Air Academy High (Colorado Springs, Colo.) senior distance talent Katie Rainsberger was today named the 2015-16 Gatorade National Runner of the Year. The 5-foot-9 senior raced to the national title at the Nike Cross Nationals Final this past season, breaking the tape in 16:56.8. A two-time Gatorade Colorado Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, Rainsberger was unbeaten at 5K in 2015. She won the Class 4A individual state championship in a course-record 17:39, leading the Kadets to the program’s first-ever team state title. Rainsberger also clocked a 17:07 to win her second consecutive NXN Southwest Regional championship.
We sat down with Rainsberger, 17, to better understand how she outshined more than 220,000 high school girls cross country runners nationwide to win the award.
Q: You were a hardcore soccer player until not too long ago. A United States Youth Soccer State Cup MVP at forward in 2012. Three broken wrists (two right, one left). Time between the posts as a keeper. Do you even risk playing pickup anymore?
A: I do play pickup. I even played in an indoor soccer league last year with some guys from the school, which may not have been a great idea. I go to a running camp in Breckenridge every summer and we scrimmage in soccer after our double-sessions for at least an hour. A lot of girls in cross country have a soccer background, so it gets pretty competitive.
Q: You come from a state of legendary prep distance running talent, including two-time Gatorade Colorado Track & Field Athlete of the Year Melody Fairchild (1989-91), three-time State T&F AOY Megan Kaltenbach (2000-03) and two-time State Cross Country Runner of the Year Elise Cranny. How does it feel to be the first ever National ROY from your state and the only other national XC or track honoree since 1985-86?
A: I think to be the first Colorado recipient to win this award is inspiring and humbling at the same time. I look up to runners like Elise Cranny Melody Fairchild. In fact, I think Melody is one of the best distance runners ever, not just the best to come out of Colorado. I think there’s a certain Colorado running pride that I’m not sure you find in other states. You want to represent for Colorado and that’s exciting to be a part of. It’s funny because my mom coaches privately with that Colorado winner from 1985, Yolanda Hill (née Yolanda Johnson), whose daughter Dior is at USC (and was a two-time Gatorade State Track & Field Athlete of the Year in high school).
Q: Can you believe you’ve reached this level having started out running 25 miles a week as a freshman? And as long as we’re asking, what do you top out at nowadays?
A: I top out around 50 now with a day off about every two weeks. It’s crazy to look back and see my progression because I’ve kept running logs for years. So, I can go back and look at a workout from two and half years ago and look at the difference in pace and rest periods. There are a lot of similarities as far as the workout structure goes, just small progressions. I think that’s part of why I’ve had success. It’s because of that steady, consistent progression rather than anything drastic.
Q: We know this is setting you up to sound cocky, but you won the state title by 25 seconds and the national title by almost 13 this past season. No disrespect to the other competitors, but you could have read the Denver Post’s front page headlines and sipped a cup of coffee before your fastest challengers crossed the line. How do you explain that?
A: I think you gain confidence from your workouts and your coaches and from racing well. I think being able to just ‘go’ from the gun racing in Colorado or being able to race in a regional and you’re not alone at two miles, then knowing you can ‘go’ at that point and you’ll have enough left at the finish. I think going into every race with respect for my competition has helped propel me.
Q: You were the leader of a young team this year and yet you won a state team title and your top five all finished in the top 30 at states. That’s got to rank right up where with this huge individual trophy you got today, no?
A: That’s really one of the best moments of the season. Just seeing the freshman celebrate and my best friend on the team, who’s also a senior, and we had a junior transfer. We all made the effort and worked so hard. It came together at the right moment and I think we’ll have the momentum to do well again next year.
Q: It’s well known that your mom is the last American woman to win a Boston Marathon. How has her elite experience in the sport helped you and do you ever see yourself pushing out to marathon distance someday as a competitor rather than just for fun?
A: Right now, 26 miles seems pretty much like I’m going to puke. Ten years down the road, I might give it consideration. I have a speed component that I don’t think my mom ever developed because she was a swimmer growing up. To have her expertise and support has been huge. Of course, sometimes I don’t want to hear it because she’s my mom. But she knows what I’m going through because she’s been there. She knows how I’m feeling about a workout or that I want to eat that cookie. She’s been amazing and I wouldn’t have it any other way..
Q: At the end of a long season and after you’d tapered to your peak, you were the first American to cross the line (5th–14:29) at the unfamiliar 4K distance at this month’s Great Edinburgh XCountry International Challenge. You were also the youngest finisher in a field dominated by collegians and international juniors. What was your experience with Team USA like?
A: It’s such and honor and a sense of pride to represent your country. You’re already wearing that jersey, so you have nothing to lose. It’s great for development and experience, but it’s also great to travel the world and learn how other people live.
Q: You’ve traveled to Colombia for the Pan American Games and to China for the Junior World Cross Country Championships. What have those experiences taught you from an event-training perspective and from a citizen-of-the-world point of view?
A: From an event perspective, it was a really long cross country season last year from August to March. I just went into those events with an open mind. I think it helped to be exposed to the 6K distance, which should help in college. As a citizen of the world, it’s great to be exposed to societal norms that are different than ours. I think as Americans, we have a tendency to stereotype. Those trips have taught me about food and cultures and it aids your viewpoint of the world.
Q: You won three individual state track titles as a junior. What are your designs nationally outdoors in 2016?
A: I’m definitely going to try run a fast 1500. I may try for the Olympic Trials standards. I’ll run the 800 indoors.