Catching up with Team USA Junior XC member Alec Haines

Looking back on the college recruiting process, what advice do you have for high school athletes who are looking to compete in college?

(AH) For high schoolers who are interested in running in college I would say to be patient. It took until after my junior year of track to start hearing back from major programs. I believe there is a program out there for everyone, you just have to research and reach-out to a variety of schools, talking to a lot of differently places helps you find out what you're interested in, whether that be NAIA to D1. I believe as long as you buy into a program and you're consistent with training, then you are going to get so much better. All schools have an "athlete questionnaire" on their website; I strongly recommend filling out a lot. Also, create a Facebook profile if you haven't -- coaches are really big into social media recruiting now! (I got into contact with Oklahoma State through Facebook). After you get into contact with some schools and built relationships with the coaches, then you could take visits. I would recommend using as many official visits as possible, they truly are an unforgettable experience! Everything is paid for and you get to hang out with the team for two days! For local schools, ask to use an "unofficial visit" this will help you save official's for places you could not normally go to on your own. You only get one official visit at a school and 5 total, but unlimited unofficial's. I learned that Oklahoma State was the best fit for me through my visits. Finally, my last bit of advice would be to not get wrapped up on your pr's or needing a fast time to get into the college you want. I just recently learned this; in high school, I was drawn and obsessed with trying to run fast times. Times are pretty much a bragging rights thing for me now, nobody in college really cares about how fast you ran in high school, lots of the time the "slowest" recruit comes in and is better than the "fastest". Coaches prefer character over time, so major wins or accomplishments look better.

What kinds of things did you do in the summer to get ready for your freshman year?

(AH) Over the summer what you basically want to do us built up your mileage, aka your "base." A strong aerobic base will help carry you through the cross-country season. Don't go too crazy though! You'd be in contact with your coach and they'd give you a good idea of what they want you to build up to. It should be gradual; I've had teammates come into college injured and I couldn't imagine how frustrating that could be. I built up to 65 miles per week, but everyone is different depending on past training. Every week I would incorporate a long run which should be about 20% of your weekly mileage, and a medium long run which is about 16% - 18%. My long run would be on Sundays and medium long run on Wednesdays. Other days are just normal runs with occasional strides afterwards. A down week every 3rd week was important to me too.

What does it mean to "redshirt"? How common is it? Do you think it was beneficial for you?

(AH) At most major universities redshirting is very common for incoming freshman. The idea of this is to take a season off racing basically and just training with the team. Doing this saves a year of eligibility, meaning you stay in college for a 5th year and still compete. You only have 4 years of eligibility and it takes a really special incoming freshman to just come in and out compete older guys on the team. I think it was very beneficial for me. It took lots of stress off the training and it helped me get used to not just the training, but all of college, like managing time with classes and staying on a schedule. I can also build up quality training, because it takes some time for your body to get used to the new work load, and save a year where I would be a lot better.

What are some of the similarities and differences in practice from high school to college?

(AH) Differences: Depending on the school, you have a wide variety of trainers and recovery options always open to you - my favorite are the hot and cold tubs. In my high school, our coach would run with us and be there at practice 24/7, but in college, coaches are only around for a pre-practice meeting or workouts. During cross country practices are early!!!! They started at 6:00am. More longer runs and tempo runs are very common.

Similarities: It is still fun! Just because you run more doesn't mean everyone is all serious all the time. It's still laid back and the highlight of my day.

What are some of the similarities and differences in competing from high school to college?

(AH) Differences: Races are run more tactical. This means usually the pace goes at slow at first and becomes more of a kickers race at the end where everyone closes really really fast. Everyone looks a lot bigger and stronger lol, it's kind of scary. Races are more physical because everyone is so fast and is always fighting for position. There's a lot of cameras and people in fancy clothes.

Similarities: The race atmosphere is literally the exact same. Pre-race everyone does their own warmups or rituals and post-race people mingle and meet other people from other teams. You cheer on your teammates and eat your pb&j and have a good ole time.

What is it like to be a student athlete in college?

(AH) It can be stressful at times but it's honestly so much fun. You are living with your teammates and built really strong relationships with them. The one difficult thing is arranging the classes you want so they don't interfere with practice times, or at a time where you don't feel rushed. Also, having time in the day to study and do homework and still going to bed at the right time. Time management is very important. On a typical weekday for me -- I wake up around 6:30 and either do some drills/core/cross-train. And then the rest of my day is mixed with either class or eating or spending some time with teammates. Team meeting and then practice at 2:30, recovery and some drills (I usually spend about 3 hours at the track). Team dinner at 6 and then either studying or playing video games with teammates till 9:30. Team meals are really fun because you don't have to pay for them and the food is so good. Our eating place is in the football stadium and is private to just athletes! Going to sporting events and supporting other teams is a lot of fun too, and the tickets are free to athletes!

What did you think of your first indoor meet? I saw that you ran a 4:11 in the mile which is moving!

(AH) This meet was so much fun! We got to spend over two full days in Lincoln, Nebraska which was neat for me because I had never been there before. Besides running, most things you do are on your own. In high school, we usually stuck to an itinerary, but in college you are given some cash called "per diem" and can go out to eat wherever you want. Also, if you don't spend all of the per diem during the trip you get to keep the remaining. (I have gone home with a little extra money every time lol) In Nebraska, I got to run on a banked track for the first time ever and I ended up running a new PR of 4:11 in the full mile by a second -- the time converts to a 4:09 1,600m. The race was unlike any I had raced before, the first 600m was insanely slow and people were shoving and the whole pack was bunched up on a tiny 200m track. The last 1,000m just took off fast with every lap getting faster. I actually made a move with 200m left to the front and gave everything my all, but ended up getting passed by two teammates that final lap, putting me in 3rd. My final 800m was run in about 2:00; I didn't know I was able to close that fast so this gave me a lot of confidence.

Saw you raced a few weekends later and ran an 8:18 3k in Arkansas. What are your thoughts on that race?

(AH) I still wasn't used to college racing yet at this point! Everyone is just so much bigger and stronger and I was pushed into the very back of the pack from the start. The rest of the race I pretty much tried to keep my eyes up to see if the leaders were making any moves while slowly moving up. I finished in 8:18 and 6th overall between all the heats and against some major schools like Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss, etc. This time vs. my high school 3,200m pr of 9:19 smashes it! It would be about an 8:54 so nearly a 25 second PR! I was very happy for myself, but with better race tactics and positioning, I knew I could've still gone faster. I think I would want to run this event at our conference championships in two weeks!

This past weekend you ran up at Bend, Oregon in the USATF Junior National Cross Country Championships. What was that experience like? Do you have any advice for aspiring athletes who have hopes of competing at a national level competition?

(AH) This experience was unreal. I had been dreaming of the trip for almost the entire time I'd been in college. I spent a total of 3 days and 4 nights in Bend during a winter weather warning. They had just gotten dumped with 2 feet of snow so I was unsure how the course would hold up, but I was pumped and extremely confident nevertheless. I had never been to Oregon before and was intrigued by the hip atmosphere at all the restaurants. I was given "organic ketchup" with my burgers and drank water out of a mason jar at most restaurants. Volunteers of Bend, Oregon helped shovel the snow and clear the course, but with rain the night before it became a sloppy mud fest. I saw my teammate, Michelle Magnani, win the Jr. girls race right before me and it pumped me up even more for my race. This course was by far the toughest I had ever run on, with ankle deep mud and having the course be on a mountain made things challenging for me. Racers were falling throughout the race and I fell in a big puddle of mud too near 6k. I finished the 8k race in 7th place. The top 6 are given spots to represent the USA at the World Championships in Uganda in late March, so placing 7th made me devastated. Being the alternate spot I still had to do paperwork just in case one of the top 6 opted out of going, and luckily and to my surprise, the athlete who finished in 6th place didn't even own a passport, so the remaining spot was given to me and I am blessed to be given a chance to represent USA and prove that I am better than I showed in the qualifying race. My advice would be to never stop fighting in races like those. I knew that I was in 7th place during the race but I never gave up hope and still tried to fight to the line because you never know what could happen in the end. In my case, I was lucky that someone didn't have a passport. I didn't know that during the race and easily could've given up, but really anything could happen, so even if you know you're not in the top 6, don't give up and compete for the highest place you could possibly get. The senior men's race was after mine and it was exciting to see Olympians such as Chris Derrick and Shadrack Kipchirchir compete on the same course that I had just run on minutes ago. I can't wait to be a part of the United States squad with all of them in March.

What do you have lined up for the rest of the indoor season? Any big races that you are preparing for?

(AH) I'm resting up racing wise now for the Big 12 conference championships in two weeks. During this time my training will taper a bit but I will still be training hard. This will be my first conference championship and my goal is to either score in the mile or the 3k. I think it will be really exciting!