Drew Hunter Q&A: The Grind Never Stops

After the races at Balboa Park, MileSplit's Travis Miller interviewed Foot Locker champion Drew Hunter at the meet hotel. You can watch the interview above, or read the interview below. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Has it started to sink in, everything you've accomplished?

Yeah, I just went out to lunch with my parents [his coaches], and they said "Drew, this has been your goal for a year, and it just happened!" It's kind of like-I'm one of those people where I hate to lose more than I love to win, so I think it's something that I don't get super amped up about. It's something that I'm just taking care of business.

Yeah, I'm really excited, but there's more work to be done, and I have two more seasons, so that's the next goal now.

You've been in big races for so long now, but the hype and the buildup for this one was particularly big. This morning, when you woke up for the race, were there any butterflies in your stomach because of what this could mean to you?

Any time you're in such an incredible field and in a big race like this you always-not doubt yourself, but you kind of reflect, like "Did I train hard enough? Did I get enough sleep the last two weeks?," or whatever. And once you start saying that stuff, you gotta take a deep breath and realize that you've done everything you planned, and go out there and give it your all. And that's all you can honestly do.

What's the last thing that runs through your mind before that gun goes off?

Normally, right before the gun, I'll put my head down, close my eyes, and reflect on everything. After that, I just think about getting out hard, because for some reason, I struggle with getting to the front, like I did today. It's kind of slow motion after they say "Runners set!" and it feels like a long time before the gun.

You took the lead pretty early today, which is not uncommon for you. But knowing the guys who you're racing, was there this sense that you absolutely couldn't let up at all-especially with guys like Phillip and Ben chasing you down?

That was the game plan going in. I was going to commit to something, I was either going to sit back and kick, or I was going to commit and run hard from the get-go, and that's what I did today.

You obviously have doubts, like "are they catching up?" but I was super confident. I would hear people say they're fifty or sixty meters back, so I knew that once I got a decent lead, they weren't catching up. I wasn't necessarily gaining on them, but they weren't catching up either. So I knew as long as I kept pushing and ran hard on the uphill and downhill I'd be fine.

Was the sit-and-kick strategy something that you seriously considered before the race?

It's a more safe strategy, I guess, if you have confidence in your kick. I do. But it's my last high school race, I wanted to go out with a bang, and I think that something that I want to practice is leading races from the beginning. It's what I did today, and it worked out, and I can see myself doing it in the future. It wasn't like I did this once and now I'm not going to do this again. It was a learning experience. Every time you get out on the course, you can try different things, and see what works and what doesn't.

How do you feel about your effort as a whole today?

It was good. For some reason-I run on all these courses, but there's just something about Balboa; it's just a hard course. The turns, the hills, it's the end of the season, the weather's different than what I've been training in the last three weeks, the whole atmosphere-you get really hyped up all week and then there's this race. It's not that it's bad, it just makes it harder. On a perfect day, with someone right there next to me, we could run 14:30 on this, break the course record. But that wasn't what the case was today.

I still ran pretty fast by myself, I ran a hard first mile. It all worked out, I'm pleased with the effort. I can run faster than that, just not today.

And you did run one of the fastest times of the last few years. A lot of boys were talking about how the boys race was a little hotter than they expected, did that affect you at all during the race?

In the middle of the race, I felt like my breathing was a little different. It wasn't necessarily harder, it was just something that I wasn't used to. It was 25 degrees the day I left Virginia. Two days before [the race] I was wearing three layers on my run. It was completely different, San Diego's a lot different than Purcellville. But I don't think for the most part that it affected how I raced. The weather wasn't a factor in any race plan. If it were 90 degrees, I probably would've done the same thing, because everyone's going through the same suffering. Going out there, it didn't cross my mind, but I could definitely feel some type of breathing was a little off.

Guys like John Dressel and Grant Fisher who ran here have been doing incredibly well on the NCAA scene as freshmen. After finishing now, does that get you excited to run for Oregon next year?

I'm stoked. Coach [Andy] Powell was here, and I talked to him, the future's bright. I think next year we're going to have an incredible team.

It's awesome seeing John and Grant run well. It's all building blocks! You run well in high school, you get to these national meets. The first time you run, it's a learning experience like last year was for me-you learn from your mistakes and come back and hopefully perform better. Next year for cross country, I'm going to be learning from the best, Ed Ches. So I think it's all part of the process and this is a step for NCAA cross country. It'll continue building block after building block to get me to whatever goals I have next year.

I haven't thought of that, though. Still got two more track seasons. 

The Loudoun County double happened today, you know Weini, you've run with her. How exciting was it for you to see Weini come away with the win?

It was so cool, I was finishing up my [warmup] when she was coming around the backstretch. I didn't see here actually finish, but it was maybe 500 meters to go. I was super excited, I was cheering her on. It was close, I was scared because I couldn't see the finish and know how close they were. It was super cool to see her win.

I predicted that she would win, so you guys should hire me because my predictions are spot on. It was really fun to see that. She's like a fifteen  minute drive from where I'm at, she was cooling down with me. She's like the nicest person ever, so it's nice to see her win. She's worked really hard for it.

Besides Foot Locker, what's something that stood out for you in your final high school season that you're going to remember?

Having a good team this year. Winning states with them-not just winning states, but Loudoun Valley's never had a good program. Once my parents took over, you see this rocket effect of everyone taking off. I think it's been cool to see the freshman class last year, guys like Colton Nogucki and Peter Morris mature and become really good runners. I know it's just another step and I can't wait next year to watch them run and race and go for another state championship.

Just knowing that I was a part of getting that going-they tell me they'll miss me, and I'll miss them. The bond we have is really something special. I'm really close with the guys team. That's something that I'll miss next year, the friendships I've built. I'll miss that but at the same time, it's their turn to run well.

Lastly, your season's finally over. I'm sure you'll be gearing up for indoor relatively shortly, but is there anything you're really looking forward to, like something you haven't eaten all season, or not having to do morning runs?

It's that. I've developed this thing where I automatically wake up at 6:00 AM every morning regardless of if I have a morning run. So I'd like to break that a few times and sleep in. But nothing really else, maybe hang out with some friends who aren't on the team. 

Then relax, get ready again, and start the grind all over with.