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Interview: Jodie Hughes

Jodie Hughes moves her way up through the pack, on her way to a national title.
( Photo)

Jodie Hughes outsmarted and outran all of her 5,000m competitors at the 2001 NCAA Indoor Championships, winning her first individual national title in a school record 16:08.61. The University of Colorado junior ran in last place for almost half of the race before working her way up to the lead pack, taking advantage of the fact that many of her competitors hadn't paced themselves quite as well. It was a beautifully calculated effort and one of the biggest upsets of the meet. Last fall, Hughes finished 30th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, earning her first All-American honor and helping CU to the team title. Hughes hails from The Woodlands, Texas where she set school and personal records of 4:42 (1,500m), 4:56 (1,600m), 10:02 (3,000m) and 10:38 (3,200m).
(Note: this interview took place 03-16-01, approximately one month before it was posted.)

FW: First of all, congratulations on your awesome race at NCAAs.

JH: Thank you.

FW: What was your race plan heading in?

JH: My race plan was just to go out conservatively, within my means, and then gradually pick it up.

FW: Did you have specific splits that you wanted to hit?

JH: Yes.

FW: And did you hit them right on?

JH: Well, of course everyone was a little bit under the first few but basically, for the most part, I was hitting my splits.

FW: Do you remember what your mile and 2-mile splits were?

JH: You know, I don't. I was just going more on how I felt than anything.

FW: When you were hanging out in the back of the race (she ran in last place for the first mile and a half), were you sitting back there thinking "I can win this!"?

JH: No, not really. I was just trying to be All-American, basically.

FW: And at what point did you realize that winning was indeed a possibility?

JH: Towards the last couple laps, I would say. I was feeling very good and it hit me that I might have a chance.

FW: What did you think when you crossed the finish line?

JH: Well, I don't know. It was just an overwhelming experience. I still don't really know!

FW: I heard that this was only your second 5,000m on the track ever - is that true? Had you ever run the 5 outdoors?

JH: I ran it one time (outdoors) my freshman year and it was my second race of the day. I'd already run the 3k... and I didn't have any experience in it, obviously, so it wasn't a great time. I don't even remember what it was, it was nothing to remember.

FW: And then you didn't run it again until Big 12s, two weeks before NCAAs, where you got your qualifier? (She won the 5,000 at the Big 12 Championships by just under 12 seconds, running 16:23.65.)

JH: Right.

FW: So is the 5,000 an event that you want to pursue more in the future now?

JH: I think so. In the past I really loved racing the 3k but, as you know, they've done away with that now so yeah, I think I definitely want to pursue the 5k.

FW: Would you consider the steeplechase?

JH: I was out for six weeks and I wasn't training hard until mid-November, I guess.

FW: So what did you do to stay in shape during your time off?

JH: (I was) in the pool.

FW: A lot of people seem to be able to maintain their fitness with pool running. What exactly did you do?

JH: Of course our team is pretty much keeping everything open as far as options. I basically like to race anything from the 1,500m up.

FW: So have you done any 10,000s on the track?

JH: I haven't run a 10,000 and I don't really know that I will (laughs). But, like I said, I'm not ruling anything out.

FW: What big meets are you focusing on for outdoors on the road to NCAAs?

JH: We go to Mt. Sac... a couple Stanford races toward the end of the season. I'd say that Mt. Sac is one of the biggest ones that we go to.

FW: And will we see you at any of the relay meets?

JH: Like Penn? You know, our coach really hasn't told us if we're going. When we go to Penn, we usually do the relays instead of individual events because it's the week after Mt. Sac, and it's a really long weekend.

FW: Was it nice to have some teammates with you in Arkansas at NCAAs?

JH: Oh, of course. It's definitely more fun.

FW: And how did they react to your win?

JH: Oh, they were so excited. It's great to have such wonderful teammates.

FW: Could you talk about your team a little bit, who you do your training with... You obviously have a great team that had a great cross country season, winning the cross country team title.

JH: We basically all train together. Lesley (Higgins) and a few other girls kind of train differently because she's more of a middle distance runner. But for the most part, we all train together and just support each other, and I think that's why we're so good. We come to practice, we work hard, and we take care of ourselves.

FW: What, specifically, do you do to take care of yourself?

JH: Getting enough rest, eating right, just taking care of your body.

FW: What kind of training (mileage, workouts) do you do, and do you do any supplemental training?

JH: I do about 65 miles a week, and we have two workouts. I don't do anything supplemental. I just do our run and that's enough (laughs).

FW: And what's it like running for Mark Wetmore? It seems like he's started to develop this larger than life persona. Is he different than other coaches you've worked with?

JH: You know, I haven't worked with any other coaches, so all I can say is that everyone just has this respect for Mark. He's just so knowledgeable that there's no way you couldn't trust him. I completely has faith in everything he does.

FW: What's it like going to school in Boulder where you're surrounded by so many elite athletes? Do they train with you or influence you in any way?

JH: Most of the athletes kind of do their own thing. We see them sometimes but we don't really run much with them. Our program is so strong that we have enough people to train with... They're so supportive of our team though. Most of them have actually run for CU.

FW: Boulder just seems like a great place for an athlete.

JH: It's beautiful here. Probably like 350 days out of the year you just couldn't ask for better weather. It's great.

FW: Was it a hard adjustment, coming from Texas, to go to altitude?

JH: I don't think so. It takes a couple weeks to get your body adjusted, but once you're adjusted, you're fine.

FW: You were quite a strong high school runner – and yet you've really stepped it up to another level in college. Has it been more of a gradual progression or was there one point where you really made the jump?

JH: No, I think it's been gradual. Our program is kind of set up so that you peak and improve toward the end of your career here. So I feel like that's what I've done. Each season, I've improved my times which is exactly what I've wanted to do.

FW: Do you remember what the progression has been, what your best times have been each year of college?

JH: Oh goodness (laughs). Well I can tell you last year. Last year I ran 9:25 for the 3k and I think I ran 4:26 maybe, ooh I don't know but I think so. Indoors, I think I ran 9:32, and that's the only event I did indoors last year.

FW: Had you qualified for any track nationals before this year?

JH: I did outdoors last year, in the 3k. But I didn't qualify for finals so you won't see me in any of the results (laughs). I had a really bad race that day. But my freshman year I think I ran 9:41 outdoors.

FW: Do you consider yourself to be more of a track runner than a cross country runner?

JH: You know, I don't really know. I like cross country better, just because every course is different and it's a new experience each time. But in the same regard, in track you can compare your times and improvement. But in cross country, everyone is in the same race so you're getting the best of the best.

FW: What are you majoring in at CU??

JH: I'm an advertising major.

FW: Do you think you'll pursue a career in advertising?

JH: Well, I have an internship this summer so I guess after that experience I'll be able to tell more.

FW: Is it at home in Texas?

JH: No, it's in Colorado.

FW: Do you think running is something you'd want to pursue seriously after college?

JH: I think that there are so many things that I want to do and so of course I'll always love running, but I don't think it's something that I want to do professionally right now. The level of commitment that it takes -- you have to put your entire heart into it -- and there are just so many things that I'd like to do right now, that I couldn't do if I was trying to run professionally.

FW: What are some of your other interests, outside of running?

JH: Like hobbies?

FW: Yeah.

JH: Ooh (thinking)... I like to read and hang out with friends, go to the movies, typical things, I guess.

FW: Have you seen any good movies lately?

JH: Not really, I've been a little disappointed with the selection.

FW: You were a Foot Locker Cross Country national qualifier in high school. It seems like that's such a wonderful experience for so many kids. Did that leave a strong impression on you?

JH: Oh yes. That was such an experience. While I was in high school, I mainly just raced locally so that was really my first experience racing against people from other parts of the country. I think that was really neat. And it's funny because probably at least four or five of them are my teammates now.

FW: How did you get started running and how old were you?

JH: I went to this summer track camp by my house one year. I think I was probably around, oh, I don't know, I was probably in 7th grade or so. And I decided that maybe I wanted to run in junior high. So I ran track in junior high, nothing serious, just for fun. Sometimes my dad and I would go to race fun runs and that was always fun.

FW: And you went to the Woodlands for high school – they have a pretty strong program, don't they?

JH: The men do, but the women don't really (laughs). The men have a great team. I think they were ranked #1 or something.

FW: Level of intensity seems to vary so much from school to school. Was your program pretty serious?

JH: No, I wouldn't say it was too structured or anything in high school.

FW: What kind of mileage did you do?

JH: I didn't even keep track. It wasn't much. But I think that's pretty typical in high school.

FW: When you went to college how did you progress from whatever mileage you were doing in high school to the 65 you're doing now?

JH: I think I started out at 55, and then 60 and now 65, so it's been a gradual progression.

FW: It's pretty amazing that you (CU) lost Kara Grgas-Wheeler for the indoor season and you didn't even miss a beat – you still had the 5,000m national champion.

JH: Right. Well Kara's coming back now so beware of her in track. (laughs)

FW: So have you read Running With the Buffaloes?

JH: I've read, oh probably the first 20 pages. I haven't read the whole thing, no. It's really hard to read a lot of extracurricular books when I'm in school because I'm giving all my focus to try to make ‘As' I don't know if you know about how strong our team GPA is but that's always an incentive, to make sure you make one of the top GPAs on the team.

FW: Can you tell me more about that?

JH: Well the women's cross country team has the highest team GPA at our school, I think it's something like 3.7.

FW: (Joking) So not only do you have to encourage your teammates to keep up during practice, you also have to encourage them to pull their own weight academically for the good of the team GPA.

JH: Mark is always on us about studying and stuff and I think that's great. That's why you're in college in the first place, to get a good education.

FW: I was just curious as to whether or not you'd read Running With the Buffaloes because I thought maybe you'd have your own version of the story.

JH: Of course all the guys have read it, you know, because it's about the guys. They seem to really like it...

FW: And I loved the book too, but my first thought was that someone should write a book about a women's cross country team.

JH: I totally agree (laughs).

FW: Well that's it for my questions – thanks for taking the time to talk to us and best of luck with your outdoor season!

JH: Thank you so much.

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