Hard to believe but Grace Connolly still has two more years left in her high school career.
The Natick standout begins her junior year of cross-country and track and field in 2017-18. In her two previous years on the trails and the oval, Connolly has accomplished what few have achieved by the time they've graduated. Last year, one of our state's finest distance runners claimed her first cross-country title and finished her season in grand style by earning All-American status with a splendid ninth-place showing at the Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego. That was just the opening act for Connolly, who would win three more individual titles (mile, two mile) on the indoor and outdoor surfaces and achieve All American again with a sixth-place effort in the mile at the New Balance Nationals Indoor Championships. This is just a brief summary of what Connolly has done once a pair of racing shoes are firmly placed on her feet. We also can't forget when she bursts onto the scene as a ninth-grader, finishing among the top of the pack in most major meets and consistently challenging her more seasoned rivals.
What's in store for this great Natick runner as she embarks on her junior campaign? MileSplit MA caught up with Connolly in this latest Q&A feature where Connolly talks about her upcoming X-C season and her plans for the future. Check it out below.
MileSplit MA: You had a great year last year, especially cross country where you
won your first state crown and finished ninth at the Foot Locker Nationals. How
do you follow up a season like that?
What's your plans for this fall?
Grace: My main plans for this fall are not only to stay healthy and uninjured, but to race and train conservatively throughout the entire cross country season. The past two seasons of cross country have taught me to think about the larger meets and bigger picture contributing to post-season and not to worry too much about racing early in the season. With that being said, my coach and I are in the process of planning out my season, keeping post-season, All-States and regionals in mind. Overall, I just want to enjoy the cross country season, be there for my team, not over-race, and run some fast times and performances to prepare me for All-States and Regionals that will hopefully qualify me for Foot Locker Nationals again!
MileSplit MA: Based on your recent win at the Thomas Cochary Mile in Falmouth a few weeks ago, it appears your summer training has been going well. What have you done the last few months to prepare for the fall? On the subject of that mile race, what was the goal before the start? You certainly had some great competition with defending champion Rachel Sassa and Clare Martin in the field.
Grace: Just as the summer started, I took a three-week break off from running to let my body rest and recover after a long season and year. At the beginning to mid July, I slowly eased back into running, doing some easy long runs and letting my body adjust to working out again. After a few weeks of increasing long runs, I was able to start doing tempo runs, but my coach and I try to minimize speed work during the summer to use the time to build up endurance for the cross country season. I just focused on keeping my endurance and using the tempo runs to gain some longer-speed during the summer.
I was able to run the Thomas Cochary Mile in Falmouth last year against a great field, so I was super excited to get the opportunity to run again this summer. After learning the field, I knew it could've been anyone's race and had no idea where my competitors and their speed work was at, especially during summer training. Coming into the race and before the start with minimal speed, I simply gave the race all I had and tried to use every last bit of a kick.
MileSplit MA: Are there any out-of-state meets that you plan to compete in this fall to test your fitness level against some elite competition? I know last year you competed, and won the Championship race of the Ocean State Invitational. Will you be returning to the Rhode Island meet this year? How about the Manhattan Invitational in New York or any other high-level meet?
Grace: As I said before, my coach and I are still in the process of planning out my season and aren't sure exactly what races I will be running in yet. I definitely hope to run in some out-of-state meets, but because we have so many awesome meets in MA that overlap with many of those, I need to decide which ones I will compete in.
MileSplit MA: You ran a 5K best of 17:46 at the Eastern Division Championships and clocked 17:50 at Foot Locker. Do you have any time goals that you hope to achieve this year? How fast do you think you can run if everything goes as planned?
Grace: Since Division 2 Championships are at Wrentham again this year, I'm hoping I can significantly get my time down on that course, especially after racing it so many times. Because of the different courses both in and out of state, it's so hard to compare cross country times and to guess what time I will run, but I just hope to shave some time off my 5k times all around with some great competition.
MileSplit MA: What are your thoughts on the All State Meet being held at the Wrentham Developmental Center where you ran your PR? Why do you think you were able to run such a good time there last year?
Grace: Since I've raced at Wrentham since my freshman year, I'm definitely excited that All States will be held there. It's a great course and I'm happy that I'll have some experience coming into it. I think I was able to run this PR because of how spectator-based the course is. There are people cheering all around and it truly gives me so much adrenaline to go faster. Also, the fact that we run three similar loops around the course makes accurate mile splits.
MileSplit MA: What do you consider your favorite workout during cross country and why?
Grace: My favorite workout during cross country is 800, 1,000, or mile
repeats. As much as I love long runs and exploring new places, I love getting a
solid track workout in to get my legs moving and to build up some long-distance
speed for my upcoming races.
MileSplit MA: When everything is all said and done, what would you consider a successful season?
Grace: In my opinion, I consider a successful season full of great PR's, no injuries, racing on new courses and tracks and meeting new people along the way.
MileSplit MA: Finally, you have also endured success on the track with PRs of 4:52 for the mile and 10:41 for the two mile as well as more state crowns. What do you enjoy more - cross country or track - and why?
Grace: I get this question a lot and have no idea, honestly! I love both equally and they are so hard to compare. Both cross country and track have their similarities, but are so different in my eyes. I love cross country and running through new trails and courses, but I also love all of the spectators on the track.
Now some random questions...
MileSplit MA: Who is your favorite athlete and why?
Grace: My favorite athlete is Jenny Simpson. She is such an inspiring, positive and kind individual and every single race she runs is an exciting one. Her work ethic is remarkable and she seems like such an awesome person to be around.
MileSplit MA: What's your favorite food?
Grace: My favorite food is peanut butter. It's my go-to snack and is just so
MileSplit MA: What's your favorite TV show? Movie?
Grace: My favorite TV show is Modern Family and my favorite movie is Just Go With It.
MileSplit MA: If stranded on an island, what would be the one thing you would need to ease the insanity?
Grace: I would definitely need my dog because he is so energetic and adorable.