Dan Valentino embodies what cross-country is all about.
He decided to try the sport in sixth grade, and despite not being one of the top seven runners through his middle school team, he stuck with it. Valentino just kept grinding out the miles and kept pushing himself harder and harder until he gradually started to get faster and faster during his freshman year at Freehold Township.
Valentino's blue collar work ethic, passion for the sport, and his talent have combined to make him one of state's best distance runners this fall.
The senior at Freehold Township, a blood and guts runner who always leaves everything he has on the course, has been on fire this season.
Last month, Valentino won the Monmouth County title with a Holmdel PR of 16:10, and he followed that up by becoming the first Shore Conference XC champion from his school when he ran a PR of 15:19 at Ocean County Park.
NJ MileSplit caught up with Valentino this week as he prepared for Saturday's State Sectional Championships where he is favored to win the Central Jersey, Group 4 race.
Valentino gave his thoughts on the remarkable season he's having, his goals for the rest of the season, how he got involved in the sport, and a whole lot more. So kick back and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on Dan Valentino, one of the toughest and hardest working runners you will ever come across, and one of the state's most talented.
NJM: First off, congrats winning the Shore Conference title. That was a remarkable performance!
What are your thoughts on becoming the first runner ever from Freehold Township to win the Shore Conference Championship? It must be a cool feeling to make history?
It is definitely a great feeling. The guys in years past all helped me become the runner I am, it sort of felt that I was running that race for them and for my team. I wouldn't be the runner I am today without them.
You told me after you won the Monmouth County race that winning that title was a huge goal for you? How about the conference championship, Dan. How big of a goal was that to win, and what does it mean to you to be the conference champ in one of the toughest conferences in the state?
Winning the Shore Conference is really special to me. It was always a goal of mine since I was an underclassmen and now to go and win as a senior it's pretty special.
- Coming off of the spring season last year, I didn't really have any expectations. I kind of just put my head down and went to work. With everything I put into it, it is nice to see everything starting to fall into place after 3 years.
How about the season you are having, Dan. You ran a Holmdel PR of 16:10 to win the Monmouth County title, and now a PR of 15:19 to win the Shore Conference crown. Is this the type of season you expected to have or have you surprised yourself at all?
Coming off the spring season last year, I didn't really have any expectations. I kind of just put my head down and went to work. With everything I put into it, it is nice to see everything starting to fall into place after 3 years.
How about the state meets, Dan. What are your goals for the sectionals meet this Saturday? After placing second at the sectional meet last year, how much would it mean to you to get that title.
For Saturday, I am just going to go see what I can do.
What's your biggest goals as far as time at Holmdel and place at the Group 4 meet and Meet of Champions? I think you certainly have the talent and determination to go well under 16.
At Holmdel, it's been a seemingly career goal to go sub 16. My freshman year, I saw my teammate Nick Lundberg do it from my school. It has never really left my mind that I wanted to do it myself at Groups and M of C.
Your times have obviously come down this season, so I'm wondering what your training has been like in order to help you keep dropping PR's? Have you been doing anything different in your training?
I've honestly just been listening to my coach. Coach (Mike) Fromuth is an amazing coach and has gotten me to the point where I have been. The main focus of my training is being consistent, being consistent really helps me get an edge and stay sharp.
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?
Summer training started around 50 miles a week and I slowly progressed up for more mileage. I did all my running alone before work every morning. It was challenging to run and then go directly to work. But in the end, I think it benefitted me as a runner and more importantly as a person.
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 spot has to be the Manasquan Reservoir. The res is just perfect, I did most of my long runs there this summer. I think everyone in the county trains there and for good reason. I did 70 minutes there with former teammates this summer and it was great just having conversation and getting the work in.
How and why did you get involved in distance running? How did it all start?
I was never a runner when I was younger. I played baseball and a lot of other sports. My aunt was a distance runner and I grew up watching her run marathons, so in 6th grade I signed up for xc, and the rest is history.
What do you consider your first big breakthrough race when you started to realize that you had the potential to be a great runner?
My first breakout race in my opinion was sectionals my sophomore year. I ran 16:18 for sixth place. It was a wake up call for me and motivated me to take the next step in my training.
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 ran before high school, but I was not at the level I am at today. In eighth grade, I was not even top 7 on my middle school team. I don't know what happened heading into freshman year, something just clicked.
What do you love the most about being a distance runner?
What I love most is the grind. I love the grind. What is great about distance running is that you see that the work you put in pays off and how you get out what you put into it.
What do you consider your greatest strength as a distance runner?
I think my greatest strength is my grit and heart. I run with my heart on my sleeve, and I take pride in that. The last mile of every race is purely run from my heart.
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 love how loaded the state is this year. I wouldn't want it to be any other way. I want people to look back at the 2021 XC M of C, and be like "that was a fast year.'' It motivates me to get my training and fitness to the next level to compete with other runners in the state.
What's your favorite XC course to run on and why?
My favorite course is Holmdel. I really don't know why, It just seems to suit my running style the most.
If you could go for a long run with any 4 pro runners (past or present) who would it be and why?
I would definitely want to run with Steve Prefontaine, that is a no brainer for me. Also would want to run with Eluid Kipchoge as he is the best at what he does, Mo Farah because I watched him win Olympic titles growing up. It would be cool to run with Craig Engels, he runs with so much electricity. I'd love to hear how he does it.
How about the future, Dan. I know Rutgers thinks very highly of you and has been recruiting you. Have you made a college choice yet or are you close to making a commitment?
I am coming closer to a decision, as far as career goes, I want to go to school for mechanical engineering.
Favorite running season and why?
Spring track, hands down. I have friends that throw and jump, and when we all succeed at a meet in the spring, it's fun.
If you weren't a runner, what sport would you be playing?
If I was not a runner I'd still be playing baseball or soccer. I was really into baseball until 10th grade, so I'd probably still be on the diamond.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years I hope to be out of college and be an engineer at a car company of some sort. It's always been a dream of mine to do that, so hopefully everything works out.
What advice would you give to young runners who are first starting out in the sport of XC?
My biggest advice for new runners is just to come out. Go train everyday, and see what you get out of it. Most importantly run with your heart and not your head.