One of Connecticuts' top distance runners Connor Rog talks about his high school career, preparation for Foot Locker Nationals this weekend, and his plans to run collegiately at the University of North Carolina.
You are a two-time Gatorade Runner of the Year in the state of Connecticut. What does that mean to you?
"I've sort of been following in the footsteps of my future teammate John Raneri (New Fairfield class of 2010). I've always wanted to get the same awards he earned while he was killing it two years ago in Connecticut. Out of the great runners in our state it's been awesome to recognized with such a great honor."
It's been an impressive high school cross country career for you, winning four state titles. What would you say your greatest accomplishment has been?
"My greatest accomplishment over the years in cross country would have to be after last years' state open race. After losing I felt pretty down. I wasn't expecting to lose and it was disappointing. I could have easily lost a lot of confidence. I ended up taking the loss as motivation and the next week I went to New Englands and ran the race of my life coming in third and beating the kid (Bryan Fowler) who beat me at states by like 20 seconds.
After that you competed in Foot Locker Northeast and once again persevere, but it wasn't a cakewalk. What kind of mishaps did you have on your way to a tenth place finish, the final qualifying spot, and a trip to San Diego?
"I expected myself to come in the top ten. I honestly didn't think it would be too much of an issue. I knew what the competition was like. After the first mile I was feeling amazing and looking to make a move on second place. I tripped on a root and fell hard. I scraped myself up really bad and lost a lot of momentum and motivation, but along with that I lost about eight places. After falling I had to get myself up a huge hill and I really lost all of my strength after the fall, but I ended up holding on and staying in eyesight of the front pack and managed to keep 10th place."
How do you prepare for Foot Locker Nationals?
"I feel pretty prepared with hills. Not only has my coach prepared me extremely well with hills (because a lot of CT courses have big hills), but I feel like after facing the Foot Locker Northeast course I can face anything. Sunken Meadows is one tough course. We had a 1200's workout the other day that we mapped out to sort of be exactly like the uphills and downhills for Nationals on Saturday."
What is your mindset and plan of attack going into the race?
"I plan to just go out with a front pack and then run my race. I know I need to hit the hills hard especially the down hills. There are some amazing kids running and I know who I am supposed to be with."
Are there any guys in particular?
"Well I am friends with a lot of the guys going. I think it would be cool if I am up there with Thomas Graham, Ahmed Bile, and Tim Ball. All those guys are fun to run with and I know that they can all run really good races."
How honored are you to run in a prestigious race such as Foot Locker Nationals with some of the top talent in the nation?
"I certainly feel like I'm on a different level. I am honored to be the only person from Connecticut going. It will be cool to represent my state. My goals are to place in the top ten. I think that is reasonable, but I always seem to dream big. Even if I come in the top 25 I'd be happy. I'm really honored to be running with the best."
What are you looking forward to most about this experience aside from the race?
" I am friends with a lot of the runners already from races and recruitment trips and such. I am excited to meet some new ones and just feel like part of the elite runners now. Of course we are going to have an awesome time in Cali chilling at the beach and hanging out in the coolest hotel in California. We are going to have a blast."
This will be your last cross country race of your high school career. You committed to the University of North Carolina. What was it that sold you about the Tarheels?
"It was an extremely tough decision. I had a lot of really good options, amazing schools, and great coaching. Over the start of the year I had it narrowed down to Michigan and UNC. It was extremely tough and both are amazing, fun schools. I am a fan of large schools that have amazing athletics, but after a lot of thinking I ended up with UNC because of pretty small reasons. Number one was probably weather. Hot weather all year round is awesome for running. I also bonded with the team a little better. I liked the coaches they were really cool to me and I had a fun time. Also, the academic center for athletes is brand new. I totally dug the dining hall scene at UNC which had amazing food and cereal. which is my favorite. Oh and they had beautiful girls. Life just seemed perfect for me at UNC."
What can fans expect to see from Connor Rog as a college runner?
"In the future I really hope to be improving tremendously. I have always been known for getting into high competition races and running amazingly fast. Now when I get to college, every day, every practice, is going to be like a high competition race. There will be no more winning races by minutes and running workouts alone. College is the time where I know I am going to be pushed to run faster day in and day out. I really expect to improve a lot with college training and like I said before I am always dreaming big. I would like to think of myself as a potential pro runner."