Q&A: Mary Cain on The Injury That Kept Her Out in 2017 & Her 2018 Plans, Plus Katelyn Tuohy Talks About Her Incredible XC Season, Her Millrose Defeat & Managing Expectations
By Jonathan Gault
February 7, 2018
On Wednesday afternoon, Mary Cain surprised North Rockland (NY) High School sophomore and 2017 NXN champion Katelyn Tuohy by presenting her with the 2017-18 Gatorade
National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year Award at the New Jersey Running Company in Montvale, NJ. LetsRun was able to speak with both Cain and Tuohy over the phone shortly after the event.
Cain, 21, who made the World Championship final in the 1500 meters following her junior year of high school and became the first American to win World Junior gold in the 3,000 meters in 2014, missed the entire 2017 season due to injury but is back training and plans to return to racing this summer. We chatted about her injury, what she learned during her one year in Portland (she attended the University of Portland as a freshman in 2014-15 while training with the Nike Oregon Project), and what she’s enjoyed about being back home in New York, where she is a student at Fordham University and trains under coach John Henwood.
LRC: Mary, what is your situation right now? Are you still at Fordham? Are you still running for Nike? Are you training with John Henwood?
MC: Yes to all of the above.
And are you a senior now? Are you on track to graduate in the spring?
I’ll actually graduate next spring since I took a gap year sophomore year.
What are you majoring in?
I’m a business administration major and I’m also pre-med.
Obviously, you didn’t race last year. Can you explain why you weren’t racing?
Yeah, I ended up getting a stress fracture in my shin because I ran through a calf strain, which I shouldn’t have done. And so I ended up having to miss the outdoor season. And then for this [year], it made sense to more focus on getting in shape and getting fit for the outdoor season rather than trying to rush an indoor [season in 2018].
That makes sense. And when did you develop the injury?
I guess over the summer at some point? I had gotten a fracture maybe in May  or something.
And when did you get back to training again?
I’ve been probably training for the last few months and just kind of building up slow from there. Started off more on the cross-training front and now just kind of transitioning back [to running].
Do you know when you’ll be opening up your outdoor season?
No, I don’t have an actual date in mind since it’s kind of a weird year because it’s an off year and there’s no Worlds or that sort of stuff. I just plan on being a little bit more flexible with my season, being a little bit more go-with-the-flow when it comes to races since it’s gonna be kind of fun in that there’s no big, hard peak. It’s kind of more like jumping into different races and exploring the circuit and getting back into it in that sense.
What are your goals for 2018?
I think it’s to get back into racing shape in that I haven’t been able to really race on the track in — I mean, it will have been like, a year or two. Yeah, how long will it have been? It’ll have been a while.
And so I think in a lot of ways for me, it will be just like having fun, getting out there, hopefully getting some fast times but also getting back into that “how do you race” sort of mode. Because the difference between running fast and racing is very different. And I think this will be a fun year to jump in a bunch of races, practice different tactics, practice different techniques in that sort of regard and kind of going from there.
You had so much success at a very young age. And I’m wondering was it difficult for you mentally to go through the last couple years with not being able to run and not having quite the same level of success back in 2016 that you had early in your career?
Yeah, I mean definitely at times it was difficult, but I think at the same time I’ve really surrounded myself with a great group of people who have always cared about me, first and foremost, as a person [rather] than as an athlete. And so I think as long as my health in that regard was good, everything else we kind of knew would come.
And so I think whenever you start to have doubts or look down or anything like that, I remind myself I’m 21, and in the scheme of things, there’s a lot of racing to be done and there’s a lot of life to live from here on out. And so just kind of focusing on that and not really looking back in that sort of sense.
Do you think moving to Portland, when you made that decision, do you think that was a mistake?
I think the thing that I have always said about all things in life is that it’s easy to look back and wonder oh, “if,” “but,” “when,” “what,” all that sort of stuff. But at the end of the day, it happened and it was always going to happen and I do truly believe it was supposed to happen. And whether it changed me as a runner or an athlete or a person, it happened and so I don’t look back with any regrets.
I think that’s a great approach to take. Did it change you — as a runner, as a person — that experience?
Yeah, it definitely did. Particularly, I think, more on the person front.
Could you expand a little bit on that?
Yeah, I think just in that I learned what I should and shouldn’t expect as a runner and I learned what I can and can’t balance as an athlete in terms of training, expectations, and experiences and all that sort of stuff. Even just, like, academic balances and all that jazz.
What’s different about your life now than it was when [you] were in Portland?
I think it’s been really awesome being back home. I’m a New Yorker at heart, always have been, always will be, and I think being back in this environment, even at my dad’s alma mater, and having all my friends and family around me, and being back under John has been a real pleasure and has just made the whole experience that much more fun. And it just makes me that much more proud to be running again and proud to be running for them.
Tuohy, 15, spent all fall crushing course records and racking up massive wins. She broke the Van Cortlandt Park 2.5-mile course record by more 30 seconds by running 13:21.8, broke the Bowdoin Park record by more than 20 seconds by running 16:52.4, and then set a new Glendoveer Golf Course record by running 16:44 to win NXN by more than 40 seconds. Tuohy has continued to run well during the indoor season, running the fastest time ever by a high schooler (indoors or outdoors) over 5,000 meters (15:37.12) and just missing Cain’s national record of 9:04.51 in the 3,000 (Tuohy ran 9:05.26). Most recently, Tuohy ran 4:47.10 to take fourth in the high school mile at the Millrose Games. We spoke about that race — which was her first defeat in an event longer than 600 meters since March 2017 — as well as which professional runners she admires and her goals for the rest of the year.
LRC: Congratulations on a fantastic cross country season. Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on it, has it set in just what you accomplished with all those course records, with everything you accomplished last fall?
KT: Yeah it’s finally starting to settle in. The cross country season went fantastic for me, getting a course record at every course I ran at. And winning NXN was definitely a huge accomplishment. And it’s definitely hard to decompress, but I think I finally have.
What was it like today getting the award from Mary and had you met Mary before today?
No, I had never met Mary before today, but it was a wonderful experience. It’s kind of ironic that we’re both from Section 1 of New York so it was really cool getting an award from her. A lot of people like to compare us and we’re from similar parts of the state, so it’s just really cool finally getting to meet her and to get this award. (Note: Tuohy’s hometown of Thiells and Cain’s hometown of Bronxville are less than 30 miles apart)
And I know you raced at Millrose on Saturday and it obviously didn’t go quite how you wanted. What was the hardest part about losing that race?
I guess just having, I wouldn’t say pressure, but a little bit of pressure to compete well. But I guess I just didn’t have it. But I’m putting that behind me. Today’s about the Gatorade National Girls’ Cross Country award, so I’m not really thinking about that.
What did your parents and your coach tell you after the race? Did you get any good advice from them about handling defeat?
They kind of just told me that it doesn’t define me as a runner. Everyone has a bad day so it was all right. But now I’m just focusing on what’s ahead.
A lot of people, they see your times, they immediately start projecting — is she going to turn pro, how good can she be down the road, all that sort of stuff. Is it difficult for you, as a sophomore in high school, to stay in the moment, and how do you stay in the moment?
I try not to focus on what other people say. I just try to stay to myself. So if someone tries to bring up the topic about going pro, I usually just try to push it to the side. I have time, I’m only 15, so that gives me time to think about that.
What are your goals for this season and then what are your goals for something you’d like to accomplish in your career, a long-term goal?
This season, I’m just focusing on getting my speed back after a long cross country season. My next race is on Sunday, I’m running my section meet so I’m just trying to rack up some points for my team and help them try to win the section meet.
And then long-term goals, my goals are just to keep running fast and possibly break some more national records. I was just shy in the 3k, so I think right now that’s my biggest goal, the national record in the 3000.
Are there professional runners that you admire? Which ones and why?
Oh jeez, there’s so many. Each runner is unique. Obviously, there’s Mary. I look up to her a lot. And then there’s people like Shalane Flanagan, she just won the New York City [Marathon] and she was just so inspirational in that race. But yeah, there’s so many different runners I can look up to for so many different reasons.
I saw an article that your coach had [received] an offer for you to run Millrose in 2016 and 2017 and it mentioned that he [turned it down as] didn’t want to put too much on your plate too soon. Were you a part of that decision? How did that process play out?
No, it was my coach’s decision 100% and I 100% respect his decision. He’s very influential on me and he definitely knows what he’s talking about, he’s been coaching for over 20 years. So I definitely trust his decision and trust the process that he’s setting up for me.
If you look at the list of HS prodigies, women who have achieved a lot of success at a young age, some of them continue to roll with their success and some of them will take a step back and then take a step forward. How aware are you of that history and is that something you’ve given any thought to at all?
Yeah, a little. Obviously, girls’ running has been developing a lot over the last few years, especially in younger runners like me. I’m kind of just going step by step. I’m trying just to focus on what’s next, my next race, one race at a time.
You can watch Cain surprise Tuohy with the award in the video below. Talk about our Q&A in our world famous messageboard / fan forum: MB: Guess who we interviewed today??? Mary Cain (and Katelyn Tuohy)