Feature Friday: Nick Kuenkel Leads Way For Surging Cherokee


Over the first month of the season, there have been a handful runners who have dropped huge PRs and emerged as big stars on the trails.

Nick Kuenkel is one of them!  

The junior at Cherokee opened plenty of eyes when he continued his red hot season with a stunning performance at the Shore Coaches Invitational at Holmdel Park last Saturday.

Kuenkel executed coach Steve Shaklee's race plan to perfection, sitting on the leaders the whole way before hitting the gas in the homestretch to take the lead on his way a winning the A Division in 15:56. Kuenkel's victory ignited Cherokee to an impressive 80-89 victory over Westfield in a battle between Group 4 powerhouses. 

Kuenkel also scored a big victory last month when he ran 15:29 to win the Junior Division race at the Battle at Ocean County Park.    

NJ MileSplit caught up with Kuenkel this week to get his thoughts on the fast times he's throwing down, the big goals he has personally and for his team, how his distance running career began, 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 Cherokee star Nick Kuenkel.

NJM: First of all, congrats on your great start to the season. Two big races and two big wins and PR's. What are your thoughts on how you have raced so for? Is this what you expected from yourself or have you been surprised by your victories and your times?

I know that over the summer I have been consistent with the work and I'm always expecting a lot from myself.

You're coming off a great victory with a fast time of 15:56 at the Shore Coaches Invitational. What did it mean to you to run one of the fastest times of the day and become a sub 16 runner at Holmdel. Every runner wants to break 16 at Holmdel, so that had to be a great feeling?

Yeah, it felt pretty good. I didn't really have a specific time that I wanted to hit at Shore Coaches. I just came in looking to win but when I found out that I ran sub 16 it was a good feeling.

You've dropped your PR's by 44 seconds at Ocean County Park and by 2:16 at Holmdel Park, so obviously you came into this season more fit than last year. What did you do differently over the summer to have a stronger base and improve your fitness level so much?

Being consistent over the summer has definitely been the main thing for me. You stayed with the lead pack for most of the race last Saturday before throwing down a wicked kick to win the race in the final stretch. Was that your plan the whole race?

Yeah, the plan for Shore Coaches was a sit and kick. I wasn't looking to take the lead until the very end.

How about your team, Nick. You guys ran a great race to finish ahead of Westfield and several other strong teams at Shore Coaches, and you moved up the rankings to No. 3 in the state. What are your thoughts on how your team raced, and what are the goals you and your teammates have for the rest of the season and what is the potential that your strong pack has? I would think winning the Group 4 state title is on the wish list?

I think as a team we raced well. Although we raced well I know we can perform a lot better later in the season. A Group 4 state title is something that we definitely want to get.

What do you consider your greatest strengths as a distance runner? I would say my consistency and discipline are my greatest strengths.

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

My next race is our county meet, which is on the 14th, and I'm just looking for a team win.

What are your biggest individual goals for the rest of the season, and what kind of time would you like to hit at Groups and Meet of Champions?

My biggest goal this year is to be sub 15:30 at Holmdel.

How many miles a week did you run this summer, where did you do your long runs, who did you run with?

I ran about 60 miles per week over the summer. I usually did my long runs in Marlton and other neighboring towns with my teammates. I went up to Holmdel a couple times as well. 

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

There is a hilly loop in Cherry Hill that I like to run on for my long runs. My favorite workout during the XC season would be 1k repeats at threshold.

How did you feel this season? Is this the most fit you've ever been heading into an XC season I've been feeling good this season.

I think this is the strongest I've been heading into an XC season.

What are your thoughts on how loaded NJ is with distance running talent? How much does that motivate you and push you to train even harder.

I think that it's great to live in a state with such loaded distance running talent. Always having competition helps a lot when racing and also when trying to PR. Also knowing that a lot of guys with a lot of talent are working hard definitely pushes me to train harder.

Let's rewind the clock. How and why did you get involved in running? Tell me how all this started for you?

I first started running in 6th grade. I played baseball but I hurt my arm and it would've taken about three months to heal. My parents suggested that I should try running so that I could stay fit for when I get back to baseball. When my arm finally healed, I started playing baseball again but I was still running. Although I still loved baseball, I started to like running a little bit more and by 7th grade I had stopped playing baseball.

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

My first big breakthrough race was when I won the Cherokee Challenge in 7th grade. I started to train consistently and started to fall in love with the sport. What do you love the most about running XC? I love racing with my team and being able to set new PR's.

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 on a long run with any four pro runners (past or present), I would love to run with Steve Prefontaine, Eliud Kipchoge, Jakob Ingebrigtsen, and Grant Fisher. All of them have inspired me greatly to become a better runner.

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

I don't remember any names specifically but during my freshman year I remember watching guys run some pretty fast times at our Cherokee distance night of 3200s and wanting to be able to run those times.

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

I train in Brooks Hyperion Tempo. They are comfortable on long runs for me and feel speedy enough to run in them for workouts. I race in dragonfly's because they feel the quickest.

Favorite running season and why?

My favorite running season is the fall because after running in the summer heat for so long it feels great to run in cooler weather.

Favorite subject in school and why?

My favorite subject would be history because I really like learning about the past.

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

I would be playing baseball

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I still see myself running.

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

I would tell them to have fun. Having fun in your sport is the most important thing.