Interview With Mary Proulx
By Alison Wade

Mary Proulx leads wire-to-wire to win the 2002 Penn Relays Championship 5,000.
Proulx finishes 11th at the 2002 Beach to Beacon 10k.
Both Photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners

Heading into her senior year, Mary Proulx of Keene State is already a four-time NCAA Division III national champion on the track. She won the 3,000m/5,000m double outdoors in 2001 and followed it up with a 5,000m/10,000m double last spring. Proulx will attempt to add a cross country title to her collection this fall; her best finish to date is a fifth place in 2001. Proulx holds personal bests of 34:46.86 for 10,000m and 16:29.79 for 5,000m, which she ran in winning the 2002 Penn Relays Championship 5,000 against Division I competition. We caught up with Proulx at her home in Ashland, NH, shortly before she headed two hours southwest to Keene to begin the school year. Starting off with your NCAA 10,000m win this year, it sounds like it was a very exciting race, how did it unfold?
Mary Proulx: Well, this was the second time I had ever run the 10k, I was a little inexperienced, so I ended up taking it out a little too fast. No one ended up coming with me until, I think, nine laps to go. Eventually [Nicole Cueno of Grinnell] ended up catching up and taking off on me. I was was like, 'Oh, this is already fast enough,' and I think her splits were maybe five seconds [per lap] faster than mine when she had gone by me. So I thought there was no way I was going to catch up to her until, maybe, two laps to go, my coach told me that her lap times were slowing down and that really got me fired up, just knowing that she was dying too (laughs). Usually I have a kick at the end, so that always helps. I caught up to her with, I think, less than a lap to go and she was just dying, so I ended up taking it after that.

FW: Was your 5,000m win (two days later) any easier?
MP: It was a lot easier. A girl from Amherst College (Carter Hamill) ended up pacing us because none of us really wanted to take it out, most of us [were doubling]. So Nicole and I decided to just draft off [Hamill] for a while, the pace was comfortable and pretty slow. I think with about six laps to go, I was getting a little nervous because I was too comfortable, that if the pace had changed, I might not be able to go with them, that I might just give up. So Nicole and I ended up passing her and picking up the pace. I think it was just down to us two again, I think she was leading with 600 meters to go and then I passed her. I hated to do that, that's what happened the year before, because Nicole was a senior and she ended up coming in second in both events. My sophomore year when I won the 3,000 and the 5,000, I ended up passing this one girl, who was a senior, twice so she graduated never being national champion. So I felt kind of mean.

FW: So why did you move up to the 5,000/10,000 double this year, was it because you don't do the steeplechase?
MP: Yeah. I like the longer distances, those are usually my best events, just because I can maintain a pace. Whereas with the mile, I decided I really hated it after indoor when I [entered the NCAA Championships] as the number one seed and ended up coming in third, so I wasn't too happy with that.

I was a little nervous trying the 10k, I wasn't sure if I'd like it because it was too far, but because they changed the [flat 3,000m] to the steeple, I guess that's why I moved up. I wanted to double and that was the only double that I would have been able to do.

FW: Going back earlier in the season, were you surprised to win the Championship 5,000 at Penn Relays or was that something you kind of had your eye on all along?
MP: Well actually, the Penn Relays is my most favorite track race, I don't know why, it's even better than Nationals. I get more excited to go to Penn Relays than anything. I definitely didn't expect to win, that's always been something that I've wanted to do, but I think that the field wasn't as strong as it used to be, or has been in the past, I guess. But I was really surprised. Again, I took it out way too fast, so I guess I learned my lesson this year, but luckily it ended up working. Eventually there were about four girls that came back up to me (after she led by a significant margin for the majority of the race). I definitely didn't think I was going to be able to stay with them (laughs). With 200 [meters to go], I guess I have my leg speed at the end of races when I need to, knock on wood (laughs).

FW: Do you consider yourself to be more of a track runner than a cross country runner?
MP: Definitely not. Even though I've been better at track, cross country's always been my favorite. I don't like having people watch me run... I hate people watching me run. Being by myself, in the woods, and not having spectators staring at you the whole time, helps a lot. I really like going up and down, instead of going around the track all the time.

FW: We heard the the conditions were pretty brutal at last year's NCAA Cross Country meet. What was it like for you?
MP: I actually didn't affect me, it was hot, I can't really remember cross country. My boyfriend (Mark Miller) ended up passing out and another one of my teammates had to go to the hospital, but the men's race was after [the women's] and it was a lot hotter. Coming from New England, we were running in snow already, and then we went out to Nationals and it was like 85, 90 degrees. It was quite a change. I didn't have spikes and the grass was wet because of all of the heat and humidity. I was trying to play it smart and not go out with the two that got ahead of me, but I think that I should have stayed with them because I think I just gave up at that point. I kind of, maybe, had it in my mind that I was in first or something (laughs), I don't know what went on. I didn't see them from the mile on, they weren't even in sight, so I think that if I had stayed with them, I could have done a lot better.

FW: So you've already won four national titles. What are your goals heading into senior year?
MP: My goal has always been to win cross country nationals. I really thought I had a chance this past year, because I really didn't think there was any [competition], or anyone really that great, because I had never heard of Dana Boyle before... I think she was always coming in and out of injuries, so I had never heard of her. I knew that Maggie Hanson was always right up there. I think this year... I'm hoping that Amber Trotter doesn't really come back strong... That's probably my only concern. I know that any given day anyone can win, but I haven't been overtraining this summer, I think that I'm just right. Last summer, I don't think I overtrained, but I think that I may have peaked too early. So I've been taking a lot of time off... my coach would kill me. I don't know, I feel like taking time off is really good for me, like if I peak too early, or, it's not that I get sick of it, but I expect too much too early, so I'm trying to alleviate that from happening. Like, 'Ooh, I gotta win the Amherst Invitational...' I think that I'm going to take it easy in the beginning of the year and not worry about the small meets.

FW: So when you say, 'Taking time off,' what do you mean by that?
MP: Well I took three weeks off after track. And then I take a day off here or there, or a few days off in a row, whenever I feel like it (laughs).

FW: So what kind of training have you done this summer?
MP: I've been probably doing about 80-plus [miles per week], because I try to do about 12, if not 15, miles a day. I might have a day off each week, so that always brings my total down. I would say probably 70-80, I've been trying. Hopefully once school starts I'll be doing more. My coach wants me to do about 15 each day.

FW: Have you done workouts this summer?
MP: No, just running.

FW: What kind of pace do you do on most of your runs?
MP: Depending on how I feel, If I'm having a good day I'll probably run like seven minute miles or a little faster. But if I have a crappy day, usually 7:30 or 7:45.

FW: What else have you been up to this summer? Have you been at home?
MP: I'm living at home right now. I was living in Keene for the summer, but I was living with five boys, so I didn't really like that idea. So I came home and I don't have a job, I'm just basically concentrating on my training, hanging out with my family and going on vacation. I did a few road races.

FW: We saw you at the Beach to Beacon 10k (she finished 11th in 35:29), what other races have you done?
MP: I did the Bill Luti 5-Miler (she won in 29:07) and that was about it. I think last summer I did four or five road races, so this summer I only wanted to do a few, just for fun.

FW: When you race in the summer, do you run as hard as you can that day?
MP: Not really. I guess I did at Beach to Beacon because my boyfriend was pacing me and we went out at 5:10 for the first mile. I was dying after that. I was like, 'Oh my God, what did you do to me?' And he was like, 'Well you were the one who was pushing the pace.' [It was] because I saw this girl that I wanted to beat who was in the elite runners category and I got there late so I was pretty far behind the starting line. I wanted to catch up with her before the first mile (laughs), and I did. And then I think she pretty much stayed with me for a little while after that. That was the only time I really pushed myself. I'm training by myself this summer. I don't ever usually run with anyone, which I like.

FW: Even during the school year you don't run with anyone?
MP: Not really. In the morning runs, if we're doing three miles I'll run with the girls. But if not, I'll either train with the guys or by myself. I don't mind it... Since my freshman year of high school when I started running, I've never had anyone to run with, so I'm kind of used to it by now. And when I do run with someone, I don't know what to do (laughs).

FW: We're very curious about your high school running career because we couldn't find much information about it. First, what high school did you go to?
MP: Plymouth Regional High School.

FW: And what kind of times did you run in high school?
MP: I ran a 5:17 mile. For the 3,200, I think I ran 11:34, and my best 5k time for cross country was 19:54. So I didn't have very good times in high school (laughs). I had a great coach, but I think by going to Keene, Pete (Thomas) really... I don't know if he saw the potential, but at most track races I would be doing four or five events and then he narrowed it down to maybe doing like one or two at a meet. I think that helped a lot, being able to concentrate more on one event, instead of four or five.

FW: So did you start improving immediately when you got to Keene?
MP: Yes, I think my freshman year I dropped like two-plus minutes off my 5k time and about a minute and a half on my two-mile. That was just my freshman year, and now it's going down in like 30-second increments... For the mile, I think I took 10 or 15 second off my freshman year.

FW: Do you have any idea how you did that, what happened?
MP: I think probably the training, more than anything. I think I slacked off in high school, maybe. If I would run with the girls, we'd run downtown, get an ice cream and walk back.

FW: Oh, you were one of those girls.
MP: Oh yeah (laughs). But it didn't... I don't know, I thought that was fine because I was still kind of number one from around my area. So I was like, 'Ooh, these are really great times.' But compared to Amber Trotter in high school or Laura Zeigle, it's like, 'Okay, maybe not.' Because they obviously trained a lot more than I did.

FW: Does it bother you that Division III gets less attention than Division I, or do you use that as an advantage somehow?
MP: For me, it seems like I'm getting a lot of press. It doesn't really bother me because... I can't say that I don't like it when I'm interviewed or anything, but I get nervous, like if someone comes up to me after a meet, I never know what to say. It really doesn't matter if people know me or not.

FW: It seems like the Keene State team has improved a lot since you first went there, is that true that it's improved a lot?
MP: Definitely. Coming into my freshman year, I had only heard of the boys' team and I was thinking, 'Ooh, the girls team is going to be just as good.' And I remember, like, Scott Jensen, he was married to one of the girls on the team, so I figured she had too be fast too. But my freshman year, we didn't even really have a team, that was kind of frustrating. But I think after that, Pete tried recruiting more. Also, my freshman year was Pete's first year as full-time coach for both girls and boys, so he wasn't even the coach. I think his name says it all. A lot of people have heard of him and what he's done with the men's program and what's going on with the women's program. We have, I think, 10 freshman girls for cross country and 18 freshman boys for cross country. And I think like 24 girls for track. So it's definitely improving, not even just in distance events -- in throwing and all the field events too.

FW: Once you started running really well freshman year, did it ever occur to you that you might want to transfer and try to get a scholarship to a Division I school?
MP: No, because I really can't say that this was my doing. I give all my credit to my coach. He is amazing... After knowing me for one week, he told my parents everything that I was going to accomplish within the four-year span. So far, every single thing has come true. I'm not joking. He told them times, he told them I would win national titles in this and that... He knows exactly the training for me to do. He doesn't push me as hard as I think he could, which is perfect. We have the best relationship... I could never leave him after what he's done for me.

FW: So have you thought beyond this coming year, do you want to try to run professionally after college?
MP: Definitely.

FW: Do you have a plan?
MP: I was planning on going to grad. school, because I'm doing an individualized major in coaching at Keene, so I was going to do a grad. assistantship. But I've been talking with Erik Nedeau, Bruce Bickford and Sarah Hann and they all said it's probably the worst thing you can do if you want to run professionally after college, because of the time constraint and everything. They've all tried it and they said it was probably their worst mistake. What I'd like to do is be sponsored right away so I don't have to work... Then go to grad. School a few years after I've run for New Balance or Nike (laughs) or anyone who will take me.

FW: Has anyone advised you about what times you'll need to hit this year if you want to get sponsored?
MP: Yup, my coach. He's told me exactly. Because his goal is to train me for USATFs and then get a qualifying time for the Olympic Trials in the 10k...

FW: So you're going back to school tomorrow (August 18)?
MP: Yes.

FW: Is this for running, or do your classes start soon?
MP: We have a week of training camp and then school starts... Pretty soon, too soon. I'm enjoying being home.

FW: Any closing thoughts?
MP: My dad, Paul Proulx, is just the most wonderful man on this whole entire earth. He comes to every race, no matter where it is. I just want to thank him for all the support, and joy that he has given to me! I love him more then life itself! I just can't explain how perfect and wonderful he is. He would drive to the bottom of the ocean for me, and I would for him too!

(Interview conducted August 18, 2002, Posted August 28, 2002)

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