eventually have to have surgery. And so we decided that I would like to have it done now, rather than four years down the road when I'm hopefully running collegiately or maybe post-collegiately. Taking four weeks off now would probably be the easiest option. I missed a little bit of foundation running, but I've been catching up and will [do base work] until the end of August. I feel great and I am where I need to be.

RQ: How do you start back up after four weeks of not running?
Twenty minutes at a time [laughs]. It was totally unreal. The first time I ran, I was totally exhausted at the end. I had not experienced that since I was a freshman. The first two weeks, it was really tough to get back into it. It was frustrating to be at the level of competition that all of us are nationally, and then all of the sudden, I can't even run 20 minutes without breathing hard. That was kind of tough, but it's been four weeks now. I'm doing the runs that I would normally be doing at this time of year, so I came back better than I thought I would.

RQ: Did you reflect on what you have done while you were out those four weeks?
I was on a liquid diet, so I spent a lot of the four weeks just trying to keep my weight up. I just focused on staying healthy and recovering from my surgery. I did start to realize my accomplishments — making the World Championship team, and what that really had done for my running career and my perspective on running. It all started to sink in and I really started to miss it. I like to think that it's going to jump start this next year for me.

RQ: Are you going to prepare and race differently this year?
I'm always in the pursuit of faster times. I like to think that I'm going to be training harder. I'm going to do everything that is necessary to get back to where I was and drop my times even farther. I like to still keep in perspective [the fact] that I'm still a high school student and I like to do a lot of other things.

I realize that I want to run collegiately and that I really want to dedicate four year to running hard and achieving a lot of high goals. I really want to enjoy my senior year before I commit to that.

RQ: The Great American Cross Country Festival is coming up. Last year was a nailbiter with you just getting edged out by Katelyn Kaltenbach in the final 25 meters. Are you looking forward to this year's race?
Yes, I really am. When I go there, that course is unlike anything else I run. In Florida, everything is flat. Everything is pretty generic. At Great American, there is a lot of variety, a lot of hills, and a lot of competition. I'm really looking forward to going back there.

RQ: Foot Locker is coming up too. There are a lot of races you'll be doing for the final time. Can you give us some perspective on your feelings going into your final season?
I have been racing for the same coaches since I was in middle school. They worked the Foot Locker race when it was here in Orlando. It is possible that they are going to their final Foot Locker race this year, and hopefully so will I. It is difficult to think that I won't be with these people any longer, but it's also really exciting. I know that they are going to follow me and all of these experiences are going to help me in the future to do great things in college.

RQ: Let's talk about recruiting. I guess when they called you on the first day, July 1, you had your mouth wired shut.
There were about two weeks when my dad, my sister, and my mom had to toe the line for me. They answered the phone for me and apologized for the inconvenience for not being able to talk on the phone. Everyone was really nice and understanding. They were willing to call back in a few weeks when I was able to talk. I got to talking right away when I could. I spoke to many college coaches.

RQ: Who have you been speaking to?
I feel so bad. You're going to get the generic thing. I really have no idea. I've talked to all kinds of programs. I've actually visited a couple, too. I've talked to Colorado, Wake Forest, Stanford and all kinds of places. I really want to look into both smaller and larger schools and see what will work best. My biggest thing is I want to go to a strong program that will help me to be the best runner that I can be and reach the goals that I have for myself collegiately and post-collegiately. I'm looking for a good fit. I have several visits planned already. I'm really excited. When I find what I want, I definitely will know and that will be it. Right now though, I'm very undecided.

RQ: Will your decision come early?
I really think there are a lot of advantages to signing early. Obviously, a lot of coaches have encouraged me to sign early. Knowing me, I'm probably going to drag it out a little longer [laughs]. I find it hard to believe that I could make a decision that big by November. But if I go to a school and I feel there is a good fit between me, the coach, and the girls on the team, and I feel that my vision matches theirs, I would have no problem signing in November.

RQ: I guess most of your team has graduated and you will spend time training by yourself.
Yeah, we graduated a lot of good runners. Our team is really young. We have a lot of freshman and sophomores now. I'm the head of the pack now. But, the other good side about that is that my coach has gotten back in shape, so I have someone to run with every day. My coaches are incredible. They run with me all the time so I have someone to run with. I run on my own to some extent. It is difficult seeing all my friends leave.

RQ: Is going to a school with a strong team important to you?
I've told every recruiter that I've spoken to that I want to go to a program where I am going to have girls to run with. I want to go somewhere where I'm going to strengthen the team, but they are going to compliment me as well. I really want to go somewhere where I'm going to be challenged and be able to pursue goals and get better with girls that are of the same caliber.

(Interview conducted August 24, 2004, and posted September 15, 2004.)

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