Loudoun Valley High (Purcellville, Va.) senior distance talent Drew Hunter was today named the 2015-16 Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year. A two-time Gatorade Virginia Runner of the Year, the 5-foot-11, 140-pound Hunter won the national Foot Locker Cross Country Championships this past season with a time of 14:55.7, breaking the tape 12.2 seconds ahead of his closest competitor. Hunter was unbeaten at 5K in 2015 and clocked a 15:04 to win the Group 4A state title by 56 seconds, leading the Vikings to the state championship as a team. As part of a remarkable string of record-setting indoor performances this winter, he broke the national high school record in the mile for a second time this past weekend, crossing the line in 3:57.81 at Manhattan’s Millrose Games.
We sat down with Hunter, 18, to better understand how he outshined more than 250,000 high school girls cross country runners nationwide to win the award.
Q: What’s the biggest upside and the biggest downside to having two former NCAA Division I runners as your coaches, who also happen to be your parents?
A: The upside is that they know a lot and have learned a lot. The downside is that sometimes they’re coaches first and parents second, which makes sense because they are my coaches and we’re all in the house. We have little petty disagreements sometimes, but it’s no big deal.
Q: Before high school, you used to think XC was something for people who couldn’t do other sports? You joined the team as an afterthought as a freshman and by the time you rolled an ankle that same basketball season, you were hooked enough to quit all your other athletic pursuits and focus on running. How do you explain that?
A: I just thought I’d be best at running and would be more successful long-term, so it was an easy switch.
Q: What would surprise most readers about the day-to-day of living in a household along with eight brothers and sisters?
A: It’s not as hectic as people might think. It’s not like an episode of “Full House” or anything. Everybody always sort of does their own thing around the house. I’m just a sibling to them. I’m just Drew at home, not the Gatorade Runner of the Year.
Q: You’re buddies with The Fish (two-time Gatorade NROY Grant Fisher, now a freshman at Stanford) and you became the first high school boy to beat him since his sophomore year last June at the Brooks PR Invitational (in the 1500). Do you still remind him of that?
A: Nah. Grant is a really good guy and someone I look up to. I didn’t view it as my most incredible victory. It was about competing against someone who I respect and like. If you asked him, I’d bet he’d say it was a great experience for him because it prepared him for college, where you don’t win all the time anymore.
Q: What’s with your eat-a-salad-once-a-day rule?
A: I always have a salad with protein. Today’s lunch is that. It’s a go-to and it’s healthy. It settles well in my stomach so I can run afterwards. It also keeps off any unnecessary weight.
Q: In the past, you have tended to be a little slow off the line at the gun. Is there any way to work on that?
A: Practice, practice. You work on running fast from a standing start. I don’t worry about it too much. I’ve gotten better.
Q: You’ve run against elite fields of world-class pros and collegians three times in the past month. What’s that step-up like?
A: It’s a totally different type of racing. I’m not in front and I’m not controlling the race. Others are dictating the terms of the race and I’m learning to run from the middle of the pack. I love it.
Q: You ran Millrose after battling a respiratory infection in the week leading up to the race. If you can run a 3:57 sick, just how fast do you think you can go?
A: Honestly, one reason I ran fast in these recent races is because it was a perfect mix of athletes with a perfect series of outcomes. I wasn’t 100 percent and you always want to be healthy when you race, but it’s not like I’m going to be five seconds faster when fully healthy. My times were a factor of the races themselves.
Q: Alan Webb is actually a friend of the family, in part because your parents coached him as a prep. Explain what it feels like to have crushed his high school indoor mile record and to potentially take aim at his outdoor record of 3:53.43 in the event?
A: It’s really cool. The indoor record was one a lot of people thought would never go down. To break it was surprising. Outdoors, I don’t think I’ll catch that one, but it will be fun to try.
Q: You talk about making your “own legacy.” That’s bold language for an 18-year-old. What gives you the confidence to back that up?
A: At the end of the day, I don’t ever want to look back and wish I’d done something more or differently. I want to take control of my future and not have any regrets in my racing career. I want to enjoy the moment and any time I spend at the top and I want to continually strive to get better.