I Got The Mic: Alyssa Aldridge, Mainland Regional girls cross country

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In November, Mainland Regional junior Alyssa Aldridge became just the eighth girls cross country runner in state history to win consecutive Meet of Champions titles. Glory Days Magazine publisher Dave O’Sullivan caught up with Aldridge to talk about the race and what it was like this season to be the hunted instead of the hunter.
Sully: What was this season like for you? Obviously, it’s a lot different coming into a year when everyone knows who you are rather than last year, when you flew under the radar a little bit.
Aldridge: I was definitely feeling the pressure a little bit this season to perform as well as I did last year, but, I was blessed to be able to have those expectations put on me because that meant I had been successful in the past. I did struggle in the beginning of the season with the mindset of where I needed to be. Throughout the season, I kind of learned to use it to push me rather than hold me back, and it ended up working out for me in the postseason, and I’m really excited about that.
Sully: Did you feel any different physically? Did you train any differently this year?
Aldridge: I swam more throughout the summer and preseason, which helped me build up my cardio and endurance. I definitely think that helped me. Other than that, throughout the season I basically did the same things. I just tried to pick up the pace on things and improve on all my splits. That’s what our main focus was throughout the season, and it worked out. So, I think that’s going to be our new plan, just progressing and continuing to do that throughout my high school career.
Sully: What was that like at the Meet of Champions, stepping to that starting line when everybody knows who you are and they say, ‘hey, I have to beat Alyssa in order to win this race’?
Aldridge: It’s nerve-wracking to have your name thrown out there as the girl to beat, but you can either use it to hold you back or you can use it to propel you forward. I used those expectations. While it was nerve-wracking and something I’m not used to having to worry about, I had to learn to focus my thoughts on positive thinking and focusing on my race and tuning out (the expectations) while at the same time using that as motivation.
Sully: Did you employ any different race strategy this year at the Meet of Champions, or did you say what worked for me last year worked, and I’ll go with that again this year?
Aldridge: I think at the Meet of Champions you have to have multiple strategies going in, because anything can happen. It was a fast start, which I like. A couple girls took it out fast and I just rolled with it and felt pretty good. I took over and just continued to push until the end.
Sully: At what point did you take the lead?
Aldridge: I would say about 600 meters into the race.
Sully: Is that comfortable for you, or would you rather be chasing somebody?
Aldridge: I do like to lead and try to get my footing and set my pace.
Sully: Were you surprised you won by such a big margin and broke 18 minutes? You probably came into that final straightaway and thought, ‘where the heck is everybody’?
Aldridge: I don’t know about that. It’s a really tough race, and if it’s not your day, you’re not going to perform as well as you want to. I felt like I had a really good race that day and performed really well. Some of the other girls might not have performed as well as they would have hoped to. I definitely ran what I was hoping to and broke 18, which has been my goal since last year. So, I was happy with how I performed. But I didn’t go into the race expecting to win by that much.
Sully: What’s going through your mind as you have the finish line in sight and you realized you were going to win?
Aldridge: At that point, it was just the basic don’t fall and don’t do anything stupid, just get to the line.
Sully: How much does this one mean to you? Obviously, it’s tough to win one Meet of Champions and I have to believe it’s even tougher to win the second time.
Aldridge: It has been a tough road and nothing is ever given to you. I definitely had to work for this and to see all the hard work pay if is rewarding for me. I’m just really happy to see how this season progressed.
Sully: How cool was it for you to be a part of the Mainland team and see the other girls do so well and win a South Jersey championship? Cross country can sometimes be a lonely sport, but during the regular season it’s a team sport.
Aldridge: It’s been really exciting to be a part of such a great team this year. All the girls worked hard throughout the season. We all worked together, set our goals and had a South Jersey (title) in sight. To be able to pull it off was really exciting, and I’m glad to be a part of the team that did that, especially since it had been so long since Mainland girls had won that. It was an incredible experience.
Sully: How important was that to you to have all your teammates supporting you as you were advancing into the groups and Meet of Champions?
Aldridge: I love to have my girls around me on race day, so to have them there with me was really nice. It was great to have them there to calm me down. We’re all in this together, and it was really comforting to have them around.
Sully: So what will it take to win a third Meet of Champions?
Aldridge: It’s going to take a lot of work in the spring and summer. I’m just trying to focus on the rest of my season this year (nationals in December) and winter and spring track before I start thinking about cross country season again. I’m trying to enjoy the moment.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays


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