Interview With Megan Kaltenbach
By Becky Orfinger

Megan Kaltenbach on her way to victory in the mile at the 2002 adidas Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Photo: Victah@Photo Run
Kaltenbach runs among the pack at the 2001 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.

When she first emerged on the national prep scene as a sophomore, running a close second to Alicia Craig at the 2000 Great American Cross Country Festival, Megan Kaltenbach was known as the girl who was splitting her time between club soccer player and high school cross country. Two years later, Kaltenbach has given up soccer (though she misses it dearly) and is leading Smoky Hill High School to an anticipated Colorado state cross country title. Kaltenbach, who is expected to be one of the top contenders at the Foot Locker National Cross County Championships in December, had an outstanding track season in 2002 and hopes to replicate her success on the trails as well. Among her accomplishments in track during 2002, Kaltenbach ran the fastest mile in the nation (4:43.54) and a 10:03.35 3,200m at the Golden West Invitational. It seems like just yesterday that you and Molly Huddle had that great mile duel at the Adidas Outdoor Championships in Raleigh, N.C. But cross country season has already started. How is your season going so far? [Ed. Note: As of this conversation, Kaltenbach had only run one race.]
Megan Kaltenbach: It's going well so far -- I just ran one race, and I don't have any speed yet, so I ran pretty slow. But it is a hard course -- I ran 18:45 -- and it was at [an altitude of] 7,000 feet. But it was fun.

FW: What about the rest of your team? Are they pretty competitive this year?
Our team is going to be really, really good. We went 1-2-3 at that first meet, and we beat the team that won at that meet last year. We had 41 points and they had 79. This year is the first year we've been expected to be good. We had a preseason ranking of 15th in the nation in The Harrier. We're much better this year than we were last year, when we got second at the state meet. This year, we should really dominate.

FW: You've already had a lot of individual success. It must be a lot more exciting to have a strong team to back you up -- especially in your senior year.
My freshman year, only three of us on the team made it to [the] State [championships], and now we are 15th in the nation. So…it's pretty cool!

Our first big meet is next Friday -- we get a chance to race the team that's ranked 8th in The Harrier since they are coming down from Utah. [Kaltenbach won that race in a course record time of 17:36 and Smoky Hill won the team race. The Utah team mentioned, Mountain View, did not show up for the meet.]

FW: How did you spend this summer, training and otherwise?
I just did a lot of base work, no speed work. I'm starting to do speed now, because I work best off of speed. During the summer, I ran with my sister [Smoky Hill's #2 runner, Katelyn Kaltenbach] basically every day. She plays soccer also, so running together now is harder. She actually fractured her toe in soccer but she's still running. She's really strong. I did one week at my highest mileage ever, 50. I think it was actually more like 55, but we were doing some walking and running since we were going over mountain passes.

Other than running, I just hung out with my friends and went to the pool. My friends and I hiked two fourteeners [Ed. Note: In Colorado speak, a fourteener is a 14,000-foot mountain].

FW: Wow. Speaking of altitude, do you think living at such a high altitude gives you an edge over your competitors?
Definitely. Even when I come back from the National Outdoor meet in North Carolina, I feel the difference. I went to Mexico for Spring Break this year for seven days and ran there and everything, and when I came back, it felt so different. Racing at sea level feels so much easier.

FW: Will your positive experience with living and training in altitude affect your college decision?
No. It might if there were more colleges in high altitudes. But then again, CU [University of Colorado] is one of my top five choices, so I can't really say altitude will have nothing to do with my decision.

FW: Have you started officially visiting colleges yet?
I've only taken an unofficial visit to CU, and then my first official one is at Villanova in a couple of weeks. And I have visits planned for Stanford, North Carolina, an official to CU, and my fifth official is still up in the air right now. I'm still narrowing it down -- it's between Duke, Notre Dame and Wisconsin.

FW: You'll have to watch how those three teams do this season to help you make your decision.
Well, I want to sign early, so I won't get to see what happens with [cross country] NCAAs. But it will be nice to get the whole decision-making thing out of the way. If I can ever decide -- it's going to be hard!

FW: What kind of things are you looking for in a college?
A really good team, a really good coach, pretty good academics. I'd really like to join a fun team. I'm not the type of girl who's going to sit at home every night because I am on the track team. I'm going to want to go out -- you only have four years of college. I mean, the night before a race, I'm not going to go out and party, but I'm not going to stay at home with nothing to do because I have a race in three weeks, either. Hopefully, these college visits will show me which teams I'd fit in well with.

FW: Do you know what you want to study? That might help narrow down the choices.
I always tell everyone that I want to be a professional runner, but broadcasting is my backup plan. Maybe I can do both at the same time when I get older. We need an American runner to do something really big so that more people want to see track on T.V. I think if we had a really good woman miler -- someone who won the Olympics -- people would pay more attention to track.

FW: Maybe Suzy Favor-Hamilton can do it. She's fast and she's a model.
Suzy is so cool, actually. So is Sarah Schwald. I met them at the Foot Locker cross country meet. Suzy is so great with the kids at the Foot Locker meet -- she's just awesome. I got my belly button pierced recently because Suzy told me I should. Plus, I made a deal with my dad that if I won every single race that I ran in track this season, I could get it pierced!

FW: Is Suzy one of the reasons that you are considering making an official visit to Wisconsin? [Favor-Hamilton won nine NCAA titles while at Wisconsin].
Yeah. I saw in the brochure that she is an assistant coach there, which would be really cool. I think Suzy and Sarah Schwald train with the Wisconsin team sometimes. Plus, I just want to go visit her [laughs]. I don't know though, because I would love to be on a team that is competing for the NCAA title, and Wisconsin wasn't that competitive last year.

FW: You mentioned one of the perks of qualifying for the national cross country meet, meeting professional runners from all over the country. What else was cool about your experiences there as a sophomore and a junior?
Those two experiences were definitely very different from each other. The first time, it was kind of like, 'Wow, I can't believe I made it, this is so much fun!' and the second time, it was actually kind of repetitive because we did mostly the same stuff. It's awesome that it is someplace new this year [San Diego]. I also did not enjoy the whole experience as much last year because I just wasn't having a good cross country season-I really didn't run well there. This year will hopefully be my third time at this meet, and I better have a good race.

FW: Well, you are one of the top returnees from last year and a preseason pick in The Harrier to win the race. Do you think it will help you to know that all those expectations are out there?
I think it might. In track, I always have a lot of expectations to live up to, especially after I ran a 10:11 in the 3,200 sophomore year. This year I ran really well in track, too, when a lot of people expected me to.

But I definitely think there were specific reasons why I had such a bad season in cross country last year. First of all, freshman and sophomore year, I played soccer and ran cross country. Last year was the first year that I only ran, so I think my legs took some extra time to get used to the mileage. I was kind of sluggish and tired -- I had never run six days a week before. Even though I still didn't lose a race in Colorado last cross season, it was work for me to do what I had done easily the year before.

I was growing and my body was changing, so that affected me. During track, I started getting used to some of the changes, so all the basework I had done during cross country ended up helping me in the shorter races. Hopefully this year, my legs are more adjusted. Or else, I just have a cross country curse! [Laughs]. My coach told me that everyone has a bad year, and to be glad at least I made it to Foot Locker during mine.

FW: You must be psyched for your senior year, then, when you will hopefully rid yourself of the cross country curse forever.
I'm totally psyched. It felt really good when I ran that 18:45 [in her first meet] and this week, I've done two track workouts that were really good. I do my [cross] workouts on the track now because the grass is so bumpy. We found out that running on grass like that can cause more injuries to your hips, so we do most of our workouts on the track or on a golf course where the grass is flattened out. We do hill repeats once a week, too, so we aren't always running where it is flat.

This week, I did 4 x 1000 on Thursday and 8 x 500 on Tuesday. My coach [Greg Weich] ran all four 1000s with me -- he does a lot of my workouts with me. It helps having him with me, I love it. Especially on longer intervals where it gets hard to focus. I ran the 1000s in 3:21, 3:20, 3:19 and 3:16. Definitely not all-out, but training at 5:20 [mile] pace here [at altitude] is a lot different than at sea level.

FW: Does your coach adjust your team's workouts for you, or do you have totally different workouts than the other girls?
He gives everyone different times to hit based on what he thinks they can do. He is the best coach ever. He's been coaching at Smoky Hill for 10 years, but he went from having 10 kids on the team to having a few good individuals -- the best boy on our team [Brent Vaughn] won state in cross country last year and ran a 9:06 two-mile in the spring -- to having a team that is ranked 15th in the nation. And I think we're even better than that, but we'll see. We also have three assistant coaches who are really good and run with us.

FW: Are you close with Brent? You two must be looking at some of the same colleges.
Yeah, it's really cool because we are in similar situations. We want to go to the same school next year, but I doubt we will. He has basically the same top five choices as I do, except he doesn't have Chapel Hill in there because their guys' team isn't that good. He's also interested in the University of Washington.

FW: Do any of your coaches give you advice on choosing a college?
Yes, they all have something to say about it. Greg has serious stuff to say -- he's very negative on some schools and very positive about some others. He's followed running a lot longer than I have, so I trust him. He also knows me really well. He's scared for me to go into a program where life is running -- he's knows I'm not like that at all.

FW: Yes, we've heard that you have a lot of other stuff going on in your life besides your success in running.
Yeah, people get so obsessed with [running], I just don't get it. A lot of people eat all healthy all the time and everything -- it's not like I eat really bad stuff all the time or something, but I'm not going to sacrifice my whole life for running. I mean, maybe when I'm the Olympics, but I'm not at that level yet. I can just have fun right now.

FW: Were you surprised at the strict training regimens that your competitors adhered to (special diets, super-high mileage) when you first started traveling to national meets?
I remember meeting Alicia Craig at Great American my sophomore year, and she was surprised at the low mileage that I ran. She ran really high mileage in high school, and mine is really low. A lot of people run hard every day, and I definitely try to take it easy some days. She was really into nutrition, too, like making her own energy bars and stuff, which surprised me.

FW: Many of the elite high school runners take training and competition really seriously these days. Maybe it is because of the Internet -- people think they know all about their competitors because they read about them online.
I will always remember that the first time I went on Dyestat, after I won indoor nationals in the two-mile, I read on the message boards that people thought I definitely looked anorexic. I just laughed because I was sitting there eating McDonald's at the time! So the running community is definitely so wrong about stuff sometimes.

But seriously, that is a really sad thing in our sport. So many girls have eating problems. I don't know how they do it -- I get the shakes when I don't eat, how do they run? I'd rather eat too much before practice than not eat enough.

FW: On a completely different subject, is it a lot of fun having your sister on the team with you?
Yeah, we're really close. I'm going to be sad when I have to go to college. She wants to run and play soccer in college, and that's what she tells every college coach that comes to visit me!

FW: What kind of advice do your parents have for you about college?
They just want me to be happy, but they realize that I have a lot of better opportunities that I wouldn't have without running. Some of the schools I'm looking at I could go to without my running, but others I couldn't. All of the schools I'm interested in have good broadcasting programs -- UNC is number one in the nation for broadcast journalism, and CU is really good, too.

FW: Do you know a lot of the girls on the CU team already, just because you live so close to Boulder?
Yeah, I just went up there last weekend to hang out with them, basically. I'm really good friends with Erika [Odlaug] and the Zeigles. They are all really nice to me because they want me to come there next year! Not the girls so much, but the guys, because I dated a guy on their team for a year and now we are just friends. They are always teasing me that they will hate me if I don't decide to go to CU.

FW: You and Erika are both soccer converts -- do you every play anymore?
No, I never do, and it's really sad. Our team was really good. I was captain and we won state and we went to Europe and actually won tournaments there. It was a lot of fun, especially since soccer is so big there. I didn't watch the World Cup this summer because it makes me too sad to watch soccer.

FW: Going back to track season last spring, was that mile race against Molly Huddle in Raleigh a really exciting victory for you?
That rocked. I was scared because that was only the second time I had run the mile at a national meet. The first one was at Penn Relays this year and I had a horrible race -- I went out too fast.

FW: But didn't you win the mile at Penn?
Yeah, but I didn't run well. This is what happened: My 800 [split] in the middle of the race was a 2:18, which was idiotic. After that, I started dying. I hated that race. My flight to Philadelphia was also delayed, so I got there at 2:00 a.m. the day of my race. It was bad.

FW: So do you think that ultimately, you're a miler?
I hope so! That's what I want to be. I've never really trained for the mile specifically, so I think I have room for improvement. I've never really trained for the 800 either, and I ran a 2:10 at altitude, so I wonder what I could do in the mile. I think the speed just comes from soccer.

FW: You haven't had too many problems with injuries so far in your career -- do you think that can be attributed to the fact that you've kept your mileage pretty low?
I think my coach is really smart, and I think I make sure to eat enough. I think that a lot of people who get hurt don't eat enough or run too much mileage for what their body can handle. I've had some shinsplint problems. After a big race in indoor track once, I had to take a week off and run in the pool because my shins were so bad.

FW: Being from Colorado, you must get compared to Melody Fairchild a lot.
This one reporter called me recently, and he was like, 'You're a lot bigger than Melody Fairchild was in high school.' He wanted to know what I ate. I was so mad. I told him that with all the problems in our sport, he should not be asking me that. I told him I eat whatever I want to eat.

She still has all the records -- 16:48 at altitude or something for a 5K. I'm so mad, though, because her record for the two-mile is a 10:30-something, at altitude, and I ran a 10:03 at sea level, and the [state] won't take my time and convert it so it would be the record. They did at first, but then they changed their minds.

FW: Have you ever met her?
I did last week for the first time, actually, at the meet we had in Boulder. She's a high school coach up there now. She was really nice.

FW: Finally… What are your major goals for cross country this season?
Well, I want to place really high at Nationals, and break 17:00. This year will also be the fourth consecutive time I win State, hopefully. It would be great to go undefeated the whole season.

Becky Orfinger is a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer and runner.
(Interview posted 9/24/02)

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