Feature Friday: Christina Allen Is Ready To Rock The Trails

In a race that will be talked about forever, and will go down as one of the most dramatic in state history, Christian Allen still has a hard time wrapping her ahead around her unforgettable victory in the 3,200-meter run at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions this past June.

To refresh your memory, Allen, a freshman at River Dell, and sophomore Lindsay Hausman of Kent Place were trailing heavily favored Angelina Perez of Lakeland by 18 seconds at the bell. It looked like they had no shot at reeling in Perez, but as Perez began to fade over the final 400, Allen and Hausman began to pour it on in what seemed like a battle for second-place. But as they ran side-by-side over the final 200, Allen and Hausman caught Perez right before the line, and then Allen out-leaned Hausman to win the instant classic with a PR of 10:46.36. Hausman was second in 10:46.41, and Perez was third in 10:46.53.

Allen's reaction (as you can see in the videos and photos in this story) told the whole story as she wore a look of disbelief on her face as she came across the finish line.

"Honestly, I'm still kind of shocked,'' Allen said this week.

Allen's stunning victory was part of a remarkable freshman year for the River Dell star.

During the cross-country season last fall, Allen showed she was one of the biggest distance running stars in the state when she reeled off wins in her first four races before dropping a 17:50 bomb when she placed third at the loaded Holmdel Invitational, which served as the unofficial Meet of Champions in the pandemic shortened season that forced the NJSIAA to cancel the state Group Championships and the Meet of Champions.

Allen's 17:50 places her No. 14 all-time in Holmdel Park history, and is the second fastest time ever run by a freshman girl at Holmdel. Briana Gess of Haddonfield, who ran 17:45 to win the Meet of Champions title in 2013, is the only freshman to run faster than Allen at Holmdel.

In addition to her M of C victory in the 3,200 and red hot times in XC, Allen also ran a PR of 4:54.45 in the 1,600 last spring.

NJ MileSplit recently caught up with Allen for an in depth Q and A. We learned a lot about Allen, including her how she got involved in the sport, her summer training, her goals for this season, and her look back at her unforgettable victory in the 3,200.

So lean back in your recliner or beach chair and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on rising sophomore star Christina Allen of River Dell.

NJM:  After you won the 3,200 at the Meet of Champions last spring, you were in complete disbelief.  Now that a few months have passed, what are your thoughts on what you accomplished by coming from so far behind to win in such dramatic fashion? It was a finish that will be talked about forever? Is it still hard to believe what happened? What are your thoughts and feelings as you look back on that race? 

Honestly, I'm still kind of shocked. Now that all of the congratulations and rah rah have slowed down, I've had time to think about it and how much it means to me. It was really cool to win it all as a freshman and see how much I really could do. Going into the race I was super nervous but I just wanted to run as fast as I could in the horrible heat that there was. The heat definitely messed with everyone during the race because some of the times were a lot slower than projected. Overall, I think it just came down to who could race the best. Times were no longer important it was just about who could hold out the longest. I owe a lot of it to my coach because he focused my whole season on learning how to properly race and not just worrying about the times on the clock because those don't really matter in a race in my mind because the place is what matters at the meet. 

It can be deflating to be so far behind in a race with just a couple laps to go, but you kept pushing hard and battling the whole way and came up with the biggest win of your life. You proved that anyone can win on any given day by winning that race. What did you learn about yourself and about racing from that Meet of Champions 3200m?

From that race I learned that I shouldn't doubt myself. About halfway through the race I was just extremely tired and wasn't even thinking about passing anyone. I realized that wasn't the right mindset to have but in a way it made me go faster. I also learned that time isn't that important. Clearly in that race everyone was tired from the heat so everyone's times were slower for the most part. It ended up being an actual race and not just spread out like a 3200 meter race usually is. It all came down to who had the best racing strategy and who could kick the hardest. I'm glad my coach made me focus on racing this year and not just running fast during every race. I owe a lot to him.

It what ways has that victory in the 3200m changed your outlook heading into this cross-country season? I have to assume that your victory has really increased your confidence?

The victory has definitely changed my outlook on cross country. In one way, I definitely am more confident going into the season because people know my name now which is pretty cool. I also won't doubt myself as much because I know what I am capable of. I'm just really excited to race again and see what I can do now with a normal non COVID year.

You had such a fantastic freshman cross-country season last fall, highlighted by the 17:50 you ran at Holmdel Park, which is No. 14 all-time and the second fastest time ever for a freshman. What are your thoughts on the xc season you had? Did you see that kind of success and those fast times coming? Or were you shocked? 

I think my xc season was awesome although I do wish I had more chances to fully see what I can do. The last race I did at Holmdel (East Coast Invit.)it was pouring rain, so I didn't get to achieve my goal to be the fastest freshman to ever run there. I honestly did not see the fast times coming but I'm glad they did because it made me realize that I can do a lot better than I thought I could. 

Take me through what summer training has been like for you, Christina? How many miles a week have you been running, where have you been doing your long runs, who have you been running with, and did you go to any XC camps etc?

My summer training hasn't been to intense, but it's solely based on keeping me in shape and focusing on my endurance. I have been running about 30-35 miles a week w different types of runs each day depending on what my coach tells me to do. I have been doing my long runs around my town or on some close by trails. The best part of my summer training was going to the running works cross country camp. I met so many amazing people and had so much fun and I miss it a lot. I learned many things at camp that I have been using during my practices and runs. I have also been focusing more on my heart rate during my runs. I have been trying to use my heart rate as a pacer during my runs instead of the actual pace and it's been really helpful. Overall, camp was my favorite part of the summer because I learned a lot and met so many amazing people. Shout-out cabin 4 and 11 haha. 

What's been the biggest difference in your training this summer compared to last summer? Increased mileage? More quality stuff in terms of faster pace? 

Honestly, I'm not really sure. I think it's been pretty similar, but I am definitely more dedicated this year and focused on making every practice count. The mileage has been pretty similar but runs and workouts have been faster paced because of the shape I'm in.

What is your favorite long run  (distance, place, and time) during the summer, and what is your favorite workout during the XC season?

My favorite long run is probably running through my high school when all of the school teams are practicing. It's nice to see all my friends and the other coaches because they are all super supportive and it keeps me distracted. My favorite distance for a long run usually 9-10 miles in my town or 10-12 at a xc course like garret. My favorite place to race so far is Holmdel. My favorite xc workout is probably 1k repeats or grass loops.

When is your first race of the season, and what's your goal for that race? 

My first race is 9/11 and it's at Darlington. The only goal I have for that race is just to win. My coach wants me to run as slow as possible to win and I'm totally fine with that because it worked during track because my best race was my last one. He likes me building up every race.

How do you feel heading into this season? Is this the most fit you've ever been heading into an XC season, and what are your biggest goals as far as times you'd like to run at Holmdel, Garret Mountain, and Darlington Park, and some of the other courses you'll race on?

I'm super excited for this seasons! This is the most fit I've been heading into XC, and I'm super excited to see what I can do. At Holmdel, I would love to run sub 17:40, 18:20 at Garret, and sub 17:30 at Darlington. I'm not setting my expectations too high because the weather is always a factor.

How about the state meets this season, Christina? I imagine trying to win the state title and the Meet of Champions are big goals for you?  Every runner in the state wants to drop a bomb and run a huge PR at the M of C and be in that lead pack for as long as they can. What are your thoughts on your chances of winning that title, and what is your goal for that race?

I don't want to doubt myself but it's gonna be pretty hard to win states. Some of the faster girls have insane times and I strive to be as good as them. For that race my goal is to get top three again.

What are your thoughts on how loaded NJ is with distance running talent? How much does the amount of talent in the state push you to work even harder?

NJ has a lot of distance talent. It pushes me because I want to be part of the best. It makes me work hard every practice and focus on getting better. 

Let's rewind the clock. How and why did you get involved in running?

I got involved in running because of my dad (Dave). He has always been a runner but not into competition as much. He does it for fun, which made me start when I was like 7, but got seriously into it around 7th grade. I didn't really have that many accomplishments before high school. 

When was your first big breakthrough race when you realized that you had a special talent in this sport?

I would say my first high school xc race. I think people were kind of shocked seeing me come out of the woods in first and not knowing who I was because I was a freshman. 

What do you love the most about running XC?

The people. Without the friends you make it would not be as fun. Yea, winning is fun and doing well is fun but what makes it so fun is the team, the friends you make at meets, the people you meet at camps that you become best friends with in a week, and the people who support you.

 If you could go for a long run with any four pro runners (past or present) who would it be and why? 

Emma Coburn, Elle Purrier, Sydney McLaughlin, and Cory McGee. They are all so positive and always out there best foot forward.  

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'm honestly not really sure. I think from last year it was the at the race I ran on December 5 at Holmdel (the East Coast Championships) when Kate Wiser ran an incredible race in the pouring rain. It was cool to see from behind. 

Note: Wiser, who ran at Pomperaug High in Connecticut, ran 17:26 that day, which is No. 3 in Holmdel Park history. Wiser is now a freshman at Notre Dame. 

Favorite running season and why?

Spring-it's cool out and we are getting ready for track.

Favorite subject in school and why?

Math-I like problem solving 

If you weren't a runner, what sport would you be playing?

Soccer- I played soccer until 8th grade and I really enjoyed it.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years it would be really cool to be running pro

What advice would you give to younger runners who are first starting out in the sport.

Start out slow, you need to build endurance before you can run fast. You also need to surround yourself with people who believe in you and who will encourage you to become better. Making friends in the sport is also important because you can always ask them for advice and they can train with you. Most important of all, just try your best.