Interviews with Tomkinson, Toney and Ayers

Today, we have three interviews which you can check out below and in the next two pages. We start off with Menlo senior Charlotte Tomkinson who recently committed to Duke University. Tomkinson finished in 2nd place at last year's state meet final in the 800m with a best of 2:09.41. The next interview is with St. Francis, Mt. View senior, Scott Toney. He finished in 3rd place at last year's state meet in the Pole Vault and had a season-best of 16-1.5. This past January at the Reno Pole Vault Summit, Toney recorded a new lifetime best of 17-4 and will be attending the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. Our last interview is with Trabuco Hills Head Boys Track and Field coach JT Ayers. An alumnus of the school, Ayers has turned Trabuco Hills into a sprint power with his relay teams recording bests of 41.24 and 3:15.62 in recent seasons. 

Thank you to Charlotte, Scott, and JT. 

1) What was your running experience before HS? What other sports did you play?
Both of my parents are runners and triathletes, so I've been around sports my whole life. I was on a competitive club swim team from 2nd grade until freshman year. I wasn't super fast, but I do think that's part of where I discovered my love of competition. In middle school, I added running and biking, and focused primarily on youth triathlon, racing at the local and national level. For a long time, I really thought triathlon was going to be "my sport." It's definitely where I learned to embrace the pain! To train for a triathlon, I stayed on my club swim team and took up middle school track and cross country, which is where I met Coach Jorge (Chen). I had fun running a mile or two at our low-key practices and racing my heart out at our little meets but was never a standout. On practice runs, Coach Jorge would sometimes have me wait at the bottom of the big hill, while everyone else ran up it because he wasn't sure I could make it! At that point, neither of us expected I'd end up a runner. All we knew was that I was competitive, gritty, and loved to run. (Mark Foster photo)

2) What do you remember about your freshman XC and TF experiences? When do you feel that you started to think of yourself as a runner? Was it a particular race, workout, etc?
My freshman year was definitely defined by my friendships on both the track and cross country teams, and our successes as a group, rather than mine individually. I especially enjoyed the camaraderie and teamwork in what often can seem like an individual sport. 
Freshman cross country was so much fun and set the tone for the rest of my high school career. Our top seven included one senior, one junior, and five freshmen (still known as the fab five). Most of us had never run before and were just doing it for fun, with no idea that we could actually be any good. 
I remember one practice, Coach Jorge sat us all down and told us there was a chance we could be the first girl's team in our school's history to make State. I don't think we really believed him at the moment, but he believed in us, so we kept working hard, and somehow made it happen. Placing 3rd as a team in CCS that year, and making State like Coach Jorge predicted is a moment none of us will ever forget. No one on that team could have made State alone, but we realized that together, we were a force to be reckoned with. That was our starting point, and since then, everyone continued to come back faster and more determined every year.
I think our successful and fun team season in cross country was when I started to invest more into the sport, but it wasn't until I discovered my love for going fast on the track that I really thought of myself as a runner. I remember racing the 4x400 the night before a triathlon, and realizing how much I wanted to be at the track meet, instead of the triathlon. Realizing that I especially enjoyed running, much more than swimming or biking, I finished my triathlon season in the summer after my freshman year, and then fully committed myself to running. At this point, and up until the end of my sophomore track season, I still had no idea if I could ever really be a good runner. But, I loved it, and that was enough.

3) Looking back at your entire high school experiences in both sports, what are some of your proudest accomplishments whether as an individual or as a team member?
Although I barely had a senior cross country season due to injury, watching my team put together a perfect season to win our second CCS team title, and place 2nd at State was probably my proudest moment of high school. As bummed as I was not to be able to race with them, watching my team give absolutely everything for each other, and accomplish our goal in their last race of high school was every bit as satisfying as any race I've ever run myself.
For track, CCS last year may have been my proudest night. We all cried a lot of happy tears! Our little team of five risked a lot for one another, and to have everyone run so well and come together perfectly on the day was incredible and rewarding. I was excited and relieved to defend my 800m title, and still have enough left to complete an intense 400-800-4x400 triple. The risk made the team victory even more special. There is truly no better feeling than having all your hard work pay off, and making your teammates, coaches, and parents proud.
Individually, I've had some proud moments at the CIF State track meet. In my sophomore year, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and nothing to lose. I tripped and fell in the first few steps of my 800m final, but after a restart, I ran myself onto the podium in 6th place. Medaling at State, especially after falling, was a huge shock, but it gave me the confidence that I belonged, which I carried with me into my junior year. (Photo above is from sophomore CCS 800m victory courtesy of Mark Foster)
In my junior year, I pushed myself harder than I ever have, to finish second at State, and finally break 2:10 in the 800m. Firstly, I love the 800m, so any chance to race it on fresh legs with an elite field is a treat. Although I went into that race wanting to win and ultimately fell just short, I know that I gave absolutely everything I had on the day. I came away with a hard-fought PR of 2:09.41. Leading up to the race, nerves from all the expectations were difficult to deal with, so I'm also proud of how I handled that and still executed my race plan to the best of my ability. Right after the race, it was hard to come to terms with being that close to a goal and losing it, but I think it left me with some extra fire in my belly and a lot of lessons learned, so I'm hopeful we get to return to Buchanan Stadium this spring.

4) Last spring leading up to the state meet, you competed in the 400, 800 and 1600 relay. How apprehensive were you about completing the 400/800 double at the CCS Final and how satisfying was it after your team won their first CCS track team title?
CCS finals last year was a big night and one that I did agonize over. A few weeks before the meet, our team of five girls realized we had a shot at winning CCS. A lot had to go right, and it would only be possible if three of us tripled up in events. For me, that meant running the 400m just 20 minutes before defending my 800m title and then coming back an hour later to help qualify our 4x400m for State. It was a tall order. I was really nervous about potentially losing my 800m title and an individual spot at State. I went back and forth for weeks about whether or not to run the 400m. My coaches believed I had it in me but trusted me to come to the decision on my own. It was truly a game-time decision. Energized by the whole atmosphere of the meet and seeing my teammates already competing well, I told my coaches minutes before 400m warmup that I was in. I look back and am so glad I made that choice! I was able to run a controlled 400m, before dashing back to our tent to get calm and prepped for my 800m. The 800m is my favorite event, so my legs just knew what to do. Later, crossing the line for the 4x400 silver, and knowing that against all odds, we'd come together and won the CCS Championship for our small school, was pure joy, and one of the best moments of the season. That night would not have been possible without the unconditional belief from our coaches that we could do it, and the real sacrifice from all five girls on the team. (Duncan Lord photo below) 

5) This past fall, you started out the XC season by posting personal records in all your races and was leading the best XC team in Menlo School history. Your season, unfortunately, ended prematurely due to an injury. After the injury, how do you feel you still contributed to your team's section and 2nd place state finishes? What was the hardest part while dealing with the inactivity and what did you learn from that experience?
Getting a stress fracture during my senior year -- and what was set to be a historic year for our team -- was incredibly frustrating. Luckily the team didn't need me to still have an amazing season! I found out about my injury six weeks before the state meet, and we were all hoping that with an abnormally fast recovery, I'd be able to compete one last time. I crutched around during the day, and spent every afternoon in the weight room, on the bike, or in the pool to keep fit. 
As Thanksgiving weekend drew nearer, I realized my foot was not healed enough for me to run safely, so I made the difficult choice to pull the plug. Not being able to run or compete in my senior year, after months of hard work, was crushing, but telling my teammates was probably the hardest part of the whole experience. From that moment on, though, I dedicated myself to being the best teammate and supporter I could for them. "Coach Charlotte" was at every practice, giving splits and words of encouragement, and always making sure to have extra Advil, Icy-hot, gloves, headbands, socks, rollers, and gels in my backpack. If there was one thing I could do, it was to make sure everything on race day went smoothly for them. In the end, they did all the hard work, and I was just there behind the scenes and cheering them on very loudly!
I'm lucky that this is the only time I've ever been injured, and I truly learned not to take anything for granted. I realize now that my last cross country race in October may have been the last time I ever race in a Menlo School jersey, and I didn't even know it at the time. It also definitely gave me a new appreciation for running and practicing with my teammates; even on my hardest days now, I remember how lucky I am to get to do what I love.

6) The current TF season has now been postponed due to the coronavirus. What have you been able to do while the school is closed? How have you and your teammates supported each other during this time?
I know I'm not alone in my frustration with the uncertainty of this season, especially in my senior year and after an injury in cross country. Our collective health and safety must take priority, but I share the disappointment of the whole running community. 
CIF hasn't confirmed if we will have a partial season yet, so right now I'm just taking it day by day. My team continues to train hard (practicing social distancing, of course) and if we do get a chance to race this season, we'll certainly be ready. There are a lot of emotions right now: juniors are worried about hitting recruiting times, and seniors are anxious about potentially missing our last season. The good news is that there's nothing better than a run to clear your head. In a way, it's helpful to remember that all of us, on the biggest scale, are in this together. I'm lucky to have amazing teammates, coaches, and family to support me. Right now, we're just staying positive, putting in the work, and crossing our fingers.

7) Tell us about your coach and how he has helped you get to where you are today.
Coach Jorge is the best coach I could ever have asked for, and I truly have him to thank for everything these past four years. I met him on my first day of sixth grade at Menlo, so we go way back. It's hard to believe that this is my last season with him.  Jorge is my biggest fan, and believes in me more than anyone else. He has shaped me from someone who knew very little about running to who I am now. It's rare to go 24 hours without a pat on the back at practice, a spontaneous text, or a Facebook post from Jorge, lifting me up, calming me down, and motivating me. He's created a culture on our team that feels like my second family. I was especially glad that we were all able to show our appreciation for Jorge last year, when many of the Menlo students, alumni, parents, and faculty nominated Jorge for a PCA Positive Coaching award. Humble as he is, he truly deserved his national coaching award he won.

8) What about teammates and other XC/TF runners from other schools that have helped you along the way?
Where do I even begin? Anyone who knows me knows I'm obsessed with my team! Going to practice every day (before coronavirus of course) was the highlight of my day and a huge part of why I love this painful sport. My teammates have become some of my best friends and knowing that I'm working hard for them, and not just myself, is really motivating. In practice, we all run stride for stride and grinding through the miles together. Often, on the track, I get to race alongside my teammate Kyra, who really helps to settle my nerves. We see each other at our worst and push each other to be our best. Honestly, I don't know if I would be running if it weren't for my amazing teammates. 
In addition to my school team, I've also been fortunate to train with some of the top girls in the area, whom I met through Coach Jorge's summer club team. Although we mostly go to different schools and don't see one another or train together very often, we've created our own little team. We joke that it's probably confusing for others to see four girls, all in different jerseys, chatting and hugging at meets! I love the dynamic among high school runners. When we race each other, we race hard. But, as soon as we cross the finish line, we're all friends supporting one another I think that level of camaraderie and respect is incredibly special.

9) Favorite XC Invitational: Woodbridge Invitational. Our whole team ran great there this year, and it was my first individual cross country win. 
Favorite XC course: Also Woodbridge Invitational. I love the flat and fast courses!
Favorite XC workout: Mile repeats. 
Favorite long run: Sawyer Camp Trail with my teammates! Seriously, the best place on earth to run.  Favorite TF Invitational: Dublin Distance Fiesta or Arcadia Invitational. They're both super competitive but have such great energy. 
Favorite TF event: 800m or any relay. 
Favorite TF workout: Fast 200m repeats. 
Favorite free time activity: Hanging out with my friends and family!

10) You ended up choosing Duke University. How many other colleges/universities were considered and in the end what led you to choose Duke?
I am thrilled about Duke! I did seriously consider a couple of other schools, but I think deep down I've always known Duke is my place; I just had that gut feeling. It's a great school academically, a beautiful campus, neither too big nor too small and has good weather for athletics year-round. On my visit, I really connected with the girls on the team, which was important because clearly, I love my team! The student-athlete experience and culture around sports at Duke are truly unparalleled, and I'm excited to be a part of that. Finally, Coach Riley and I have built such a great relationship over the past year. Her style reminds me a lot of Coach Jorge's, and she has some big goals that I feel confident we'll be able to accomplish together. I can't wait to join the Duke Track family and be a Blue Devil! (Duncan Lord photo below) 

11) With the experience, you have now, what would be your advice for a talented middle school runner who will be entering high school next fall?
I wasn't a talented middle school runner myself, but I focused on having fun, and it turned out alright! As cheesy as it sounds, you have to really love and enjoy running, because it involves a lot of pain and sacrifice. Don't stress about how you stack up next to kids who are years older than you. Take time to learn and gain experience and know that if you put in the work, your time will come. It matters so much more what you do at the end of your high school career, and beyond than at the beginning. Most importantly, be a good teammate, and surround yourself with people who build you up. Your team will be your rock, and see you through your best moments, and your worst.

12) Anything else you would like to add.
Although running is often seen as an individual sport, we always say it's a team sport! I have endless support from all my coaches, teammates, and family. None of this would be possible without them. Huge thanks to my parents for always being my #1 fans, and to my sister for listening to me talk about track so much. 

I'm especially grateful for all the speedy girls I've been able to race these past few years. We push each other and make each other better. I'm also lucky to be able to call many of them my friends.

Stay healthy, everyone. I really hope we'll all be at Buchanan Stadium in a few short months!