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Catching Up With Betsy Saina

Published by
Scott Bush   on Apr 16 2013, 04:35 PM

Every collegiate senior wants to finish the final season with their best race and that's exactly what Iowa State's Betsy Saina did at the NCAA Cross Country Championships this past fall. Running a smart, tactical race, Saina edged Dartmouth's Abbey D'Agostino and Oregon's Jordan Hasay, to win the individual title. Fast forward to the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, Saina achieved All-American status yet again, finishing second in the 5,000m final and fourth in the 3,000m final. With the goal of winning, Saina left a bit disappointed, but bounced back in a big way, as she kicked off her senior outdoor track season with a new PR of 15:12, placing second at the Stanford Invitational.

As she eyes one more run at a NCAA title this spring, we caught up with Saina, as she discusses how she's approaching this final collegiate season, how she first got into the sport and much more.

Scott Bush (SB): You're having a great start to your senior season, with two top four finishes at the NCAA Indoor Championships and a 5,000m PR at Stanford, finishing second in 15:12. What are your expectations and goals for your final collegiate season?

Betsy Saina (BS): Well, my senior season has started well for the outdoor. Overall, I had a great indoor season though it didn’t end it the way I could have wished. My goal was to defend my 5k title that I had won a year before, of course that didn’t happen, which left me disappointed for a few days.

Despite not achieving my goals, I understand that this is sport and every other girl out there has the same goal of winning a championship. After a week of down time, it was time to focus on the outdoor season. As for the 5K at Stanford, I was really looking forward to it; I was really focused in proving to myself that my indoor performance was not an indicator of the sort of shape that I was in. I am glad the race ended up as we expected.  

SB: You are a very good 5k runner, but do you see yourself becoming more of a 10k specialist later on this year and into the future?

BS: I love longer races and 10k is my favorite event. However, the reality is that 10k is becoming an unpopular event. The only time we see 10k in major circuit is when organizers are trying to provide opportunity for athletes to qualify for championships. That aside, 10k will continue being my event and I am looking forward to the Payton Invitation on the 27th of this month. Despite that, 5K will still be in my schedule. I am hoping to juggle the two events considering that the two require almost the same type of training.

SB:  After winning the NCAA Cross Country Championships in the fall, how did you change your training to help take your running to a whole new level this spring?

BS: Actually what I consider my break-through came during spring of last year. Running 31:15 for 10k gave me the necessary confidence that I could compete with anyone at this level. Coming into XC, I knew that if everything was to come together, then I had a chance of winning. Of course competing with such amazing and talented women like Abbey and Jordan is not an easy thing, you have to be on top of your game to come up with a win.

Back to your question, after winning the XC, I didn’t necessary change my training: in fact we repeated the same cycle of training, the only difference this time round is that I was training with confidence and able to understand where my strength lies.

SB: People don't talk about it much, but you have a nice rivalry with Wichita State's Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton. How has she helped you become a better runner, considering you'll race her a handful of times each season?

BS: Haha, for sure she has been one of the biggest competitors in most of the meets. It is important to note that she started her running career here at Iowa State that is when we used to train and help each other during workouts. Since moving to Wichita State, she is in a different program so when we meet for races (which happens quite often) it is purely competition just like any other competitor in the race.

SB: What's it meant to you to be part of such a strong team at Iowa State?

BS: To be a Cyclone means everything, not just as a student athlete but your all-round life. Being on such a wonderful team, you get all that you want, be it great friends, great coaches, amazing mentors, and all things that you need to succeed as individual. As a Cyclone you don’t need to look outside the team to find someone to aspire to emulate. For me Lisa Uhl (then Lisa Koll) was my idol, it is through observation of her hard work that gave me the idea of what it takes to succeed as a runner. I will always be indebted to this amazing program.

SB:  How did you first get into the sport?

BS: It’s a long story, I am just gone summarize it. I started running when I was in elementary school even though I was not competitive, it just became so attaching to me. Running to school in the morning and back home was something that I was so excited to do, I didn’t think about racing but I was always happy every time I beat my friends running to school.

As for real running, I started competing as a freshman in high school, and even at high school level, training was still limited. After my sophomore year, I quit running to focus in school since it was getting tough to combine both. I started running again after graduating from high school in 2007, this was after being motivation by my elementary coach who had noticed my talent earlier. It was during summer of 2008 that I finally decided to fully focus on running or at least I thought I was doing so (I was actually doing about 25-30 miles per week).

As for the real running, I would say that I actually started at Iowa State as a CYCLONE!

Quick Six

SB: Favorite movie?

BS: Nairobi Half Life

SB: College major?

BS: Early Childhood Education and Family Studies

SB: Best part of Ames, Iowa?

BS: There are several nice places in Ames, I will say Hickory Park.

SB: Favorite band?

BS: The Beatles

SB: Best TV show?

BS: Amazing Race

SB: Favorite workout?

BS: I love 400s, If I was to coach myself all that I could be doing is either 400s or 1000s. 

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