interviews Sarah Zerzan

SALEM, ORE. (Interview courtesy of -- Sarah Zerzan is a senior chemistry major at Willamette University. A three-time All-American, her running accomplishments include everything from school record holder to multiple Athlete of the Year awards to recent First Team ESPN Academic All-America honors. The true embodiment of a student-athlete, her considerable running prowess may only be exceeded by her modesty -- when asked originally if she would give this blog an interview, the returning cross country national champion claimed to be “flattered that you would be willing to write about me.” She found time between training to defend her 2006 Cross Country National Championship and working on her biochemistry thesis to answer some questions.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, like where you're from and how you got started running?
I am a senior at Willamette in Salem, OR. I was born and raised in San Carlos, CA, which is in the Bay Area and which I think is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It's about a 10 mile drive to the beach, which can't be beat. I actually began athletics as a soccer player in 1st grade and added basketball in 4th grade. I didn't start running on a team until grade school, when I was a 200/400m runner and shot putter. I began distance running in high school, when I finally gave up soccer and basketball. I'm pretty sure I started just because my brother (who is 2 years older than me) and my dad both did it, so I figured I might as well try. I'm glad I did.

How do your PRs in high school compare to what you've done so far in college? More importantly, how has your understanding of training, racing, and running in general evolved?
My PRs have improved greatly since high school. I can't really quote any exact numbers, but I just feel like a stronger and smarter runner. I feel like I've really grown as a runner and a person in the Willamette program, which I think is a testament to the knowledge and dedication of both the coaches and the other runners in the program. I've learned how to run with my teammates, how to train smarter, not harder, and I've come to enjoy running more than ever.

What drew you to choose Division III, and Willamette University in particular?
I chose to go to Willamette mostly because it was a Division III school, because I like being able to focus on my academics. I'm a pre-med student, and so had to carry a pretty heavy class load, and Willamette allowed me to both study and run. Also, my father, grandparents, and 5 aunts and uncles went to Willamette, so there was a bit of a family

What was your training like this past summer?
It was pretty consistent. I was working in a biotech lab in Palo Alto, so I had to get up around 5:30 am to run. I did my fair share of complaining, but it was actually quite beautiful to be able to run as the sun rose over the bay, when most people were still at home and asleep. I ran about 60-65 miles a week, nothing very fast.

What are your goals for yourself and your team this season and year?
I have pretty lofty goals for myself and my team, but I also recognize that they are goals, not expectations. There is nothing that I should do or that my team has to do, but there is so much that we could it, it is very exciting. I would like to repeat a top ten finish at nationals, and I would love to see my teammates up there with me.

What is your favorite workout during the cross country season and what do you like about it?
I love hill workouts, anything on the hills, because we don't run them too often, and since I live on Hilltop Dr. in San Carlos, I grew up around a few hills. Running them reminds me of home.

What did you learn from the experience of winning a national championship in cross country last year, and how does that compare with the lessons you learned finishing as runner-up in the 5000m at the outdoor championships?
(Wow this is a tough question!) I guess both races taught me that the individual who wins a championship is the person who is best on that day. Championships aren't ever guaranteed; they depend so much on the conditions and the states of the people in them, both mentally and physically. I was lucky enough to be on last year at nationals in cross, and ended up winning, which was an absolutely amazing experience. I wasn't so on at nationals in track, but still managed to come away with second. I learned that there are factors that I can control, and other factors that I can't, and to perform my best I need to do all that I can to make the best of those factors that I can control, and just roll with those that I can't. I'm not sure if this makes sense; I'm just trying to say that I've learned not to worry about the things that I can't change, because worrying obviously won't change them. And I've also learned not to put too much emphasis on one performance, because I know that no one race will ever define me as an individual.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and/or running?
My father has been a very big presence in my life, both in running and in general. He raised my brother and me by himself, and I think that he did an amazing job (if that doesn't sound too boastful) and I am eternally grateful for all of the sacrifices he made and lessons that he taught me. He was an excellent runner, but he never made me take up running. It was always my choice. He never made me do anything (I guess he realized pretty early on that I was so willful that there was nothing he could do to make me do things), but always encouraged me. I love being able to run with him because it is when we talk best. He is an incredible person.

What do you like the most about Willamette Cross Country?
I love my teammates and coaches. We are a TEAM first, and that has always been the emphasis, and I love being among such an amazing group of people and seeing them progress and improve, and knowing that they support me always. And as for the coaches, they really know their stuff. It's nice to be able to put such complete confidence in someone.

What's the relationship between the track team and the other athletic teams? What's the athletic culture like at Willamette?
I'd say the runners definitely hang out among themselves a lot, but we also like to be involved with other teams. Athletics is a way of unifying people at Willamette; I know athletes from all other sports and take an interest in how their seasons are going, and they are always eager to hear how the running is. It's a very positive environment.

How do other students (non-runners) and professors at your school view the track team and its members?
Willamette had a tradition of a very strong running program, and so there is a lot of support on campus, both from other students, from faculty, and from staff. It's great to go to a school where so many people care about running.

Though most people probably know you from your running exploits, you've accomplished a lot in the classroom and in various extracurricular activities. Can you describe a bit about the socially conscious causes you're involved in and how you see that fitting in with--and even reinforcing�"your running?
I am actively involved in the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC) chapter on the Willamette campus. It is an organization devoted to raising awareness about and taking action against the global pandemic of AIDS. I'm not sure how it relates to running, exactly. I guess maybe running is something that all people can do, something that unites us all. I think that this is true of athletics in general; in its purest form, it is sheer human endeavor, the innate desire to push oneself to one's limit and see what one is capable of. This is a beautiful and positive way of showing how we are all united in humanity. Confronting AIDS involves a similar, although much less positive, need to recognize that we are all humans and we are all equal, and AIDS does not discriminate based on gender, race, ethnicity, or social class. It can affect all levels of mankind, and we, as human beings, need to recognize the suffering of others and take action to alleviate it, because we need to recognize our common humanity.

Having so many options open to you--athletically, academically, and from a social justice standpoint--what are your thoughts looking ahead to your post-collegiate days?
Right now I am embroiled in the medical school application process; if I am accepted I plan on attending medical school next year, and will hopefully become a pediatrician.

Do you follow running at the collegiate or professional levels at all?
A little. I like to follow the exploits of my former teammates, and I like to know what's going on at the top, just because it amazes me how talented so many people are, and how fast they can run. My dad and more knowledgeable teammates try to keep my up to date on the world of running.

Would you care to confess to what extent you lurk on or other message boards?
I'm actually embarrassed to admit that I have never been to and probably would not understand how to navigate it; I am quite inept when it comes to using the internet.

Do you keep an online running log that you'd be willing to share?

Sadly enough, I do not have such a log. Please note the explanation of the previous question.

Are there any other closing thoughts or pieces of wisdom you'd like to share?
I wish that I had some profound wisdom to share about running, but I'm still new to it and make so many mistakes it's not even funny. But I can always rely on the advice of others, so I'll share my favorite quotation from one of my favorite runners of all time, Emil Zatopek. He said, "Great is the victory, but the friendship of all is greater." I love
running because it unites people: teammates, competitors, family. It is so beautiful and free, and I think that through running we can learn more and more about ourselves and about those around us each day.

Thanks to Sarah Zerzan for a fantastic interview.

The original TrackShark interview can be found HERE. Interviews Sarah Zerzan Interviews Sarah Zerzan