UM's Ericka Vanderlende On Hills, The Big House And Rice

Photo Credit: University of Michigan Athletics

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"In high school, I just felt like the races came more naturally and I wasn't pushed as much. There's definitely more pressure here and I am pushed harder."

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By Parker Navarro - MileSplit

As the National Letter of Intent period for the Class of 2020 slowly approaches on November 13, last year's class is underway with their first cross country seasons.

Over the course of the fall semester, we've been checking in with some of the fastest NCAA freshmen, which were last year's stars in the Class of 2019.

Next up is the University of Michigan's Ericka Vanderlende. Ericka has performed well for the Wolverines so far, finishing as Michigan's top runner in her three opening races. She's been named Big Ten Cross Country Athlete of the Week twice already, and has a shiny new 5kKPR of 16:40 from the John McNichols Invitational, where she finished fourth overall against some of the top names in the NCAA.

Your true season opener was a very impressive first race; 16:40 5k at the John McNichols Invitational, good for 4th place. Did you expect to be competing as a No. 1 for Michigan so early? 

No, I didn't come in thinking that I would be leading the team right away. The team got fourth at NCAA's last year, so I knew that it would be a competitive team. I really like how we all work together to push each other.

Was there any nervousness around the fact that, in your first race in blue and gold that you were expected to score for them so high? 

I was kind of nervous, just because college racing is so different than high school racing. There's so many people around you all the time! In high school, I felt like I was racing alone, so that aspect was different from the competition standpoint.

Would you say that helped you along during the race more than you expected?

It really helped push me in the later stages of the race. In high school, I never felt like I pushed it super hard the last mile whereas now, I can push myself harder at the end than I ever thought I could.

How satisfied were you with that race?

I was pretty happy! Especially because my first 5K [in college] happened to be a PR. I guess people say that Terre Haute runs a little bit slower than most courses. 

Were you nervous going against -- Taylor Werner, who won, was a multiple All-American for Arkansas and was runner-up in the 5K outdoors -- some of the top girls in the NCAA?

Yeah, it's always pretty scary going against college girls and talented seniors knowing that I'm just a freshman and they've run so many races in this field. It was good, though, to go up against a super competitive field just to see where I'm at.

How did your collegiate training prepare you for the race -- and was it vastly different than your high school training?

Yeah, it's pretty different. I'd say mostly I've moved my mileage up a little bit. The workouts are longer than they were in high school. They aren't as frequent, but they are definitely harder.

How so?

We do longer tempos and I never did too hard of hill workouts in high school. We do pretty hard hill workouts here, which helps cross country strength for me.

It was a PR for you (!!!); did you feel like you could've given more? 

That was pretty much all I had at that point [laughs].

How was that effort compared to your HS PR of 16:43.43 from regions in Michigan? 

In high school, I just felt like the races came more naturally and I wasn't pushed as much. There's definitely more pressure here and I am pushed harder. It felt harder going as fast as I did when I ran my PR in high school, just knowing there was always a bunch of people near me.

What's been your favorite workout with Michigan?

My favorite workout is probably the hills we do. They're super hard.

How many hill repeats will you do at a time?

It depends on the length of the hill we are doing. We will do anywhere from sets of three to five, with some long hills at the end.

You stayed in the area for school; did you have a lot of friends who decided to go to Michigan as well? Has that made the transition easier?

There are quite a few people from my school that went here. I don't really see any of them ever, so I wouldn't say it has made my transition any easier. I mostly hang out with girls on the team here.

Did you know any of the other freshmen on the team coming in?

I knew the girls from Michigan and I ran against them in high school, so that was nice to know them before we came to school.

How would you describe the team culture at Michigan so far?

It's good! We always run together as a team and push each other to be better. It's a great team environment.

Do you think being in a familiar territory and getting to stay in-state has given you an easier college transition so far?

Yeah, I feel like just being in Michigan helps. Knowing that it's not a completely different area is nice, I know the weather and surrounding area which is nice.

Do you ever go home to see your parents?

I don't have many opportunities to go home, but they love to come to my meets.

How have classes been coming along? I'm sure you're approaching midterms soon.

Classes are going well. They're pretty challenging at Michigan, but manageable I would say. I'm taking stats right now and it's pretty hard. Learning all the new concepts at a pretty fast pace has been difficult. Math is one of my stronger subjects, too. I have an Earth class and two kinesiology classes, too.

Have you been to a football game? Scale of 1 to 10, how crazy is the Big House?

Yeah, we went to the first home game. The Big House is pretty crazy...probably a 10.

Run me through a day in the life of Ericka.

Monday and Wednesday we will have lift in the morning. I'll go to class, and then to practice. After that, we have training table or we go to the dining hall for dinner. To close, we go to the academic center to get our study hours.

How's the dining hall situation been so far?

Pretty good--some of the food is kind of questionable, but there's always something! Sometimes, they give us undercooked rice, or chicken that might be suspicious. I normally just go to the sandwich station for lunch. For dinner, it's different everyday. Some of the freshmen went out for brunch after practice the other day to get pancakes, which was super nice. 

Do you have any advice for any cross country seniors?

I would probably say narrow down your options early and keep in mind the factors outside of running that are reasons that you would want to go to each school. I thought a lot about location and academics. I just knew when I wanted to go to Michigan!

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If you're a recent graduate of 2019 and want to do a check-in interview similar to this you can contact MileSplit Correspondent Parker Navarro on Twitter or email her at

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