Feature Friday: Stephen Kyvelos Is Off To Red Hot Start

Stephen Kyvelos of Manalapan might not have been a runner that a lot of people across the state paid a lot of attention to last year, but the junior has made it impossible not to notice what he's been doing so far this season.

Kyvelos is off to a red hot start, winning all three of his races, including an eye-popping 15:06 course record performance in the A Division race at the Six Flags Wild Safari Invitational last Saturday. He also finished first at the Thompson Park Class Meet in Jamesburg (10:09 over the 2-mile course), and he ran 16:48 to win the A North Divisional Championship race.

Kyvelos showed lots of promise as a sophomore last year when he ran 16:44 to finish 66th at the Meet of Champions, and then he ran huge PR's last spring of 4:22.02 for 1,600 and 9:14.54 for 3200. 

Kyvelos, who won't be racing at Saturday's Shore Coaches Invitational, said a fire was lit under him last year, and he challenged himself to work even harder to get faster. So he put in a great summer of training and now all those summer miles and dedication to the sport is paying off.

NJ MileSplit caught up with Kyvelos this week to find out exactly what he did to drop his times so much, his reaction to hos sizzling start, his goals for the season, and he shared an interesting story about how he first got involved in the sport.      

So lean back in your fancy recliner and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on Manalapan star Stephen Kyvelos.

NJM: First of all, congrats on your great start to the season. Three races and three victories and a huge PR of 15:06 to break the course record at the Wild Safari Invit. last Saturday. What does it mean to you to be the new course record holder on that course, and was that something you were targeting as a goal for that race?

Thank you. Going into that race, I hadn't even thought about a course record, or even a time remotely as fast as that. I got on the starting line with my team with the same goals as any other race. I was going to go out and give it my best effort. I'm very happy with my performance and I'm incredibly proud of my team for their performances as well. I would also like to give kudos to the other runners for Saturday, they all did amazing, and I'm happy we were all able to work together to run such fast times. That's something I've always loved about this sport.

How surprised are you by your success this season or is this something you saw coming?

While my team and I did work very hard this summer, there certainly was a degree of surprise. I'm very happy to be where I am, and I have so many people in this awesome community to thank.

You dropped 16 seconds off your time at Thompson Park when you ran 10:09 to open the season (last year you ran 10:25 at the same meet). So obviously you came into this season more fit than last year. What did you differently over the summer to have a stronger base and improve your fitness level so much?

While I feel my summer training definitely aided my improvement a great deal, I would personally assign most of my growth to the indoor and outdoor track seasons of last year. After my performance in the 2021 cross country season some kind of fire awakened in me. I wanted to be better, train harder, and aid my team more as an individual. Ahead of me last year, I had senior teammates Rowan Cassidy and Christian Savage to look up to. I just wanted to run like them. So I put my head down and got to work. I tried to improve in any little way I could, and I'm proud to have accomplished my goal running alongside them or trailing behind them. Summer was just a matter of keeping that fire burning, and for that I want to highlight current senior Jared Povell. Ever since middle school, I've seen nothing less than 100% effort come from him. I'd be lying if I said he hasn't been a major inspiration for me. I'm proud to have the hardest worker I know as my running partner.

What are your biggest individual and team goals for this season? I imagine getting under 16 at Holmdel is probably a big goal, and making a run at trying to win county, conference, sectionals, and groups is probably on your wish list?

Individually, I'm not sure what I could even say. If you told me around this time last year how I'm doing now there's no shot I'd believe you. If I had to pick something, dipping under fifteen minutes at Shore Conference as a junior would be mind blowing for me. As a team, we have lots of young talent. While I'm not sure where we'll be this year as a group, it's an aim of mine to help my teammates achieve goals of their own.

You probably already know that the last Manalapan runner to break 16 at Holmdel is Olympian Robby Andrews (15:58 in 2008). How big of a goal is it for you to try to get under 16, and what would that mean to you?

Robby Andrews is something of a deity to myself and all of my teammates. Everyone knows about that one Olympian who went to Manalapan with all of his unbeatable times scattered across the school's record wall. Even having trained under him and his father through their program, Gone Running, he still seems so unreal. I consider it an honor for you to even consider asking me a question like that. If I could go under 15:58 at Holmdel though, I'd be very happy with myself, to say the least

Last spring, you ran huge PR's of 4:22.02 and 9:14.54. What did running those times do for your confidence and what are your thoughts on the XC and track seasons you had as a sophomore?

I was very happy with my performances in both track seasons last year, and I'd like to point out that they were testaments to the great competition fostered by this state's runners. While I wasn't the happiest with my sophomore year XC season, I can confidently say that it pushed me to work harder, and as such, played a major part in where I am today.

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?

For summer training this year the target was consistency. The first few months started slow and we got to continue running with some of the new alumni before they went off to college. It was tough losing great training partners like Rowan, Christian, and Andrew Smolowitz but I'm happy all three of them are now pursuing even greater heights in running and education. I began implementing weight training into my routine, and as the mileage and intensity of workouts built up, so did the consistent schedule my coaches and father helped me to create. Every action had an explained reason, and all I had to do was put in the work and have faith in my training. I would say my highest weeks mileage wise were in the 60s, but there was a great deal of building up prior to these weeks. Manalapan's new boys XC coach, Coach Will Spector, and on the girls side, Coach Clark, worked hard to ensure the success of all of their athletes.

Every running season Coach Bob Andrews puts together a program called Gone Running, that myself and several of my teammates volunteer at. Gone Running helps young runners develop a love for the sport, not to mention Coach Bob is, simply put, an amazing coach. For the summer season those same 8th graders that we've helped coach join the team and it's always fun watching and helping with the transition. Besides the talented freshman, one of which who is currently ranked #1 in the state for his grade, we already had a great group of runners making up the foundation of our seven. Jared, Kunal Antala, Arhan Nagavelli, Josh Kim, and Philip Pace are all amazing runners and teammates and I'm so lucky to be able to work with them. What is your favorite long run (distance, place, and time) during the summer, and what is your favorite workout during the XC season? My team and I definitely liked "The Cornfields" most. About a mile from Manalapan High School there is a 4 mile trail with a great deal of scenery. Just as the name suggests, corn starts to grow during the XC season and it's fun watching it progress from day to day on runs. How do you feel this season? Is this the most fit you've ever been heading into an XC season I do feel physically stronger relative to last XC season. But other than that, the only thing one can really do is put faith in their training, and let the racing speak for itself. What are your thoughts on how loaded NJ is with distance running talent?

How much does that motivate you and push you to train harder.

New Jersey is very competitive and that's certainly a good thing. I love how we can use each other as motivation to be better, and at the end of the day still respect one another as athletes. Let's rewind the clock. How and why did you get involved in running? Tell me how all this started for you? Funny enough, my introduction to running was not the best. Ever since I began playing sports, my father always insisted my sister and I had to run on the side, in addition to whatever sport it may have been. At the time, I was unequivocally annoyed with this prospect. I never even liked sports, let alone running. My father always told me I would thank him one day. I suppose today's that day then. When middle school rolled around, my mother wanted me to do some kind of extracurricular. And being fed up with soccer, I settled upon cross country and the rest is history. It felt so natural. And why wouldn't it be? I had been doing it my entire life. This is where I met Jared, and from that point on, I ran.

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

During the indoor season last year, in the 3200 meter at sectionals I was coming off of being sick. Something had been mixed up and I was placed in the 3200 instead of my then event of choice, the 1600. Why the 3200 of all races? There was no way I could make groups anymore as my previous times were not very fast compared to my competition. That mistake went on to become one of the best things to ever happen to me in my running career so far. I ran the race as I normally would, but then something just clicked. I wasn't as tired as I should've been. The resulting kick turned out to be my best to date. It all just came together perfectly. What do you love the most about running XC? The feeling of speed you get as you run through narrow trails and longer distances isn't comparable to that of anything else. The perfect running weather is also a major plus.

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

If I had to pick four I would go with Robby Andrews, Alan Webb, Gary Martin, and Matthew Boling.

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

Watching any of Rowan Cassidy's races his junior year when I was a freshman was inspiring. He was the goal for any runner on the team. To be as fast as Rowan was to reach the pinnacle. I'm lucky to have had him as a teammate.

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

I have a weird quirk that causes me to go through running shoes rather quickly. Not even a full season goes by where I don't need a new pair of trainers. For racing spikes this XC season I've gone with ZoomX Dragonflies due to the influx of suggestions from coaches, teammates, and even competing runners.

Favorite running season and why?

My favorite running season is probably outdoor track because it's the perfect time to show off all the year's improvements.

Favorite subject in school and why?

My favorite subject out of the core four would have to be English. I've always been more of a fan of work where there's more than one correct answer.

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

Besides the training, I didn't do anything too special. Just a pretty normal, relaxing summer. I watched TV, played video games, hung out with friends, and volunteered when I could.

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

I really don't know where I'd be without running. I never really liked any of the sports I played. If I hadn't discovered my love for running I'd most likely still be playing soccer.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years time so much can happen. I don't even know where I'll be in just one. But in general, I hope I can continue my career as a runner through college and pass down my love of the sport to the next generation.''