Q&A: Trey Cunningham Explains Why He Only Hurdles Once Every 10 Days & Why Racing in Europe Is Different to the US
By Jonathan Gault
April 7, 2023
Last month, I traveled to Las Vegas, where agent Mark Wetmore, head of Global Athletics & Marketing, assembled a number of his top clients for a media summit. The first athlete I interviewed was Trey Cunningham, the 24-year-old hurdle ace coming off a tremendous 2022 campaign. Last year, which Cunningham began running for Florida State University before signing a professional dead with adidas in June, saw Cunningham win NCAA titles in the 60 hurdles indoors and 110 hurdles outdoors, moving to #2 on the all-time NCAA list in both events (7.38 in the 60H, 13.00 in the 110H), behind only Grant Holloway. Cunningham stayed hot over the summer, taking 2nd at USA before earning the silver medal at Worlds — again behind Holloway.
Now in his first full season as a professional, Cunningham, who is still based in Tallahassee under his college coach Matt Kane, is preparing for what he hopes will be a lengthy outdoor season while putting the finishing touches on his thesis while he pursues a master’s in sports management at Florida State. We sat down to discuss his new lifestyle as a pro, why he wants to run a 100m (but probably won’t), why he only hurdles once every 10 days in practice, and who would win in a 200m hurdle race between Cunningham, Grant Holloway, and Rai Benjamin.
JG: Do you get to do any Vegas stuff when you’re here?
TC: Yeah. I think I won, like, $700 last night. Blackjack.
I lost $80 in blackjack within half an hour. I was just like, out. So what was your strategy?
- Exclusive Access to VIP Supporters Club Content
- Bonus Podcasts Every Friday
- Free LetsRun.com Shirt (Annual Subscribers
- Exclusive Access to VIP Supporters Club Content
- Exclusive Discounts
- Enhanced Message Boards
I don’t know. I just don’t bet excessively. I’ll do the minimum a few times and then I’ll be all right, we’re going to throw extra in on this one and play that way.
That sounds fun. Who were you playing with?
I was playing with Bryce Hoppel.
How did he do?
He did all right, too.
So it was a hot table.
It was a hot table.
So what’s this point of the season like for you, between indoors and outdoors? How does training look? Is it different from competition season?
Yeah, so I’m not racing until closer to May so this is kind of an offseason type of deal where we’re rebuilding so we can last until September.
What does a practice look like for you this time of year?
High volume, high intensity. And then we’ll eventually start going down with the volume towards May. I only really hurdle about every 10 days. That’s pretty standard for me, in-season and out of season. So we’re really sprint-heavy in what I do. We like to go fast, and it works for me because the technique part is kind of the easier thing for me.
Do you know how that compares to other high hurdlers?
Well some people like to hurdle three times a week, some people are like me and don’t hurdle as much. I think it’s really dependent on if you respond to sprinting better. I’d say we have a few people that run the high hurdles that can run pretty low 10-second 100 meters and we have some people that can’t. I would say people who can’t do that, they are the ones that hurdle more.
How many 100’s do you race? Do you do those very often?
Yeah, I couldn’t remember seeing you in any. (Note: Cunningham hasn’t raced the 100 since April 2019; his official pb is 10.64)
No, but my times in practice, I’m pretty quick. I can do 15-flat for a 150. The other day we did, I think, like 26-flat for a 250.
So what have you done for a 100?
I don’t know, we’re going to find out.
But in practice, what do you run?
I don’t run the 100 in practice.
Okay. So are you going to run a 100 this year outdoors?
I don’t think so.
I would like to. Agent and coach probably won’t let me. Maybe 2026, when there’s not a World Championship.
I feel like showing up for one race in the 100’s not too much to ask, right?
I mean, I’m down for it. I’m down for it.
So have you always done that with 10 days between hurdle sessions? How long has that been part of your routine?
I’d say about two years now.
So 2021 was when it started? And that was just because you and your coach realized your technique was really good? Or what was the decision-making there?
I think it was more to keep me healthy. Because hurdling every day takes a toll on your hips. And one of the hardest things about track & field is getting on the line healthy. So if I can get to the line healthy, I’ll be fine.
So when you do have a hurdle day on the schedule in practice, what does that look like? What sorts of stuff are you doing?
It depends, man. Sometimes we’ll do a long session, like there’s 12 hurdles out there, I’m going past the finish line. Or it can just be to three hurdles three times. It really depends on how it lines up with the practice schedule. Like, did we do an excess of 200 repeats or did we do sled pulls the other day? It really just depends on what it lines up with.
So is there enough room on a track to put up 12 hurdles?
You can fit 14. I’ve done 14.
How tough is that 14th hurdle?
It’s really far away [laughs].
How far? 140 meters?
I don’t even know. I just know it’s past the finish line. Anytime the hurdles go past the finish line, it’s long.
So is it a big deal? When you see a hurdle day on the schedule, do you get amped up for it? Or is it just like a normal practice day for you?
It’s normal practice, but I can hurdle all day. It’s what I love to do. And I can really do it all day.
What does your life look like compared to being a college kid last year?
So I’m finishing my thesis for my master’s, so I’m technically still enrolled, even though it’s the only thing I have. We lift at 7:45 a.m., I go home, have breakfast, take a shower, go back to the track 11:30, practice on the track, and then I usually come back, have lunch around 2, and either write my thesis or do stuff around the house, make sure I’m meeting all my obligations, usually by that time it’s dinner time. I eat, and then whatever free time I’ve got left.
Thesis: what’s it in?
So I’m getting my master’s in sport management, but my thesis is not in sport management at all. It’s kind of sports psychology. So I’m looking at the personality predicting burnout in college athletes.
What have you found so far, if you can reveal it?
What have I found? That there is a relationship [between] your personality traits and burnout, and burnout is not as prevalent as people think it is.
So what sort of personality traits contribute to it?
So I’m using the “big five”: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. And out of those five, two of them are showing strong signs – it’s conscientiousness and neuroticism. So neuroticism is positively correlated with burnout. So if you’re more inclined to be negatively responding to things, it makes sense. And then conscientiousness is negatively related to it.
And how are you finding this? Have you been surveying athletes?
Yeah, I surveyed quite a few athletes. I use this software called Qualtrics, it’s online. And I just sent all the coaches a link, I sent athletes links. I got like 440 that I could actually use.
So that’s Division I athletes?
Division I only.
And any event?
Any event. They just have to run track & field.
So do you ever feel burned out or get any of those feelings?
I have before, yeah. I would say last year, just due to the length of my season. Like, I was training for 368 days.
So when did you start training and when did you finish?
I started training first week of September  and stopped training the second week of September, whenever the Diamond League final was.
And when did you start your thesis and when are you trying to finish it by?
The manuscript will be done end of [March]. I’ll defend it probably end of April and graduate in May. I started it back in the fall.
One of the things I’m curious about with a lot of you guys who are very near the top of the world: how do you choose your competition schedule?
So it’s collaborative, usually, between me and coach. And then we approach my agent with, hey, this is what we want to do, can we get into these meets? And that’s how it works, back and forth that way.
And when you and your coach talk about what meets you want to do, what are you looking for? Do you have certain dates that this should be a competition weekend, or are there other things that go into it?
So fortunately with the Diamond League circuit, you only have [seven 110m hurdle] races to pick from, and you need four to six of them to make the final. So you kind of have to line up your training that way. We do ours in a month block, that’s how far we look ahead. So for example, the first three races I can do in the Diamond League is Rabat (May 28), Rome (June 2), and Paris (June 9), so it would just be lined up more so for me to race fast at all of those. Or I might have to tough it out and train through one of them.
So we kind of schedule it out around peak times. Like US Championships, World Championships, and the [Diamond League] final after that. So I would say it’s mini-periodizations is how we figure it out.
So your aim is to run all the Diamond Leagues? Or as many as you can, realistically?
As many as we can, realistically. I mean, it’s what I’m paid to do, is to race. And I like to race. So I want to be on the track. I like competing over practice. But for example, if it’s not the right move to go to Rabat instead of going to [the LA Grand Prix on May 27], that would be a substitute. Or the New York [Grand Prix on June 24] instead of Lausanne (June 30).
It’s interesting you say that, though. Because there are some athletes who would say, Diamond League’s not that important to me, I’m focused on USA Champs, I’m focused on World Champs, nothing else really matters. You don’t seem to have that mindset.
No, I think that kind of hurts the sport. Because you’re not racing. People want to see you race.
I tend to agree with that. Some of these meets will pay out appearance fees. Does that ever factor into what meets you’re choosing?
No. Because I plan on getting paid at the end, anyway.
So do you imagine this will be your approach to every season? Because obviously this year the Diamond League final is in the US, a lot of Americans want to run that. Do you think your approach will be the same when it’s back in Zurich?
Yeah. I like to travel. I enjoy it, I enjoy going to places I’m not familiar with, meeting new people. So I’m always down for an adventure.
One of the things I noticed last year, but also in general with the 110 hurdles, it seems like the top guys don’t really dodge each other. You’re just out there racing each other a fair amount. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?
Yeah, I think so. Hurdlers like to race because it’s a rhythm thing. And once you find the rhythm, you don’t want to stop. But also, we don’t really have another event we can go hide in. There’s no 200 hurdle. There’s no 150 hurdle. We got what we got, that’s it. And no one’s going to go run the 400 hurdles because it hurts too bad.
Let’s say there’s a 200 hurdles on the schedule, though. Rai Benjamin says, “I’m in.” Grant Holloway says, “I’m in.” You want in on that race?
I mean, I’ll take it for shits and giggles. I know they’re going to roll me up. I think Rai would roll both of us up.
Why do you think so?
I’ve seen him run a 200 before (note: Benjamin’s 200m pb is 19.99). It’s impressive. I mean, I’ll jump in. It’s fun.
What were your impressions of the European circuit last year? How do races over there compare to what you’re used to over here?
It’s like, why is track & field not like this in America? This is so cool. This is awesome. The Zurich meet is packed full, standing room only, and the crowd is crazy. And better yet, they know what’s going on. That was so cool to me.
How can you tell that?
Pindrop quiet at the start, didn’t matter what was going on. Even my parents were there and they were saying people were trying to get up and move around when they had us in the blocks and they were like, “No, you have to sit down, you can’t move yet.”
Why do you think it’s not like that over here?
I don’t know.
Because I went to Zurich in 2017, and it was definitely different. It was one of the best track meets I’ve ever been to. But was it like that at every European meet? Or is it just Zurich’s really good?
Zurich’s really good. I mean it wasn’t sold out in Monaco, but the crowd still was wild. Everyone knew what was up, competition was great. The whole atmosphere of it made it feel like it was really important.
Do you think that’s because Monaco and Zurich – well, Switzerland also has Lausanne – but those are the two big meets in their whole country for track & field, whereas the US will have US Championships, NCAAs, the Pre Classic…
No, I think it’s a lack of knowledge of the sport, honestly. And I think that stems from a lack of interest. So you have to pose the question, how do we get people interested?
How do you think?
I don’t know. So the people who did the Formula 1 Netflix series, I’m like, obsessed with it. They did one with tennis and golf, too. The golf one’s actually pretty good. The tennis one’s eh. But there’s a few case studies on the Formula 1 stuff. When it was introduced in 2018 to 2021, their viewership – not on Netflix, but on general, on TV and stuff – jumped 50%. That’s impressive for a sport where you don’t even get to see the driver. They’re in the car the entire time, driving around the track.
So I think if we can find a way to do something like that, it would be much better. Because we’re just a bib running down the track to everybody. We’re not people.
The conversation was edited for length.
Talk about this Q&A ono the world-famous LetsRun.com fan forum / messageboard. MB: Jonathan Gault Q&A with hurdle star Trey Cunningham.