The Pop-Up Interview: Lauren Harris

Tags: Interview

Meet Lauren Harris, race walk queen. The senior at Sachem East High School in New York is mentored by Olympian Maria Michta-Coffey, who has helped her set three national high school records in the event: indoor mile (6:57.36), outdoor mile (6:52.23) and, most recently, the indoor 1500m (6:17.59) at the Ocean Breeze Invitational just a few weeks ago. Read on to learn more about her unique specialty and watch her new national record racewalk here.

Jojo: Your third national record. Nothing new, right?

Lauren: Yeah. 

Were you targeting the Ocean Breeze Invitational as a national record attempt?

I knew that it was a possibility but going into the meet that wasn't my main goal. My coach usually tells me not to focus on time so much and more on that race itself. So if it happened, it happened. 

Did you feel different that weekend?  What caused you to drop so much time and get that 6:17?

My coaches were yelling me at me and I thought it was because I was going slower than I normally do because he normally doesn't yell the way he did. It made me go faster because I thought I was going really slow but apparently not.

What do you stay focused on?

I try to separate my mind from my body and try not to think about the pain in my body. I try to blank out my mind as much as I can and just stay consistent with my splits. 

You weren't aware of your splits this past weekend?

Yeah not so much. It's more like staying strong through the middle laps. Normally I go fast and then I fade as the race goes on but I think what was different was that I was staying consistent in those middle laps. 

At what point did you realize that you were about to break a record? 

It was going into the last 200 meters, that last lap, I was like doing the mental math and I always, when I have one lap to go, I do the math in my head to figure out like around what time am I going to end up getting. I did the math and I was like 'wow this is a lot faster than usual.' And then the guy mentioned the record and I was like 'oh wow.' 

How long did the officials decide if the record was legal? 

It was actually a lot longer of a process than it usually is. So me and my coaches and my dad were freaking out the whole time because we didn't know. It's always like so nerve-wrecking when you have a good race but you still don't know if you're going to get DQ'd. They had the results but then weren't like showing us right away and we were freaking out. 

Did this one feel different than the first record you broke?

I mean yeah because this is one that I've looked up for a while and I was like 'wow this one is going to be hard to break.' This was the fastest one even - I'm pretty sure it converted this one was the fastest one and it was just one that we were like 'where did this record come from?' It was so much faster than the other ones. 

How did you get into racewalk? 

Every year when the track season starts we try every event and my coach's wife, Maria Michta-Coffey, is an Olympic racewalker. She made me stay and come back to racewalking. 

When you first met her, how did you feel?

It was like crazy. It's an Olympian, you know. So it was just like wow no one even told me to come back to this event. I should definitely come back.  I was a freshman. Freshman winter track. 

How have you progressed from when you were a freshman to where you are now?

I'm definitely more committed now than when I was a freshman. When I was a freshman I was actually on the cheer team too and I would go back and forth between track and cheer. I would like skip track practices and after that I realized that cheerleading wasn't for me and I became more dedicated definitely. My form has definitely improved a lot over the years. I used to get DQ'd several times this season and that's definitely regressed the number of times I get DQ'd per season. Mentally I'm just more into it and I don't cry as much if I get DQ'd. 

When was the last time you got DQ'd?

I think last year at Hispanic Games in winter. I've gotten DQ'd at Hispanic Games three years in a row. This is the first year I haven't. 

Are there certain techniques or mindset you have that helps you not get DQ'd?

I think just as you racewalk more your form gets better over time. Racewalk is awkward because it's not something that you do every day. I'm sure everyone's run like once or twice in their life even if you're not a runner but no one's really racewalked and the more you do it I think the more your form becomes better and more natural to you. So I think that helps me a little more. The more practice, the more my form becomes natural and I don't get DQ'd as much. 

What does a typical week of training look like for you?

I have a distance walk on Sundays. We go for an hour and then on Mondays we do cross training so I bike. And then Tuesdays and Thursdays I run. It depends what day the race is actually but I run. Every other day I split up between walking and running basically.

You go on a run for a certain amount of time?

It depends on the week. We try to keep one running workout a week but sometimes it doesn't work out with the days the races are on. And as the seasons gone on I've done less and less running but normally I would do a workout on the track with the team. 

What are your goals for the rest of the year?

Counties is coming up next weekend so a goal of mine is definitely to win the County Championship with my team. I do want to win for myself but I think the team not me comes first. And then States come after Counties. I'd like to qualify for States and then hopefully I can qualify with two of my teammates and then States is the goal to be there, to win and to win the Nationals.

Is Nationals an afterthought to your New York season?

Yeah. I try to focus on the team stuff first. 

Does it help you not get too nervous?

I think it helps me because I have so many racewalkers on my team that are so good and it just helps push me being with them and having the team vibes more than just focusing on an individual thing. 

How fast do you think you can go?

For States I don't want to put time goals for myself. I like just being able to stay tough and push myself to more and more pain each race and be able to handle more pain. Six fifteen would be really cool, 6:17 came out of nowhere too. I think 6:15 would be really cool and the Nationals is a mile. So whatever that converts to. 

How was the pain in racewalking different from a pain running a race?

The pain is just in different spots in my legs and in running I think cardiovascularly that starts to hit me first and in racewalking it's the pain in my legs. It's two different things.

Where exactly in your legs?

It's behind the knee because you're straining your leg so much it just feels like it's hyperextending. So behind that knee you get - it just starts to feel like you're overdoing it, overusing it. 

Do you ever feel like you're bad running shape or do you get faster running?

I think if I'm in good running shape, I'm in good racewalking shape. Running helps me with racewalking because it helps me with my cardiovascular system. But when I'm in good racewalking shape I don't think it helps me with running. Normally the more I racewalk, the less I'm running. The further into the season it gets, the more I racewalk and the less I run. 

Are there any special exercises that you go to?

My coaches gives us hip strengthening exercises that we do and that definitely helps because my hips usually don't hurt. It's usually just behind my knees and my quads and the low recovery I use that all the time. It helps so much. 

Have you started thinking about the 2020 Olympics?

The Olympic distance is a 20k so it's way different training. I think I have to start building up to that and master the 10k first and then master the 20k. But going into the Olympic trials in 2020 would be really great but right now I just want to focus on the high school distance and start moving up to the 10k and then the 20k is when college starts. It's in the back of my mind but it's not something I really like - it's not a spoken goal right now. 

Where are you going to college next year?

Racewalking is not NCAA. It's NAIA. You know Marist College in Poughkeepsie? I'm not committed there right now but that's my top choice. I would run for the team and the coaches also support racewalking. They have two racewalkers there and they would train me and then bring me to the races like junior nationals and stuff like that and they would fully support it and fund it. I think that would be a really great opportunity for me. It's definitely what I'm looking at. 

When do you think you'll make your final decision?

Soon. Hopefully really soon. 

If you can eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Salt and vinegar pringles. 

What's the last show you binge-watched on Netflix? 


What's your favorite and least favorite class in high school?

Favorite is math and least favorite is English. 

What do you want to do when you grow up?

Math teacher. 

If you can be a national champion and a record holder in any different event in track and field, what would it be and why?

Hurdles because that's really cool.

The short ones or the 400 ones?

400 hurdles. 

Favorite song?

You know the song by Adam Levine that's like "pouring rain." Maroon 5.

The best thing about NY?

The pizza. 

If you can live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Long Island, here.