Jonathon Riley appeared at the doorstep of Brookline High School like a gift from above. Originally from New York, he transferred in his junior year just days after qualifying for the 1995 Foot Locker National Championships. Mike Glennon had just started his first year of coaching at the school following a successful stint at Boston Latin, but a talent like Riley proved to be a completely different beast.
Coach Glennon recalls, “We knew we were getting a tremendous athlete. Having a talent like Jon really makes you work and learn so you don’t mess him up. “
And learn they did, often having to create unprecedented workouts to continue the success of an athlete with national championship aspirations. “One great workout he did in races was to run 60 second quarters followed by 90 second quarters for a 2 mile run in 10 minutes.”
The combination of dedicated coach and athlete proved to be a successful partnership, and Jonathon developed into one of the most highly decorated high school athletes in the history of the state. While a senior at Brookline, he won the 1996 Division 1 State Championship to cap-off a prep career that included 16 All-American honors and the fastest 1500m in 20 years (3:43.16). But his high school days were just the beginning of an illustrious career.
Jonathon would spend the next four years at Stanford where he won four national titles, set the school record in the 3,000m (7:46), and was part of a World Record setting DMR team. At the time Stanford was an iconic cross country program that won national championships in 1996 and 1997. Running on a team stocked with talent, Jonathon once again found a way to post performances that stood out among the crowd; thus cementing his place in Stanford distance running history.
Following his collegiate career, Jonathon went on to run professionally for Nike where he posted personal bests of 3:57.07 in the mile and 13:19.92 in the 5K; in addition to running in the 2004 Atlanta Olympic Games. He has since settled in Portland, Oregon, where he currently works as a Track and Field Product Testing Analyst for Nike.
MileSplitMasss was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask Jonathon a few questions about his high school experience. With a running resume that is rivaled by very few, who better to give advice to the current Massachusetts cross country stars as they prepare for their biggest race of the year.
You won the 1996 Massachusetts State Championship as an individual and your Brookline team was second to Gloucester after winning the EMass Division 1 Championship. What was that experience like and what title are you most proud of?
Even though we didn't win the state meet, it was a great season with a great team. Winning the E-Mass Championship as a team in ridiculously rainy and muddy conditions was a blast and lining up at states beside the rest of the team was exactly what cross country is all about.
Winning an individual state cross country title was always a significant goal for me and accomplishing that against the great competition in Massachusetts was very meaningful. I also think it was the best cross country race I ran in high school. Although we didn't win the team title, having my teammates there to celebrate our successful season and winning individually was what mattered.
You went on to finish 8th in the Foot Locker Nationals that year, how did you manage the multiple weeks of intense racing?
Multiple weeks of racing can be difficult and I unfortunately didn't manage it as well as possible in the fall of 1996. As I mentioned, I think the state meet was my best race, by footlocker regionals I began feeling under the weather and struggled hard to win. After that I had a full-on cold/flu. At footlocker nationals I wasn't myself and 8th place was a disappointing finish. I can't say I would do anything differently though. If I took it easy at state or regionals there's no guarantee I would've done better at nationals and I would've sacrificed those races. So, my advice for managing weeks of intense racing: 1) Make sure you keep your mileage and workouts up early in the season to build your strength for late season. 2) Take recovery when you need it (between races). If you push to the point of getting run down, it could be too late to recover. 3) Be excited! Racing is fun, especially at championship time. If you approach races with enthusiasm you'll improve your chances of success.
What advice do you have for the athletes that will be attempting to win a state title on Saturday?
Believe in yourself and be positive. Those that reach their goals must first believe they are possible. That may sound cliche, but it's true. Race-wise: talk to your coach about how the race is likely to go and make a race plan that's best for you. Having a plan will reduce unnecessary stress and allow you to achieve your best results. Be adaptable and ready for things to change though, races can be unpredictable. It's also important to stay relaxed, even when running fast. If you feel yourself red-lining, take a deep breath, drop your shoulders and stay in control. Late in the race, fight for every place and second you can; individual and team races can be won or lost by a step.
What is one thing you would like to see done differently in the state of Massachusetts to help further the development of cross country and track on a national scale?
I think something that continues to build pride and camaraderie among runners in the state will move MA running forward. One idea is a high-level cross country camp for Massachusetts or New England runners. The camp could bring together top athletes in respective grades, allow for great training together, leverage the experience of coaches across the state, bring in elite athletes as guest to provide experience and encourage kids to set their sights high. The camp could become a goal for kids around the state and help motivate them.
Another idea would be to have more invitational cross country and track meets where the top kids in New England compete. When I was running in upstate New York, we had weekly indoor track meets in Syracuse. This was the only competition available aside from championship meets. The result was amazing competition from across the region, regardless of school size or division. I feel like I made my biggest strides during this season when I had the opportunity to chase better athletes. I'm not sure how this could be implemented but solid competition will increase the level, success and enthusiasm of the athletes in MA.
More with Jonathon Riley........