In the Locker Room with Daniel Johnson and Caroline Martin

The Review sat down with senior cross country runners Daniel Johnson and Caroline Martin. A unique drive and team chemistry continues to catalyze successful performances year after year, as the women’s team finished first in the North Coast Athletic Conference Championships for the fourth year in a row, while the men’s team garnered fourth. As their teams’ respective captains, the two discussed how to cheer at cross country meets, getting lost on the course and how to avoid flabby abs.


Cross country seniors Caroline Martin and Daniel Johnson

Nora Ryan

A lot of people think of cross country as an individual sport. How much of your performance is contingent on personal motivation versus being part of the team?

Caroline Martin: I think it’s a mixture of both. For me it’s really clear because in high school, I was the only girl on the team. I didn’t have a team; I competed by myself. I got a long way with personal motivation, but when I came here everything changed for me. Having a team that you live with, eat meals with, socialize with, and you’re in classes with — they help you. Having this family changes everything and it gives you this level that I don’t think you could get on your own. It definitely is a team sport. We’re going into the regional meet this weekend. We’re trying to qualify for Nationals and all seven runners competing have to have an amazing day and have to be on board. It brings it to the next level to have a close team like we do.

Daniel Johnson: I completely agree. I would not be where I am now without the team and the camaraderie that we have. I have been running these workouts with the same guys and I know I can run with them. In a race when I see them 50 to 100 meters ahead of me, it gives me confidence and I can throw on a surge.

How does this team dynamic manifest in your interactions as you practice and compete?

DJ: This year we have been running a lot as a team. We are a smaller team than the girls and it is easier for the 20 of us to go on one run as a whole. But in workouts we’ll break out in workout groups and people take turns leading intervals. On some days some will feel better than others and then they’ll take the lead on that particular day, but we feed off each other to motivate during workouts.

CM: In racing, honestly, I think one of the biggest things that makes our team so strong is the fact that it is not just one person pushing the pace; it’s everyone. First mile [senior] Kristina [Witcher] and I take it out in the lead, and we’re going fast, and everyone is hanging on with us. In the middle, [sophomores] Emma [Lehmann] and Lindsay [Neal] will take it. Then [sophomore] Carey [Lyons] and [junior] Molly [Martorella] go in the end with the last mile. Everyone is just constantly trying to keep up with their teammates. We have things during the race a lot of times — if a teammate is falling off, we point our finger right here [pointing down next to her feet] and it gives the person an extra boost and they come up with you. It’s really this pack running and having your teammates with you that gets us through the race. I remember one thing that [Head Coach] Ray [Appenheimer] said is that the reason it’s so important to stay with your teammates through the whole the race is because you can get so far on your own in a race, but in that last 800, the last mile, you can do things you never thought you could do when you have your teammate next to you. The emotion takes over and feelings and what you want to accomplish as a team helps you run faster. If you didn’t have that, you can’t run that fast. That’s a big reason we are so successful I would say.

What has been your most painful cross country experience?

DJ: Every single cross country race is painful. It is a five-mile race and you have a lot of time to feel sorry for yourself. That’s where going back to the team helps, because if you’re running with those people, you have less time to feel sorry for yourself if you’re running with friends.

CM: Sophomore year we were favored to win the conference meet and we went in really super cocky. We were like, “Oh, we don’t have to work that hard to win this, we are favored, we’ve done so well this season.” Obviously, we weren’t saying these things out loud, but I think it was subconscious. That was our attitude. We only won by one point — one point — if anyone had been passed, we would have lost. It was really hard; we didn’t even celebrate because we were so upset. We went in and we thought we didn’t have to work hard and that’s just not true. The great thing is what we have taken from it. Last year and this year going into the conference meets we were again favored to win, but we didn’t go in with the same attitude. We didn’t go in like we deserved it, we went in and earned it. We knew we all had to race really well again and do the best we could in order to win it — it wasn’t going to be given to us. That experience was in the long run really helpful even if it was painful in the moment.

Do you have a standout cross country memory?

DJ: I am going to have to go with my very first cross-country race collegiately. It was my first 8K ever, and I am heading into the final quarter mile and I take a wrong turn right in front of our Head Coach, Ray Appenheimer. He yells, “Wrong way, DJ, wrong way — go back!” I have been embarrassed ever since. It is an incredibly vivid memory.

CM: I have two. First, freshman year Nationals. It was the first time the team had gone to Nationals since — I don’t know, I think the ’80s. I wasn’t on the team competing, but it was so exciting for everyone. The race was in Cleveland, and the whole team went out to cheer and we painted our stomachs. Even though it was freezing cold, all of us were running around shirtless or in our sports bras with “Oberlin XC” painted on our bodies. All the fans were having wars against each other. The gun went off and not only did everyone who was in the race take off running, but the entire crowd took off with them, and it was really cool. It is one of my favorite days in my memory. Then last year when our team came in 15th at Nationals, which is the highest we have ever placed. That was really exciting.

What is the mentality that enables you to work as hard as you do every practice, and how does that compare to other sports and other pursuits that you have?

DJ: One of my favorite things about running is the results are very visible. You put in the hard work and you will get faster. I find that to be very different from other sports, maybe I’m a little biased, but you may do a lot of drills and your points per game may not go up. But in running—

CM: Direct results.

DJ: Yeah, direct results, and you can see how much each person improves and that’s a beautiful thing.

CM: I think that it applies to a lot of aspects of my life — our lives — outside of running, outside of sports. Ray will send us these motivational e-mails in the summer. I always think about one when he talks about being an English major. When you’re working on a paper, say, and you have to read it over and over and over again for it to be perfect. The ability to do that — for me, a lot of it comes from running. In order to be good, I have to run mile repeats over and over again, and you’re just in your head the whole time and you just have this inner motivation because you want to succeed. What you get out of running can really be transferred over to many other aspects of your life. The intrinsic motivation you have to have if you want to do well in running and you can just sit in a chair and focus and do that for a really long time because you want to do well.

What do you want people to know about cross country?

CM: This year at the [Inter-Regional] Rumble, which is our home race, we had a lot of people come out and watch. I think a lot of people don’t know how fun it is to come to a cross country race. The crowd gets into it and it’s really fun. This year we had the Taiko drums. There’s so much energy and the crowd gets really into it and there’s really active participation running around and cheering. I would encourage people to come try it out.

DJ: I had a couple friends come out this year and I am warming up for the race and they come up to talk with me and say, “Yo, DJ, how do we watch cross country?” It was a funny question, but to those people who wonder the same thing: How do you cheer at a cross country meet? You show up at the course, you watch the start and finish and you just run around and follow the crowds because they’ll know the place to be. There is this whole running culture that’s a lot of fun if you give it a chance.

A notable trait of the cross country team is your strong, killer abs. What advice do you have for the flabbier among us?

CM: Get into a routine: It’s hard for me to talk because I don’t think I have very good abs. [Laughs]. But the people on my team that do have really good abs are doing abs every single day. Usually we do 10 minutes of abs every day.

DJ: A lot of my core strength is from the miles I run per week — if you run 50, 60, 70 miles per week, you build up lean muscle.