Katie Wolf entered high school with a little bit of track experience and immediately became a star. By the end of her freshman year, she was the county and region champion in the 400 and 200 with some of the fastest times the county had seen in the previous several years. Three years later, that first state title still eludes her despite steady improvement. Armed with PR's from her junior year of 7.14 in the 55, 11.97 in the 100, 24.54 in the 200, 40.53 in the 300, and 55.98 in the 400, she has her sights set on winning that first state title as a senior regardless of who stands in her way. In this interview, she discusses what she has learned along the way and where she plans to spend the next four years of her running career.
MoCoRunning: You already had some experience in track and field before you got to high school. Can you explain when and why you began running track?
Wolf: I had always known I was fast from playing soccer, but I was never really good at the skills aspect of it so in middle school I tried out for track challenge and ended up winning the county competition all three years. In the summer after eighth grade I decided to join the Maryland Titans to see how good I really was and that year I placed 19th nationally in the 100. I wanted to continue that success in high school and the rest is history.
MoCoRunning: What was the biggest lesson that you learned in your freshman year at Churchill?
Wolf: I learned a lot my freshman year. I think the most important thing I learned was from my coach Dave Warren to take my races one at a time. There would be some days where I had to run up to six times and I would get overwhelmed. Taking my races one at a time and not thinking about the others has really helped me manage meets mentally and has kept my stress levels down.
MoCoRunning: With allegiances to both the Churchill track team and the Titans track club, you seem to be thriving, but has the advice and philosophy of the different coaches ever conflicted?
Wolf: The Churchill coaches and Titans coaches get along really well although there is some rivalry between Northwest and Churchill. Each coach runs workouts differently. At Churchill I am given times I have to hit while during the summer I have to run at a certain percentage of my top speed. The transition between the two is always a little awkward. Every so often though there is a little conflict about what I should be running at certain meets but my allegiance lies with whoever is coaching me that season. They know what I'm doing in practice every day and how I'm feeling. I take both opinions into consideration though.
MoCoRunning: How is your training plan laid out for a typical year when you are training and racing for eight or nine months out of the year? Are there definitive phases that you move through as the year progresses?
Wolf: There are definite phases and I am so lucky to have great high school coaches that understand that I need to save my legs to continue into the summer. I usually take off 4-6 weeks in August/September where I'm not running at all. Then I start base training and weight lifting with the cross country team (base is definitely my least favorite part of the year…distance is not for me). I continue base for half of indoor and then we train more by volume at low intensity with shorter rest. Slowly I decrease volume and increase intensity and rest, and also move from longer to shorter distances. During the summer we mostly just try to maintain. We do a lot of speed work while trying to keep my endurance up for longer races.
MoCoRunning: I can't remember ever seeing you false start or blunder a handoff in a big meet. How much time at practice is devoted to technique and skill work as opposed to strength and conditioning?
Wolf: You may not remember, but I certainly do! My freshman year at regionals I false started/fell out of the blocks during the 100m prelims which was really discouraging, especially because it was the first event I ran at that meet. What was even worse than that was USATF Nationals this summer. I ran with some great girls (including Cearah Miller from Oxon Hill and Aurieyall Scott and Abi Adenikinju from ER) on a 4x100m relay that was seeded second nationally. In the prelims Abi tripped during a handoff from her to me and we were disqualified. That was crushing. During the school year we do spend a lot of time on the technical things. I'm a really powerful runner and my start is usually the worst part of my race so we spend a lot of time trying to improve that. Last year we spent a lot of time on the 4x100 handoffs. I think it is a pretty even balance though. Some days I'll stay late after a practice to work on starts so we don't lose any time from workouts.
MoCoRunning: I hear that you help to coach the little ones on the Titans track club. What is that like working with the young kids? Do you learn anything by being the coach?
Wolf: The little kids are crazy!! They are so full of energy and are so cute it is so hard to see them struggle through a workout. I guess one thing I've really gotten to understand is to listen to your coaches. People may hate hearing "use your arms" or "knees higher" while they're running but the coach can really see what you need to do differently. So I think I've learned to respect my coach's advice a little more.
MoCoRunning: You must have many things that you want to accomplish before you graduate. Could you share with us one or two personal goals that you have for yourself this year? What about your long term goals?
Wolf: My goal for 4 years has been to earn one state title. My freshman year I was 2nd in the 200 and my coach always jokes that that 100 I false started in was my best shot. I learned a long time ago, however, that it's really the times that matter so I'm just looking to keep getting those lower. As I go into college, I'd like to make it to the conference finals in any event and score some points for my team as a freshman.
MoCoRunning: What has the college recruiting process been like so far? Has anything interesting or unusual happened on a college trip?
Wolf: Recruiting is stressful!! I have to say though that I have made some lifelong memories. In the end I visited three schools: UNC Chapel Hill, Penn State, and UVA. I've been sworn to secrecy on this but on one of my visits I played the most intense game of hide and seek ever! I will NEVER forget it. Also when we visited Penn State (in October) there was 4 inches of snow on the ground!! My parents lost power in their hotel and had to evacuate. The coach pulled some amazing strings and somehow found my parents another hotel room even though it was the homecoming football game weekend. I am happy to say that I have verbally committed to Penn State and I can't wait to get there!
MoCoRunning: Last summer, Montgomery County coaches recognized you as one of the top ten athletes to come through the county in the last ten years, but the truth is that every time you step to the line for a major race, you are up against probably the best sprinter to ever come through the county. Do you get frustrated competing against Olivia Ekpone? What is your relationship with her like?
Wolf: It's pretty tough mentally. It was hard when I was filling out college recruiting questionnaires or scholarship apps or athlete bios and not being able to say I was an individual All County, All Gazette, or All State athlete, or that I had not won a state title or even a county or regional title since freshman year. The good thing about that experience though, was that I learned how to lose and be gracious about it. Olivia is also on my summer team and that first summer I ran I had to race against her. Before she joined the team I had never lost a race. Ever. So it was really hard for me to accept the fact that someone had beaten me. But I have grown to see it as a challenge and I am always trying to beat her. Last year I was closer to her than ever and hope to continue that this year. Our relationship is really interesting because half of the year we are competitors and the other half we are teammates. We are definitely friends though.
MoCoRunning: Thanks to your sister's reporting last summer, we read all about your trip to Greensboro, North Carolina and Des Moines, Iowa for the junior olympic track championships. You and your family members and the other Titans are crazy for making that trip! Tell us a little bit more about that trip and about how much track has become a part of the lives of everyone in your family.
Wolf: That trip was definitely an interesting one full of highs and lows. I had to pick myself up after the disappointing USATF relay for another week of serious competition at AAUs. I ended up doing really well, placing 2nd and 5th at AAU Nationals in the 200 and 100 respectively. Track is a huge part of my family and they are amazingly supportive. At least one of my parents goes to every single one of my meets no matter where or how long the meet is and my sister is usually there taking pictures. Another funny story about their dedication and our trip was that the first night we were in Des Moines we ate at a pasta place and the next day I won my heat. I am crazy superstitious and my family makes fun of me for it but I insisted that I had to go back to the same pasta place. The next day I won my heat again. We ate there the whole week and I didn't lose any of my races until finals. They are so supportive. My sister (who goes to Penn State) cried when I told her that's where I was going because she missed me and missed watching me run so much. My family amazes me.
MoCoRunning: You spend the fall doing base work with the Churchill cross country team when many sprinters take a break and get away from running for a few months. You must truly be addicted to that program. What is it about those guys and girls?
Wolf: Addicted is definitely the right word. The team is so much fun to be around. Although this is really cliché, our team is a family. Everyone is in everyone else's business. We fight, we make up, and we all have really defined personalities. Whenever you have a problem there is always someone there to help you fix it. Our combinations of personalities make it so much fun. I also have to blame the coaches for my loyalty as well. They are awesome. I can come to practice in the worst mood and my coaches can always get me to smile. We've developed a really good relationship and they make running so much more enjoyable. I'm going to miss them all A LOT!!!
MoCoRunning: What other hobbies do you have away from running?
Wolf: To be honest, between my crazy track schedule, keeping up in school, and social time I don't have a lot of time for many other hobbies. I am really big into reading in my spare time though and I always have a book at every meet to entertain myself.