Athlete Spotlight: Clayton Parros

Seton Hall Prep (NJ) senior Clayton Parros entered the current indoor season as the nation's fastest returning 400 meter sprinter from last winter. Parros also set himself up to be looked upon as one of the nation's best coming back for 2009 after his 47.20 clocking to make the finals of the 400 meter dash at the USATF Junior Nationals last June. With a recent US #1 performance of 47.58 at the New Balance Games, the UNC recruit Parros appears to be on the right path of reaching some of his big goals this year including breaking the New Jersey state record and qualifying for the World Juniors team in the 400 meter dash.

While the Millrose Games will have some exciting high school races, the 12th grader Parros will be competing on the banked track at Madison Square Garden this weekend against professional athletes in the rarely contested 600 yard race. MileSplit US interviewed the nation's top ranked high school athlete at 400 meters prior to his first race against pro competition.

MileSplit US: Congrats on your US #1 performance this past weekend at the New Balance Games in the 400 meter dash. How pleased were you with making another drop in your times and the race this past Saturday?

Clayton Parros: I was very pleased. I went into the race knowing that it would be a great opportunity to run another personal best. I knew I would have great competition that would pull me or push me to a PR. To have gone in, run a great race, and have won, is a huge blessing and confidence booster.

MileSplit US: You came into this season as the nation's fastest returning 400 meter runner from last year's indoor season. Did knowing that give you any added pressure to perform this season as well as motivate you in pre-season training and preparations?

Parros: Knowing this was definitely one of the things that pushed me to train harder. I know that every runner wants to be the best and that obviously means beating whoever is at the top. So knowing this I had to put in more hard work this season than in any other previous season. After the Junior Nationals, I took about two weeks off then began training for my senior season. I began hitting the weight room, which is something I had never done before, and running a couple of miles every other day. I knew if I wanted to be on top I would need to put in the work to get me there.

MileSplit US: You have shown great range in your ability to compete in events from the 55 meter dash to 800 meter run. What do you feel are your strengths as an athlete and how comfortable do you feel going up in distance as well as down in distance from your normal events?

(Photo left by

Parros: At this point I feel that my biggest asset is my strength. Having run 600s and 800s as well as putting in strength work during practice and prior to indoors has given me strength and endurance I have never had before, preventing much of the tightening at the end of a 400. This strength has made me very comfortable moving up and down.

MileSplit US: That New Jersey indoor state record of 47.20 seems to be almost in reach, which meets coming up are you going to be gunning for that time?

Parros: To get the record would be a huge blessing. I have been working hard and feel that if all goes well and I stay healthy that getting this record is definitely a possibility.

I will be gunning for the record at the 2009 Eastern states and at the Nike Nationals.

MileSplit US: What goals have you set for the remainder of your senior season?

Parros: As I mentioned before I would like to have the indoor New Jersey State record and would also like to run under 21.5 for 200 this indoor season. For the outdoor season, I would like to run 21 low or faster in the 200 and also go 46 low or faster in the 400.

MileSplit US: You recently committed to the University of North Carolina. What made you decide to become a Tarheel?

Parros: I had been talking to many schools, but one thing that drew me to UNC was the first conversation that I had with Coach Pettigrew. I liked how he emphasized academics more than athletics. He went on and said they were heavily interested in me and they were very interested in making me a part of their program. I had done my research and knew that Charles Cox, who I ran against at the New Jersey Meet of Champions two years ago, had run 45.9 his freshman year, and I was excited by the opportunity to train and run with an athlete like him. Also thinking about the coaching experience that coach Pettigrew has, there were few places I could get someone with his experience and expertise. The visit is probably what really made it the place for me. I felt like I was with part of my family when I was with the guys from the track team. Everything down at the school was like a perfect fit for me; the people, the area, everything. When I returned from my visit I told my parents that I wished I could have signed when I was down there. It was the perfect fit for me and I was very excited.

MileSplit US: Last summer, you decided to compete in the 400 meter dash at the USATF Junior Nationals and made the finals of the event as a high school junior with a PR of 47.20. How beneficial do you think it was for you to get that experience last year competing at that level to prepare you for this year?

(Photo right by

Parros: Running at the Junior Nationals was probably the most important track experience I have ever had. To go there and run against college guys was great. I will never forget when I found out I was in a heat with athletes from Texas Tech and Baylor. I was very nervous and unsure of how I would do against the competition. When race day came and I went through the experience of the professionalism of the meet I knew that level of running was something I wanted to be a part of throughout my life.

My Junior National experience lit my track fire and really made me want to train my hardest and be the best I knew I could be.

MileSplit US: What would it mean to you to make the US world junior team this year?

Parros: To make the team this year would be a great blessing. It is what all my training is geared to. So to be training as hard as I am now and then to go there knowing I did all I possibly could have done, and make the team this year would be amazing.

MileSplit US: Do you have any plans at competing at one of the two indoor nationals meets? If so, which meet and what would be your goals in the meet?

Parros: Unlike last year I do have plans to compete at the Nike Nationals in Boston. My goals will be to get the state record (47.20) and also to make my best effort to get close to or dip into the 46 second range. It will take hard work but I feel that God has blessed me with the great coaching and work ethic to make this a possibility.

MileSplit US: What is a typical week of training like for you?

Parros: This schedule would be assuming I competed over the weekend and would have a meet on the coming Saturday. The schedule will change like say for this week since I am running at Millrose on a Friday.

Monday- We call Monday the shake out day. We do a light workout to get my legs back from the action over the weekend. It gets my heart rate up but is not taxing on my legs so I can be ready for Tuesday’s workout.

After the workout which may be sprinting the straights and jogging the turns on the track, we go into the weight room and lift for upper body strength

Tuesday- Tuesdays are called stress Tuesday; it is the hard day during the week. Normally I will run(hard) 300 meter hills for strength or do repeat 500s or 600s. After the workout I will go into the weight room and kill my legs in order to get the maximum amount of strength.

Wednesday- Is my recovery day and I will normally do a light run 15-25 minutes followed by 15-25 minutes of stretching.

Thursday- Is my speed day. It will normally consist of 150s or 200s to get my legs turning over and prepped for weekend competition.

Friday- Is my rest day I will do a 20 minute run again followed by stretching

Saturday- Is my racing day.

MileSplit US: When did you first get involved with track and field and why?

Parros: I first got involved my freshman year of High School. My gym teacher, Mike Mielko who was the track coach at the time, saw me running in class and advised me to try out for the team once indoor season came around. Instead of running indoor, I played basketball and ran track during the outdoor season. My first meet, a time trial, I ran 51.7. I knew I had to be fast if the track coach was trying to get me to run, but I wasn’t expecting that result.

(Photo left by Margot Kelly)

MileSplit US: You have had some pretty good 600 meter races this season including a 1:21 performance earlier in the season at the Bishop Loughlin Games. The 400 meter dash is a very tough and painful race, so how grueling does the 600 meter race feel for you? What do you feel is the best race strategy to execute in such a race?

Parros: The 600 is one of those races I like because of the pain. It is a very tough race to run especially if you are being pushed, but it is also very beneficial to an athlete like myself being a 400 runner. I don’t want to give any of my secrets away but, the best strategy for me would be to do my best to come through the 400 around 50-52 seconds and then depending on where the competition is make an attempt to kick when I see that the time is right.

MileSplit US: Speaking of an irregular distance race, you get the opportunity to compete in the rarely contested 600 yard distance this coming weekend at the Millrose Games against a field of professional athletes. How excited and/or nervous are you about competing against older professional runners? What do you hope to gain out of the race?

Parros: I am more excited than nervous. This is an opportunity that few high school runners my age get. I can only get positives out of an experience like this. I get to run against world class athletes as a senior in high school. The experience is going to be amazing. For me to be able to compete with guys like this is a great. After the Millrose games, I don’t think I will ever be very nervous about running against anyone.

MileSplit US: Who have been your role models and mentors in track & field?

Parros: My first role model would have to be Larry James. I met him about two years ago at Richard Stockton University, where was a small gathering of Olympians from the 1968 Olympics. After the event we talked a bit and kept in contact through email. I would send him updates on how I was doing and the like. After my junior year, we began to hold phone conversations through which he was a mentor, helping me discover the best way to maximize my performances. He helped with the physical aspects, as well as the mental, and Spiritual. Since Larry James and I are both Christians, he provided me with Bible verses and passages to keep in mind through training. We made it a point to glorify God through out sessions, and I continue to make it the main thing to glorify God every time I step on the track.