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Varsity Q&A with Abby Culp, Manchester Valley, track and field

By Katherine Dunn, The Baltimore Sun

1:40 PM EDT, May 15, 2013

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Abby Culp never realized how much she loved running until she couldn't do it any more.

After her freshman cross country season at Winters Mill, Culp's family moved to Florida for six months, and she had to take a break from running during a brief struggle with an eating disorder.

Back in Carroll County at Manchester Valley, she got back into serious running as a junior.

Last fall, she was an All-Metro second-team selection after finishing second in the Class 1A state cross country meet. She also made the All-Metro second team in indoor track after winning the 3,200 meters in Class 1A record time and finishing fourth in the 1,600 meters. At last week's county track championships, she ran second in the 3,200 meters and sixth in the 1,600 meters.

Culp, who has a 4.2 weighted GPA, will run next year at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke, where she plans to major in exercise science.

How did you get started running?

I started running in elementary school. A friend asked me to join a club track team with her, Excel. I remember the first day of practice. It was awful. I think we did like a mile warm-up, and I thought I was going to die (laughs). I kept at it, and I think because both of my parents were runners, I just liked being with those kind of people. I liked the team, so I kept at it and eventually got better at it.

What do you enjoy about running?

A lot of it is a release for me. It's kind of a stress-relieving thing. Originally, I liked to do it for fun. Then it got to be competitive, because what else are you going to do with it (laughs)?

After you came back from Florida, why did you want to get back to running?

I had a lot of personal issues when we were in Florida, and I was kind of sick. It was an eating disorder/depression kind of thing, so I wasn't supposed to be running just so I could get my weight back [up] to where it was supposed to be. Then, sophomore year, I did indoor track, and I played lacrosse (laughs). Sophomore year, I wasn't as serious about running, and since I was at a new school, I wanted to make different friends, so I was just trying different things.

Why did you get back into it more seriously?

I always knew that running was a passion of mine, and I knew I would go further in running as far as running scholarships. I wasn't an awesome lacrosse player, and cross country is definitely my top sport. Cross country trumps track, so I trained all summer to get back into it.

How did the break affect your running?

I think it made me appreciate it a lot more since there was a season in my life where someone told me I could not run. That is always in the back of my mind — that, "You can run now. It's a choice that you have, and it's something that you're good at." It was a fuel knowing that I have the freedom to run and that I can be good at it.

What did you learn during that period about running and nutrition?

I learned a lot about nutrition and fueling your body. You don't realize how much of an impact it will have on your performance. I read a lot of running magazines and running articles about fueling. I read about training methods, too. I saw where I was when I didn't have the nutrition and how weak and tired I was, and it was interesting to watch how once I got back to being healthy, I felt so much better and so much stronger.

Has having the year off and then learning so much about different aspects of training helped you be a better runner?

I think so. I think it gave me more passion, more motivation. It made me smarter to put research into it. I want to study exercise science, so I'm very into researching different training methods, how the body works, biomechanics, the nutrition element. Over the past couple years, I've just become more educated.

What do you want to do with exercise science as a career?

You can do a lot of different things. You can go on and get a Ph.D in physiology and you can do research. I think what I want to do with it is train runners. I want to be a private coach or a trainer at some kind of performance lab like they have in Colorado. I like doing research, too, on different training methods.

Why is cross country your favorite?

I'm better at distance — much, much better — and cross country is more interesting as far as the courses are different. I think, too, that cross country has more of a team element to it than track does because we're all doing the same thing, and we all have a common goal. With track, it's more individualized because there are so many different races and events.

How important is the mental aspect of running at this point in your career?

I've noticed it's gotten a lot stronger since I started running. It's something that you can't work on right away. It's something that you just get stronger at and you find little things that help you get stronger, like things you tell yourself when you run and things that work for you.

Do you have an example of what you tell yourself?

Sometimes, I say, "Giving up's not an option," or "If you can't finish this, you can't finish a race," or "This will make you stronger." A lot of what I think about is future kind of stuff, like what I'm doing now, how that's going to impact my races in the future.

Is that what you think about on long training runs?

For me, long runs are less training and more "me" runs, my time to relax and get out and clear my mind. On long runs, it's almost like I'm in this dream state and all of the sudden, I'll come back and be like, "Whoa, I did not even notice I was running."

What's been the highlight of your running career so far?

Winning states for indoor (3,200 meters) was really exciting. I think I just had an incredible indoor season. By the end of that season, I just felt like I was in the best shape of my life. I felt so strong in that race. I wasn't tired. My legs felt so springy. I just had never felt like that before in a race.

What do you remember about the latter part of that race?

I just know Sarah Zielinski [of Boonsboro]. I have been in her shadow my entire running career. That entire race, I was right on her, and I was telling myself, "You cannot get in front of her too soon because she will come out of nowhere and she will pass you and you will be done," so I was on her heels the whole time, and I was holding back. [Coach Eric Baumgardner] was yelling at me the whole time, "Pass her. Pass her," and I didn't want to yet. Finally, it got to a point and I was like, "OK, I'm just going to go," and those last couple laps, I was running scared. I was running for my life, and I just remember at some point during that race, I just felt so good and I was flying and a smile just came on my face because I knew it was going to be good. And that was my best time ever.

Does your father have an unusual strategy as a fan during cross country season?

At states this year (laughs), he actually asked me, "Can I have a map of the course (at Hereford), so I can map out where I'm going to stand?" We went there to run over the summer, and while I was running the course, he was running around looking for places he would stand and cheer. This man shows up at like 10 different places on the course throughout my entire race. He loves it. I think it's great. He doesn't just cheer for me. He cheers for everyone. Sometimes, I think he scares them a little bit because he gets so excited (laughs).

What are you most looking forward to about the last couple weeks of your high school career?

I've not had my best outdoor season. I've had a lot of allergies and asthma issues, so I haven't had some good races this season. I'm just hoping that all the training I've put in starts to pay off these last couple meets. I feel mentally prepared.

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com