Feature Friday: Mary Malague Is Burning Up The Trails

When Mary Malague first started watching her older brothers, Jack and Ed, compete at the Greater Middlesex Conference Cross-Country Championships when she was in elementary school, she started to set some long term goals for herself.

One of those goals was to one day win a GMC XC title.

Malague made that dream become a reality last Saturday when the senior at Metuchen not only crossed the finish line first at the GMC meet, but she did so in jaw-dropping fashion by stopping the clock at 18:10 to smash the meet record and move into No. 2 all-time on the current course at Thompson Park, which has been used since 2007. 

Malague destroyed the meet record of 18:38 that was set in 2013 by Rachel Belmont of Old Bridge, and came within just eight seconds of the course record of 18:02, which was set Caroline Kellner of West Windsor-Plainsboro South when she won the 2012 Central Jersey, Group 4 race.

NJ MileSplit caught up with Malague after her historic victory at the Greater Middlesex Conference Championship for an in depth Q an A. Malague gave her thoughts on the remarkable season she's having, the impact her family and her coach have had on her career, her personal and team goals for the rest of the season, and a whole lot more.

So kick back and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on the one and only Mary Malague.     

NJM: What are your thoughts on being the GMC champ? What does that mean to you, and how exciting was it crossing the finish line first?

Thank you! I was super excited to get the win last weekend. Between watching my two older brothers compete, and running in it myself, I think I have been to at least ten GMC XC championship meets, so winning has always been a dream of mine. It was really neat to pull it off.

How about your time, Mary! 18:10 was a personal best for you, and is the second fastest time in course history at Thompson Park? What does that mean to you? Were you surprised by how fast you ran or were you expecting to go that low?

Coming into this season, I wasn't all too sure what kind of times I should be aiming for. I'm definitely pleased with 18:09, but am hopeful I can lower it further and compete super hard in the upcoming meets.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far and why? What are you most proud of? The GMC title in the 3200 last spring? The 10:50.76 you ran at the Meet of Champions, or was it the GMC race last Saturday?

Thus far, I think I'd point to Saturday's GMC race as my greatest achievement as a runner. Meet of Champs and last year's spring season as a whole was remarkably fun, but having been dragged to so many GMC XC meets has made that event very special to me.

What are your thoughts on your chances of breaking the course record of 18:02 at Thompson at the sectional meet, and what would that mean to you, Mary?

Breaking the Thompson course record would be crazy. Cementing my name amongst those at the top of that list was never something I had really considered myself to be capable of. At the sectional meet, I plan to run and race my hardest, and whether or not that results in a sub 18:02 remains to be seen!

What are your goals for the rest of the season for yourself and your team? You and your team have a great shot at winning the sectional and state Group Championships!

Moving further into this championship season, our team is capable of big things. We have seen several freshmen step up. I think they-and my upperclassmen counterparts-will only continue to progress, and I am excited to see what kind of times and team scores that manifests itself in.

Before this season, your personal best at Thompson was 19:33 from your sophomore year. What's the biggest difference that has enabled you to make such a huge drop since then?

I'd say my progress is a bit startling. I know I have an amazing coach in Coach (Kelli) Holleran, but besides that, I myself am still trying to figure out what my success can be attributed to!

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?

This summer was definitely a great one in terms of training. For most of it, my team and I were around 40 miles a week, focusing a lot on building strength through tempos. I ran a lot with my teammates throughout the week, sticking mainly around our town, but also making some trips to different parks.

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

I loved every long run this past summer. I did each with my older brother Ed, I feel so lucky to have had his company! He pushed me to really grind out some tough miles, and I believe this led to substantial growth in terms of strength.

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

My parents and brothers are all big runners, so I was definitely exposed to it from a really early age. I initially gravitated towards basketball, but over time, I caught the running bug just like them!

What do you consider your first big breakthrough race when you started to realize that you had the potential to be a great runner?

There was a string of early spring meets this past year that gave me a lot of confidence; I saw my 3200 times dropping, and I felt as though I had more to give.

Did you run before high school? If so, what are some of your greatest accomplishments as a distance runner before you got to high school?

I was a part of my middle school cross country team, but those years were rather unremarkable.

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

The team we have at Metuchen is just so much fun to be a part of. Practice each afternoon provides us all with an awesome opportunity to decompress, laugh, and work hard-which helps us do all of the above in the rest of our lives! I also feel very fortunate to run for Coach Holleran. She is always looking out for our best interests, while simultaneously pushing us to get the most out of ourselves.

What do you consider your greatest strength as a distance runner?

I think I would consider my strength to be my greatest strength. That is something I want to continue to focus a lot on, but when you lack a lot of foot speed, you've got to have something.

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?

The atmosphere around NJ distance running really does seem unmatched. The enthusiasm for the sport throughout the state is palpable at any given meet, and knowing that there are people throughout the state dropping fast times is certainly motivation to drop your own.

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

Waking up the morning after a meet or hard workout and feeling your hard work in your legs is probably among the best sensations ever.

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

Holmdel is probably my favorite course. The fact that it is home to so many huge meets gives it a certain energy. The horde of fans stampeding down towards the finish illustrates the enthusiasm in NJ XC so well.

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

I'd definitely have to bring Colleen Quigley along for some genuine positivity, Craig Engels for a lot of spunk, Kyle Merber for the local roots and a great sense of humor, and lastly Mr. Marty Holleran in his prime. Though he never went pro, I'd like to see what kind of machine he really was...

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

It's hard to choose just one, but I have watched the Rosa brothers' (Joe and Jim) attempt at the 3200 record several times, and it blows my mind again and again.

Favorite running season and why?

In the spring, I'd say spring. Fall, I'd say XC. So, right now, XC!

Favorite subject in school and why?

I love Spanish. It is so exciting to rewire your brain to process all of your surroundings so differently. Learning about different cultures throughout the world also gives you fresh perspectives on your own.

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

In the winter I try to knock down some three-pointers for the legendary Coach Glutz.

How about the future, Mary? What colleges are you considering, and what type of career would you like to pursue? I am still sorting out my college situation, but hope to have it figured out soon. I aspire to be a social worker or a teacher of some description.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In ten years, I'll be living on the coast of Maine and teaching high school Spanish.

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

Get your NJ XC on!