Every season there are runners that seemingly come out of nowhere and drop fast times or make great comebacks after suffering a setback.
Andrew Littlehales has done both!
The senior at Delsea, who missed the XC season, the indoor season, and most of the spring campaign last year with a stress fracture in his foot, has emerged as one of the state's biggest stars in the early part of this season.
Littlehales opened his season with a victory in the Senior Race at the Cherokee Challenge on Sept.11 when he covered the 3,200-meter race in 9:46.22, the top time of the day, and followed that up with a huge win at the Briarwood Invitational in Philadelphia last Saturday when he ran a PR of 16:12 to win the Championship Division race. The 16:12 is not only the fastest time ever by a runner from Delsea on the rugged Belmont Plateau, but it also equals the fifth fastest time ever run on the 3.1-mile layout by a NJ runner.
NJ MileSplit was anxious to learn more about Littlehales, so we caught up with him this week for an in depth Q an A. Littlehales explained what the keys have been to his success, his comeback from an injury that knocked out almost his entire junior year of racing, his big goals for the season, how he got into running, and his future plans.
So kick back and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on Delsea senior Andrew Littlehales.
NJM: First off, congrats on the great start to your season! Two big wins and PR's! What's your reaction to the great start you've had to this season? Are you surprised by the times and victories, or is this something you saw coming?
Honestly, I'm just happy that I'm starting off strong, and I hope to continue with this momentum for the rest of the season. I'm not surprised by my times at all, I've been training as hard as I can throughout the past few years, I just haven't had the chance to show off what I could really do recently.
What does it mean to you to be Delsea's fastest runner ever and tied for the 5th fastest runner ever from NJ on the Belmont Plateau course with your 16:12?
It feels great to know that my training is paying off, and I am able to produce fast times. What it also means is that there is room to grow and get better. No matter what my placement is on any list, there are always seconds to be shaved off.
What are some of your biggest individual goals for this season as far as times you'd like to run at Holmdel and your home course at Delsea and other courses you will run on?
For Holmdel I'm aiming to run anywhere under 16 minutes. Besides that, I also want to get a sub 15 minute 5k (either on a track or on a cross country course). Since Delsea does have a new course this year, I'm not sure what to expect on it, so I'm just hoping to run my race when the time comes to run there.
How about the county meet, state meet, and the Meet of Champions. What are your goals as far as place and times in those races.
For these races in particular I am obviously hoping to get in the top spots, but I mostly just want to get some big pr's. Getting in the top spots and moving on to the next race is my overall goal, but even if that isn't in the cards that day, as long as I run a good time, I'll be happy
When and where is your next race, and what is your goal for your next race?
My next big race is actually Shore Coaches at Holmdel on October 2nd. Like I said before, I'm hoping to run sub sixteen minutes on this course.
Take me through what summer training was like for you? How many miles a week did you run, where did you do your long runs, who did you run with, and did you go to any XC camps etc?
I didn't have as extensive of a summer training schedule as I did the year prior. Since I am coming off of an injury (just started running at the end of April), I was only running about 40-50 miles a week. This summer was just about getting me back into the shape that I want to be, and motivating my team in order to get better. Every run I was trying to get my teammates to push themselves just a little harder, cause as their captain I want to see them grow as runners. For long runs, I did them mostly at Parvin State Park and Dare Town. I also went to the extreme during my vacation in Tennessee, and had a run with a total elevation gain of 1753 feet (which I do not recommend). I didn't go to any XC camps because I wanted to focus mostly on my team, and getting them all into shape. Being able to push each of them to become better runners helped motivate me to continue training as hard as I possibly could. More specifically, I ran with my senior buddy Brett, as well as everyone else on my team: Jacob (Mr. Jacob), Ish, Kelton, Brandon, Stephen, Lincoln, Ryan, Mike, and ofcourse, Sam (Who I am especially proud of for all of the amazing work that he has been putting in).
What is the biggest difference between yourself now and this time last year? Increased mileage? More quality stuff in terms of faster pace? What has enabled you to be so much stronger and faster than you were in the past?
The biggest difference between myself now and myself last year is how I am able to train with a team who helps motivate me this year. Due to Covid, my team wasn't having practices for a while, and because of my injury in October, I wasn't able to train with them as much when practice did start up. While yes, I did increase my pace in many of my runs, it has truly been my team who has helped motivate me to become an even better runner over the past few months.
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 place to run is at Atlantic County Park in Estell Manor (or as we call it, the boards). It's just a nice place to run, with about 1.5 miles of boards to run on (which always surprises the new kids). Since I do love distance, the longer that I get to go the better, but sadly this summer my max was only about 11 miles. My favorite workout over the summer has to be mile repeats, anything shorter is a little too short for my taste. In particular I had one workout where I felt particularly strong, and was able to go sub 5 minutes on the final mile repeat.
I don't see any results for you from the cross-country season last year. Did you run at all? Were you injured?
Last cross-country season (and winter track and most of spring track season) I was injured. I got a stress fracture on the top of my left foot, and was sadly unable to run for six months. While I did come back at the end of spring track, it wasn't for as long as I wanted, and I was really hoping for faster times (but I can't complain about them too much).
How and why did you get involved in distance running? How did it all start?
My mom was actually telling me a story a while back about how I always used to want to run. No matter the situation, I would go up to her and say, "I'm gonna run around the house", or "I'm gonna run around the backyard". I like to joke that this is why I love running now. Besides those stories, my parents also signed up my brother, sister, and I for 5k's and other runs when we were very little. What I believed actually started it all was by chance. When my sister first went into middle school, they didn't have a girls soccer team, so she decided to do cross country instead. Her running cross country showed me what it actually was, and motivated me to try it out when I entered middle school. Without her joining the team, I probably wouldn't have known about cross country, and probably would have done a different sport. So who knows what would have happened if they had a girls soccer team (which they ended up having a year or two later I believe).
What do you consider your greatest running accomplishment so far?
Since I haven't really had an astronomical season yet, my greatest running accomplishment is actually my most recent time at Belmont Plateau. While it's not the sub sixteen that I was hoping for, it was still a really great time that I'm proud of! Belmont is a very tough course, so I was glad to run a good time while I was there.
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?
I'm very excited to run against many of these amazing runners. The faster the runners are, the more we will be able to push each other in order to get better pr's. In order to be one of these top runners, I knew that I had to train no matter the circumstances. So even during my injury I was still training seven days a week in order to be able to keep up with everyone when I eventually got back.
What do you love the most about being a distance runner?
I love running in the woods (minus the chiggers, ticks, and spider webs). Being able to run in the shade through nature is absolutely beautiful, and I still find myself getting side-tracked by all of the trees, flowers, and other wildlife that I pass along many of my runs.
What's your favorite XC course to run on and why?
My favorite course used to be my home course at Delsea, due to the fact that it was generally flat, pretty wooded, and was overall a nice course in my opinion. Sadly we had to change our course this year, so we will see how much I like this new one.
How about your plans for the future, Andrew? Have you taken any college visits, where else do you plan to visit, and what are you looking for in a college?
I want to go to a four year college with a degree in chemical engineering. I have also taken a decent amount of tours (although not as many as I wish I had due to Covid), such as to Princeton, Virginia Tech, and University of Virginia, among others. I also plan on visiting West Point in the near future. I am mostly looking for a good education when looking at many of these colleges. For me, academics always comes first, and I want to make sure that when I graduate I am able to get a stable job. Having a great cross country/track program, as well as many trails to run on are also great things to have.
If you could go for a long run with any 4 pro runners (past or present) who would it be and why?
While you may not consider them "pro runners", I wish I was able to run with Ronald (my coach) and Donald (his twin brother) Deckert. They are both amazing runners who both inspire me to run as well as I do. I sadly cannot run with my coach, and his brother is usually up in the mountains of Jersey. Besides these two, I would also like to run with Eliud Kipchoge, who seems like an amazing guy (both in his racing skills and personality).
What is the most impressive NJ XC/T&F accomplishment you've ever witnessed, and what made it stand out so much to you?
The most impressive NJ XC/T&F accomplishment that I've witnessed was when Liam Murphy beat Devin Hart in the Boys 3200 at the indoor meet of champions. Not only was this one of the fastest indoor 3200 times in New Jersey, but it was also a huge upset that no one saw coming.
Favorite running season and why?
Definitely cross-country. As I said before I love running in the trails/woods, so being able to do that during races is amazing. While the track is great for its flatness, I would much rather run 5 kilometers in one big loop with different scenarios, than in about 12 laps around the same track. Cross country is also during fall, which has amazing weather and scenery.
Favorite subject in school and why?
Math (specifically algebra). I love working with numbers, and some of the problems in algebra can be very rewarding to figure out. I also really enjoy all of the sciences, but mostly chemistry.
If you weren't a runner, what sport would you be playing?
If I wasn't a runner, I would probably be playing soccer, since I played soccer since I was 5 or 6, all the way up until eighth grade.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In ten years I see myself still running, still training to try and become faster. I can't imagine a world where I am not still running.
What advice would you give to younger runners who are first starting out in the sport.
Enjoy yourself. If there is one thing that I wish I did more while running it would be smiling more, and having a good time. While running can be a competitive sport, and training can be tough, if you aren't enjoying yourself, there isn't much of a point in running. So smile often, enjoy the run, and cherish each and every mile.