Cross Country Q&A - Thomas Graham


How did you get started in the sport?

When I was in the 7th grade my friend Alex wanted to be on the cross country team, but didn't want to do it alone, so he asked me to do it with him. I'd run an okay gym mile in the 6th grade, so I thought it would be fun and I would be okay at it. My first race was in the fall of my 7th grade year and I got 4th place at the local park. After that, I never lost another one until I started running up on the varsity team in 8th grade. We would mess around during practice a lot in the 7th grade, but once I was in 8th grade and got the invitation to run up on the varsity team, I started to skip out on the walks in the woods and actually do my runs for real every day.

What has your summer training consisted of?

I've felt really good about this summer of training in comparison to the past. I've been at 80-85 miles consistently for the last 8 weeks or so, and I'm feeling pretty strong at this point. I haven't done too many interval type workouts, but twice a week or so I do some sort of up tempo work. I do a lot of progression runs and aerobic threshold type work on the harder days, and then just put in the miles on the easier days. I went to two different running camps, one in Chapel Hill with UNC and another in Asheville, NC that's run by NC State. I've done both the camps in the past, and they're both awesome.

You mentioned high mileage training.  Does this kind of play into your race strategy because you aren't one that is known for having a big kick?

I definitely prefer to run higher mileage. When I was a freshman I ran 40-50 and have progressed steadily about ten miles a year in season and during base periods. I feel like running more miles has given me the strength to be competitive in races that I wouldn't otherwise without a kick. Even without workouts, I can usually come into a season after having done nothing but base mileage and be relatively fit.

You lose two seniors in Alex Evans (10th) and Kenji Jameel  (29th) but return everyone else including Colin Godwin who finished 4th last year. How is the team looking this year and who are some guys that you expect to step up?

Colin is the man. He runs okay all season long and then consistently comes on amazingly for conferences and states (we don't have a regional meet). He's been training a lot better this season early so we expect really big things from him after his track season (4:24, 9:30). We have a new freshman coming in this year, Joshua Mitchell, who should be strong for us too. He's been doing all his training runs with Colin so hopefully he won't be too far back in races.

As a team you've finished second the past three seasons; twice to Durham Academy and last year to Providence Day. What is it going to take to finally break that streak and become team champions?

It's always been a goal of ours to win a state championship. We generally go into the state meet very low on the radar, and thanks to our awesome coaching from Conrad Hall, peak just at the right time and upset a lot of the better ranked teams, but we've never had quite enough. This year though we're really excited about the level of fitness we have as a team and we all know this is the year to do big things. Anything short of a state title will definitely be a disappointment.

You finished third as an 8th grader and have won states the last three years. How would you sum up your career so far and are there any performances that stick out to you?

Looking back I can't believe the amount of success I've had in the sport so far. When I started I thought it was something that I might be able to find a niche in, but looking at guys like Taylor Gilland and Ryan Hill as an underclassman, I never thought that I would legitimately be aiming to break their records as a senior. One big breakthrough performance that I remember was the Wolfpack Cross Country Invite my sophomore year where I ran a huge PR 15:15 and just finished second to now-UNC runner Jake Hurysz. That really started to change my goals. Qualifying for Footlocker last year was definitely the most memorable race though.


You've also had a lot of postseason success. You finished 24th, 14th, and 9th at Foot Locker South. How do you maintain peak performance in that gap between states and Foot Locker?

Between states and Foot Locker South I've done the Reagan 2 Mile Tune Up every year since I was a freshman. This coming season will be my 4th time running the race and I would recommend it to anybody that wants to see where their fitness is and run a good two mile after states. Coach Chris Catton from Reagan does an awesome job setting up the meet and getting all the best kids to go, and the atmosphere there is something that I've never found at any other meet. It's low key, but really high energy and I'd tell anyone that's running Foot Locker/NXN to enter.

This year was your first time at Foot Locker Nationals and you placed 20th. Two other North Carolina guys  Blake Williams (15th) and Scott Morgan (19th) were also in the top 20 with you. What was your race strategy going into a meet of that caliber and what was the whole experience like for you?

There was definitely no agreement to stick together at Foot Locker Nationals, but the way that the race played out left us all on a pretty level playing field. Blake and Scott stuck their noses in a lot more than I did and they were up front at the 800/mile mark while I was dead last. Balboa is a good course for me since the hills play to my strength. I made up a lot of ground on those and eventually passed both of them by the top of the hill the second time. They both ended up kicking me down though and we finished within 10 seconds of each other. Getting to meet all the other runners from around the nation was the coolest part of the experience. It was really laid back until race day and even then most people were just trying to stay relaxed which is what I tried to do.

What are your goals for your senior season?

My main goal this season is to finish top five at Foot Locker Nationals, but along the way, I'm hoping to be able to pick up a win at the Foot Locker South meet and then point towards a couple of others. My first big invitational is WNC Carnival in Hendersonville, NC, and I'm hoping to break the 15:18 course record there. Other than that, I'd like to hopefully break fifteen minutes before Foot Locker South, but we'll see if that ends up happening. I'll have two other meets at McAlpine before that so I'll be pretty disappointed if I don't get under it one of those times too.

Who do you consider role models in the sport?

I definitely would say that I look up to a lot of the local college guys who have helped to guide me through high school running. The NC State guys like Greg Dame, Andrew Colley, Adam Henken, among a lot of others there, and Jake Hurysz, Isaac Presson, Mohamed Abushouk from UNC. They have given me advice and run with me over the last three years or so and I think they've made a huge difference in my progress.

What are your hobbies outside of running?

I like outdoorsy stuff. I do a lot of mountain biking, but also like to just spend time with friends, swim, drive places, and walk my dog. We spend a lot of time at Bojangles.

What is the one item you can't live without?

I couldn't live without Bojangles' Cajun Filet Biscuits.

What is your favorite thing about being a runner?

I love that running can be anything to anyone. If you want to use it to get away from everything stressful in your life it's perfect for personal time and reflection. If you want to use it as a way to meet people  then cross country teammates can be some of the best friends you'll ever find. For me, it's a combination of the two. It's not as high profile as playing football or basketball, but it can take you just as many places maybe even more especially in high school. Whenever I don't want to go run or work out or do the little things I just remember how much it's given me and it's a lot easier.


Thomas Graham Athlete Profile