Camas (Wash.) High junior distance talent Alexa Efraimson was today named the 2013-14 Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. The 5-foot-8 junior raced to the national title at the Nike Cross Nationals Final this past season, breaking the tape with a course-record time of 16:50.1. The 2012-13 Gatorade Washington Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year, Efraimson also captured the Class 4A individual state cross country championship with a course-record time of 17:01.1, leading the Papermakers to second place as a team. She also won the Nike Pre-Nationals, the Nike BorderClash and the Bill Dellinger Invitational, and finished first at the NXN Northwest Regional championships in 17:27.1.
We sat down with Efraimson to better understand how she outshined more than 215,000 high school distance runners nationwide to win the award.
Q: When you think about who’s held this trophy in their hands—Allyson Felix, Alan Webb, Marion Jones—how does a 17-year-old who’s still figuring out how fast she is process this?
A: To even be considered in this company is so humbling. I can’t believe I’m now part of that family.
Q: You come across as so innocent, but on the course, you’re all business. Do you flip a switch or are you just pretending when you’re being nice to the rest of us?
A: I’m not pretending! I’m very focused on my goals at race time and the race at hand. If I were like that all the time, it’d be pretty exhausting.
Q: One of your mantras is “TUFF,” which stands for The Ultimate Female Freak. Explain.
A: It was introduced my freshman year by a team captain. The idea is: we don’t want to be regular. As my coach puts it, there are freak athletes, mega-freak athletes and then the ultimate. It’s really just about setting the right mentality.
Q: How scary was the brief period you were deemed ineligible to compete by the state association for having run against (and beaten) a field of collegiate runners this past October?
A: I just tried not to focus on the situation, but rather on my training. Whatever happens, happens, and I was going to make the best of the situation regardless.
Q: Do you think missing 18 days of competitive racing in October (due to suspension) actually helped you at Portland Meadows given how late your track season ended (at the World Youth Championships, July 13)?
A: I think it did help. Racing can be really mentally draining. It was nice to relax that part of me a bit.
Q: You fell back off the leaders more than once at Nike Cross Nationals, but reeled them in every time. What goes through your head when it looks like you’re beaten that pushes you to close the gap?
A: My coach had told me ‘you cannot let those gaps open up’ because they get harder and harder to close. Somewhere around 3K, I fell back and I really had to stride out to pull forward and keep contact and I felt it. I just battled to stay as close as I could after that.
Q: Explain to the average obsessed-with-who-finished-first sports fan why cross country is still, at its core, a team sport.
A: My teammates are my best friends. They support me and believe in me and those girls are my running family. When I was coming into the last 300 meters at the NXN Final, I could see them there on the sidelines. Team support and membership is so important in cross country.
Q: You write an inspirational quote on your leg before each race. What goes into the selection process for choosing such a thing?
A: I have a specific goal for each race and I never repeat from race to race. Sometimes it’s not even about running. It might be about determination or motivation.
Q: If you’re running career ended unexpectedly tomorrow, what would your new passion be?
A: I would probably still want to be involved in the sport. To train other athletes and help them reach their goals and dreams. If not, I think I’d be a baker. Although every time I try to bake from something I’ve seen on Pinterest, it never looks as good.