Interview with Kate Niehaus
by Ricky Quintana

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

Kate Niehaus, now a junior at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, never intended to be a runner. In fact, it wasn't until her freshman year, when the cross country coach spotted her running during soccer conditioning, and recruited her, that she even considered taking up the sport. Niehaus improved dramatically that year. In four months she achieved what nearly every high school runner dreams about; she qualified for the Foot Locker Cross Country Nationals. Somewhat intimidated at Nationals, she dropped out of the race.

Niehaus rebounded in 2003 as a sophomore and made amends. At Nationals, she raced to an impressive 17th place finish in 18:11; third fastest among the sophomores. This year, she is again taking aim at qualifying for the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships. She opened with a win at the Western North Carolina Cross Country Classic in Hendersonville, North Carolina, on August 28th with a time of 18:09.

Ricky Quintana: Were you happy with how you ran at this past summer's adidas Outdoor Championships? [Note: She finished 27th in the two-mile in 11:51.20.]
Kate Niehaus:
No, I was hoping to do a lot better. Looking back on it now, I was pretty sick at that point and looking at how my training was going, I really should have realized what I could have done differently. Looking back, we did a lot of speed work — I'm not very quick so I was trying to work on that — but I think we did a little bit too much. Now that speed work base should help for cross country this year, but, at that point, I lost my endurance training and I think that made a difference. Next year, I'm definitely going back and hoping to do better.

RQ: You had a similar experience at Foot Locker. How did your freshman year compare to your sophomore year?
When I was in ninth grade, I was so new to running. I started in August and halfway through the season, my coach said that I should try to qualify for the Foot Locker race. I was just like 'Okay.' Everything was going well for me, and I did qualify. I got there and I didn't know what it would be like. I wasn't used to national level racing at all. I was kind of intimidated. I learned a lot from that, too — how good the other girls are. That motivated me a lot to work harder. I really wanted to qualify again [in 2003] and I did. I was really happy about that. I had a lot better time, my race went better. Once again, I was able to meet a lot of people and was able to see how their training strategies were different. It was really a lot of fun meeting all the Nike athletes. Both times, it was really a good learning experience. Hopefully, this year I can go too. I'm working towards that.

RQ: Before your freshman year, what did you do? How did you get into running?
I swam through elementary school. I played soccer through middle school. I would always run a lot during games, that gave me the background for running. I would sometimes go out and do conditioning with my dad, nothing too serious until ninth grade.

RQ: In ninth grade, what made you go out for cross country?
My cross country coach had seen me doing soccer conditioning. I was doing pretty well in that. He convinced me to go out for cross country, and my soccer coach said that I should probably try it. I decided to go for it and see what it was like. If I didn't like it, I thought I wouldn't have to do it next year. I ended up liking it pretty much and stuck with it. I'm not playing soccer anymore. That was a tough decision to make. I'm happy with what I'm doing now, so that's good.

RQ: What were your first couple of runs like?
My times improve a lot from the first few races. I think my first race I ran 20:30. By the end of the season, I had gone just below 18 minutes. It went pretty quick. Just running everyday and running under a schedule really helped a lot. I was able to improve really quickly.

RQ: In track, you really made some improvements this year. What do you credit that to?
I didn't run track as a freshman. We have soccer in the spring here. Running track this past year, I was able to carry through from cross country. I ran a few indoor track meets. Running more, just getting older, and harder workouts all helped to improve my times in track.

RQ: What do you think about track racing?
I kind of like running on the track. You can just go and you know exactly how much you have to do and the times. You can just click off the laps. I like cross country too, but track is just a lot different. The whole atmosphere is different. There are so many events. It was still a lot of fun.

I ran a few track meets as a freshman. The state meet and the qualifier for that, just to help the team out a little bit, so I saw a little bit before this year. It's pretty much what I expected.

RQ: You kind of got thrown into the fray really quickly. You made nationals in your first year of running. People must have had high expectations of you this past year. How did you handle that?
Yeah, a lot of people know what I did. They're all expecting a lot. My parents and my team are very supportive of whatever I do. They are always telling me 'Good job. Good job.' They know that sometimes it doesn't go so well. I just try to do better next time. That's the best you can do. I guess the pressure is always there. I just try to do my best and that's all I can do.

RQ: What have you done so far this summer?
After the Adidas Outdoor Championships, I took a week off. I just started basic base training and started to build up the mileage. I started doing some hill workouts — nothing on the track or faster tempo runs or anything yet. We're starting to get into a few scrimmages in the next week or so. The races will start in a few weeks and then we'll start getting in a few workouts. It's been going pretty well. I'm excited.

RQ: What kind of mileage have you been doing?
Right now, it's almost 40 miles per week. That's probably the most I will do this year. All four years of high school, I will probably just keep building up. Last year, the most was about 35 to 37 miles per week. We're doing a progression so I can be at my best my senior year.

RQ: That doesn't seem like a lot. Do you do anything else?
Yeah, I've seen some other girls' mileage and I'm just like 'Whoa.' Last year, we did a little bit of weight lifting. We do circuits that my coaches have made up. It works on my core strength. We do push-ups and sit-ups and stuff like that, but not too much other stuff.

RQ: Last year you did well at Great American [third place in the Seeded Invitational race behind Katelyn Kaltenbach and Jenny Barringer] and you'll see some of the girls you raced at Foot Locker last year. What are your expectations for this year's race?
Last year, it was really good. I got to see how I was doing compared to the others. So this year, I'm hoping to do just as well or better. I'm training really hard with that in mind. I know that other people are training hard too. It helps motivate me in the beginning of the season, seeing how I'm doing. Hopefully, I can do as well as I did last year.

RQ: Do you get nervous before these tough races?
Yeah, I get really nervous. I try to not get too nervous. I kind of visualize the races and think through what I'm trying to do. I remember how it's going to feel, that it's going to hurt and stuff like that. I try not to think about it too much.

RQ: Is being a professional runner something you'd like to do at some point?
If I could, I probably would. There's a long way to go before then. There's college and everything after that. If everything is going well at that point, it would be something I would consider. And it would be great goal to go to the Olympics or something like that. It's really something to shoot for.

RQ: I can't get over the fact that you've had immediate success. Have you ever had time to just think about lining up at a race like AOC and just looking down the line at all the top level girls that are there with you?
Yes. I think especially in my first Foot Locker race, it was kind of like 'Whoa, I'm not sure if I'm ready for this.' It was intimidating. Now, I'm more used to it and pretty confident that I can run with these girls. I've done it before. It helps to know that there are other people out there who, if I don't work hard, then they'll be beating me. It's good motivation and it's exciting to see other people doing so well. I try to do that too. It's a lot of fun to meet all those other girls. Most of them are really nice and it's fun to see what they are doing.

RQ: You seem kind of quiet. Is it hard for you to speak with these girls?
Some people would say I am. Once I get to know people better, I talk pretty much. Especially at Foot Locker, I try to meet all of them. They put us altogether and it's a lot of fun.

RQ: What has helped you to be a better runner?
I think my disappointing races have motivated me. They made me step back and see what I need to do better. Seeing how well other people are doing helps too. I just try to do the best I can do and try to accomplish as much as I can. I try to work hard and always do as much as I am supposed to do. I try not to slack off, because I know someone somewhere else is going to be doing better.

(Interview conducted August 26, 2004, and posted September 15, 2004.)

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