Interview with Katie McGregor
By Alison Wade

Katie McGregor on her way to a fourth-place finish in the 8k at the 2003 USA Cross Country Championships.
(Both Photos by Alison Wade/NYRR)
Katie McGregor runs the 3,000m at the 2003 adidas Boston Indoor Games.

Katie McGregor qualified for her first two senior World Championship teams in the first quarter of 2003, representing the U.S. in the 3,000m at the World Indoor Championships and the 8k at the World Cross Country Championships. Though she was disappointed not to advance to the finals of the World Indoor Championships (she finished eighth in her heat with a 9:06.30), McGregor rebounded well, finishing 16th in the 8k race and helping the US to a bronze medal at the World Cross Country Championships two weeks later.

McGregor won the 1998 NCAA Indoor 3,000m title and the 1998 NCAA Cross Country title while at the University of Michigan. After graduating in 1999, she moved between Michigan and Washington, D.C. before settling down in Minnesota and joining Team USA Minnesota in 2001. McGregor, 25, has seen mainly-steady progress throughout her post-collegiate running career. Last summer, she finished third in the 10,000m at the USA Track & Field Championships in a personal-best time of 32:17.49. caught up with McGregor in April of 2003 as she prepared for her outdoor track season. You made two World Championship teams this winter. How would you evaluate the season overall?
Katie McGregor: Overall I think it went pretty well. I didn't really run as well as I wanted to at [the World Indoor Championships] but it was a good experience and it was the first World track team I had made. I had a lot of fun going out to [the World Cross Country Championships], we had such a great team, that experience overall was just so great. The weather was nice, the race went well and our team got a medal so... I felt pretty good about it.

FW: Were you originally planning on focusing on one or the other, cross country or track?
KM: ...Pretty much the whole fall was just geared towards US (Cross Country) Nationals and making the World team and running well there... So going and running at indoor Worlds was just kind of something extra that was fun. I just took the opportunity because I didn't know when that would come up again... It was another opportunity to run faster than what I'd been doing here so I gave it a shot but it didn't really work out the way I wanted it to...

FW: What happened at the World Indoor meet that didn't go as you planned?
KM: It just didn't work out. I was hoping to run a personal best and I just wanted to make it into the final and give myself another shot to run a faster race. I didn't make it out of the first round. I ran a pretty decent race up until the last couple laps and then I just kind of lost touch with the leaders and slowed down quite a bit. That was kind of disappointing because I was hoping to keep up the good races that I'd had so far.

FW: Were you able to take anything with you that you learned from the World Indoor meet and use it to your advantage at World Cross?
KM: I think so, just traveling back and forth to Europe, getting used to the big-time commitment it is, getting over there a few days earlier, preparing yourself for the race, being surrounded by world-class athletes... The two meets, going to both of them you can just tell the difference between the two. There's just so much more going on with the track. With everything going on in the world there's a lot more security. Things were a little bit more uptight. At World Cross, everything was kind of laid back, it was a lot more fun and it didn't seem as stressful.

FW: Now that you've put yourself in a position where you're making major teams, you must feel pretty good about your chances for this summer's World Championships and next year.
KM: Yeah, you just pray and hope that everything keeps going the way that it's supposed to go. We just have a great group running here in Minnesota and a great coach and so much support. I think that everything's just starting to come together because we've had so many great opportunities and we've had great people to train with. I think we're all starting to race better and that just gives us confidence. Especially when you're heading out the door in the morning with someone else who's on the top of their game as well. I think [I'm] putting myself in the position where I need to be this year, not just with times and races and places but just building confidence and building on my times and my strengths... And just kind of getting myself prepared for outdoor championships and then next year putting myself in a position to run fast and make an Olympic team.

FW: Do you feel like your success this year has been a direct result of your involvement with Team USA Minnesota?
KM: I think so. Like I said, there's just so much support and so many opportunities, such a great group and coach. I would hope that just my training and my determination and my commitment to the sport would still be the same no matter where I trained but it definitely helps when you have great people surrounding you.

FW: Can you tell us a little more about the whole Team USA Minnesota setup, how many runners are in the program right now?
KM: We have four women and three men, the program is designed for five women and five men so we've been adding and subtracting a few people here and there. People have come and then had other commitments and had to leave.

FW: So it's you, Kristen Nicolini, Carrie Tollefson and Sara Wells?
KM: Yes.

FW: Do the four of you train together most of the time or are you doing different things?
KM: We pretty much train together, if not every single day, usually we're in the same area or doing something similar. We at least get out the door together a couple times during the week. We all have other commitments during the week so we're not together for every single run and everyone's racing different things too so it's hard to always have the same training schedule. We have different stuff going on, Sara just ran the marathon so she'll be taking some time off now. I think that in April we'll all be around a little more and train with each other a little more because nobody's going to be racing this month and we'll probably see more of each other.

FW: You and Sara live together, do all four of you live in the same house?
KM: No, just Sara and I.

FW: What kinds of things does Team USA provide for you, is housing part of the deal?
KM: No. They provide us with a stipend every month, a great coach, training facilities and just other contacts for other types of support that an athlete would need, that you don't have when you get out of college. Our number one sponsor is Lifetime Fitness so they give us memberships to their clubs. So pretty much everything that you're used to having and everything that you need is pretty much at your fingertips. If you need help finding a job or anything like that, they're here to help you out.

FW: Do you have a job?
KM: Yes, I work a couple part-time jobs. I work at a local running store and I also work for Lifetime Fitness.

FW: We read in your bio that you're a personal trainer, are you still doing that?
KM: No, I used to but now I'm an assistant manager for Lifetime Fitness Running Clubs. Lifetime Fitness has clubs in eight states now and each club has a running club and I am part of a group that oversees all the clubs.

FW: Where were you training after you graduated from college?
KM: I traveled around quite a bit. I went to the University of Michigan and I stayed there for a year after I graduated. That was actually going pretty well but I just decided that I wanted to make a change or two and just get out of the college setting. I moved to DC for about four to six months and trained with Cheri Kenah and Coach Helmer out there, but that just wasn't me and so I moved back to Michigan for about four months and then the opportunity to come out to Minnesota came up. I was kind of reluctant to make another move but I guess it worked out... I've been here for about two years now.

FW: What are your main goals for the outdoor season?
KM: My goals for the outdoor season are just to run a fast 10,000 to qualify for the World Championships and then run well at Outdoor Nationals so I can make the team.

FW: What meets are you planning to run?
KM: There's going to be a good 10,000 at the Cardinal Invite. the first weekend in May so I'm going to run that race. I'm going to run the Adidas [Oregon Track Classic], and maybe do a road race or something in there.

FW: You seem to do a fair number of road races, is that something you enjoy?
KM: I think so. Road races are always fun because they're a little bit more laid back and I like taking advantage of the different venues for running -- on the road, or cross, or track. It just kind of mixes everything up a little bit so that you're not constantly doing the same thing over and over again. There are just a lot of races that are so fun, I enjoy going to them. I think also, for my distance, there are opportunities both on the track and on the roads. With some of the shorter distances, you're stuck on the track. I'm not planning on running any marathons anytime soon, but there are some opportunities for 5ks and 10ks on the roads so I'm lucky enough to be able to mix it up a little bit.

FW: Do you think you'll ever run a marathon?
KM: I don't think so (laughs).

FW: Even after you saw Sara do so well?
KM: Yeah, that's really tempting, you know, but right now I just have other goals that I want to accomplish. My goal is to make the Olympic team in the 10,000m so I guess I'm just going to think about the short term for now. I still have plenty of time to decide what I want to do beyond that. It is very tempting, though, when your roommate's coming home with a lot of cash... and you're out there with her everyday, but obviously this is my job and I want to make a pretty decent living off of it but that's not the only reason I'm doing it. I want to focus on what my goal is and try not to get caught up in all the success that my roommate is having right now (laughs). I'm just proud of her and I'm glad that we're all doing so well.

FW: What kind of training do you do?
KM: ...It probably ranges from 80-100 miles a week, depending on what's going on. Usually somewhere in the 80s is my norm, and anywhere between 2-4 workouts a week...

FW: Do you find that it's hard to support yourself as a professional runner? You got a shoe contract right out of school, do you find that there are a lot of opportunities for a female distance runner?
KM: I just think I've been so lucky and so blessed to be able to get the shoe contract right out of college... There aren't that many opportunities... And then to become part of Team USA Minnesota is just another bonus. It's so hard, especially for women, you want to come out [of college] and you want to have a good life and you're sick of living in a house with 20 people and living check to check, but I think right out of school you're willing to make some sacrifices and it's worked out for me so far, I've been very fortunate to be able to keep going. There have been times when it's been rough too, but you can get lucky and run a race and win some money that will help you out for a little while longer. I think that it's true, it's hard to keep a lot of women in the sport just because there aren't that many opportunities for them.

FW: Did you always plan on being a professional runner, back when you were in college?
KM: I think so, I didn't really have any other set goals. Everything just kind of fell into place. Things could have worked out differently. If it came to my senior year in college and running wasn't going too well, I would have had to start taking other steps and switching my priorities. Things were going pretty decently so I just started focusing more on my running. The thought of not running and competing has never crossed my mind (laughs). I never really thought it was an option that I wouldn't be running anymore...

FW: Looking at some of your NCAA results, what's particularly striking is how many of the runners you competed against not all that long ago don't race anymore. What do you think is the key to transitioning well post-collegiately and having longevity?
KM: Number one is staying healthy, number two is being willing to sacrifice, knowing that you're not going to have a 9-5 job where you have health benefits and structure. You have to be willing to be on your own for a while and train on your own. It's hard the first year out when all of the sudden, all the support that you had in school is gone. That's why the Team USA group really helps out, because they give you all of those things again. Also, like I said, there's just not that much money in the sport. The thought of not having a paycheck come every month or every couple months is scary I think. And some people get married and want to have kids, and want to follow some of their other dreams. I guess running has really been one of my only dreams so I've just kept following path. I think for a lot of people running might be something they're really good at but it's not their #1 goal in life.

FW: When you think of someone like Paula Radcliffe, does she seem untouchable or do you think, 'Gee, I'd like to beat her someday.'?
KM: I don't know. I guess [she's just] just somebody that is so far out there for me right now. You're always looking at those people, looking at them in awe, but at the same time... I just keep focusing on myself and try to pick people off little by little and do the best that I can. So far doing the best I can has gotten me further than [ever before]. Hopefully next year it places me even [higher]. That's all that I can ask for and I'm hoping that someday I'll end up in a spot like that, where I can't believe I got there and close to somebody like that. Right now I have a lot of stepping stones before I get to anywhere near that. Sara and I ran a marathon relay in the fall in Dallas and as I went by the 25-mile mark -- I was the second leg -- I was thinking to myself, 'Paula would be done right now.' And the two of us couldn't even beat her (laughs). So that puts things into perspective. I'm so happy with how everything's going this season but there's so much more to accomplish and every now and then you've got to be put in your place like that and realize that there's a lot more work to do.

FW: Which of your PRs do you think is the most breakable?
KM: Right now I think all of them should be going down (laughs). I haven't really run a 5 or 10k yet. I ran shorter stuff during the indoor season, obviously, so I'm hoping that I can improve a lot on my 5k and 10k times. That's what I'm focusing on for outdoors -- running well -- especially in the 10k... Hopefully I'll take advantage of the fact that there's going to be great runners [at the Cardinal Invitational] and run a fast time. I definitely think that I'm more fit than I was last year. I still think that towards the end of last year I started having some pretty decent improvements, but I know I'm more fit this year. I don't think I should have a problem bettering those times.

FW: Being someone for whom running is a job, do you feel like you need to get away from it sometimes and do things where you're not thinking about running?
KM: Yeah, I definitely do. I have a couple part-time jobs now and I'm always looking for ways to fit something else in there too. I try to surround myself with people other than runners just because I think it's healthy to have other things in your life, so that when things aren't going your way, you're not just sitting in your room pouting because that's the only thing you have going on. I definitely like to keep busy and have other things going on so that I'm not constantly focusing on how my workout went that day.

(Interview conducted April 9, 2003, Posted April 15, 2003)

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