Sunday, January 17, 2016

Catching up with Lowell HS senior, Kristen Leung

Today we chat with Lowell HS senior, Kristen Leung (Thomas Benjamin photo to the left). She had a breakout junior Track and Field season highlighted by several outstanding anchor efforts on her school's distance medley relay teams as well as individual times of 4:55.35 in the 1600m and 10:53.11 in the 3200m. This past cross country season, Leung had a terrific season culminated by a 5th place finish in the Division I race at the California state cross country meet and a huge personal record of 17:35.9 on the Woodward Park course.

1) What sports have you participated in competitively aside from XC and TF? When did you get your start in running?
I played basketball and ran the 400m for track in middle school for fun and wasn't very good at either sport. I only had an inkling that I might like long distance running because when I ran the mile for PE, I was that crazy kid who talked during the run and ran extra laps  because of the high I got from it. However, I really didn't realize that a person could run more than a couple miles until I discovered running in my freshman year of cross country.

2) What do you remember about your freshman experiences in both sports? Highlights?
Oh, I had a blast my freshman year. Everything was so new and exciting.. It was the zaniest idea to me that I could run the same distances that I thought one could only travel by car and explore the beautiful nooks and crannies of San Francisco by running.

In retrospect, I think I was the purest runner, running for my love of running, back then before I was exposed to competition. Even though I ran by myself in most of my races, I was innately motivated to push myself to my PRs, and did so consistently. I miss that ability to run at my best without competition, with myself as my biggest competitor.

3) Did you do anything differently before your sophomore cross country season over the summer?
Before my sophomore cross country season, I ran every so often but didn't really know what to do as a freshman. My team doesn't hold off season practices, and my cross country coach is different from my track coach so there's no one telling us what to do in the summer. It wasn't until the past two years that I've realized the importance of the offseason, trained consistently over it, and organized team practices as a co-captain.

4) Where in your high school career do you feel like you made your biggest jump in terms of improvement as a runner? What do you feel led to your improvement?
My biggest improvements have been in the past cross country and track seasons, where I jumped from running a 19:37 at Woodward Park to a 17:35, and a 5:11 1600m to a 4:55. As aforementioned,  I didn't realize how big of an impact offseason training could make on my season performances until  my junior year. When I did, it led to my successes in those two seasons. My increase in mileage from 25-35 to 40-45 miles per week contributed to my improvements in the past cross country season too.

5) What does a typical training week look like for you? Morning runs? Strength work? Typical long run length? Pace of most of your runs?
A week in my midseason training depends on when my league meets are, as they can be on any day of the week, but a sample week could look like this:
Sun- Long run, 8-10 mi @ 7:30-8:00
Mon-  7 mi run, 7:00 pace
Tues- Tempo run @6:05-6:15
Wed- Pre-meet, 4.5 mi
Thur- League meet, 1 mi warm up+1-3 mi cooldown
Fri- Recovery run, 7 mi
Sat- Rest
Weekly mileage: 40-45
We do team core workouts at least once a week, and I try to fit in a few strengthening exercises after every other run.

6) You have different coaches during your cross country and track and field seasons? Is that something you are used to now or is there a transition period every season?
Having different coaches for track and cross country is not really something I have had to get used to, as it's just something that has always been. 

I actually like the situation. Having different coaches offers variety in training philosophies and attitude. One of the coaches is more focused on competition,  while the other is more focused on offering his runners enriching life experiences. 

The only real downsides are the offseason where we have no official coach, and that the two coaches don't particularly like each other because of a feud they had a number of years's like having divorced parents.
7) You finished in 5th place at this year's CA state XC Division I race running 17:35.9. During your first three state meet appearances, you finished in 127, 122 and 115 respectively. What was your goal heading into this state meet and why do you feel, you had such a dramatic improvement?
Well, for starters, I've never really performed at my best at state meet for various reasons. It's at the end of the season, my team tapered too much/too early, I was injured, ate too much, etc. But, as all the cross country t-shirts tell us, there are no XCuses. I buckled down this season and stopped making them.

There were a lot of smaller improvements (some of which I've already mentioned) I made to make my bigger improvements this season:
*Increased offseason training- I kept my entire summer free of internships and summer programs to focus on my training
*Increased mileage- Would run from 25-35 mi/wk in the past, maintained 40-45 mi/wk through this season
*A healthier, stronger mentality- My senior year has been a culmination of my four years as a runner, and I believe it's shown most in my greatest running asset-my mental strength
*Tapering smarter- I did some funky end of the season stuff in the past... 200m "easy" workouts, nearly a month of easy running... it clearly didn't work. 

As to what my goal heading into state was, I was unsure of what to expect. We used to estimate our state meet times would be  a minute faster than our home course times (the SF section course was extremely difficult), but our course changed this year so I didn't have much to go off of. I hadn't faced competition during the season. No runner from my section has ever placed better than 10th. Even running blogs like yours said I was a wildcard, and, honestly, I didn't know what my full potential was either. 

However, the uncertainty of my abilities freed me from external pressure to perform that runners often get psyched out by and I lightly decided to myself to shoot for my Mt. SAC time (17:36), because I felt I could, and/or place in the top 10. I ended up exceeding my expectations and doing both. 

8) Favorite XC course? Favorite XC invitational? Favorite XC workout? Favorite long run? Favorite track event? Favorite track invitational? Favorite track workout? Favorite Lowell tradition? Favorite free time activity?
Favorite XC course: Mt. SAC
It was my team's first time going down to it this year, and we heard so many scare stories about it, but I ended up loving the course. It felt like it was made for cross country with the challenging, fun switchbacks and hills in just the right places during the race. Loved the cute posters from Brooks throughout the race too. The best races are the ones that make it fun. 
Favorite XC Invitational: Nike Pre-Nationals
Lowell has only gone once while I've been here, but we team had the best time ever. We flew up to Portland, got to explore the city, karaoke, stay at a fancy hotel...we made so many good memories there. To top it off, the Nike people treated us well, with a tour of the Nike campus, a dinner with all the competing teams, and a Q&A session with Jordan Hasay. We didn't even mind the pouring rain, mud, and hay bales we had to jump over on the horse track the race was on. 
Favorite XC workout: Our assistant coach introduced a new workout this year where you have to run 800m or 400m repeats, getting the same time or better each repeat. If you are off your time more than once, you end the workout. The real challenge- no looking at your watch!
Favorite long run: Any long run with the team. The biggest goofballs I've ever met are on the team, and we always end up having these hilariously nonsensical conversations during runs and discovering beautiful parts of San Francisco. The other team captain brings along speakers and we all bellow Taylor Swift songs. 
9) Do you have any good (humorous) Andy Leong stories that you can share with my audience?
Oh geez. Too many. Andy is a huge character, and the heart of team. It's hard to describe him to another person, but just imagine a fiery older Asian man with the attitude of a kid from the hoods of San Francisco, the sensibility of an accountant, and the heart of a someone who acts as a father to a team of over 150 runners. Also a mustache, ancient cellphone on a neck lanyard, fanny pack, Lowell baseball cap, white crew socks, and sandals. This guy has cussed out Harvey Milk, George Moscone, every careless driver who has ever crossed him on the streets, and probably you too, but he defends his team with a wild fire to rival those in the dry lands of SoCal. (He's adamant about making a name for Lowell there)

10) Have you decided what college you will attend next year? If not, how much will running be a factor in your decision?
Nope, not committed yet. Before the past year, I  couldn't imagine being a collegiate runner, but life takes us to unexpected places and now I can't imagine NOT running in college. However, I'm looking for a balance, and don't want training to be so overwhelming that it hinders my academics, and vice versa. 

11) Looking ahead to the track and field season, what races are you most looking forward to and any goals that you want to share?
In the past, I've trained mostly for middle distance because my team had a strong DMR (4th fastest time in the nation last year!) and 4x800m, but with my successful XC season, I'm hoping to focus on longer distances more and run the 3200m at the Dublin Distance Fiesta to (hopefully) qualify for the Arcadia Invitational 3200m.

In my best event, the 1600m, I'm aiming to sub 4:50, which isn't too far off from my current PR of 4:55.

12) Anything else you would like to add.
It definitely takes a hard-working, determined runner to be successful in cross country, but one has to pay respect to the huge amount of luck that is involved in any success. I am blessed to have such a supportive circle of coaches, family, teammates, and friends who inspire and encourage my running. I wouldn't be where I am today without them. 

Thank you for reaching out to me for this interview and for all the work you put into this blog! I love reading about fellow runners and updates in world of NorCal XC, and it's an honor to be a part of it.

Thank you very much for your time Kristen! AJC


Anonymous said...

what a terrific interview with a terrific young lady! Will follow her progress through the Track year!

Anonymous said...

Great interview, it was very honest. I'd love to know more about this: "the two coaches don't particularly like each other because of a feud they had a number of years's like having divorced parents."

Anonymous said...

Great interview, it was very honest. I'd love to know more about this: "the two coaches don't particularly like each other because of a feud they had a number of years's like having divorced parents."

Albert Caruana said...

This was covered during my interview with coach Leong.

Anonymous said...

I read the interview and saw he is not the coach but there's nothing in what the feud was about.

Albert Caruana said...

Also here:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see that you interviewed Kristen Leung. I had noticed (and very much admired!) her incredible improvement and success this season. It's nice to get some of the back story. Best wishes for continued success in the future, Kristen!

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