Washington senior Katie Follett is a distance running journeyman. She's part of one of the best distance running programs in the country and already has a team NCAA championship under her belt. What she seeks is an elusive individual title. With her last NCAA outdoor season kicking off tonight at the Stanford Invitational, she's looking for a fast time and her path to an individual NCAA crown. Follett carries with her, along with toughness and speed, a boatload of versatility. She's got personal-best times ranging from 2:06 in the 800 to 15:48 in the 5,000.
Are you taking any time off between seasons?
Not from running really because we're going right into outdoor. It's been really nice because I haven't had any class since last Tuesday. And I don't have any class until next Tuesday.
Is that a huge spring break?
Well, actually, finals week was the week of Nationals. I missed one of my finals, came back and took one of my finals on Tuesday and just lucked out because people were taking them until Friday and mine were just over on Tuesday. It's been great because last quarter had just been really stressful for me. It's been nice to have a good week and a half to do nothing and sleep and eat, I don't know, go for a hike.
Is this upcoming semester going to be an easy one or another hard one?
No, it's going to be an easy one. I intentionally made it a hard quarter in the winter because I wanted to get a lot of stuff out of the way so I wasn't doing it during the spring. It's so much harder to do it when you're traveling. I only have to take one, and maybe two, classes. The class I'm taking is only Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and it only meets for an hour. That's going to be it and it's going to be really nice.
What's your outdoor track schedule?
We're leaving for Stanford on Thursday (yesterday), then after Stanford probably the Pepsi Invite, then maybe Mt. SAC or Brutus Hamilton. Then we always do the WSU Dual with Washington. Then our meet here, then PAC-10s, Regionals and Nationals...again!
For Stanford (tonight), what are your goals?
Well, I'm doing the 1,500...which is on Friday night (tonight). It's always been a fast race in the past and I've never gone there to do the 15. Coach Metcalf has always had me do the 5K. Last year I set my 5K PR there because there's always a great temperature and no wind and everything like that. This year we talked about it and everything and I'm just going to go out there the first race of the season and try to run a fast time. There are going to be girls in there running a fast time. I didn't really get a chance—well, I did get a chance, but I screwed it up—to run a fast race last year. At the end of the year you run prelims and finals and a lot of times those races get strategic there and you don't set your PRs there.
Dare you throw a number out there? What would consider “fast”?
Oh, gosh! My PR at this point is 4:15. I don't really know what I can do this season, but I'd really, really like to get down to 4:10 by the end of the season and maybe break 4:10. That would be my goal! I don't know if it's ever really smart or not to throw your goal out there.
After being the runner-up indoors, is the ultimate goal a national championship?
Well, definitely being the runner-up, I feel kind of hungry going towards outdoor nationals. The goal whenever you're at NCAAs is to win a national championship. To be right behind her and to see her throwing her hands up in the air and to know I was the next girl, definitely I'll be thinking about that and how that felt going into the outdoor season. I wasn't disappointed with my race. That's the best finish I've ever had. I felt like it was a good race for me. I guess we'll see. That's all you can say! I said that you get three days of the year to get to go for a national title and you just really hope that you're not injured and that you feel good on those days. The goal is to get to that day outdoor and just be feeling good. I felt pretty good indoors, so hopefully I can do that again.
What do you have lined up for after college ends?
I'm kind of waiting to see how outdoors goes. I've already kind of picked running. I have all my prereqs, from undergrad, going towards physical therapy school. I was going to apply this year and have just delayed applying and I'm going to give myself the next couple of years to see how running goes and then I'm going to decide if I want to apply for grad school later or what. But, this summer, I'm really excited! I'm just figuring out that I'm going to go over and do those three Belgium meets in July. I'm going to go over with Athletes in Action and start my summer off that way. Depending on how the summer goes for me, I might stay over there and race more or not. I haven't really gotten fully, all there yet.
You can go 800-5K. Have you run a competitive 10K?
It would be really fun. The last time I ran a competitive 10K was every year I would run the Boulder 10K. I'm from Fort Collins, Colorado and Boulder is just like less than an hour drive away. Me and my dad would go up there for fun and compete in that. I can't even remember my times! It was in high school.
What I was getting at was if you're not into picking a distance and limiting yourself?
Yeah, kind of. Metcalf tailors my training depending on what the end goal is. I kind of always jump around. Sundays, I'll be doing workouts with Anita and Mel, the longer girls. Then on the the other days, I'll be running with Kailey and Christine Babcock. It goes back and forth. I play that line where I can do longer workouts and still do the fast, speed workouts. And I think I'll be doing more of the faster, speed workouts as we get into track season because Metcalf and I have agreed that I'll be doing the 15 for outdoor. Last year, I ended up running the 5K at Nationals...and I think my favorite event is the mile/15. It's my last outdoor season and I really want to focus on that event. I just love it. It's so much fun. It's fast, but there's still strategy involved. It's different than running the 5K and longer events because it's quick and powerful. It's a different kind of burn and a different kind of place I go mentally when I'm racing it.
What does it feel like to have been a huge part of Washington's distance success in the past four years?
I've had a great experience here at Washington. I wouldn't change a thing. I've loved it here. I feel really blessed to have had great girls to train with and obviously there's Anita Campbell, Mel Lawrence, Kendra Schaaf, Kailey Campbell and Christine Babcock. I get to go to practice with these girls everyday. Multiple All Americans! They've done really great things and have a great attitude at practice and everyone wants to work hard. I feel like going to practice every day with them has made me a better distance runner than I could have been on my own training. Obviously Coach Metcalf is a big part of that. I love him as a coach. He's very enthusiastic and he really believes in each of us, in our potential and what we can accomplish. I think the combination of that with girls that I train with has just been awesome and a great experience.
So, it's a group thing more than any individual?
Yeah, everyone just blends together to make this experience. You can't ever really say that if you take out one part that it would be a different experience. Having everything come together, with my experience here, has been great. I came out of high school and hadn't even won a state championship, either as a team or individually. Just to be able to be competing at this level that I am now, I never, ever thought I would be at this level. I, obviously, dreamed about it and believe in myself that I could be good. It just hadn't really come together for me yet until I matured and learned more about myself about as runner and in college in general. It's a big surprise for me and I'm really enjoying it.
Would you put the team NCAA Cross Country Championship on the top of your list of accomplishments?
That's definitely been one of my best experiences that I've had here. It was so neat to be able to share that with the team of girls that I've become really close to over the years. When you do well individually, obviously you get that sense of accomplishment when you achieve your goals and it's really exciting and people are happy for you, but it's different to experience it with a team of girls who are all going through that same thing. To be able to experience a national championship was just so much fun!
Back in the beginning, why didn't you stay in-state and go to Colorado?
I had visits planned to CU, ASU and I came out here originally to visit Oregon, not Washington. I didn't feel quite right about ASU and when I came to Washington, I just loved it! I liked the city, the girls on the team, Coach Metcalf's enthusiasm and it seemed like a great place for training. When you're in Colorado, you have to deal with the Colorado winters and snow and altitude. I thought it would be really fun to try something really different and come down and train at sea level and a more moderate climate. Part of that, coming out of high school, was that I was always going to be able to get a scholarship to run and I wanted to take advantage of that and experience something that would be completely different. I had spent my whole live there in Colorado, right outside of Boulder. That's why.
Who are some of the runners that you look up to?
The girls like Shannon Rowbury, Erin Donahue...Anna Willard. I really look up to those girls a lot. I think they're badasses and they're competitors when they go out and race. I like what they have to say in their interviews. Also Paula Radcliffe. It's all over the board. They're are so many great female distance runners right now and a lot of them are great role models and have a lot of good things to say. They just have that, I don't know what to call it, extra factor. It's a competitive spirit and you can just tell that all of them work hard and they're just tough.
What do you do when you get free time?
One of the thing that drew me into Seattle was that I'm really into outdoor activities. I like the idea of being somewhere where you have the Cascade Mountains and the Olympic Mountains and they're so close and available. Sometimes if it's the weekend and we're not doing a hard workout then my favorite thing ever to do is here is to take a ferry over to the Olympic peninsula. It's beautiful and there's so many places to hike and snowshoe. If you don't have time to go to the peninsula, you can just drive over to the Cascades and it's just a 45-minute drive and there's great places to hike! That would be my favorite thing to do in the Seattle area when I get a minute...or a day.
We always hear about how rainy it is over there? Do you find that to be true?
It's not so much the rain as much as how much it's cloudy during the winter months. It was a really hard adjustment for me my freshman year, coming here from Colorado where you have so many days of sun during the year. Now that this is my fourth year here, I really don't notice it that much. There are cloudy periods that get broken up with sunshine. For example, this past week has been beautiful. There's been lots of sunshine for the last three days. It got up to in the 60s the other day. It is more cloudy than Colorado, but part of me thinks that Seattleites like people to think it's really cloudy here so that they won't come.
We talked about badassness earlier, but what are your keys to success in running?
One of the biggest things for me has just been the process of learning about myself as a runner. Everybody has their own achilles heels, I guess you could say. Or just things they need to learn about their body. For me, in high school, I was anemic. I never knew to go into the doctors to get my ferritin levels tested. I never knew you could take a liquid iron supplement. I never knew what the symptoms of anemia were. I was just plagued with injury, partly because of that, and partly because of my mechanics. I have one leg that's just a little bit shorter than the other. When I started bumping my mileage up, it started to make a big difference. I would always have injuries on one leg. And it's different for everybody, I think everyone is going to have a different experience. Everyone is going to have supplements to take and stuff for their own body mechanics. For me, it was getting to college and starting to take those supplements and starting to see a physical therapist who was really helpful to me in about learning about the right shoe to be in and different ways for me to recover better, so after a hard workout I can find out what helps me come back to the next workout as recovered as I possibly can be. Also what I can and general stuff like that. Another thing is having good training partners around you like I've been fortunate enough to have around me here with the girls I've mentioned.
How did they test you for having one leg shorter than the other?
For me, it was that I finally sat down and wrote out all the injuries that I had in high school. I went and talked to a physical therapist about them and he looked at my muscle imbalances and what muscles were being activated and which weren't responding correctly. When I gave him my list of injuries, he kind of helped me piece it together and be like, “you know what? I think you've always had a problem with this. I think this muscle is weak because you have a little imbalance here in your frame.” Then, I see a chiropractor now and getting an x-ray is the most accurate way you can do it. Any physical therapist or doctor can lay you on the table and measure you from kneecap to your ankle bone and your hip bone to your knee bone. That's how I figured it out.
Are orthotics the only answer?
I think it's to the person. I have an orthotic with a lift in it. It's been great! Ever since I put the lift in my shoe, some of the problems that were plaguing me and holding me back were done with physical therapy and good orthotics. It's too bad that it took me so many years to figure it out! Finally I did!
If you could have one meal, prepared by anyone, what would you have and who would make it?
That's such a funny question! At this point, I've been away from home a lot and I can't go home very often. I would say if I could have one meal, prepared by anybody, I would just want my mom's manicotti. She makes it so good and with antelope sausage. It's my favorite thing!
Did you say “antelope sausage”?
Yeah! Well, since I'm from Colorado and we hunt and stuff like that. It's so good! Antelope is a little less gamey than elk or deer and we get it made into different types of sausage. We get Italian sausage and breakfast sausage or German sausage. My mom always uses the Italian antelope sausage in the manicotti and it's so good!
Are you on the hunting side of the food as well as the eating side?
I'm on both sides! I come from a family with three girls and my dad never really got the son to take out and do all the activities. I would always go out with my dad and go fishing and hunting and I got my hunting license when I was 12 years old. It was the very first year that I could take my hunter safety class. It's funny that I haven't be able to go hunting with him the last four years. I was talking to him on the phone the other day and he was like, “well, you're not going to be in school next year, so I wanted to let you know that I'm buying an extra license just in case you come back and want to use it with me!”
If that's not badassness, then I don't know what is!
(Laughs) I love it! It's a great way to bond with my dad and eat good sausage and meat! It's different being here and going to Safeway all the time. I've gotten food poisoning a couple times from eating meats. It was so nice when I was home and didn't even realize it. All the meat we would eat would be venison. We'd never have to worry about where it came from or what antibiotics it was on or if it was eating ground-up bone meal or animal parts. You know all the horrible things that you hear about meat you buy these days.
Are you really in touch with the food you eat?
Oh, yeah! That's something that I'm so glad about...that I've done a public health degree here. I have absolutely loved getting that degree here. It made me so much more in touch with what I eat. At this point, I'm a poor college student, picking along and I can't afford to always go and buy the best meats or all organic or all fair trade, but whenever I can I always do that. That's one of the biggest things that we're going to have to face. The impact that we're making globally with the food we're eating. A lot of times people don't think about the food they're eating. If you're eating a banana, it's like, “oh, a banana. Who grew this? What was the cost to them for growing it?” Or with a hamburger, “where does this meat come from? Who prepared the meat? What is the company? How do they treat their workers? What do the cattle eat? How are they treated?” Maybe that's partly from me being out here in Seattle. It's been really interesting for me and it's something that I'm really passionate about that's not running related.
Is that something that the future holds for you? Growing and hunting to get your own food?
Oh, yeah! For sure. I would love to find a place where I can start my own little garden next year. If there was any way that I could bring my meat out here to Seattle, I would. I plan on hunting my own meat someday back in Colorado and not even just from knowing where the meat came from and the nutritional value and stuff, but I just grew up with my dad and the Colorado Wildlife Service and seeing how they manage wildlife and how it's healthy for animal populations. I feel like people sometimes are like, “oh, it's so cruel. You're killing animals!” And I think it's cruel to be driving down the highway and see a deer that's dying of chronic waste disease because of overpopulation. It's all about your perspective and...I could go! I could be on my soapbox forever!
Can you give me a crazy running-related story?
I actually had something really scary happen to me in mid-January. It just happened a couple of months ago! It all started with this early morning class that I take with another girl at my house. I don't like to run by myself and I don't like to run in the dark, especially in Seattle because it's a bigger city. I had gotten her to agree to get up with me before it was light and go out to Green Lake, which is a pretty big area and there's usually a lot of people out there really early. We were going to do our run together before our class. We drove out there to Green Lake and ran around the lake a couple of times and it was starting to get light out and I was telling her, “OK, Linds, you drive back and I'll meet you back at the house.” It was two miles away and I wanted to add some miles to my run. To get to my house, I have to run through this little Green Belt park area. I got into the park and it was just getting light enough where I could distinguish things that were around me. I look over to my left and there's a man, probably in his mid-30s or 40s, laying right off the trail. The way he was laying, facing toward me...I could see his face. Instantly, the minute I saw him, I knew he was dead. I was so scared! I got this huge shot of adrenaline and I was thinking, “oh, crap! I don't know when this happened! If there are people around.” I'm all by myself. It was early morning and still kind of dark. I probably had about 800 meters until I was out of the park and I probably had another mile back to my house. I think I might have set some sort of world record getting out of the park. Until that point, I had been not feeling very good and it had been a recovery run. I had been running slow and my legs felt heavy. It was one of those mornings where you don't want to run, but you have to. As soon as I got in that situation, I ran so fast back to my house and immediately called 911 and they dispatched the police and the ambulance to the park. It really shook me up! I couldn't eat for another five hours after that. I was pretty shaken up and I was telling my roommate and the police called me back and they wanted me to come down to the park and talk to them, because I was initially the person who called in about it. In the end, I guess it was someone who jumped off of the bridge and had a bullet wound. They might have shot themselves first. There wasn't any foul play, but it was still really scary!
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