MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – For many people, it takes a significant amount of drive and determination to be committed to running on a daily basis.
West Virginia senior distance runner Kate Harrison
grew up playing soccer and hockey like most kids in her hometown of Toronto, but found a niche in running she enjoyed and decided to pursue instead of other sports. On top of studying and attending class for a few hours a day, running is all she knows.
“I’m the first serious runner in my family,” she says. “My siblings and I played different sports like soccer and hockey growing up, but in high school I got more involved with running and decided to focus on it. I just stumbled upon it and liked it a lot, so here I am now at WVU.”
Harrison finished second overall in the 10,000-meter run at the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships to earn first team All-America honors. She placed first in the event at both the 2011 NCAA East Regional and the BIG EAST Championships, including a personal-best 33:48.64 at the regional race. She also placed eighth overall at the 2011 Cross Country Championships, the best individual finish in WVU cross country history, to lead the team to eighth place.
The 2012 indoor season was slowed a bit due to injury, but she did compete in the 5,000-meter run at the WVU State Farm Games where she placed first with a BIG EAST-qualifying time of 17:23.99. She ultimately did not compete at the indoor league race because of the injury. Although healthy for the outdoor season, she decided to hold out until now to preserve her strength.
“It’s a long championship season, especially if you’re running the 10,000-meter,” Harrison said. “We try to save our good racing for the end when it matters most. That’s been the strategy with a lot of our distance girls. We’ll be ready for when it matters.”
After two months of hard work and training, Harrison is ready for her final go-round with the championship season beginning this weekend at BIG EAST, the NCAA regional in three weeks and the NCAA Championships in June.
“It’s been a slow build-up leading into the championship season, but it’s coming along well,” she said. “Coach Cleary has been patient with it all and I’m approaching the fitness and race-readiness from where I was a year ago.”
As a student-athlete, Harrison faces the daily struggle of balancing school with athletics, but fortunately has a solid foundation of teammates to plan daily workout schedules and exercise routines. With approximately a third of the track and field team majoring in exercise physiology, it makes it easier to differentiate class time and workout time and availability of running partners.
“It’s nice to have 20 or so distance runners on the team with a lot of them being exercise physiology majors, so there is always someone to run with,” she says. “I have a lot of classes with Stephanie Caruso
and Jessica O’Connell, so it helps to know when each of us is available.”
A shift in momentum in Harrison’s running career came at the 2010 Canadian Cross Country Championships, where she placed first overall in the race. She discovered a potential for greatness and saw it as a springboard for further success, which manifested itself during the 2011 track and field and cross country season.
“That Canadian race was the first big one and I’ve been building up ever since that,” she says. “That definitely got the ball rolling. Last year’s track and field season was a huge confidence booster. I had no idea how I would do, so it was nice to go in a bit naïve and not know what to expect, but just go out and do my best. I’m confident this year that I can finish in the same spot and do the same things I did last year.”
After receiving her undergraduate degree last May, Harrison is currently working on a Master’s degree and set to finish in May of 2013. Although her WVU athletics eligibility will be completed, her goals extend beyond June’s NCAA Outdoor Championships as she will work to earn a spot on the Olympic running squad for Canada.
“I don’t yet have the Olympic standards to qualify for the games in London this summer, but I’d like to keep competing and keep training so that I can compete in future years,” she says. “I’ll make a bigger push for the 2016 Olympics. There are some groups to train with in Toronto that I’ve been with before, but my main training will likely be with coach Cleary here in Morgantown. My eligibility will be up, but I’ll probably tag along with the team and keep training, just pretend that nothing has changed.”
With future plans laid out, her focus remains on the BIG EAST Championships this weekend and helping the team to a strong finish against tough competition. The reigning league champion in the 10,000-meter, Harrison stays grounded with her assignment.
“I’m not yet sure who my competition will be,” she says. “I’m just trying to focus on myself and being as prepared as I can be. I can’t control who else is in the race or what they do. When I see who’s in the race, I’ll adjust my strategy accordingly, but I can only focus on what I do.”
The BIG EAST Outdoor Championships run from Friday through Sunday, May 4-6, in Tampa, Fla.