Feature Friday: Liliah Gordon's Career Off To Red Hot Start

Every year there are new faces that make a sudden impact on the trails and emerge as rising young stars.

Freshman Liliah Gordon is the brightest of them all so far this fall.

The Northern Burlington distance running dynamo has gotten her high school career off to a red hot start by winning all four of her races in very impressive fashion.

In Gordon's most recent victory, she aced her first test at Holmdel Park, running a school course record 19:00 to blitz the competition in the B Division race at the Shore Coaches Invitational on Oct. 2. Gordon's 19:00 smashed the Northern Burlington course record for Holmdel Park of 19:20 that Colleen Sunderland ran when she placed second in the 1994 State Group 2 Championships, and is the fastest time by a Burlington County freshman at Holmdel since Casey Doyle of Shawnee ran 18:39 at the 2007 Meet of Champions.

NJ MileSplit recently caught up with Gordon for an in depth Q an A where she talked about the remarkable start to her high school career, how her mom got her involved in distance running, and her goals for the season. We also learned that Gordon is wise beyond her years when it comes to knowledge about the sport, and she's a huge track and field and cross-country fan. 

So kick back and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on Northern Burlington freshman star Liliah Gordon, who will be back on the starting line at today's Burlington County Open at the Rancocas Valley Sports Complex.

NJM: First off, congrats on the great start to your career. 

Thank you so much!

What's your reaction to this great start you've had, winning all four of your races? You must be so excited. 

I couldn´t be happier with my first four races. I knew I was ready to race well but I never imagined a start like this. Coach Rafferty prepared us well for each race. Yes, it has been very exciting!

What has surprised you the most about the first month of your high school career? -Being 4 for 4.

My coaches prepared me to run well but I never expected to have 4 wins at this point in my freshman season especially given the incredible talent in New Jersey.

What are your thoughts on winning your first 5K high school race at the Shore Coaches Invitational and running 19:00 at Holmdel Park? How surprised were you with your performance, which was the fourth fastest of the day? Or did you expect to win and run that fast?

I'm very proud of my performance. I had a talented runner close behind who pushed me to run a great time. Holmdel is one of my favorite courses to run! My goal was to give my best effort and to run my own race at my own pace so I´d be happy at the finish no matter where I ended up. I had hoped to be the fastest freshman, finishing 4th overall was an incredible feeling.

What are your thoughts on Holmdel Park's course? Harder than you thought? Not as hard as you thought? Hardest course you've run on? Also, what did you find to be the hardest part of the course?

I love running at Holmdel Park! I raced Shore Athletic Club´s 3K race there twice a few years ago, but this was my first time racing the 5K. I was surprised that racing the bowl was not as difficult as I imagined it would be. The last half mile was the most challenging part of that race for me but coach Rafferty´s encouragement around the tennis courts gave me what I needed to close strong.

What are some of your biggest individual goals for this season as far as times you'd like to run and races you'd like to win?

Some individual goals I have this season are running under 18:30 and I'd love to win The Burlington County Championships.

When is your next race and what are your goals for that race?

My next race is The Burlington XC Open on Friday (October 15). My goal is to run great for my team, and I'm hoping to run a sub 19:00 5K, which would be a personal record.

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? 

Over the summer I ran with my Shore Athletic Club Gone Running teammates at practices and during our coach Bob Andrews XC camps until high school practices started. Note-Bob Andrews is the father of Olympian Robby Andrews)I ran my long runs with my club training partner and friend Jessica Abbott. I ran between 28-32 miles per week. We ran our long runs mostly at the Manasquan Reservoir, but sometimes at Holmdel Park. We both went to The Clark Family Nike Running Camp in the summer. We loved the camp! It definitely boosted my confidence going into my freshman year. We met and learned a lot from Hazel Clark, Deedee Trotter, Len Klepack, our camp distance coach Jason Jackson, and even Noah Lyles´s mom (Keisha Lyles)!

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 runs this past summer were 7-8 mile runs on Sunday mornings with my training partner/friend Jessica. My favorite workout during the XC season so far was my high school team´s trip to Holmdel Park. Coach Rafferty gave us a great hill workout that day which prepared me well for my first Holmdel race.

How and why did you get involved in distance running? How did it all start? 

It started off as a fun activity to do with my mom. My mom started running about six years ago recreationally. When I was nine, my mom ran a 5K and signed me up for the kids one-mile fun run. We were so surprised when I had the fastest time overall, even with older boys in the race. So for a while at each of her races I ran in the kids fun runs. When I kept doing well, I started training to run a 5K with her. At first, we ran the 5Ks together until one day she wasn´t up to running. I was 10 when I ran that first solo 5k at a pace much faster than we had been training for, and finished as the 2nd overall female. I started running competitively at 11 unattached for a little over a year. I then joined the Shore AC- Gone Running club under coach Bob Andrews when I was 12 in the summer of 2019. I ran for Gone Running up until Northern Burlington County High School practices started.

What are the biggest differences between running in middle school and running in high school?

In middle school, I played soccer in the fall season of seventh grade. The spring 2020 track season was unfortunately canceled due to the pandemic. In the fall of 2020, the Northern Burlington middle school did have a XC season, but we didn´t compete against other schools due to the pandemic. However, it was fun making new friends from school who also enjoyed running. During this time I was running for Shore AC. The biggest difference is now I am running not only for myself, but for my team and school. Scoring for my teammates motivates me to run my best.

What are some of your greatest accomplishments as a distance runner before you got to high school?

In June 2018, I finished 1st in the 3000m on the track at the NJ Association Junior Olympic Championship in the 11/12 age group. -In December of 2019 I finished 9th at the USATF National JO XC Championships in Madison Wisconsin (4k 13-14 age group).
In December of 2020, I finished 5th at the AAU National XC Championships in Tallahassee, Florida (4k 13-14 age group).
In December of 2020, I placed 5th at the USATF National JO XC Championships in Paris Kentucky (4k 13-14 age group). In this race I got a bad side stitch. There was a moment in this race where I thought I might not finish. I'm most proud of this performance for the adversity I overcame to finish 5th.

What do you love the most about being part of a high school cross-country team? 

My coach and teammates are hands down the best part. Our team feels like a family. What do you consider your greatest strength as a distance runner? -My endurance is my greatest strength. 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?

My mom always tells me ¨Iron sharpens Iron.¨ Running with and against the best pushes and inspires me to work hard. When I was with Gone Running, I had two extremely talented training partners (Emma Zawatski and Jessica Abbott) and we pushed each other to be our best. I love that NJ is loaded with distance running talent because it will help me become the best runner that I can be.

What do you love the most about being a distance runner?

I love being a part of the running community. Runners are the nicest people.

What's your favorite XC course to run on and why?

Holmdel, because I love running hills and through woods. I also loved running the Apalachee Regional Park course in Florida.

If you could go for a long run with any 4 pro runners (past or present) who would it be and why?

This was an easy question for me. First, Robby Andrews (2016 Rio Olympian). He is my club coach Bob Andrews´s son and we have all learned so much from him over the past few years at camps and when he popped in at practices from time to time. Also, Josette Norris, who is Robby´s fiance. I have enjoyed watching her incredible season over this past summer and hope to meet her one day. Next, Craig Engels-.I watched Craig at the 2019 indoor national championship at Ocean Breeze. I congratulated him after his 1 mile win and he was so nice, he even gave me his flowers. He is always smiling and looks like he loves what he does. Honestly, I don´t know who wouldn´t want to run with Craig Engels! I Imagine it would feel like the quickest long run ever because of all the laughs along the way. Also, Athing Mu.  I met her briefly at the 2019 NJ Cross Country Junior Olympic Association Championships. Her running is inspiring, but she also seems like a great person, too. I have to add a fifth, Laura Muir. I love watching her race. She runs with so much grit and determination.

What is the most impressive NJ XC/T&F accomplishment you've ever witnessed, and what made it stand out so much to you?

My parents and I went to the 2019 USATF Indoor Nationals at Ocean Breeze where Athing Mu broke the 600m American record. What made it stand out to me was the atmosphere in the building with everyone on their feet cheering for her. It was a great moment to witness.

Favorite running season and why?

Cross country season because I love running different courses, hills and through woods.

Favorite subject in school and why? 

Biology because I like learning about genetics and animal behaviors.

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


Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I hope to have graduated from college and be a professional runner.

What advice would you give to other young runners who are first starting out in the sport of XC?

Hard work makes good things happen. Believe in yourself!