Feature Friday: Cate DeSousa Is Ready For Big XC Season

Before she arrived at Red Bank Catholic as a freshman in 2019, Cate DeSousa was a field hockey star and was planning to play that sport in high school. But she had a change of heart and she instead pursued her passion for distance running.

In turned out to be the best decision DeSousa has ever made as she quickly became one of the top young runners in the state as a freshman, and has gotten better and better each season, and is now one of the very best distance runners in the state.  

DeSousa is coming off a sensational junior season that was highlighted by winning State Non-Public A titles in all three seasons (XC and the 1,600 indoors and 3,200 outdoors), a Holmdel PR of 18:26, a 10th place finish at the XC Meet of Champions, and huge PR's of 2:11.63, 4:49.06, and 10:25.43, which made her the only girl in the state to go sub 2:12, sub 4:50, and sub 10:30 during the season! How awesome is that!!!

DeSousa came into this XC super fit and confident and she showed that with a very impressive season debut at the South Jersey Shootout last Saturday at Dream Park when she won the 4K race in 13:39.     

NJ MileSplit recently caught up with DeSousa while she was traveling to compete in Saturday's Ocean State Invitational in Rhode Island for an in depth Q and A. We learned a lot about Cate, including how she got involved in the sport, her summer of training, her big goals for this season, and a whole lot more.  

So lean back in your fancy recliner and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on Cate "The Great'' DeSousa of Red Bank Catholic.

NJM: First of all, congrats on all your remarkable accomplishments on the trails and on the track. You have really put together an amazing career over your first three years at RBC!!! How surprised are you by all your success or is this something you saw coming?

Thank you so much! It has been such an exciting three years. I've learned a lot about myself, and there have been times where I totally surprised myself. When I was a freshman, most of my goals for senior year were times I ended up accomplishing my sophomore year! This really surprised me and got me excited for my future in the sport. Your junior year was simply amazing!

You dropped a big PR at Holmdel with your 18:26, and PR's at every distance from 800-3200, and you won a state title in all three seasons! What are your thoughts and feelings as you look back on your junior year? What was different about the way you raced and trained that enabled you to drop your times so much?

My junior year was really exciting for me. I'm really grateful for all of the race opportunities I had throughout the year to make me a better competitor. From the Millrose Games to the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix to the Penn Relays and all the meets in between, I know that all these meets made me a better runner. I may not have had the exact results I wanted at each meet, but I learned something different about racing tactics at each one.

Last spring, you ran huge PR's of 2:11.63, 4:49.06, and 10:25.43, which made you the only girl in the state to go sub 2:12, sub 4:50, and sub 10:30 during the season. What does that mean to you, Cate, to be so consistently fast at all three distances, and how much did your big spring season help your confidence even more coming into this XC season?

The spring season was really a dream come true for me. It's really a confidence booster to know that I have speed to close a 5K or 3200 hard, but I also have the endurance to hold on the last 200m of a 800. Trying the 3200 in the spring gave me a lot of confidence for cross-country this fall, and I am really excited to see how the results translate.

You won the state Non-Public A title last year, and your 18:26 and 10th place finish at the Meet of Champions last year makes you one of the top contenders to win your first Meet of Champions title this season What are your thoughts on your chances of winning the M of C title, and what would that mean to you, Cate. Especially after being so close to winning the 1,600 in the spring.

Knowing that I am a contender for the M of C title this year is something that gets me really excited. The M of C xc title is something that every NJ runner dreams about. Our MOC is such a competitive race because of all of the amazing NJ distance talent.

How about your goal as far as time at Holmdel? I am guessing that getting under 18 is a huge goal for you?

I'm super excited to get back to racing at Holmdel, and it really is one of my favorite courses in the state!! Getting under 18 is of course a big goal that I have in the back of my head, but this season I'm focusing on competing in the moment, and I know if I do that, the time will take care of itself.

How about the team, Cate. What are you and your teammates targeting as far as the biggest goals for your squad this season?

My team and I are all really close, and I'm lucky that I have a great group of girls (and boys) to train and spend time with! The conversation always starts with winning the county and conference meets, and then we will take it one step at a time from there.

You are coming off a very impressive 13:39 4K win in your season debut at the South Jersey Shootout last week. What are your thoughts on your performance and the way you raced, and what did that race tell you about your fitness level?

Thank you! I really didn't know what to expect going into the race, and I wasn't really sure about 4k times, but I'm super happy with how it went. The race gets me excited for the season. I know that you shouldn't focus on September times too much, but it gives me a good gauge of my fitness level right now

What made you decide to run the 4K instead of the 5-K, and did you run it just like you would a 5K or did you go out faster than usual since it was shorter? Tell me what the race plan was for a shorter race like that?

My coach, Rob DeFilippis, decided to open the season up with a 4k to get the body used to racing again and not jump right into the 5k. We have a long, exciting season ahead of us, so that was the right decision for the team. The plan for this race was just to go to the front and shake the cobwebs out. I honestly forget the feeling of running an XC 5K, so I'm not really sure if the pace would be the same! !

How about the race tomorrow, Cate. What is your personal goal and the goal for your team?

Tomorrow we are racing at the Ocean State Invitational in Rhode Island. We went to this race when I was a freshman, and it was great competition. My goal for tomorrow is to embrace the competition and use the runners around me to push me to my best. As far as the team, our goal is definitely to close the gap from runner 1-5. We know that practicing this will set us up better for post season goals.

Take me through what summer training was like for you, Cate? 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?

After the track season, I took a little over two weeks off and focused on recharging both mentally and physically! I hit just over 40 miles for the first time this summer, which was much different than the past few summers, but it felt great. My favorite long run spots are the Manasquan Reservoir, the Union Transportation Trail (a little far from me, but definitely worth it), and this loop I found by my dad's office, which goes through Hartshorne Park and Sandy Hook! I've done my summer workouts/runs with my teammates mostly and some with my brother. For long runs, I like my mom or dad to come with me on the beach cruiser and bring a speaker for country music!! My team and I went to Five Star Running Camp in New York!

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

I would say the biggest difference between last summer and this summer is definitely an increase in miles and workout reps, but most importantly, I am big on taking easy days easy! Some people can get excited and end up running summer miles really fast, but it's a long season, so to me, summer miles are just the base. I want my body to prepare for the long season ahead and to rest so I can hit the workouts hard! Our runs are conversational, where my teammates and I are laughing and telling stories the whole time!!

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 the loop through Hartshorne and down Ocean Ave in Sea Bright! It's usually 10-11 miles, and throughout the run I get to run through trails, down by the beach, and even get views of New York City! My favorite workout during XC season is 1k repeats.

How do you feel 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, Ocean County Park, Van Cortlandt and some of the other courses you'll race on?

I am feeling so excited going into the cross country season. I feel super fit, but I don't feel overworked, and I know I'm ready to handle a great cross country season. I would love to run sub 18 at Holmdel and sub 17 at OCP, but most of my goals are related to winning certain races, not necessarily tied to a time. During cross country, I focus less on times and more on putting myself in the mix and just competing.

How big of a goal is it for you to qualify for the Eastbay (Foot Locker) National Championships? What would it mean to you to be a national XC finalist?

I would love to qualify for one of the national meets this cross country season. It has been a goal of mine since I was a freshman, and I really feel like I have a shot to do it this year. I'm not sure if I would do Eastbay or Nike, but either way, it would be a huge honor to represent NJ and the Northeast!

What are your thoughts on how loaded NJ is with distance running talent? Ten of the top 15 finishers from the M of C last fall return this season. How much does the amount of talent in the state push you to work even harder?

I love the competition that is in New Jersey. Everyone is constantly raising the bar, which pushes the others around to rise to it and work harder.

And how about the strength of Monmouth County? You, Tilly O'Connor and Emma Zawatski all finished in the top 12 at the M of C last year, and last spring you three went 1-2-3 in the 1,600 at the M of C.What can you say about how awesome Monmouth County distance running is, and how much it makes you train harder and motivates you knowing there's so much talent in the county?

The strength of Monmouth County and the Shore Conference is awesome. As you said, Monmouth County went 1-2-3 in the 1600 at M of C, but Shore Conference went 1-2-3-4, which also says so much! We are all so lucky to be exposed to this high quality running multiple times throughout the season. These girls all bring out the best side of me during races, and I definitely think having this competition so close to home has helped us all to reach where we are today.

Let's rewind the clock. How and why did you get involved in running? I know you come from a big running family, so tell me how all this started for you?

Even though both my older brothers (Evan and Chris) ran in high school (CBA), I was the first one to start! My best friend (from kindergarten to now) is Karl Torchia's daughter. He is the coach at CBA, and one day, I decided to tag along for a run with her and her sisters, and I fell in love with the sport. I continued to run, but my only training was playing travel field hockey and soccer throughout middle school and getting strength from gymnastics when I was younger. I was actually going to play field hockey in high school instead of running cross country, but I think I made the right choice!

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

I think that my first big breakthrough race was my first 3200 this spring, where I ran 10:25. Since we didn't know what to expect, the plan was to go out in 5:20, no matter where in the pack that meant I was and adjust from there. I went out in 5:19 and closed in 5:06, with a 31 second last 200! My coach wanted to focus on developing speed first and then adding miles later, so he waited until junior year to put me in a 3200. It gives me a lot of confidence for the cross country season ahead, and it's probably the race I'm most proud of!!

What do you love the most about running XC?

I love the atmosphere of cross country meets and spending time with my team. I also love testing myself and pushing myself to limits I never knew I could get to! It's so exciting.

Now that you are a senior, what are your thoughts on college? Have you taken any official visits? Where do you plan to visit? What are you looking to study in college, and what are the types of things you are looking for in a college?

I've been really lucky throughout the past year to speak with and meet some amazing coaches and athletes. I've learned something from each one, and I'm grateful for all of this. I just finished my official visits last weekend, and I am getting ready to make a decision. I'm looking to study either psychology or communications/journalism in college. In a college, I want a balance between academics and athletics, while also finding the best fit for me where I will be happiest.

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

If I could go for a long run with any four pro runners, it would be Emma Coburn, Shalane Flanagan, Molly Seidel, and Athing Mu! I love how they have changed/are changing the standards for women's running every day!

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 I've ever witnessed was watching Sydney McLaughlin break her own world record this past summer in the 400mh. I remember seeing her at the Non-Public A state championships when my brother was running track for CBA.

Running shoes: What type of shoes do you train in and race in and why are they your shoes of choice?

As most know, my coach owns the running store, Runners High, so I get the best shoes for my feet and training load! My favorite trainer ever is the Diadora Atomo. For track, I like the Nike Dragonflies and Victories, but I'm not 100% sure what I want to race in this cross country season.

Favorite running season and why?

I love and embrace the season I am in at that specific time, but I love outdoor track because I get to do relays with my team and try different events each weekend.

Favorite subject in school and why?

My favorite subject in school is either Spanish (my mom loves languages and is fluent in Spanish so I must get it from her!) or Math.

What did you do this summer when you weren't out there training?

I worked at a local jewelry store (Poor Cat Designs), and I also spent so much time outdoors. I live 1.5 miles from the beach, so most of my summer is spent on the beach with friends or tubing in the river with my family!

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

If I could do another event in Track & Field, it would be the long jump. If I did a whole different sport, it would probably be gymnastics.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years, I would of course love to be running pro and reaching my athletic potential, but I also really want to be a sports broadcaster. It's been a dream of mine since 2nd grade. I see myself flying somewhere across the country to cover either a college or professional football game from the sidelines. When NCAAs, Worlds, and the Olympics come around, I would love to cover those events because track is truly where my heart is!!

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

My advice to runners who are first starting out is to keep it fun and enjoy every moment. Don't put too much pressure on yourself because a happy runner is a fast one!