Arizona Cross Country Athlete Spotlight 2020: Merit Thompson

Cactus Shadow's Merit Thompson is currently ranked #9 overall in the state of Arizona for girls' high school runners. She is the #1 senior runner in Arizona currently and the #3 ranked Division II girls' runner as well.

Merit took the time to answer some questions for us about herself and the season thus far - here are her responses:

Where will you be running in college next year?

I'm not sure yet.

What are your XC goals for this season?

Originally, I started the season with the goal of simply being able to race. Now that the AIA has given us the opportunity to have a season, I am able to focus on my next goal which is to break 18 minutes for a 5K.

What has been the strangest thing about training for XC during the pandemic?

Nearly every aspect of this season has felt a little strange with the new pandemic protocols that we are following. However, the fact that we even get to have a season and run as a team outweighs all of the new procedures and changes that have made this year different.

Who is your toughest competition?

I consider my toughest competitor to be my own mindset. In order for me to race and train hard, I have to put mind over matter and power through the workouts even when I'm feeling physically fatigued.

How are you liking racing in these waves at meets this season?

Racing in waves is a completely different experience that has challenges and benefits. I prefer starting races with fewer other racers at the line, which the waves allow for. However, I have had to learn how to push myself even when I am unaware of the competition.

What is the biggest difference you in racing last year to this year?
Last year, the majority of my season was overshadowed by a prolonged hip injury. This year, I have been careful to maintain my strength in order to avoid that from happening again. It has also been a very different experience racing in waves compared to the usual race setups; I've had to focus on my own pacing throughout each race and tell myself to speed up or surge instead of using my competitors to push my pace.

Who is your biggest fan/supporter? How do he/she/they show you this support?

My biggest supporter is my mom. She supports me in all aspects of my life and constantly encourages me to work hard and run fast.

How was your summer training affected by Covid this summer? What was similar from previous years? What was different about it?

Due to COVID, my family spent time with my grandma in Prescott. While I was there, I was lucky enough to train with their high school team in a totally different environment than I was used to. I gained a greater appreciation for the running community and especially for the runners and coaches who allowed me to run in their summer program and made me feel included. This was my second full summer of pre-season training and I'll remember it forever on many different levels.

How long have you been running? What do you enjoy most about running/xc?

I started running two years ago when I joined cross country my sophomore year. I enjoy being surrounded by my amazing teammates who have a similar passion for running. I also love the outdoors, which running allows me to experience almost every day.

Is there a song, movie, show, or saying that motivates you or keeps you focused on your goals? If yes, what is it and why?

McFarland, USA is one of my all-time favorite movies because of its inspirational message; with dedication and hard work, you can succeed at whatever you put your mind to. Another movie that I recently discovered is "The 41st Day" by Ryan Hall; this provided me a real-life glimpse into the life of a renowned professional runner and was also a very motivating film.

What's your pre-race meal?

The night before a race, I always have spaghetti with some type of protein and a bottle of blue Powerade. I don't think I have ever had anything different than this before a race.

Do you have any superstitions before the night of a race? (Any clothing you have to wear? Song you have to listen to? Food you need to eat? Etc.) If yes, how did this start?

Honestly, I do not have any superstitions before a race. I make sure that I am well hydrated, get plenty of sleep, and eat healthily.

Anything else you wish to share with us that you think is important for our readers to know?

If you had asked me at the start of high school if I would have ever considered running as my sport, I would have said no. But now, I can't imagine my life without it and the people that I have met along the way. Thank you.