Karina Carstens was a huge factor in the success of the women's cross country team in her freshman season last fall. She was the 2015 California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Freshman of the Year, as well as all-conference, after finishing 13th at the CCAA Championships. "Karina is a great talent, and is very driven to be successful," says head coach Nate Garcia. "We're excited to see what she has in store for her second season. She faced some struggles last year, and has come out a better competitor for them." As the Tritons prepare to kick off the 2016 season on Sept. 2, Carstens, a political science major at Roosevelt College, took time to answer questions ranging from the upcoming campaign, the annual cross country training camp at Mammoth, and her love for carrots.
Q: What are you most looking forward to about the upcoming preseason training trip to Mammoth?
KARSTENS: Mammoth is basically 10 days of amazingly hard and hilly runs, with all-you-can-eat breakfasts and all-day team bonding. I am looking forward to the hikes, the card games, and being able to be with my closest friends doing what we love for 10 incredible days. Mammoth was one of the highlights of my whole first year of college, and as a freshman, that was so important to me because I didn't really know the team at all coming into our time there, but I left with 32 best friends. That's what Mammoth does; it brings a team of runners together and turns them into a family.
Q: What kind of a personality do you bring to the team? What would your teammates say about you?
KARSTENS: The personality I bring to the team could best be described as serious yet fun. I know those are pretty broad descriptions, but I take workouts pretty seriously, yet I can still have fun with my team during them. My teammates would say that I am reliable, trustworthy, caring, hard-working, and an overall good teammate.
Q: Your first race is in less than a month (Sept. 2 in Ontario). What thoughts go through your head when you hear that?
KARSTENS: My eyes got big and I held my breath and thought, "Oh boy, that is coming up really fast." However, I know that it is just the first race and we have a pretty quick turnaround after Mammoth; we leave Wednesday and then race on Friday. Under these circumstances, I know the race will be hard and we will be tired from 10 days of altitude training, but I expect some good performances and I trust that Nate will prepare us to have a great race.
Q: You scored in all six of your races last year, and were the CCAA Freshman of the Year. How do you plan to build upon that success?
KARSTENS: The thing about success is that it can always be built upon. I had a great first year in college cross country, and it was way better than I was ever expecting it to be. This year, I would like to improve my times and score in every single meet like I did last year, but I would like to be across the finish line faster. Obviously, I cannot receive another Freshman of the Year award, but there is always room for improvement in my times, placement in the field, and overall confidence throughout my races.
Q: What is your favorite type of workout?
KARSTENS: My favorite type of workout would have to be tempos, because I am more of a strength-based runner rather than a natural speed demon. Tempos are all about a test of one's strength, and I love being able to just find a pace and stick with it for six miles, or whatever distance we do that day. As far as runs go, I love long runs because I love to be able to run for 75 or more minutes and just forget about life and focus on what I love, which is running.
Q: Are you a superstitious person? What is your pre-race ritual? What do you think about while running?
KARSTENS: I am not a superstitious person, so I don't have a certain thing I have to do or wear before I race in order to feel like I will have a good race. I do, however, do three jumps and roll out my shoulders right before the race starts, and once I do that, I feel like I am ready to go.
While I am running, I often think about food because I don't like to run on a full stomach, so I like to envision the amazing things I will be able to eat once I am done. If it is a hard workout, the thought, "Why do I love this? Why am I running?," usually crosses my mind, because I am in so much pain and just want it to end. After the workout is done, though, I love that feeling of accomplishment, of finishing that super hard workout. It is even better when you start feeling less pain during workouts, and start seeing the results in a race.
Q: What has the transition been like moving from Exeter to San Diego?
KARSTENS: The transition has been amazing. I personally did not love growing up in Exeter, because it is so small and there is not that much to do. When I got to San Diego, it was like entering a whole new, incredible world, because there is so much to do and the beach is so close. I loved all the new people I met, especially since I grew up with the same people, and never really had an opportunity to meet anyone new, except if someone new moved to our school. San Diego is also a lot cooler (weather-wise) than my hometown, so that has been nice. The view has changed, too, because in Exeter, the view consists of orange trees or the mountains. In San Diego, I have the beach, freeways, buildings, trees, and just so much more to see. San Diego has been a nice change from my small farm town, to a big beach city. I absolutely love it.
Q: What is your favorite trail to run? How do the San Diego trails compare to Exeter?
KARSTENS: My favorite trail to run would have to be what my team calls "Swings," because you start out just on a normal trail, and then you round a bend and get a beautiful view of La Jolla and the ocean. It is not a very long trail, but I just love the view. I am used to running in the country and in the orange groves, so being able to see the ocean during a run is truly amazing.
Back home in Exeter, there are not a lot of places to run, and it is a lot of country running, which is nice because it is fairly quiet and there are cows grazing on the side of the road. However, San Diego just has so many more options for places to run, and it is nice to be able to run at any time of the day, rather than having to wake up so early in order to beat the heat.
Q: You swam and played soccer in high school. What about cross country made you want to continue running in college?
KARSTENS: I played soccer all four years in high school, swam one year, ran track for three years, and did cross country all four. Coming into high school, I thought for sure I would play soccer in college, and I would run cross country and track in order to stay in shape for soccer. My mom likes to say, "Things change and they don't always work out the way you expect them to," which was so true for me.
I started to like running more my sophomore year of high school, because I really got along with my coach and my team had a pretty successful season. I also had a really successful year in soccer, so I was still on the soccer boat. Junior year was when I won my first cross country race, and I started to really improve running-wise. I wasn't great, but I was doing pretty well. What really made me want to run in college, though, was a running camp I went to after junior year. The camp made me more confident in my running capabilities, because I realized I could run a sub-eight-minute-mile pace for a long run and not die, which I never thought would be possible. My senior year, I focused on running, and I improved my times.
I started to love the discipline that running brought, and the feeling of accomplishment after completing an insane workout. I decided that I wanted to continue running in college because I could not imagine giving up the competitiveness I built through the sport, that my freshman self could never have dreamed of. I am so glad that I am running in college, because my teammates are my favorite people, and practice is my favorite time of the day.
Q: The last segment of your bio simply states, "loves carrots." Could you tell us more about your love of carrots, and why they are the best food? What is your favorite way to prepare them, or is raw the best?
KARSTENS: I love carrots so much because I gave up chips for a year as a senior, and I needed a substitute for the crunchiness I lost in chips. I decided to go for a healthier option, and I turned to carrots. I cannot really explain why I love them so much, other than the fact that I just do. I wouldn't necessarily say that they are the best food, because nothing beats cold watermelon after a hot and hard workout. I will say that carrots are my comfort food. It is so bad that I turned orange from eating too many, and I had to scale back my "addiction," which was not easy, especially during finals week. To me, raw baby carrots are the best because they are so easy to eat, and if I feel like I need some crunchy food, I go to carrots.
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