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Interview: Natasha Roetter

Natasha Roetter on her way to a 4th-place finish at the 2000 Foot Locker High School Cross Country Championships.
(Photo: Jim Cox)

Natasha Roetter (rhymes with Letter) enters her senior year at Lexington (Mass.) High School as one of the top high school runners in the country. After finishing 4th at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships last fall, she is the second-fastest returnee behind 3rd placer Laura Zeigle of Utah. When asked about her goals for the upcoming season, Roetter doesn't mention national titles. Instead, she talks about helping her Lexington team to a Massachusetts state title and just qualifying for the national meet again. After her spectacular fall, Roetter battled illness throughout the indoor season but came back well in the spring to win State and New England titles in the two-mile, running a personal best of 10:33. She then went on to finish 6th at the Adidas Outdoor Track & Field Championships in 10:39.68. (July 2001) You surprised a lot of people last year with your early-season cross country performances last year, but by the end of the season, you had established yourself as one of the best high school runners in the country. You obviously didn't come out of nowhere, but where did you come from?
Natasha Roetter: I don't know, to tell you the truth (laughs). I was pretty good my sophomore year and then my first race my junior year was like a minute-and-a-half faster than what my best had been sophomore year on our home course... I don't really know what happened.

Did you change your training?
No, not really. I had a stress fracture in the spring of my sophomore year so I started doing a lot of pool running, which I think made a big difference.

Have you continued pool running?
Yeah, it's actually pretty much all I've been doing this month (July) because I tore my quad and I can't really run, which is starting to frustrate me but hopefully it'll get better soon.

Was it a specific incident that caused the injury?
I injured it kickboxing, actually (laughs). I belong to this health club and a bunch of my friends and I decided we'd do every class this summer. Kickboxing is the best class so we did it every week and I think I just kicked wrong. The next day I was just in pain. I'm kicking myself now (no pun intended), but it's okay, I guess it's good to have some time off.

Do you think you'll be back running soon?
I hope so. Hopefully within a week I'll be able to start running. I can go pool running which is good because that's what I did all spring and when I went back to running, I felt even better than when I stopped. So hopefully I won't lose too much.

What kind of workouts do you do in the pool?
I just go back and forth and do all kinds of drills, it's kind of boring... One of my friends who also does cross country does it with me a lot of the time. It's more fun to do when you don't have to do it. Sometimes during the season we'll decide to go pool running on the weekend instead of running outside, but it gets pretty tedious when it's all you can do.

Do you do it for a long time?
Yeah. It takes about an hour. It's just so nice out and I'm anxious to get back to running.

You had such a successful year this past year, now going into your senior year, everyone knows who you are and you're not going to surprise anyone. How is it different being the favorite versus being the underdog?
I don't really like it (laughs). I liked going down to Foot Locker and being pretty anonymous and not having to deal with as much pressure. I saw how that stuff really got to some of the other girls who were predicted to win. I know it's going to happen, I hope it doesn't though... I just have to try to not listen to it and separate myself from it. It's kind of hard.

Right now are you even able to think about your goals for the upcoming season or is it difficult?
It's hard because I can't run right now and that's frustrating me. I don't know, I just want to enjoy the season and, after this, stay injury free. I want my team to do really well because we have a really good team... We really wanted to win the [State] Championship last year and it didn't work out for us. So hopefully… I want to qualify for Nationals again because it was so fun to go, I don't really care how I do once I'm down there, I just want to get to go.

Could you tell us a little about that whole Nationals experience and what it was like?
I enjoyed it a lot more after the race was over (laughs). Usually, before races, I try to just not think about it and hang out with my friends who don't run track, and just not really focus on it. It's really hard to do that when you're down there hanging out with 32 of the best runners in the nation. Everyone's kind of sizing each other up, everyone's making predictions and looking at everyone's times from the qualifying race. It was pretty stressful before the race itself but after the race you look back on it and you're like, That was really fun. They treated us like kings and queens. We stayed at [a hotel that was] like a castle, the meals we were given... We got to be in a Disney parade… After the race we just got to sunbathe and go to the water park. It was really fun - and it was free.

And did you stay up all night the night after the race?
Yeah. I think most people did. One or two people were like "We have homework to do."

Could you tell us a little about what happened after cross country season, you were sick during the winter?
Yeah, I had whooping cough. I think we kind of underestimated it. As soon as I got it, I should have just stopped for a week and recovered. But we thought, Oh it's just a cold, so I kept going to school, I kept running through it and it kind of lingered. I didn't really get to train how I wanted during the winter.

Was it hard for you to get back up to speed?
Not really, because I kept training. I kind of just needed it to get warm out and once it [did], it finally just went away. I was having complications, it was causing asthma and it was just a mess.

And it can't help running indoors when you have whooping cough.
Yeah, we have a track at our school and it's just really dusty and old, it just wasn't good.

Were you happy with your spring then?
Uh huh, I was. I wanted to run faster at Nationals because I was looking forward to being able to push myself against other people. But I didn't really prepare for it very well because we focused more of the season on the team and trying to win the League Championship. I was running in every duel meet, which was like twice a week and I was really tired at the end of the season. At the state meet, my coach was having me run 4x8s and 2-miles together. It wasn't really looking to Nationals. By the time I got to it, I just wanted to be done, I was really tired and worn out by that point.
I think this outdoor season, we're going to work a little more on preparing for [Nationals] better.

What are you up to this summer, other than training?
I'm working -- because I need to make some money -- at a local farm stand called Wilson Farms. It's pretty well known. It's got every kind of fruit and vegetable, I don't even know what everything is. People come to me and they hand me something and I don't even know what it is. But, I'm working there and just spending time with my friends. My mom's trying to get me to do my college essays but that's just not happening. (Laughs)

Mmm, college. Have a lot of college coaches approached you at this point?
Yeah, after July 1st they could.

And any thoughts yet?
Well, at first I was all stressed about it but then I figured I'm going to be happy wherever I go. I just looked at Columbia and Yale and I really liked those two schools. I looked at Duke and met with the coaches when I was down there for Nationals. I've kind of narrowed it down to Yale, Columbia, Duke and Georgetown… And maybe Stanford.

I know I'll be happy at any of those places so I don't really want to confuse myself. I like them all. When I was at Columbia I was like "Oh, I want to come here" and then I talked to the Duke coach and I was like "They're so nice, I want to go there." I don't know, it's going to be terrible, I'm really indecisive so I don't know how I'm going to decide.

You'll have to pick out of a hat.
I think I'm going to have to (laughs).

So are Track and Cross Country popular at Lexington High School?
(Laughs) They're not very popular. We have a terrible football team and after we won our Class A title -- and were League Champions and went undefeated -- and they like lost a game miserably, the headline was like "Football loses by only three touchdowns" and we got a tiny little blurb: "Oh yeah, cross country team wins state." If the football team ever became League Champions, we'd have pep rallies… I can kind of understand though because unless you do it, you can't really understand the appeal of it. People look at us and they're like "Wow, they're really good" but no one really comes to our meets or anything.

Do your classmates understand how good you (individually) are compared to the rest of the country?
(Laughs) After they saw me on ESPN, they could understand that. [They thought] that was the coolest thing. Everyone was like "Wait, I thought you alright but then I saw you on ESPN and I was like 'whoa, she's good, she was on ESPN!'" So that kind of made people think I was good. I don't really like it though so I'd rather people not know.

Do a lot of your friends run?
One of my best friends does cross country, and another one of my friends hurdles in indoor track but other than that, none of them really run... It's nice because I can really just get away from it after track is over.

What other activities are you involved in at school?
I'm on class council and National Honor Society and between that and school and track, I don't really have much time.

Are you one of those people who knows everything about running, knows all your times and everyone else's times and studies the various running web sites?
Not at all. It's really funny, there's actually a couple guys on our cross country team who are such track dorks. This one kid figures out 400 splits for my mile to the [hundredth of a second]. He rattles off all the times like "Oh yeah, last year at the Burlington course, you ran this [time], what are you hoping to run this year?" He tells me what like Alan Webb's splits are, he's obsessed with Dathan… [The guys are] just so funny. They time every run and tell us how fast we're going per mile. I never do anything like that.

Does it help you not to think about it?
Yeah, because I think if I obsessed over it... I don't see the point, really. In cross country, it's so hard with times because every course is different. I pay more attention to that sort of thing during outdoor and indoor because you need to know your splits and that sort of thing. But in cross country, it's sort of hard.

What is it that you love about running. Is it the training? The racing? The camaraderie of the team?
I like being on the team and I like training after a hard workout, not really during it. I like going for long runs when you just feel really good. I like racing after the race is over too. During the race, often in cross country, if I'm going up a huge hill, I'm like "Why do I do this sport?" (Laughs). But when you're done, it's okay.

I think it's pretty normal to wonder why you're doing it every once in a while.
Right before the race starts, it's the most terrible feeling in the world (laughs), I dread it. I hate warming up so much. You always feel tired and you question yourself. You do a stride and you're like "Why am I breathing so hard? Why was that stride so hard?" I wish I didn't have to warm up, I wish I could just go run.

In most of your races you probably don't have to think about strategy much, you just go to the front and stay there. When you do have competition, do you like to run from the front?
Not really. I wish I had more practice [with having competition] with that going into big races. I didn't really know what to do with myself at Nationals because it was the only race that year where I had been challenged. Because I don't really know what to do, I like to let someone else take the lead.

Is it true that you didn't start running until your sophomore year?
I did indoor track my freshman year but I did like the 600 and the 400.

What first made you become a runner, did you do other sports first?
Yeah, I did every single sport possible. I did it pretty much because I have two older brothers and my middle brother was kind of the one [that got me started]. He and I were both obsessed with basketball from the time we were about seven years old. I did basketball, basketball, basketball until around 8th grade and then I broke my thumb and I was like "I don't want to do this anymore." So I just kind of stopped and my brother didn't have much luck with basketball either... so he did track. The track coaches are so nice and he had success in track -- he was a very good runner too, and he kind of got me into track so that's kind of why I did it freshman year. I did field hockey freshman year, I did lacrosse, I did soccer before that… I did them all.

Usually runners take up running because they're not coordinated…
I was coordinated but now that I've started running, I've lost my coordination. And people pick me for teams in gym because they think I'll be good at like volleyball and kickball, and then I'm terrible. They're like "What's wrong with you? You were on ESPN, why aren't you good!"

Do you get to run the mile in gym class?
No, we have to do like three warm-up laps before class and the gym teachers get on my back when I jog them like a normal person. They think I should just like tear around the track. And I say "No, it's okay, I'm just going to jog like everyone else."

If you were healthy right now, what would you normally be doing for training?
What I was doing was going on runs [based on] how I felt -- it usually ended up being around an hour, maybe a little longer, maybe a little shorter depending on how I felt or how it fit into my schedule. And I was doing cross training like the kickboxing and pool running a couple days of week, just for some variety.

What's the peak mileage you usually hit?
I don't know… maybe like 50 miles a week? 60 miles a week?

During the season, how many days a week would you do speedwork?
It was hard this spring because we had a lot of duel meets, like twice a week. We'd have meets like Tuesday, Thursday and maybe Saturday but we'd try to get in at least one good workout a week and other days we'd just do strides or something like that.

What will you do during cross country?
It's usually like once a week we do a good workout - we have meets once a week in cross country.

Do you run in all the meets?
I did last year, I don't know what [my coach] is going to do this year.

What invitationals will you be going to in cross country?
The Brown Invitational… I haven't decided if I'm going to the Great American one yet.

We know that Lexington has a good team, but is there anyone close to you that can push you in the workouts?
Samantha Smith and Catalina Palfreman are both very good. They both run about 5:20 miles and about 11:15 for two miles. They're really good.

And do you ever train with the boys team?
Yeah, we run with the boys team a lot... I like doing workouts with the boys, they don't like it (Laughs).

Finally, what advice do you have for young runners out there?
Don't let it control your life, don't let it take over, just enjoy it and still be able to do what you want. Make it fit in, don't make it become everything, make sure you have other interests, because if you get injured or something like that, it's just good to have balance.

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