The Washington Post

For West Springfield running sensation Caroline Alcorta, ‘no turning back’

West Springfield’s Maddie Wittich was rounding the final corner in her final high school race during June’s AAA Virginia state championship when she saw her star teammate, Caroline Alcorta, laying on the track ahead. The junior Alcorta was leading the two-mile race on the final stretch, but her body shut down with about 150 meters to go and she couldn’t finish.

West Springfield's Caroline Alcorta, a first team All-Met in both cross country and indoor track as a junior, helped lead the Spartans to a team title at last month's New Balance Outdoor National Championship. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post) West Springfield’s Caroline Alcorta, a first team All-Met in both cross country and indoor track as a junior, helped lead the Spartans to a team title at last month’s New Balance Outdoor National Championship. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

It was a disappointing moment for Wittich, who had hoped her heavily favored teammate would fulfill high expectations and win the race. But even in that moment of defeat, it was a fitting last impression to Wittich.

“More than anyone that I’ve ever raced with, she does not give up. No matter the circumstances,” said Wittich, who will run cross-country and track next year at Richmond. “Our coach [Chris Pellegrini] was talking at the sports banquet [after the season], and he said many people aren’t willing to do that — not many people are willing to push themselves until they are like, absolutely gone.”

Alcorta was back running the streets around West Springfield High earlier this week, pushing through oppressive early morning heat to contently finish 4.5 miles. She was ordered by Pellegrini to take three weeks off following states and the New Balance Outdoor national championship in mid-June (where she impressively placed fifth in the two mile and won the distance medley), and the furlough proved to be the toughest test of the summer for Alcorta. It is a similar discipline to pushing herself toward absolute exhaustion on the track; during the summer, for that three week span in late June and early July, she has to push herself to actively resist her running addiction.

“It was nice in the beginning, but then after a while, you could just kind of feel yourself slowing down…you just want to go on a run so badly,” Alcorta said. “You don’t know what to do with yourself.”

Alcorta had one of the banner years in area running as a junior in both cross-country and track. She was the runner-up at the Virginia AAA Northern Region cross-country and state final and followed that up by winning the 3,200 meters at the Virginia AAA indoor state meet (she backed that performance up with fourth-place finish in the two-mile race at indoor nationals.). Along with Wittich, Alcorta helped the Spartans win the 4×800 meter relay at the AAA state outdoor championship. Alcorta earned first team All-Met honors in both cross-country and indoor track, and at the aforementioned New Balance Outdoor national championships last month, she helped lead West Springfield to its first national championship in school history.

She’s the most heavily recruited runner Pellegrini has coached in his 13 years with the school, although it is still unclear where she wants to run after she graduates. Pelligrini, a former West Springfield runner, is a self-proclaimed “nerd” when it comes to statistical analysis and pre-event strategy, and the time charts comparing his runners to national averages taped on the back wall of his office back up that claim. With a strong grasp on the history of running at the school and in the area, he believes Alcorta is a transcendent talent – even with just three years of true competitive running under her belt.

“Without any doubt, Caroline is the best female distance runner to come through this school. In fact, she’s probably on the short-list, top four or five best in the history of the Northern Region,” Pellegrini said. “Her form is pretty remarkably sound. One of the biggest advantages that she has is when she fatigues, she very seldomly has any breakdown in form. So her efficiency stays way up there during throughout the course of the race.”

At around 5-foot-2 and about 100 pounds, Alcorta’s stature works in perfect concert with a well-renown lung capacity, Pellegrini said. But it’s also Alcorta’s attention to detail in her form that sets her apart, along with her steady attention to her body during the offseason. Although she has no set diet (she eats fruit and toast in the morning, then chows down whatever her mother cooks for lunch and dinner, she said), she has a strict training regimen. During a musty morning earlier this week, she was out on Springfield’s roads running 4.5 miles by 8 a.m. sharp, pushing to get back to West Springfield for a weight training session by 9.

That mileage will increase as the season nears, and Alcorta often runs another five or six miles in the afternoon to simulate a real meet. In the weight room, she’s looking to remain lean, so she does shoulder presses and squats with light weight in the musty air after running. She never seemed gassed during the Monday morning session, knowing how important it is to keep reserves in the tank.

“It’s such a long season,” Alcorta said. “You have to peak just right. You don’t want to peak in mid-September.”

With the exception of a bout with shin-splints her freshman year, she’s never battled injuries. That was a transformative year for Alcorta. She didn’t compete in cross-country as a freshman, opting to play field hockey instead. She went out for indoor track to get in shape for the spring lacrosse season, but she never went out for the team. She fell in love with distance running, and the following season devoted herself fully to running year round.

Since, she has left nothing but impressions on her teammates, including veterans such as Wittich. Alcorta admits she cheated once during her assigned three-week break, when she came to the school one morning to help lead the freshman on a run around West Springfield High.

“It kind of took me by surprise how much it’s impacted my high school experience,” Alcorta said. “I’ve just noticed some days that I want to go out running. I kind of fell in love with it. There was no turning back after that.”


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Roman Stubbs covers the University of Maryland athletics for The Washington Post.



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Roman Stubbs · July 17, 2013