Q & A With Jon Harding

Sept. 27, 2007

Washington junior Jon Harding surprised everyone, including his coaches and even himself, with a Lincoln Park course-record run at the Sundodger Invitational back on Sep. 15. Harding's victory in 23:36 surpassed the mark of 23:40 set by former Stanford star Jonathan Riley at the Pac-10 Championships back in 2000. Harding posted the time despite dealing with a slight footwear malfunction right at the start of the race. The Issaquah native took time out of his day to chat with GoHuskies.com about what nearly thwarted his first collegiate win, the thought-provoking listening that aids his training, and how he is approaching the upcoming Bill Dellinger Invitational in Eugene, Ore. this Saturday, Sep. 29, which boasts a full field of highly-ranked teams.

GoHuskies.com: Take us back to the Sundodger Invitational where you set the course record. Did you have any feeling that you were going to run that fast?
Jon Harding:
'Well training has been going really well. I put in a lot of hard work this summer. Early season workouts had gone better than they ever had, so I was thinking maybe there was a possibility that I could win it this year. So that was kind of in the back of my mind, though I still thought that was a lofty goal. I came in thinking I wanted to first break 24 minutes, and then the second goal further out was to win. So that morning it was nothing special, just the same old-same old prerace routine. As the race started, I felt the same, felt good, went out hard and wanted to put myself in the right position to have a chance to win. Then the first 400 meters I got cut off and someone stepped on my shoe and my shoe came off and my first thought was, `Oh, I can't run five miles with one shoe, I'd better stop,' but then I came to my senses and realized, `No, just put your shoe back on and get back in the race.' So I did a few hop steps, and put my shoe back on. It put me back four or five seconds, but I stayed calm and just sort of worked my way slowly up after that.'

GH: So you actually thought about dropping out for a moment?
'For a split second that thought came to mind, like well I can't do that with no shoe, but I came to my senses pretty quick after that.'

GH: Were you concerned about your positioning or not being able to bounce back?
'I was a little worried. Once I started running again fortunately I found a bunch of my teammates and thought I'd just run with them for a while. I just wanted to make sure I had my eyes on the leaders so I didn't lose them. So the whole time I kept watching the leaders to make sure I didn't lose any distance, and sure enough I saw that I was gaining a little bit more, a little bit more, and with about two miles left I realized I can get these guys, so I put on a little surge and picked off the leaders and at that moment I was pretty excited because I haven't been in the lead for a cross country race since high school. So I was pretty fired up and the crowd was going crazy and I was really getting into the crowd so that definitely motivated me and inspired me to run hard the last bit.'

GH: Were you aware of your time as you ran the course?
'I had no idea I ran that fast, not a clue. I'd known that the record holder was Jonathan Riley from Stanford set at the Pac-10's in 2000 and Jonathan Riley is so good. I know who he is; he's a very accomplished runner. We'd actually kind of made jokes about setting the record, so it was definitely not something I could even fathom I'd ever have a chance. I was maybe hoping to run 23:50-something. Then coming through Coach was like, `You're going to go under 24!' and then I'm running down the homestretch and I can see the clock in the distance and I'm thinking, `This must not be right.' It was counting 23:25, 23:26...I thought it was not right, but sure enough I came through and set the record. That was so exciting. That was the most excited I've been since high school.'

GH: How are your expectations altered now after that race and that time?
'It changes a lot of things. Last year I was our No. 7 guy at Nationals and I just kind of stayed in the middle of the pack and just did my thing. But now I'm realizing, okay--it's one thing to win Sundodger but then to have that time really kind of puts things in perspective where maybe now I can go run with the leaders--now my race strategy will go back to what it was like back in high school, to go out with the leaders and put myself in position to win. If I don't win I've got to be up there at least. So now I feel I have more confidence to go run with the big guns, the good guys, the guys I didn't think I'd be running with. That 23:36 was a time I never thought I'd ever achieve, so there's a change of plans this year, it's going to be a little different than what I had originally thought.'

GH: What was the reaction of your coaches? Were they even a little bit surprised?
'I think they were surprised, I think everyone was pretty shocked that I set the course record. They knew I was in pretty good shape judging from the workouts, but 23:36 I don't think anyone was expecting that.'

GH: What was your summer training regimen like this year?
'At the end of the track season I sat down with the coaches and decided how much mileage I should do. It's different for everyone. Some people run at 100 miles per week, some people run at 60. The past few years I'd been going up a little bit more, so we decided that by the end of the summer I'd be hitting 80 miles. I get put on a plan to hit certain miles each week, and I built up, and the coaches also give us all a packet with workouts to do. So I followed along Coach's plans for the whole team as well as my individual plan. I pretty much hit it right on which is the first summer I really did exactly what I was supposed to do the whole summer and it seemed to pay off.'

GH: Where are some places you like to run back home in Issaquah?
'I really like these trails called Soaring Eagle Park. It's about two miles from my house. I ran there pretty much every day. There's a lot more trails, actually some trails right in my backyard connect all the way up to Tiger Mountain where I could go for 10 or 20 miles if I wanted to--I'm not going to--but the trails right near my house up on Issaquah plateau I love and without them I don't know if I'd be running as well as I am because I would not be training as well.

GH: What about now that you're back here in Seattle? Where do you like to train?
'Now that I've been here coming up on my fourth year everything's getting kind of monotonous, kind of the same old-same old, but I usually like to do Magnusson Park. This year I haven't really done that, I kind of like doing a run we do called the Madison. We go up to Madison Street, loop around and we go through the Arboretum both ways. We pretty much hit up the Arboretum every day and I like that because it's not the street and it's beautiful in there. But everything is just kind of the same to me now.'

GH: Do you listen to music or anything when you're running on your own?
'Actually this summer I was listening to sermons from my church. I really liked doing that. I go to the Mars Hill church and you can just download the podcast so I would actually listen to a sermon for most of my run. In the morning I would listen to music on my shorter run, but then when I'd be running over an hour I'd download an hour-long sermon and listen to that. And it really helped; I really looked forward to running every day because it gave me something to think about.'

GH: Looking ahead to the Bill Dellinger meet this weekend, how are you approaching it differently now than in years past?
'This meet is stacked with really good runners. I'm kind of coming into it as a fan, like these are really good guys that I've always watched running and they're so great. Now I'm kind of excited because I'm going to go throw myself in there with them. So that's exciting just to put myself where I never thought I really would be, and I have the confidence that I'll be able to stay with them. So I'm going to go try and get in the top-10, I'll put myself in the right place and hope it goes well.'

GH: As a team, where is the expectation level at right now coming off a 12th-place finish at NCAAs to end last season and then a strong start in the first race of this year?
'This year we did lose a lot of people from last year, but I'm not worried one bit. Our guys are really good. Our top-five guys are solid, they trained just as hard as I did this summer and have just as much talent. I'm confident we're going to do just as well as we did last year, if not better.'

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