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Our Interview With Cross Country National Champion Claudia Lane

2017 Foot Locker Cross Country National Champion Claudia Lane of Malibu, Calif.

Claudia Lane of Malibu, Calif. made history on December 9 when she won the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships, becoming the ninth high school runner to win the title twice in the event’s 39-year history. A junior at Malibu High School, Lane has the unique opportunity to defend her title for a third consecutive win next year–and, based on the way she led the race from start to finish, it seems entirely possible that she could do so.

Traditionally held in San Diego, Calif.’s Balboa Park, the Cross Country National Championships gathers the 40 fastest female and 40 fastest male high school athletes around the country, 10 girls and 10 boys from each of four regions (West, Midwest, Northeast and South). Though fires raged through the northern reaches of Southern California in early December, Balboa Park was untouched with clear skies, unaffected air quality and comfortable running temperatures that nestled in the mid-60s when it came time to race.

Related: Photos From The 2017 Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships

Lane, the 2016 champion, was the athlete to watch as the girls’ race began. After breaking quickly to the front, she established an early gap that none of her competitors were able to breach, clocking a 5:17 first mile and finishing the 5K distance in 17:03.4. As she sprinted toward the finish, race announcers reminded spectators that few female high school athletes have broken the 17-minute barrier in previous years–and, though Lane finished a few seconds off that mark, the goal is within reach for her in 2018 (her 2016 time was also close at 17:04.8).

One week after her victory, Women’s Running spoke with Lane about her strategy going into the race, the tips she’s picked up about running as a high school athlete and what she’s most looking forward to in 2018.

What was going through your mind during the race last weekend? What was your strategy going in?

I knew I wanted to get out fast because all the girls are so talented in that race. I didn’t want to get boxed in at the beginning and give myself a disadvantage. I wanted to get out fast and try to get to the front of the pack. My strategy was to not go crazy on the first mile, just so I wouldn’t kill myself. The second mile, right at the beginning you have that hill, and we have to do it two times. It gets pretty tiring.

I got sick two days before [the race] with a cold, so my sinuses were pretty clogged up. That morning, I did that Neti Pot thing, where you pour water up your nose and it clears your sinuses. I was running with a nose strip during the race to help me breathe. I had to deal with that mentality and just know that I could get through it.

Those of us watching the race live noticed that you looked over your shoulder a couple of times. Were you worried about losing your lead?

I looked behind me and I saw they were like 40 meters behind. I knew they weren’t too far, so I was like, I have to keep my lead and not let myself get off my pace that much.

What first inspired you to become a runner?

I ran for my first time in sixth grade. We had a cross country team at my old school called Brentwood in Santa Monica. My sister tried running–she’s two years older than me. She started running in her sixth grade year as well, so when she was in eighth grade and started doing cross country, I started doing cross country. She doesn’t really like running that much; she just kind of did it so she could do something after school, and she had fun with it. Then I got into it; I tried it in sixth grade and just loved it. I switched schools going into seventh grade, and there wasn’t a cross country or a track and field program for middle schoolers [at my new school], so I couldn’t run there until my freshman year.

I didn’t train over summer going into my freshman year because I really didn’t know anything about running. I was like, Maybe you can just start and get into shape fast, but it took me quite a bit of time to get into shape. At the beginning of the season I wasn’t very good, but I got into it and progressively got better throughout the season. I found my love for running there.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about running and competing so far?

I’ve learned so much over these past few years. Going into my freshman year, I knew nothing about running. I [ran] in sixth grade, but I had no idea about the importance of nutrition, or about giving yourself a break once in a while. I think the most important thing I’ve learned is just knowing the limits of your body.

I learned how to be nutritionally smart. [During] my sophomore year, I didn’t know how important it was to eat protein; I think all I really ate was pasta. So I learned about that, and about getting the right nutrients so I wouldn’t get tired while running. I tried to be vegetarian for a while, and I wasn’t really getting the right protein I needed. I might try that again one day soon. You have to be so smart with running, [to be sure] that you’re getting what you need.

I also learned about taking days off. I usually take Sundays off and either cross-train or take a complete day off to take that continuous pounding off my body. I give myself a mental break from running, too, because I love to run and it makes me really happy; it de-stresses me every time, but having a day where you’re not thinking about running, or about your pace and what you’re doing, I think it’s really healthy for me and gives me a day to think about stuff and catch up on homework.

Have you ever dealt with injuries?

Minor things. At the beginning of my season, it wasn’t really an injury per se; it was more of a weakness issue in my hips, so I did strengthening exercises for that. I’m still doing those with strengthening bands, so that’s helping me. One time during my sophomore year, I had a little ankle issue, but that was another stability thing, and I just had to do a few exercises. In a week it went away. It was nothing too major, which I’m grateful for.

Who are some of your heroes in the running world?

Oh, I have so many. Shalane Flanagan, she inspires me so much. Brenda Martinez and Emma Coburn are definitely two of my biggest inspirations; they were actually at [the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships], and they were so sweet. I’m so grateful to know them and have their support. Just being able to talk to them and seeing how they’re not only amazing athletes but they’re also amazing people…I think that’s amazing to have that balance when you’re continually competing and always running. They talked about the importance of finding something else you love, making sure you have a good balance in life.

What hobbies or activities do you enjoy doing to create that balance when you’re not running?

I love to read, so I do that pretty often. I love to watch Netflix, and I like to hang out with my sister when she’s home. She’s at college, but she’s back now for about two weeks, so that’s fun. I love to go to the beach with my friends until that gets boring; there’s not much other stuff to do in Malibu besides going to the beach. I love to eat in my free time. I love to take walks with my dog, I like to go on hikes with my family. I love being with animals, so I volunteer at this place called The Fauna Foundation in Malibu.

What are you looking forward to in the year ahead?

I’m super excited for 2018, I think it’ll be a really fun year. I’m excited to keep running and get closer to college.

In track, I don’t really like the 800m very much, or the 1600m, but my coach wants me to do that at the beginning of the season for speed work, so that later, when the more important stuff comes at the post-season meets, I’ll have that speed up. I’ll have my cardiovascular and aerobic base, but in addition to that I’ll have a little more speed than I did last year. I think that’ll really aid me in my races and help me close off that finishing speed and have a little more spring to my step. Personally, I’m mostly excited for the 2-mile, the 3200m. I hope I can improve my time this year, especially at those big meets like [the Arcadia Invitational]. I’m just excited to have a good year of running ahead of me; it just makes me happy.

Related:

What No One Tells You About A Cross Country Meet

5 Questions To Ask Before You Commit To Run In College

Should You Run A Cross Country Race Wearing A Watch?