Alice Wright, who came to UNM from England, was part of the National Championship cross country team that the Lobos ran last fall.
The Daily Lobo caught up with Wright -- this year a redshirt junior runner on the team -- to discuss what it has been like in the 10 months since emerging victorious in the NCAAs, getting used to New Mexico, and her goals for the future.
DL: How does it feel to be a national champion?
AW: It feels amazing. Obviously we’d love to do it again this year but there’s no taking away from what we did last year. I think we all need to remember that as well. Sometimes I think that everyone’s so focused on what’s going to happen next year, rather than enjoying what we’ve already done. It’s nice to think back and know we’ve at least got one in the bag.
DL: Do you feel like people look at you differently as a national champion?
AW: I don’t know, to be honest. I wouldn’t like to think so, we’re all the same people. But it’s so nice that people have been so supportive, especially in New Mexico. Sometimes people do stop you and ask, ‘Were you on the cross country team?’ If they see us running on the trail, they’ll say, ‘Well done’ to us. It just makes us want it even more this year as well.
DL: How often do you wear your championship bracelet?
AW: To be honest, at the beginning I said that I was going to just leave it in the box. It’s so special you really do not want to lose that bracelet. But now, I think everyone on the team, we often remark, ‘Well that’s a nice bracelet. Where did you get that?’ (sarcastically nudges).
We all wear it for social occasions, especially when we’re going out with the team. Most of us who have one put it on and it’s just so amazing. I feel grateful to have that.
DL: Do you feel any added pressure with New Mexico being ranked No. 1 again this year?
AW: It sounds crazy, but I do tend to ignore those types of things. I’m actually a horrible runner when it comes to looking up stats online. I just tend to not look at it because you don’t even think about it.
Obviously people have said to me that we’re ranked number one. We were ranked No. 1 last year and I think we handled it well. I actually enjoy quite a bit of pressure, especially before big championships.
It’s nice to know what is resting on my shoulders, so I can give it everything. Yeah, I embrace the pressure. I hope my teammates feel the same. But I don’t think any of us feel crazy pressure. I think the coaches feel more pressure than we do, to be honest.
DL: Being born and raised in England, how do you feel the New Mexico community has embraced you?
AW: I haven’t had any negativity from anyone in New Mexico. Everyone’s been super supportive and friendly, to be honest. So welcoming. I think that about America in general, everyone is so welcoming and nice around here. I haven’t had any negative experiences.
DL: What is your favorite thing about Albuquerque?
AW: I like the laid back approach here. I think that fosters a good environment for running. It is quite an intense sport. It’s very pressured and competitive and that’s part of the reason that we love it, but at the same time it’s good to have that relaxed vibe. I can go to a coffee shop and I don’t feel stressed. It’s a bit hipster here, really, isn’t it?
Compared to the other states, like in Chicago there were these really huge buildings, there’s like a million people walking around and here it’s more spread out. I personally love the mountains, and I genuinely miss them when I go home. I just love the nature in Albuquerque.
DL: What is your favorite UNM sport aside from running?
AW: All the sports are fun... That is a mean question. No comment! (chuckles)
DL: What is the major difference between running in the U.S. compared to the U.K.?
AW: It’s more of a structured approach here in terms of training. In England, all the coaches are very much volunteer. The NCAA is extremely organized compared with what you have in the U.K. That’s why it’s such a success, honestly, because it’s such an organized organization.
Going back to the environment and weather, I never knew that England was so humid until I went back the first time. It’s probably because it’s so dry here. I love running here because it’s so dry. I hate humidity, which is why it would never work out for me in the Midwest. I always get nervous racing in humid conditions, like regionals in Austin, Texas, or this year it’s in Kansas and it’s so humid. You definitely notice that when you go.
The altitude is a tricky one to comment on. For me, I always notice it when I come back, like when I go home for longer than three weeks, that’s when I notice it. But they always say when we go down to sea level, everyone goes, ‘Oh, can you feel the difference?’ I always end up thinking, ‘No I actually can’t feel the difference.’
Some people say that they get like a third lung after three kilometers, but I can’t say I’ve ever really felt that. Maybe it’s just a myth. (laughs)
DL: How hard was it to come back from your femoral stress fracture in your very first season at UNM?
AW: At the time it was really difficult to hear those words from the doctor that I had a stress fracture and I had to be on crutches for three months. So you know, that was just the worst news. I think it actually made me network a lot with the different sport teams. I made a lot of friends that weren’t necessarily in the running circle.
It’s actually great for me now because I feel like now you can’t have too much of a great thing and I’m definitely in my personality, I don’t like to just be... I’m not like a crazy obsessed runner. I need to have different friendship groups. I can’t just be around runners all the time.
It’s nice now that I made those kind of connections in my first year, so I can kind of hang out with different people and take myself out of that running circle when it all gets a bit too much.
DL: How does UNM head coach Joe Franklin compare to other coaches that you’ve had?
AW: I have to put all of my success down here to Joe. He’s been so committed to me as a coach. I cannot talk more highly of him. He’s just gone above and beyond to help me in every season, especially this last outdoor season.
It was a struggle for me to get back into shape. I had an injury and he would come out on the bike with me every single day and cycle next to me while I was running, (in) all of my sessions. He has just been a fantastic coach to me.
DL: Where do you see yourself after you graduate?
AW: Gosh, I’d really love to go pro, but I’ve got to keep improving and I’ve got to keep my individual performances at the NCAA Championships to be as good as it possibly can be for me to stand a chance there.
It’s kind of difficult, being international, to get picked up here. But, that’s kind of what I’m aiming for, to be honest. That’s what I really, really want and that’s what I’m going to aim for.
Liam Cary-Eaves is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers volleyball, women’s basketball and baseball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Liam_CE.