NCSSM alumni Steven Mulherin, who struggled with injuries early in his collegiate career, has put it all together this season as he finished 9th at the D1 NCAA Southeast Regional last weekend. His finish earned him a spot at the NCAA Championship this Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky. Mulherin really broke into an outstanding runner during his senior season where he was able to claim a NCHSAA 1A State title and posted the 5th fastest time of the meet. Below is an interview with Mulherin after his XC state meet victory. The Tarheel looks to push for an All-American (top 40) performance at NCAAs.
Along with Mulherin, other North Carolina advancers to the NCAA D1 Championships were the NC State men and Women who feature Ryen Frazier, Samantha George, Kaitlyn Kramer, Rachel Koon, Bakri Abushouk, Sam Roberson, and Tanis Baldwin. Outside of North Carolina colleges, Craig Engles advanced as his Ole Miss squad finished second at the South Regional, and Whitney Thornburg who advanced with New Mexico at the Mountain Regional.
What was your mindset and race plan going into the Southeast regional as you were eyeing a spot at NCAAs?
Hang and bang man. There's nothing else to do. The only decision you have to make is if you're going to bang a little harder than you hang or hang a little harder than you bang. For a 10k on the most challenging course in the nation, my move was to do a whole lot of hanging and just a little bit of banging.
Talk us through what was going through your mind during the regional race.
I had experience racing with a bunch of the guys in the top 20 already this season, so I knew who's hang pace was my bang pace. In addition I knew the perfect hang to bang ratio was 8k of hang and 2k of bang, so there wasn't a chance I was going out with the leaders from the gun. There were about 6 individuals in the lead pack at 5k and only 4 individuals get to go to NCAAs, so it required a good mental game not to freak out and bang too early. It turns out a couple of those individuals were banging when they were supposed to be hanging, so they came back and got eaten up by the chase pack. I found myself at 8k with 2 individuals in front of me and 1 breathing down my neck. One of the individuals in front of was an international runner from Kenya with a cool last name so I made sure to bang extra hard to catch him since my parents were there and I wanted to impress them. I ate that guy up and finished 9th, a good enough performance for a chance to get Allie Ostrander's number at the pre-race banquet.
What goals do you have for NCAAs?
To get Allie O's number because I like mountains and I love what she does with them. Then an all-american performance if I have enough time.
What kind of training do you do at this point of the season?
I'm getting old and I didn't invest all this time in running just to be average, so I went with a beyond aggressive training plan this summer/season. ~100 miles/week on singles (7 runs a week). So from that, the week before NCAAs i'm hitting 80% of my maximum weekly mileage, ~80 miles/week. In addition, about 4 days out from every race, we do repeats at tempo pace. This week that will be 8x800 w/ 45" recovery.
When committing to UNC as a senior in high school did you see yourself at this point?
No way man. The two recruiting classes before me were both the best in the nation. Everyone was either a sub 9, sub 4:10, or sub 15 minute guy. I was a 9:17, 4:21, 15:37 guy. Everyone had been to Footlocker Nationals, I got like 90th in my region. I sucked and to this day have no idea why Ryan Vanhoy let me on the team.
What is the biggest difference between you as a runner in high school and now?
Not much. Other than higher mileage, I am still running entirely too hard in workouts and not spending nearly enough time stretching. Actually, wait a second. I have an enormous beard now. That's extremely relevant to running.
Despite only having juniors and seniors NCSSM is consistently a top program in NC, how is NCSSM always able to produce strong teams?
Information. The North Koreans don't know what the heck is going on right? Well a kid living in a rural area of North Carolina is similar. He shows up to his high school practice and is exposed to one opinion of training philosophy. For example, maybe the highest mileage this kid has ever heard of anyone doing is 25 miles/week. He does 30 and thinks he is training hard. Well when this kid comes to NCSSM, he now has teammates who have collectively been exposed to 50 different opinions. He can now make a much better decision with this new information.
.........or with this thing called the internet he can get on Milesplit and be exposed to thousands of opinions. So if he knows how to use the internet this argument is bogus. In this case NCSSM's success is from the brilliant coaching staff. I had Nick Lehman and assistant Jim Smith. They knew their stuff dude. I have meet the current coach a handful of times and it seems like he has seen it all in the world of t&f so I am positive he knows his stuff.
What eligibility do you have remaining and are you planning to use your 5th year eligibility?
I have a 5th year in both xc and t&f. I potentially have a 6th year in xc. I plan on going to graduate school somewhere at elevation and near the mountains. There are a few possibilities.
What is your favorite moment from high school running?
Training runs around downtown Durham with the squad. Beyond those details, I can't give you much. Let's just say our class's graduation was bitterSWEET.
What are you studying and what do you plan to do with your degree?
I'm hanging and banging my way through a computer science and statistics degree. Probably why my grammar sucks. Anyway, my ultimate dream is to be a professional mountaineering (seriously). So I figure an appropriate transition into that world would be going to graduate school somewhere in the mountains. To be honest, computer science and statistics doesn't really do it for me anymore so I doubt i'll ever do anything worthwhile in those fields. And i'm not so stoked on the idea of being average, so I think i'll go for it in mountaineering.
Who has been the biggest inspiration to you?
My parents. As I start crowning from the womb that is a liberal arts campus, I can see that there is no way anybody enjoys 9-5 work. They power through it for me though. So there is no way in heck I am going to just be an average student or average runner. My parents deserve a good show, so I put it on for them.