Catching up with Rayna Stanziano

We caught up with Concord HS senior Rayna Stanziano, the top returning 800-meter runner from last year's CIF State Track and Field Championships.

Here's that interview: 

1) What other sports have you done aside from cross country and track and field? How did you get your start in running? What were your PRs before high school? (Kirby Lee photo above)

I was first introduced to athletic competition through swimming. I joined a recreational team with my older brother when I was five, and I've been a swimmer ever since. During the summer, I am frequently at Forest Park Pool, which is across the street from Concord High. I have been a swimmer-coach for the past two years, so in addition to competing, I help young swimmers. Before high school, I swam in fall clinics and occasionally participated in fall meets as an unattached competitor. Swimming at an early age gave me the opportunity to see the importance of technique, as well as develop a sense of who I am as an athlete.

I approached running with the same mentality I use in swimming. Visualizing races and remaining composed are key in both sports, and through competing in the pool I was able to practice those skills.

In fourth and fifth grade at Westwood Elementary, I had P.E. once a week and sometimes ran a timed mile with my classmates. Both years, I participated in an event called the "Millenium Mile", in which students from different schools in the district were selected by their P.E. teachers to run at Ygnacio Valley High School's track. That was the first time I was exposed to racing outside of the pool.

Instead of attending El Dorado, the middle school Westwood feeds into, I went to Pine Hollow, where my mom taught science. The P.E. department had records for all the activities. I broke the record for the mile and half-mile, which alternated each week. The distances were estimated around the field and blacktop, and my best times were 5:18 and 2:32. My exercise came from swimming, until the summer after eighth grade.

My brother is two years older than me, so when I was in seventh grade he was just starting high school. He ran cross country, and I came to his meets. I went to Hayward High for NCS as a spectator before high school, and the competitor in me was eager to know how I might do in the sport. My mom took over coaching at Concord High his sophomore year, and I joined the team when I entered high school.

I distinctly remember struggling to complete 3 miles when I first started practicing the summer before my freshman season, and even a few months later I considered 6 miles a long run. But like anything else, you have to start somewhere, and that's where I began.

2) What were some of your highlights during your freshman season in cross country and track and field?

One of the most rewarding experiences during my first cross country season was a 3.3-mile race at Castle Rock Park, a hilly course near Mt. Diablo State Park. It was the only time I raced there, and it was exhausting, but I broke the course record. My freshman year, the Diablo Valley Athletic League and Diablo Foothill Athletic League hadn't combined yet, so the meets were organized differently. There were six teams at the time. For center meets, boys from one-half of the teams competed in the same race as girls from the other half, and at the end, the results were merged. This was done to save time, but it was also encouraging for me.

My NCS experience at Hayward freshman year was incredibly memorable. I went into the race with the goal of making the top ten, to give myself a good chance at qualifying for state as an individual. For most of the race, I was near the tenth position, but I had difficulties with standing my ground. I hadn't been in a race with so many people before, and it was a learning experience in terms of traffic and footing. I went into the final hill in 10th and finished 6th. Whenever I recall that race I feel proud of my freshman self for refusing to back down.

Track season almost didn't happen. I wanted to focus my attention on high school swimming, which offers several more events than recreational. I met with the head coach of the track team to figure out how I could balance the two sports. He was willing to let me run on my own over the weekends and come to meets. I went to several Saturday meets with just my parents in order to clock times. Even though I found more success in track, I still wanted swimming to be my main sport. I usually ran the 3200, but I liked cross country a bit more.

At league for track, which happened at Ygnacio Valley High, I ran all three distance events and found that I had been overlooking my potential in the 800. I ran a 2:18, which shifted my focus. When swimming ended, I began running more often, and I qualified for NCS finals at Meet of Champions in the 800. I ended my season with a personal best of 2:15.33, and a more excited attitude towards track.

3) What did you learn from those two experiences and what did you do differently during the summer leading to your sophomore seasons?

I primarily learned to be more confident in my abilities. Although I still struggle with that, like all athletes do sometimes, finding some level of success in both my freshman seasons taught me to focus on what I am capable of rather than what I haven't accomplished yet. It's easy to be intimidated, and racing against much more experienced girls my freshman year was daunting. However, it helped me realize that a little bit of doubt and nerves is necessary. The unknown outcome of a race is what gives it the potential to be something extraordinary. I found that running was similar to swimming because my mental strength played an important role in my physical performance. My premiere seasons of running showed me the importance of balancing doubt and confidence to my advantage.

Over the summer, I increased my mileage while swimming. I was used to running daily, unlike the year prior, so the chance of injury with more impact was lower. I did cross-training workouts as well and signed up for a weights class going into the school year.

4) What were your proudest accomplishments during your sophomore year in both sports?

During my second year of cross country, I broke 18:00 in the three-mile for the first time. I ran 17:45 at NCS, and took 5th place. I remember being especially nervous for that race because I wanted to qualify for state again and felt I had limited experience. It was a relief to secure another opportunity to race at Woodward, in addition to improving my time and place from the previous year.

My proudest accomplishment during track season was breaking 5 minutes in the 1600. I ran 4:59.77 at DAL league finals. It wasn't just the time that felt validating, it was the way the race played out. I think that was the first race I realized the benefit of a powerful kick. I wasn't leading the whole way, so feeling strong enough for a fast finish was almost as rewarding as finally breaking the 5-minute barrier. I felt I was reaching a greater level of maturity as a runner.

5) What XC or TF race do you feel was the effort that gave you the confidence that you could race with the best runners in the state? (Anda Chu photo above)

Last track season was unquestionably my biggest breakthrough as a runner. Though I achieved many personal goals before then, I viewed myself in a different light when I ran a 2:10.06 in the 800 at Meet of Champions last May.

I just missed the podium at state meet during my junior year of cross country, with almost exactly the same time as the year before. I knew I was among the top runners in the state, but I felt there was something missing. I wanted to reach another level of proficiency. My 1600 at state trials sophomore year left much to be desired, and I didn't want the upcoming track season to end that way. I made a personal pledge that my track season would reflect my work ethic and that I would be satisfied with the outcome. I ran and swam throughout the winter, completing double workouts a few times a week. My first race of the season was the 1600, with a time that was nearly equivalent to my final race the season before. I focused on my nutrition and recovery much more strictly. I paid better attention to form during workouts. I kept a routine.

At Meet of Champions, I aimed to make top three. The state qualifying time of 2:10.86 seemed unattainable, especially since my fastest time of the season was 2:13.79. I didn't expect that my first NCS win would happen, I just wanted to jump through the next hoop on the way to state finals.

The time that went with the win reflected my dedication, as well as placed me among not just the top runners in the state, but in the nation. What had seemed like an exciting prospect became real. That race gave me proof that keeping a routine pays off.

6) Last track season, you focused on the 800m and ended up finishing 3rd in state. When did you decide to focus on the 2 lap event and tell us a little about your state meet experience (trials and finals)?

At Tri-Valley, I ran a 2:13.79, although my PR was 2:12. I felt strong from the anaerobic work I had been doing and figured I could drop a few more seconds in the event with a slight taper and no 1600 beforehand. It felt promising based on my 400 speed and interval work. I was hesitant to scratch the 1600, but ultimately made the decision to focus on the shorter race.

The state meet was a blur. I spent a lot of time in the hotel room, resting, watching TV, and doing homework. Trials were not nearly as terrifying as they had been a year prior. It was beneficial to have the experience of running on the Buchanan track once before and coupled with my 2:10 from NCS I was confident that I could qualify for finals. I wasn't apprehensive during my trial; in fact, I was surprised at how calm I felt. I treated it like a workout and tried to be strategic. I was happy with how smoothly it went and excited for the following day.

The nerves gradually set in. I was charged with energy as soon as I woke up, and I still had hours of waiting ahead of me. I don't think a day has ever felt longer for me. I occupied myself as much as possible, and the hours crawled by. However, when it was finally time to head to the track in the evening, it seemed like the day hadn't been long enough.

The half-hour before my race was excruciating. I'm used to racing nerves, especially because of swimming, but the restlessness I felt leading up to finals was unmatched. Needless to say, it was a relief for the race to finally start.

The call-back was like waking up from being half-asleep. It refined my focus and shook me just enough to shed off the excess adrenaline that had built up throughout the day. When the gun went off, it was two minutes and nine seconds of partial consciousness. If the call back woke me up from a being half-asleep, crossing the finish line woke me up from a realistic dream about waking up. It was completely surreal and remains that way to this day. It feels like a separate entity ran that race, probably because my resting mentality is so different from my racing one.

Jeff Parenti's interview with Rayna following her 3rd place finish at the 2018 CA State track meet:

7) What does a typical week look like for you during track? Any morning runs? Longest run? Typical workouts? Strength work?

Although my focus is on track, I am on the swim team as well. I run six days a week and swim on two of those days in addition. Swimming helps with my red blood cell count while helping prevent injury from impact.

Concord has a block schedule, so Mondays and Thursdays are 1st, 3rd, and 5th periods, Wednesday is all classes, and Tuesdays and Fridays are 2nd, 4th, and 6th periods. I have an open sixth period, so on Tuesday and Friday I run during that time and swim afterward. I do bodyweight workouts around three times a week, focusing on core and hip strengthening. Mondays are longer intervals, like 1200 or 1600 repeats. Tuesdays are tempo runs, at a little slower than my 3200 pace. Wednesdays are longer sprints, including 400s, 500s, and 600s. Thursdays are long runs, usually 8 miles. Fridays are sprints; for example, 200 repeats. On Saturdays, if not a meet, I run 5 or 6 miles to loosen up. On Sundays, I roll out and stretch to get ready for the upcoming week.

Typically my week consists of 30 to 35 miles of running, and probably 4 or 5 miles of swimming. Many of the workouts that have become part of my track schedule are the ones that primed me for the 800 last year, so I have confidence that they will work well this year, too.

I don't work out in the mornings, mostly because I have zero period yearbook at 7 am, which is an everyday class. During cross country, I swam one or two times a week before zero since the pool was still being heated for fall clinics, but since I'm able to do doubles at least twice a week I tend to get as much sleep as possible before school and leave my workouts for later in the day.

Riley Chamberlain, Sarah Shulze, Rayna Stanziano after Division III XC race at State. (Dan Tyree photo)

8) Who is your coach and how has she helped you develop into the runner you are today?

My mom, Lanette, is my coach. She has taught at all of my schools, and we sometimes joke that she'll end up a professor at St. Mary's. She has been the cross country coach at Concord High for five years and began coaching the distance track team as a volunteer when I was a freshman. She teaches zoology and physiology and has taught at CHS since my sophomore year.

She went to Del Mar High School, beginning as a sprinter. As a junior in 1983, she ran 2:11.07 in the 800 to take 5th at the state meet. My 3rd place 2:09.44 happened 35 years later.

Her journey in running is both painful and inspiring. She received a scholarship to run for Cal. Two years later, her time there ended due to tibial stress fractures from barefoot running. She went on to attend San Jose State, where she met my dad, and before I was born they ran 10ks and other long road races, including the Rock n' Roll marathon in San Diego. Shortly after I was born, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her hands and feet, and cannot run without pain. We are still in touch with her high school coach, and he has come to some of my meets.

She loves the sport. When I started running, I wondered whether I could ever love it as much as swimming. Almost four years after my first high school race, I am unable to remember a time when I didn't feel the desire to run. Every day I am grateful that I am able to. My mom has helped me appreciate the sport and discover my potential. I learned how to race because she shared her experience. Even though I'm the one who competes, she is always in the back of my mind, guiding me. I first saw running as a way to become more connected to my mom. I couldn't have predicted that her coaching would help me become more aware of myself.

9) Favorite XC invitational? Favorite XC course? Favorite XC workout? Favorite TF invitational? Favorite TF event? Favorite TF workout? Favorite long run? Favorite free time activity?

Ed Sias Invitational at Hidden Valley Park. It was the first cross country race I ever ran, and the first meet I ran in all four years of cross country. It's a two-mile course and a great introduction to the season.

Newhall Park. I've spent countless practices there, for hill workouts, mile repeats, time trials, and long runs. I like the slight inclines and declines throughout the course, and from the top of Memorial Hill, it seems like you can see the entire city of Concord. It's especially peaceful in late afternoon, during the golden hour.

Hill repeats are my favorite cross country workout. While walking back down the hill at Newhall, I would often reflect on where the work would take me towards the end of the season. Hills are so unique to cross country that they have come to remind me of the sport.

The Stanford Invitational is an exciting opportunity to race some of the best athletes in the state early in the season, so you have an idea of the work you need to put in to reach wherever you want to be later. It's a good reference point. Last year it was helpful to know where I was in the 800.

I have to say the 800. I appreciate that it's not too short, but doesn't drag on, either. I like the feeling of completing one lap and then realizing I'm almost done already. The speed of the event is exciting and running it is refreshing for me.

My favorite track workout is shorter distance repeats. These include anything from 200s to 1200s. This type of workout is beneficial anaerobic work, which is what helped me the most at the end of the season last year. I and the distance team ran 600s the other day, and that helped me figure out what I might be able to run in the 800 at this point in the season since I haven't raced that event yet.

For long runs, I tend to gravitate towards Newhall, for previously mentioned reasons. I like to avoid concrete if I can.

In my free time, I like watching comedic TV shows, like "Friends" or "The Office", but I also enjoy anything involving creativity. I like drawing, reading, writing, and even just observing. These activities remind me to appreciate the little things that make me happy.

10) You will be competing at St. Mary's next year. How did you go about choosing that school and how many other schools were in the mix?

I received many letters/emails from other schools, but the recruiting process for St. Mary's felt much more personal. I visited the school over summer and loved the peaceful, intimate campus. I felt comfortable, and that was a key aspect of my college search because I have a tendency to be anxious. I wanted to pick a school where I wouldn't snap under pressure; the transition into college is already difficult as it is. I've never felt the need to go to college far from home, so I knew I wanted to stay within reasonable driving distance. I also learn much better in small class settings, so the ratio of teachers to students was appealing as well. Before high school, I knew I wanted to go to a smaller college.

I didn't talk personally with very many other coaches. When I went to my St. Mary's recruiting visit, I got a very real sense of what life on campus is like. Meeting the team helped me make my decision. I just felt like St. Mary's fit what I was looking for, so I didn't question my instinct. I'm very excited to become a Gael in the fall.

11) What advice would you give to a freshman girl who starts to show running talent?

As a freshman, you have a lot of time to develop, change, and grow into whatever type of runner you want to be. The most important part of this process is reminding yourself that failing is part of succeeding, and it takes patience to see what you are capable of.

12) Anything else you would like to add.

Thanks for the opportunity to share how running fits into my life!