Oct. 15, 2010
Redshirt freshman Gareth Gilna readily admits to year one falling into the "learning experience" category. A native of Los Alamos, New Mexico, Gilna had some of the best prep credentials of any freshman in the country last year, but was dogged by injuries during the 2009-10 season, competing sparingly unattached. Armed with the knowledge of what it would take to be successful, Gilna has been a completely new runner so far this year, running in UW's top-five all season thus far, including finishing second on the team at the Notre Dame Invitational two weeks back in his first road trip. Now Gilna heads to Terre Haute, Indiana for the first time for Saturday's Pre-Nationals. He talked to GoHuskies.com this week about what it took to jumpstart his college career, life growing up in New Mexico, and how the women's NCAA title played a part in bringing him to Washington.
GoHuskies.com: So how was the whole experience of your first time on the travel squad?
Gareth Gilna: It was great to go. I really was excited about making the team. It was obviously my goal going into the season. Maybe I was a little distracted by that, but it was definitely a really fun experience. But then there was definitely a lot more stuff that I learned from the race opposed to traveling. That was obviously the most important part. It was a big learning experience for me. I've never been in a race like that really. I mean, New Mexico had some good top people but not very deep, so every race I was top-five from the get-go, so I never really had to deal with a hundred really good runners just bodying, trying to get to that first top-20 spot, so it was pretty crazy.
GH: It was obviously a bit chaotic for you guys with Max and Cameron going out. Did you know you were the number two runner or could you tell where you were at on the team?
GG: I saw Cam when he dropped out. Definitely seeing that was pretty discouraging. When I saw it happen, I knew that we had to step up, and I was hoping that everybody was right behind me. I had no idea what was going on, it was very chaotic, but kind of from the get-go you could tell it was a little flat, nobody really got out that well. It was a big learning experience for our team and we've got to look at it to learn, but we can't stay stuck on it, we have to move forward to the next race.
GH: Do you think you guys have bounced back well in practice since then?
GG: Yeah, a week ago, last Tuesday I thought we had a great five-minute repeat workout. I think as JD said we `got our swag back' a little bit.
GH: So what were some of the obstacles during last season that you had to overcome?
GG: Freshman year was just a big stupid mistake on my part (laughs). I kind of had shin pain and I had other things related to the shin pain, so I'd stay off my shin and other things would get hurt. Eventually I talked to (athletic trainer) John (Jackson) about it, because I was too stubborn to talk to him before, and I found out I had a stress fracture, so I was out for a long time. After that, indoor started and then outdoor started and I was just racing without a base, so I saw no improvement. It was frustrating, but it was another learning experience. It doesn't really count since I redshirted it all--which I'm very glad I did, because we were thinking about not doing it--but it just made me rethink what I need to do to be a good runner. I had to change a lot of things, set my priorities.
GH: Are you excited to get on the track this year and show more of what you can do?
GG: Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it. The other day I was writing down my goals for track, and just thinking about the potential for this track season. Staying healthy is obviously my number one goal of course. I'm excited for our team, we can have really good DMRs indoors, but definitely I'm thinking more about cross country than track right now.
GH: Since this is your first full college cross country season, how do you feel you're holding up through the whole grind?
GG: Yeah, yesterday was probably one of the best runs I've had since I've been here. I felt super strong, it felt really easy. I'm excited for the workout today, and then the five minute repeats went really well. I'm really excited for the rest of the season, I think it's just going to keep going up from here.
GH: Was it a tough transition to 8k or pretty smooth for you?
GG: I really like the longer stuff. It's obviously tough, you go through 5k real close to your PR, and you're like `oh gosh I still have another two miles to go.' So it's tough and definitely much more of a grind than high school, but I love it, it's fun, it's completely different and way more intense and it just makes racing that much better.
GH: What was your training like this summer in terms of mileage. You mentioned (in an earlier story) you were pretty much training alone in Knoxville?
GG: Well I'd wake up at six in the morning every morning and it would still be like 82-degrees out with 100-percent humidity, so yeah that was fun. But I was really progressive; I started pretty low, like 35-40 miles a week, and then upped my mileage five miles each week and then got to 75 and just stayed there. It was great, I ran how I felt every day, I crushed some days and went really slow some days. I never really worried about being injured, I just ran how I felt. It went really well.
GH: All your older siblings were runners so did you get into the sport partly because of their success?
GG: (laughs) Yeah, definitely. All of my family did it. My parents said I didn't have to do it if I didn't want to, but I really wanted to. In seventh and eighth grade I had so many problems with my growth plates. I played tennis, and I had to have surgery on my knees twice. I was in a cast on both of my feet for like three months total. And so I was like how am I supposed to run when I can barely stay together doing nothing? But my freshman year I started, I made varsity barely. I probably did it my freshman year because my brother did it. He kind of helped me through it, although he didn't really like that I was on varsity for some reason. But then sophomore year when my brother graduated, and it was actually my choice to be on the team, and I started making a lot of improvements, I fell in love with the sport and definitely started doing it for myself.
GH: So what is life like in Los Alamos? People probably imagine New Mexico to be one big desert.
GG: It was a lot different than here. It has 10,000 people, maybe a little more than that. It was where the atomic bomb was created, so my dad is a scientist and everybody's dad is a scientist and everybody's mom is a scientist. So it had one of the highest incomes per capita in the United States so it was definitely a sheltered life. I lived a 7,000 feet in the mountains, so it was an awesome opportunity for training; trails everywhere. I had a comfortable life growing up and had a great coach, probably one of the best high school coaches in the nation and our program was very successful. It was great for running, maybe not so much for the social part (laughs). Definitely a big change coming here.
GH: How did you first get in touch with Coach Metcalf and end up at Washington?
GG: My brother had visited here, not for running, but just went over a spring break and visited a bunch of colleges and did the tours. I was a sophomore or freshman in high school and I saw it and said `oh, I'm coming here.' But I was playing tennis at the time so I thought I was coming here for tennis, because they have a really good tennis program. And it kind of just went to the back of my mind. Didn't even think about it when I was looking at colleges. I looked at Portland, I really like the Northwest. And the year before, our team made it to nationals, and my brother said I was good enough to just look at the top-25 for schools, and the next year the Huskies made nationals. I was watching nationals and saw Coach Metcalf talking because that was the year the girls won, and like I said I loved my high school coaches, and he was talking about the same things and had the same mentality as my high school coaches. He was all about the team and synergy and stuff like that. I was like `oh, I want to look there' because the girls were successful and the guys did well that year. My coaches were friends with (former assistant) Jimmy Bean at the time so they contacted him and I was here a week later.
GH: Have you zeroed in on a major yet or are you still thinking about that decision?
GG: I'm a chemistry major right now, declared. But it's pre-med mainly. In high school I worked with a group that worked with Doctors Without Borders, and that kind of inspired me to look into medicine, maybe go to Africa and work in some warzones, if I can get through the school part.
GH: Lastly, when you're back at home what kinds of things do you do in your free time?
GG: We play a lot of video games in our home. I wasn't really a `gamer' so to speak when I came into school , but they play so often and they're amazing at it that I have to try and keep up to have fun. But it's great, I live with eight of the other runners on our team, so it's tons of fun, people are over there all the time and there's always something going on, which is nice ... most of the time. I also rock climb, but it's kind of hard to do that with running. Over the summer I rock climbed a ton, for the one week I spent in Los Alamos.