Noah Affolder of Carthage High School in New York entered the Saucony Flo50 National XC Rankings at No. 12 for the first time this season after an impressive two weeks that included a 14:14 course record at the McQuaid Invitational and a win in the prestigious Eastern States race at the Manhattan Invitational. His 14:14 three mile still stands as the second-fastest in the nation this year. The junior is a military kid and moved to New York from Illinois last year. He dishes on his training, choosing Foot Locker over NXN and his secret true love - hockey!
Jojo: You're coming off a pretty big two weeks, setting a course record at McQuaid and winning Manhattan. Thinking back to the summertime, did you think you'd be in this spot right now?
Noah: No, not at all. First off, I didn't expect to be at such big meets. Then when I found out they were on our schedule, I was a little bit more excited. I didn't know that I was gonna set the course record at McQuaid til I heard it on the announcements while I was coming down the homestretch and that pushed me a little bit more. And then at Manhattan, it was just so cool to run with all those fast kids. They were only seven seconds behind me at the finish line and it was cool to have people that close to me.
Did you know much about those meets last year?
Yeah, last year, I saw that Bryce Millar, he won McQuaid or got second or placed really high [Editor's note: Millar placed second at both McQuaid and Manhattan last year]. And I raced him in track and had a great race and knew that if there were kids like his skill level again this year, I'd get to race them.
Which meet was more memorable for you right now?
I don't really know. Setting the course record at McQuaid was nice but also getting the win in front of all those people at Manhattan was nice as well. I don't really know, I got more trophies at McQuaid so that was a little plus but, as of right now, I don't have a favorite. They're both equal.
When did you move from Illinois to New York?
I moved the summer of 2014 going into my sophomore year of high school.
Your mom is originally from New York?
My mom spent some time in New York; I lived in New York in second grade and then I moved to other places.
She won a race at Manhattan back in the day, right?
Yeah, when she was a sophomore in high school.
Did she give you any pre-race advice?
She just said to go out fast and run my race and not run anyone else's because if I run my race, then I'll be close to winning. But if I choose to run someone else's race, then usually I get out kicked in the end.
When you go out there and run your own race, were there certain splits you were looking to hit?
I wanted to go through 4:40 at the mile and in between 9:20 and 9:30 at the two mile to put myself on pace for the course record but I didn't hear any splits called out at the mile marker or the two and I didn't even get to see the back part of Manhattan because it was closed off by the time we got there. I was just praying to God that there wouldn't be anymore hills in the back.
Do you think it would have helped to be able see the back part of the course?
Most definitely. I had no clue when I was gonna get anywhere near the finish line ever again because it just... it just felt like we kept going into the back of the woods and we were never going to come back. It was nice, I could hear the people cheering me on when I was making my way back to the finish line.
What did you think about the race distance? It's about a 2.5 mile or 4k.
I don't know, I think everyone would like a shorter race than 3.1 but I enjoy the longer distances. The longer the distance, the more I can put myself apart from the other runners, so that's always nice.
You came into it deciding, 'I'm gonna go out and run my own race. No matter what pace other people try to put out there.' But you ended up being so far ahead of the field [seven seconds at the finish]. Is that something you expected to happen?
A little bit. I got through the mile marker and no one tried to pass me. I felt pretty comfortable going through it. I set the pace for everyone else and I didn't want to just set that pace, I wanted to go off and run a pace and see if anyone else could keep up with me. They were close to be honest. I still had a nice lead at the end but I still had enough room at the end to not sprint all out and have an ugly face at the finish line.
What's the rest of your racing schedule look like?
We run Sectionals on November 7 and then state on November 14, then Federations a week after that and then I've decided to do Foot Locker. I decided that this weekend so that'll be fun. I'll do the Foot Locker regionals and then hopefully qualify for San Diego.
What was the deciding factor?
My family helped me decide and I was talking to a few college coaches and they told me I should do Foot Locker over Nike.
What reasoning did they give for that?
I think and, I agree with them, that there's better competition there. And it's 40 of the best runners in the nation. Not Nike with all the teams there and then a few individuals tagging along to represent states.
You placed 13th at the NXN New York regional last year. Can you talk about that race?
I was overwhelmed. It was cold and I was not at all ready for that experience. I went out and was leading for the first half of the race right behind Bryce Millar. And then coming down the hill at Bowdoin Park at the halfway mark, I wanted to stay safe and then save that energy and use it in the last kilometer but that didn't work. Everyone passed me on the downhill and then by the time I was going to catch up to them, they were out of reach. That really disappointed me because I was really cocky going in and that's an attitude I shouldn't have had and I'm more humble because of that.
Affolder went out hard at the gun to lead NXR-New York last year before ultimately placing 13th overall. (Photo by Kyle Brazeil)
I've heard you say in interviews that your faith plays a large part in your running. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Everything that I do in life is a representation of who I am for God and without him, I wouldn't be here face timing you. What I think with running is a way to branch off Christ's kingdom for other people and I find that running allows me to do that for myself and others.
A moment like last year at the Nike regional, where maybe you didn't do quite as well as you wanted to... how do you come back and reflect on that and recharge for the year you're having now?
I make sure that it's always in the back of my mind whether it's in track season or summer training for cross country. If there was a morning when I woke up and told myself, 'hey, I don't really feel like going running,' I'd tell myself, 'hey, you don't want to be 13th at NXN [regionals] next year. You want to be first or just qualify,' so it always motivated me to get up and go running. Especially on the hard days, even like today, we had a hard day. That loss kept motivating me.
What workout did you do today?
We went to a golf course and did a two mile warmup and a mile up hills and then a mile jog back downhill and did that four times and called it a day.
What were some of your splits?
Uhm, slow [laughs]. We went through, I'd say, 5:30. We were supposed to go at race pace but with the hills that were involved, the magnitude of those hills, it was pretty slow.
A workout like this, are you off by yourself or with the team?
I am usually pushing myself, my little brother is usually right behind me and I can hear his footsteps and that pushes me harder. The more reps we do, the farther we separate form each other and then sometimes I'm running by myself.
Is that challenging? What's the biggest challenge about that?
Constantly telling myself, 'no, you got this. Keep going.' Even though no one's around you, it doesn't give you the ability to slack off because no one around you is slacking off.
What's the dynamic between you and your brother, Sam, who was the top freshman at Manhattan this weekend?
Him and I get along pretty well, I'd say. We are totally different people and I think that's what helps us because my parents always say that if there were two of me or two of him, we'd be crazy all the time. It's nice having my brother around and I'm excited to finish out my high school career running with him.
Noah (221) and Sam (228) Affolder placed 1-2 in the Varsity 4 section of the V-V-S Invitational in September. (Photo by Kyle Brazeil)
You said you guys are really different. How would you characterize yourself versus Sam?
I'm a little - I would say a little more disciplined in the school area. But him and I both procrastinate all the time. We were playing ping-pong at 11:30 instead of doing homework last night. He's more of the funny guy and I'm more of the strict, 'here's what you gotta do and get it done.'
Who's better at ping pong?
He helped take over the MileSplit snapchat last weekend... how was that? Was he the one more running it or you?
He was the one more running it. It was just kind of funny, we'd be logging in and logging each other out all the time and we'd come back to the bags and be like, 'why'd you log me out!'
What's the team dynamic like at Carthage?
I'm sure it's like all the other teams out there. We get along fairly well. We have lunch together every other day and every night before our meets we'll have a team dinner at one of our teammate's houses. And I usually sit there and watch them play video games because I'm terrible at them [laughs].
Do you guys eat the same meal every time?
Usually, it's spaghetti and meatballs, but sometimes we'll change it up. Last night after our race, we had CiCi's pizza.
Did you have a league meet last night?
How did that go?
It went great. Sam and I finished 1 and 2 and we had a runner in 5th, 7th and 11th so we won the meet.
Then you did a hard workout today, so were you guys taking it easy at the meet?
My coach told me to take the first mile out hard and then jog the last two. He didn't want the other teams parents yelling at me for not trying like they have in previous league meets. We went out and did a little workout on the hills but make sure we don't get hurt for post-season.
Now the other big name in New York right now is Aidan Tooker from Saratoga Springs. When will you race him?
Federations, and, if he doesn't go for any particular reason, then Foot Locker. He's a good friend of mine and we keep in touch after races.
Aidan Tooker (301) and Noah Affolder (302), pictured above at the 2014 New York Federation Championships, will likely race for the first time at the November Feds. Tooker placed fifth and Affolder placed 15th last year. (Photo by Kyle Brazeil)
Did you talk to him after Manhattan?
Yea and I actually talked to him after McQuaid. He was trying to go down to North Carolina for a meet but it got cancelled because of the hurricane. I was a little disappointed we didn't get to race each other at McQuaid.
I heard you're a hockey player...
I started playing hockey when I was around three years old and I just loved it ever since. I stopped playing this year because running's taking over my life and I don't want to get hurt for running. I haven't gotten hurt in the previous 12 seasons that I've played. I told my parents I'd pick Division II hockey over Division I running any day and I hold myself to that and I hold them to that but since I'm not playing anymore. I don't see a scholarship happening anytime soon.
Did you play a certain position in hockey?
I played center, which is kind of the kid who is the small fast kid who can shoot the puck and that was me. My little brother, Sam, played center as well.
Is he going to continue?
Was that a hard decision?
The night I found out I wasn't gonna play, I was in tears because all I ever wanted to do in life was to play hockey, run, praise the Lord and go to school. When I found out one of those was taken away from me, I didn't really know what I was gonna do, but I got up the next morning, went on a run and found my peace there.
How will this affect your training this year and your track performance, just focusing on one sport?
Hopefully this helps me out. I'm gonna have to hit the weight room and start running on the treadmills since there's no open roads in New York starting in November because it's so snowy. I'll be hitting the weight room a lot with my little brother, that's his favorite thing to do.
I'll go in there with him and that'll be nice to work out next to him, knowing that he's getting stronger, too.
How would you describe the town of Carthage for someone who's never been there before?
Not trying to hate the town, but there's really nothing to do. [laughs] Sorry, Sam's in the background. Usually just hang out with friends. There's some little shops and diners. I think the highlight of Carthage is the lacrosse program, sometimes I hate to say that, but it's true.
Are there nice trails to run on?
Yes, but at Carthage, we're only allowed to run on school grounds, so we run our cross country course like four or five times every single day. So it gets kind of boring. But when we bring home the trophies from invitationals, it's nice to see that running those trails every single day helps. And now that it's fall and the leaves start to fall, it's nice.
Do you typically do a long run on a Sunday after a meet? What's a typical week of training like?
Starting on Sunday, I'll do 10 miles every Sunday morning and sometimes in the summer, I'll bump that up even more. And then Monday is usually an off day because we race on Tuesday for league meets, Wednesday and Thursday we do workouts, Friday we don't really do anything because we race Saturday.
What's one thing about yourself - maybe an interest you have outside of running - that people might be surprised to know about you?
I like to goof around and say that I'm good at basketball when I'm really not. I like to go to my girlfriend's house, play ping-pong or play badminton or things like that.
Is your family going to stay put in New York for the next couple years or is there a chance you might be somewhere else for your senior year?
There's a chance we may be somewhere else, we find out in December. Hopefully, we can stay here and I can graduate from Carthage. As of now, we are supposed to move but not sure where yet. If I can stay here, it would be awesome.
You mentioned you had spoken to a couple college coaches. Are there certain programs you're thinking about right now?
As of right now... I hope I'm not breaking any rules by saying this, but the University of Syracuse is my No. 1 school. They have a great program, they're ranked No. 2 in the nation right now for cross country. Aidan Tooker signed there not too long ago. I think it would be great to run with him in college with the rest of their guys. I think their coaching staff is incredible and I just fell in love with it when I went to visit with my dad.