When you run as fast as Camryn Wennersten, it can be very difficult to catch up to her.
But NJ MileSplit managed to reel in the distance running star, the leader of the pack for NJ's No. 1 preseason team (Ridgewood) heading into the season, for a very enlightening Q and A.
The junior, who helped her squad to Team Nationals for the first time ever last fall, shared her thoughts on a variety of topics, including how challenging it's been to be an athlete during the pandemic, how she got started in running, goals for herself and her team, and how excited she is for her first race in more than seven months-this Saturday's GSTC's Fall High School Showcase Series 5K in Edison. Wennersten even gives a shout out to her grandfather.
So sit back and enjoy the words of wisdom from Wennersten, and learn all about one of NJ's best distance running talents!
First off, congrats on all your great accomplishments! You have really been crushing it on the track and the trails during your first two years at Ridgewood!
"Thank you! It's been a lot of fun competing in high school especially, when we get to travel to the meets as a team!''
You were obviously super fit last winter and had such a great indoor season, highlighted by your big PR's of 4:51.60 in the mile and 10:43.72 in the 3200. How excited were you by those times, and what did you think of your indoor season? You must have been ecstatic with your times!
"After getting back from Oregon for NXN, I was super pumped to start my winter season. I was really excited to jump back into the shorter distances and sprints on the track because those always make me feel alive. It was thrilling to run some of the times that I did in the winter, and they also lit a fire to reach even higher. Although I was satisfied with how the season went, I also felt I had more left in the tank and room to grow especially in finishing stronger.''
How tough was it to not have an outdoor season?
"It was tough when we first heard the news that one of our first races in the spring, Arcadia, got canceled. We had no idea what our future was going to look like, but my team and I kept hoping we would get in at least one race.''
Can you put into words just how difficult that was to go through? You probably had some big goals for the spring?
"It was really heartbreaking to hear that one by one each of our races were getting canceled because of the pandemic. After not ending my winter season the way I had really wanted, I was motivated to come out strong in the spring, and I was shocked to hear that there were no races to do so. I had hoped to PR in both the 1600m and 3200m, and win my first SMOC title. As a team, we were all really looking forward to getting a chance to run really cool relay races at Penn Relays and nationals. Unfortunately, we'll never get those chances back and I feel not only for my teammates but athletes throughout the world.''
What is it like to be part of one of the greatest XC programs in state history at Ridgewood? Do you feel all that history when you are training and racing. I am sure putting on that Ridgewood uniform adds to the motivation for you and your teammates!
"It's such an amazing feeling to accomplish what we have together since I've known and been running with some of these girls for the past 5 years. We were led by the strong senior leadership of Sarah and Claire in which we share a great bond with one another and all have similar work ethics which ultimately lead to our success as a team. Coach (Jacob) Brown coached us for a year in 8th grade, and founded the Ridgewood girls XC team over 4 decades ago. We were lucky to get that experience.''
The last couple years you and your teammates have been one of the top teams in the state, losing some tough battles to North Hunterdon in Group 4 and the M of C (second at both meets the last two years). How badly, and how much of a huge goal is it for you and your teammates to break through and win Group 4 and M of C titles for Ridgewood for the first time since 1999?
"That's definitely something that's been on our minds, and yes, that was definitely one of our goals for this fall. We felt confident and ready to take that next step. With the pandemic, we'll see what the future holds and try to control what we can.''
How do you feel about this XC season? Not having a State Group Championship meet and a Meet of Champions is something a lot of runners and teams are understandably disappointed about. You and your team obviously would have had a great chance at winning Group 4, the Meet of Champions, and the Northeast Regional title? What are your thoughts on this upcoming season?
"When my teammates found out the news that the championship season was canceled due to Covid, we were heartbroken. We couldn't wait for the chance to get another shot at the State Championship and get the chance to race out at NXN again. Personally, I had goals to run PRs at Holmdel and Bowdoin, but most importantly, to win some individual championships. It's sad knowing the team and I won't be getting as many of those opportunities this year after all the hard work that we've put in. As cross country races continued to be canceled throughout the summer and as Ridgewood's entire athletic summer program was postponed due to some student cases, I started exploring creative options for the fall. We'll see how this fall plays out in terms of a second outbreak and what races are safe and meaningful, but I am so excited to have a chance to safely race against some of the best runners in the northeast and the country starting this weekend right here in New Jersey!"
Can you talk about your training since the end of indoors? How much did it change with no outdoor season and with the late start to this XC season? Where did you do most of your training?
"When races started to follow the pattern of getting canceled, our team goals shifted towards XC season rather than shorter distances on the track. We like to have fun in the summer trying to find as many trails as we can to run on and cool running paths to switch things up. I also have family that live near Holmdel so I got to do a few of my long runs on the course which was pretty cool! After the heartbreaking cancellation of the spring season and the fall season looking more and more unlikely with summer training on quarantine for Ridgewood, I started doing some of my training with GSTC (Garden State Track Club).''
Let's rewind the clock. When and how did you get involved in running?
"I ran my first 5k when I was six years old because I insisted to my parents that I wanted to do the "big girl" race and not just the 1 mile fun run. And I think I pretty much shocked my family in how fast I finished! That 5k is held in my town every Memorial Day, and I've participated in it every year since then. For a couple years I did the occasional 5k with family, but eventually I moved on from being a competitive gymnast to running and soccer.''
Did you run for a club before you got to Ridgewood and what were some of your best accomplishments before you got to high school?
"I joined a club called Racefaster, and I got to work with incredible coaches, Coach Murt (John Murtaugh)
and Coach Jacob Brown. This was the time I really started getting into running, doing some local and state track meets with kids my age and even older than me. Some of my fondest memories before I got to high school were winning states and earning All-American several times at the USATF and AAU Junior Olympics in both cross country and in the track season.''
When was your first big breakthrough race when you realized that you had a special talent in this sport?
"When I had just turned 10 years old. I remember I ran in a local 5k run in Paramus, and that was my first time breaking 20 minutes. At the time I was only practicing twice a week and running only 3-4 miles a day. I was just having fun with super positive coaches then, and that's where my love of the sport grew.''
What do you consider your biggest highlight in your running career and why?
"Individually, I'm proud of my 4:51 performance at Millrose Games, and 17:47 at Holmdel last year, but just as special was being able to run at NXN with my teammates and being able to reach some of our goals with them has been an amazing feeling. I've been running with a lot of them for half a decade, almost as long as I've been running, and it's amazing how much we have grown as runners.''
Have you done any racing at all since the end of indoors? A virtual time trial?
"I've only done a 1600m time trial with my teammates in June with no speed training, and was able to go sub 5.''
What is your biggest goal for this XC season?
"My Pops (Grandpa) was born on the 16th (July), and I would love to run a 5k starting with that number!
You're 17:47 at Holmdel in that great race with Chloe Gonzalez at Shore Coaches last year is the sophomore course record and tied for No. 8 all-time! What does it mean to you to be one of the fastest girls in Holmdel history? And how motivated does that make you to try to go even faster when you get a chance to run there again?
"Funny thing is, it was an early season race without much pressure or tapering and we all were just wearing trainers, but it was a great day for racing and everything came together. Holmdel is such an historic course with legendary runners who have run those same trails. It means a lot and motivates me to push myself past my limits. As much as I wanted to get a PR at that course this year and go out with the team and achieve remarkable things, I can't wait to come back strong next year when we get a chance to run there again.''
You wasted no time showing the rest of the state how talented you were when you burst on the scene with a great freshman year at Ridgewood. Looking back on that, what was it like to deal with the big expectations that got placed on you with all your early success? You seemed to handle it great, which can't always be easy.
"I was fortunate to run in some pretty big races in the USATF Junior Olympics and always cherished having the opportunity to rise to the challenge. My first year of high school running had taught me a lot. Learning how to deal with expectations early on was tough at times, but I managed to get through it and I'm happy I experienced that early on because it has helped me become a tougher and more seasoned runner.''
What is your biggest goal for your running career? Every runner dreams about fast times and has big goals?
"I'm taking each season and each race as they come for right now. However, I have always wanted to run in college and take it to the next level there. That's in a couple years, so I'm excited to see how that plays out though! I've always aimed to dream big, and my ultimate dream is the Olympics! I have great admiration and respect for the special athletes that have put in the countless hours of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears to make those dreams come true.''
How excited are you for a chance to finally race again this Saturday and what are your thoughts on the great field that you'll be competing against and what are your goals for the race?
Some of the best runners from New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and the country for that matter, are entered in the race, and it's a great opportunity for all of us. I'm beyond excited to finally get a chance to race after 6 months of not doing so. I can't wait to get laced up and fight to the finish! Excited to have the opportunity to race!
What do you love the most about running and about XC?
"I love the times going on runs by myself, as it almost gives me time to think and be present in silence, and it's very calming and relaxing, but running with your teammates is a whole different level of excitement. The feeling of us all working together towards one end goal is a bond that is unbreakable.''
If you could go for a long run with any four pro runners (past or present), who would it be and why?
"I would love to go on a long run with Colleen Quigley, Steve Prefontaine, Shalane Flanagan, and Shelby Houlihan! These are all remarkable runners that I have and still look up to in my running career. I actually met and talked to Colleen at NXN, and she seems like the nicest but most hard working person. Shelby and Colleen are teammates who work extremely hard together while having fun, and I really admire that. The strength that they bring when they both go out on the track is incredible. I've also watched Prefontaine's movie several times and his story about showing how passionate and bold he was, and what his mindset was in races, has inspired me. Shalane has set the tone for modern women's distance runners, and without her strong perseverance, women's distance running would perhaps not be where it is today!''
What is the most impressive NJ XC/T&F accomplishment you've ever witnessed, and what made it stand out so much to you?
"I've loved watching some of the amazing boys races battle it out to the finish, including one of my former Ridgewood teammates Willy Bags (lol, Will Baginski). Outside of New Jersey, witnessing Shalane Flanagan boldly push the pace and lead the pack for 19 miles at the 2014 Boston Marathon was incredible.''
Favorite running season and why?
"I would say that I love all the running seasons for different reasons. Cross country is such a fun team comradery season, and track is so exciting, but I would probably say my favorite season is whatever season that I'm always currently in!"
Favorite subject in school and why?
"Out of my core classes, I would say my favorite subject is math because I like to have concrete answers and only one right answer. Yet I can also appreciate the other classes also though where right and wrong can be debated and people can listen to different perspectives which I think the world needs more of right now.''
If you weren't a runner, what sport would you be playing?"If I wasn't a runner, I would be playing soccer or gymnastics!''
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
"Training in the mountains on one of my runs, surrounded by adventure, good people, and my pup.''
What advice would you give now to the younger you when you first started running?
"Cherish every moment and don't take any race for granted. That's one thing this pandemic has taught me. Have some fun and don't take everything too serious, but also hard work pays off. Also to just enjoy the process because life's a journey not a destination. Remember to enjoy the workouts and races, but also the small moments before and after races and practices, the times where you get to hang out with your teammates, and meet amazing people.''