Interview with Oak Ridge (SJS) juniors, Maddy & Elena Dennner

With the graduation of a stellar 2016 class of female distance runners like Amanda Gehrich, Destiny Collins and Fiona O'Keeffe, the door was wide open this season for the next wave of runners, ready to make a similar impact in California. Enter the Denner twins from Oak Ridge HS (SJS), Maddy and Elena (photo above courtesy of Eric Turner at Stanford Invite). Two weeks ago at the Stanford Invitational, Maddy and Elena along with two other teammates (Jenna Marlett and Sage Green) finished 2nd in the Distance Medley Relay (DMR) running a then season best 12:00.02. They were even more impressive the following day as they chased Malibu sophomore Claudia Lane in the mile and recorded lifetime best times of 4:50.32 (Maddy) and 4:51.42 (Elena). At the just concluded Arcadia Invitational, they continued their spectacular seasons with PRs in the 3200m. as Maddy (10:24.08) led sister Elena (10:25.78) in the seeded 3200m. race. On Saturday, Oak Ridge returned with a slightly different lineup in the DMR to record the victory along with US #1 11:49.49. 

The following is my email interview with them which I think you will all enjoy.

1) Your team finished 2nd in the Distance Medley Relay at the Stanford Invitational. Who were the team members and their splits? What was the plan going into the race? Also, what were your splits for the Arcadia Invitational?
E- At the Stanford invite, Jenna Marlett ran the 400 in a 60 and Sage Green ran the 800 in 2:27, and I ran 4:52 in the 1600 and Maddy ran 3:38 in the 1200. We got 12:00 overall. At Arcadia, Kathryn Bingham ran the 400 in a 60, Jenna ran a 2:24, Maddy ran a 3:32, and I ran a 4:51. Our time was 11:49 and we got a first place finish at Arcadia along with a school record. The plan going into the Stanford DMR was just to give it our best shot without much expectations. At Arcadia, we wanted to break 12:00 and finish at least in the top 3.

2) What were the highlights for both of you at the Arcadia Invitational and what times were you hoping to hit at the meet?
M- The highlight of my weekend was setting a school record and a PR in the 3200m and also for our team to do so well in the DMR. Personally, I wanted to break 10:30 in the 3200m.

E- The highlight for me was our DMR team running so fast and becoming the national leader this year. I hoped to run under 10:40 in the 3200m.

First photo below of Maddy leading off in DMR. Second photo of Elena anchoring DMR. Both photos courtesy of Ben Crawford. You can view other photos from Ben as well as other photographers from the Arcadia Invitational at this

3) What were each of your goals heading into the mile at Stanford? How well did you know the rest of the competitors in your heat? When did you both feel like you were moving up toward the front of the pack? What were your reactions when you heard your respective times? 
M-For my mile at Stanford, my goal was just to break 5 minutes. I had talked with my coach about a few of the competitors in the race, and I knew who all the girls from the Sac Joaquin Section (SJS) were, as well as Claudia Lane from cross country. I could feel at the 800 mark that the pace was not challenging me so I decided I would branch off and lower my pace. When I heard my time I was shocked to have improved by that much, and really excited to see my hard work pay off.

E- My goal heading into the mile was to go under 4:55 and I did not know the rest of the competitors besides 3 girls from the SJS. I felt like I was moving up at the 700 mark and I was really excited when I heard my time.

4) Heading into the Stanford Invite, what races and workouts gave you both confidence that you were going to run very well? 
M- One workout with mile repeats gave me confidence that I would do well as I was able to drop by a few seconds each mile.

E- Doing the DMR the night before and running 4:52 gave me confidence that I was going to run well the next day. Also doing 800 and 1600 repeats gave me the confidence i would do well.

5) Looking back at your fall season, what were some of your best races and proudest accomplishments? 
M- During cross country, my best races were the section meet at Willow Hills in 18:36, in which I finished in 5th place, and the state meet at Woodward park in 17:55, where I placed 14th.

E- Placing 9th at the section meet, as well as making it to state for the first time. At the Clovis Invite, I ran 18:32 and placed 4th, and I was able to lower my time to 18:21 at state, placing 26th.

6) What sports did you participate in before high school? When did you both start in those sports? When did you first get involved in running? PRs before HS for both? 
M-Before high school, I did competitive swimming with the Sierra Marlins and I did this through my freshman year. I started swimming competitively in 7th grade, and got involved with running in 6th grade. My PR for the 400 in middle school was a 63 and in the 800 it was a 2:25.

E- I also participated in competitive swimming since 6th grade and I started running in 6th grade too. In middle school, my best time for the 1600 was 5:14 and 2:21 for the 800.

7) Who were the runners on the Oak Ridge team that set the example for both of you as freshmen? 
Both-Ariel Hendrickson and Peyton Wright were both very motivated and good examples to follow as freshmen. We still see Peyton often and Ariel when she comes home from school in New York. They were both really welcoming and kind to us as upperclassman.

8) What does a typical week look like for you from Monday through Sunday? Any morning runs? Work in weight room? Any swimming?
Both- We run 4-5 days a week, swim and bike 2-3 days a week, and lift weights twice a week.

9) Who are the coaches that have had the biggest impact on both of you? What about your current coaches?  
M- My past swim coach, Chris Stehula, helped me train me in middle school while balancing swimming and running, and my other past swim coach Sam King, not only helped me improve in swimming, but also taught me how to become a racer and work on the mental side of racing. My current coach John Mansoor is the best coach I could ask for and has helped me tremendously with achieving my recent PRs. I also include both my parents who are really supportive and love watching Elena and I run and we couldn't do it without them.

E-My first competitive swim coach, Chris Stehula, taught me how to race and remain calm at big meets and helped me develop a competitive outlook. My other past swim coach, Sam King, helped my swimming a lot and taught to me how to narrow my focus on race day. My current running coach, John Mansoor, has helped me through all the ups and downs of cross country and track and mastered my training plan. He also has taught me everything I know about running and is guiding me through the college recruitment process.

10) Favorite track invitational? Favorite track distance? Favorite track workout? Favorite long run? Favorite XC invitational? Favorite XC course? Favorite XC workout? Favorite free time activity?
M- My favorite cross country invitational is the Clovis Invite and my favorite course is that course (Woodward Park) as well. My favorite XC workout is mile repeats and descending each one. My favorite long run is around Lake Natoma and my favorite track invitational is Arcadia. My favorite track distance is a tie between the 1600 and 3200. My favorite track workout is 800 repeats. My favorite free time activity is playing pinochle. 

E-My favorite track invite is Arcadia and my favorite event is the 1600, but I really enjoyed the 3200 and will continue to run it frequently. My favorite track workout is repeat 800s and 300s but I like mile repeats as well. Favorite long run is around Lake Natoma. Favorite XC invite is Clovis, it's the only one we go to and the Woodward state meet course is my favorite.

11) From both of your perspectives, what do you feel are the advantages of being twins competing in the same sport?
M- I feel that being a twin and having Elena has helped me a lot in races to always have a familiar face and someone to work with during races. Its also great to have her as a training partner and our workouts are compatible. Although, it can be hard always competing against Elena because we do the exact same distances.

E-It's beneficial to have a training partner but it's hard to constantly be compare to one another.

12) What races are you both looking forward to the rest of the season and any goals you want to each share.
M- I am hoping to qualify for the state meet and I am excited to see what I could do there. I don't have any specific times I am looking to achieve. I just hope to continue to improve my times from the last two weeks.

E-I am looking forward to Sacramento Meet of Champions and the SJS Masters Meet where I hope to qualify for state (which I am looking forward to this season).

Thank you very much for your time and best of luck to both of you the rest of your seasons.