Interview with Clara Horowitz Peterson

Clara Horowitz Peterson Interview on RanMarin

Interview by Liz Gill

Clara Horowitz Peterson is a professional runner living and training in Marin County. She is recently coming off an impressive win at Emerald Across the Bay 12k in San Francisco and a track season opener 5k in 16:02 at the Stanford Invitational. She had an impressive career at Head Royce, a small Division 5 high school in the East Bay, where she won multiple California Cross Country and Track titles. She went on to achieve All-American honors at Duke University in Cross Country and Track, most notably with a second place in the 5k at the 2005 NCAA Indoor National Championships and second in the 10k at the 2006 NCAA Outdoor National Championships. She recently completed her first marathon at the U.S. Olympic Trials in January with an impressive time of 2:35:50 just 8 months after giving birth to her second child Riley. Clara shares her insight on high school success, college recruiting, the upcoming Olympic Trials, and the importance of setting attainable goals.

First off, What brought you to Marin?

CP: That is easy: Mt. Tam. In High School I competed for Head Royce and I used to come here every Sunday. I didn’t know any trails except one. I would drive to Mill Valley to Summit Ave and run on Hoo-Koo-e-Koo. I would come over with friends or by myself and I just loved it. I knew after college I would come to Marin and when I was ready for a family I would be here, so I have been trying to get myself over here for a long time.

When did you start running?

CP: Like everyone, the 4th grade PE mile was a big deal for me. I had to win that. My dad and a couple of neighborhood guys ran really low key jogs around the neighborhood so I started doing jogs with them at 6am. We ran in Berkeley once a week. It was a 1.3 mile loop, but I thought it was a marathon. My first race was the Bay to Breakers. I did it when I was in 6th grade and I didn’t even run the whole thing. I ran four miles and then I walked a little bit then I ran the rest of the way. At Head Royce as a freshman I earned five letters. It is a small school and they let me do Tennis at the same time as Cross Country. Sophomore year I was still playing basketball, but that was my last year. At Head Royce running was always my main sport.

When did you realize your talent and start to think about running in college and beyond?

CP: My jump from freshman year to sophomore year was huge. I went from 15th at state (California Cross Country Championships) as a freshman and I won my first State Championship as a sophomore. That was the first time I had put summer training in. I put in like 50 miles a week, which was a lot to me at the time.  I thought “Oh my god, that is like seven miles a day.”

Clara racing for Head Royce

Who was your high school coach?

CP: I had a coach named Steve Ruegg who came in for the time I was there. It was perfect for me. He was a wonderful coach and had all of these resources. He ran in high school and after college did marathons and he was really talented.

Did he give you a program for the summer. He sounds pretty dedicated?

CP: He was extremely dedicated and he became a really good friend to my family. He is really cool and I was really lucky. He made it more fun because he would fly with me to the Great American Cross Country Race in North Carolina and the Nike Nationals. It worked well because he was in a network with people and he knew my family, so it was really lucky. My dad and him were friends and belonged to the same country club. They still play golf together at the club.  Steve made it really, really fun.

What was the recruiting process like for you?

CP: My first letter I got was when I was a freshman and it was from Harvard. Up until that point I thought I was more of a UC type of person, so I remember remember getting the letter in the mail from Harvard as a freshman and thinking it was a whole new ball game and that I may have some other options opening up here. It was a really exciting

Some high school athletes don’t start thinking about running in college until much later in high school. Were you like that?

CP: I knew it young. So, the Harvard letter was my first and by the time I was a sophomore, I had letters flowing in the door. My sophomore year I got 5th at state (California State Track and Field Championships) in the 3200m. You know how it is California where they put all the divisions together in Track, so college coaches look at that. Definitely at that point I knew I had options.

What was your main event in high school?

CP: As a sophomore I ran 10:40 in the 3200 and I ran 4:57 in the 1600, which didn’t make it to state. I was 5th  in the mile at NCS, so I was the first one out of making it to state. I was so mad. I was the only one who broke 5 minute but didn’t get to go to state, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I ran the two mile and qualified in that event. You know how it is; no one wants to run the two mile. The mile is the glory event. I ran the two mile and I got 5th. I would never have gotten 5th in the mile, so maybe it was a blessing in disguise. I am one of those distance runners who is always fighting being a long distance runner. I just ran my first marathon. It took me a really long time to even imagine that I would actually run a marathon.  I waited until my senior year in college to even think about running a 10km, even though I am made to run longer distances. My cardiovascular strength is much better.

What were your times like comparing freshman year to senior year in high school?

CP: In my senior year my PRs got down to 4:49 in the mile and I think 10:30 in the two mile. My freshman year PRs were around 5:18 or 5:20 in the mile and I placed 15th at State in Cross Country. I was still pretty into soccer and playing other sports my freshman year.

Back to recruiting, how did you decide on Duke?

CP: I committed in November of my junior year to Duke. I didn’t even go on all of my recruiting trips. I took three or four and I took a couple unofficial visits. I was really set on UCLA for a long time. Coming from the East Bay and Tam, I am someone who really likes to be out in the woods. I need soft trails and trees. Right after I visited UCLA I visited Duke and we went on this run. They have 30 miles of trails in the forest to run on. We went on this run and the leaves were changing and it was perfect fall weather in October. The team was different and the coach was Kevin Jermyn. He was young and he was new. The team wasn’t that good, but I also didn’t want to go to team where I would be crossing my fingers that I would be the 5th runner on the team. I wanted to be a scoring member. I wanted to find a team where I could go in and be one of the top runners.

You ended up having a pretty impressive team there.

CP: Right after I signed Shannon Rowbury signed, Sally Meyerhoff signed who was really fast, Natasha Roetter who at the time was going to win cross country nationals and was a top recruit, Caroline Bierbaum signed. It was great. By the time we were seniors we really had it figured out. We were ranked #1 for NCAA Cross Country Nationals my senior year. We had this incredible team bond going, but rocky road in and out. Everyone was number 1 and the superstar from where they were from, and

Clara competing for Duke

then all those big personalities were mushed together.  I am a people person so I was totally happy, but we really figured it out by senior year. It was fun.

What were your accomplishments as a team?

CP: My junior year we were 2nd at Nationals, as a senior we were ranked number one all season and should have won. We placed 3rd, but it happens. It was disappointing for the team. The year we got 3rd at Nationals I placed  5th.  My coach wanted me to be in the top ten and I was only two seconds off of 3rd so I was really happy with my place. It was unexpected.

What were your best accomplishments in track?

CP: My senior year I placed 2nd at the NCAA Indoor Nationals in the 5km. I was 2nd in the 10km at the NCAA Track and Field Nationals Outdoors my senior year. I got 2nd so many damned times

What were your PRs in college?

CP: 33 flat 10km.  15:50 5km. One of my greatest races was my sophomore year at Nationals when I came out of nowhere to get 5th. I wasn’t picked to place. I ran around 16:05. The race came out of nowhere. When I ran the 5km I was not expected to be in the top.

Did you run a 5th year?

CP: I had eligibility left, but the time I was done. I was engaged my senior year and had moved to Chapel Hill. I had a great finishing season and I was ready to do something else. Looking back I kind of wish I had seen what I could have done in Cross Country and Track. At the time I was done like, why am I going to put my life on hold? You think you will never have this opportunity again. I was anxious to sign a contract and be a professional. Looking back I wish I had taken my eligibility. I don’t really have regrets. But if I did it again, I would definitely advise anyone who has eligibility left to use it even if they feel like they are ready to move on.

How was your transition from college athlete to a professional?

CP: It was really fun that first year running for New Balance and it was really fun to run professionally. It was exciting; you get all this gear and a paycheck. That was when I started road racing. We were living in New Jersey and I did the 5km National Championships on the road in Rhode Island then the Tufts 10km which was the 10km National Championships. I was training on the track and doing a lot of fast stuff. My 3km time came down to around 9:09 or so. I was feeling like I could run faster and then I got hurt, which is a pretty common pattern for your first year out of college.

What were some difficulties for you in that transition?

CP: It’s different. You don’t have a set schedule. Your ice bath is not ready when you are done. You really have it easy as a collegiate. Anything you need at the snap of a finger. You have to figure it out for yourself. I had a good routine working out with boy’s high school Cross Country team that I coached. But, I was neglecting a lot of the important things that I did in college like form work and stretching! I stopped icing and getting massages and was getting race happy because I was in really good shape. I was in the best shape of my life and I wanted to just race and race and race. I raced myself into a torn hamstring. It was a really bad one and I was out for about four months. Then, I tore the other one. I really learned a lot from it. I learned a lot about perspective on life and exploring other things in life. I started to work on getting my Masters in Education because I realized I needed a backup plan. We were in New Jersey at this time, and then we came to California. I didn’t finish my Masters until recently. I was on the major slow track with babies. I got pregnant with my son when I was just getting back in shape.

How did you get back into competitive running?

CP: I had my injury, I got pregnant, and I had to stop caring about running after I had my son.  I entered this whole motherhood thing.  A year after having my son I decided I wanted to get more serious about running and I wanted to get more competitive. I was running local races, nothing too serious. I was running maybe 50 miles a week. I was training on my own, no coach. Then, I hooked up with Magda (Boulet) and joined the Bay Area Track Club. I thought OK, I am ready to get competitive again. Then, I got pregnant again. I trained pretty hard with this girl right here (holding daughter Riley). I hopped back into shape really quickly. This year has been really different and I actually feel really competitive and I feel really fast. I feel like I am finally going to run faster than I did in college.

After having two kids do you feel stronger? Some competitive moms say they have felt stronger after having kids.

CP: Yes. I feel like I am stronger. I feel like when I was training for marathon I could run 90 mile weeks and it wasn’t a problem. In college and after college I couldn’t run a step over 60 miles a week. I was like absolutely not. I was tired, that was enough. But after having this one (daughter) it was a whole new ball game and miles were not an issue anymore. I don’t know what it is but I do feel stronger. Maybe running with the baby and how in motherhood, you become stronger because you are not number one anymore and are taking care of others 24 hours a day. Even physically, I can hold them all day long now. Before my arms would get tired. I couldn’t even carry groceries. Now I can carry them all day.

How did you decide to do marathon?

CP: I loved that my first marathon would be at the Olympic Trials. I thought it was really cool. The trials race was eight months after I had Riley (daughter) and I didn’t know if I would be ready for it. I really wanted to and I ran a 1:14 half three to four months after having her. That was when I thought it was definitely post-mom strength. I wish I had like three more months to get stronger. I felt perfectly conditioned for a 23 mile race and felt great until mile 23. I felt that if I could have had three more months it would have really helped the last 3 miles. But, it made me really excited for my next marathon. I ran 2:35 and placed 16th. I was really happy with it. Magda thought I could run a 2:32 and I think she was right because I was at about that pace until the last three miles.

What are you aiming for now?

CP: Stanford 5km. Stanford 10km. I will do Bay to Breakers. I really want the record at the Marin 10km. I would love to break the longtime record there (held by April Powers).  Then the 10km (Olympic Track) trials in Eugene.

What is your favorite high school race or memory?

CP: My favorite race, hands down, was winning the State Championship my senior year (3200m). There is no better way to finish out a high school career than winning in your senior year. Everything played out exactly how it was supposed to. I remember crossing the line and thinking I have now accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish.  As a junior I had missed by a few spots and it was the best feeling to come back and win. That was my ultimate favorite. One of my other favorites was running Western Regionals at Footlocker and placing 7th to qualify for the National Championship in Florida. That was my junior year I didn’t think I would qualify so that was so amazing. It was the last year you got to go to Orlando. You feel like a rock star. Getting to travel. Getting to that race. Getting all the free stuff. I was so wrapped up in everything. I remember being on the starting line and thinking “Oh yeah, this is why I am here.” Those are definitely my top two memories from high school.

In College?

CP: As a senior getting 2nd at the 5km NCAA National Indoor Championship meet. It was because I thought at best I would be 5th. And I was .2 sec off of winning. It was the most in incredible feeling coming around with only two laps left and only one person in front of me. I think strategically I made my move at the wrong time. I am still frustrated with that but I was not expecting to be in that position. I would say the best feelings in running, in general, are when you over exceed your expectations. I would encourage runners to not make their goals too high. I never made my goals too high because when you do, you are just setting yourself up for disappointment. Other people in that position could have gone into that race thinking “I am going to try to win this race,” but I went into the race with lower expectations thinking “I am just going to try to get 5th.” It is such an incredible, out of body feeling when you are coming around the corner and think “I might just win this race.”  It’s an indescribable feeling.

That’s definitely something high school athletes can take away as advice.

CP: People are always telling kids to reach for the stars. I think that it is better to make your goals reasonable. Make them attainable because when you pass them the feeling is indescribable. Sometimes when coaches tell kids to reach for the stars, then they are disappointed with their place or time. I think it is better to set a realistic goal, something you know they are going to do, because then they are going to do it and they are going to feel good. Then at the next point make the goal a little higher.  I feel the same way now. My first goal was to qualify for the Trials and then see what happens.

Last question. Favorite trail in Marin?

CP: That is a great question. I am such a Crown Road sucker. I always go to Crown Road. I love Crown Road.

2 thoughts on “Interview with Clara Horowitz Peterson

  1. What a delightful, thoughtful athlete and person. Thank you for sharing this great interview. It was fun to hear her thoughts on both her high school and college experiences and what stood out as important memories and experiences from those times. Great read!

  2. Pingback: Interview up on RanMarin « ElizabethCGill

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