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Athlete Spotlight: Caroline Grunenwald


Caroline Grunenwald moved to Knoxville four years ago and hit the ground running. She's a 4th year PhD student in the Microbiology department at the University of Tennessee, she coaches the Tennessee Running Club and KE Kick Start program and is winning races in her spare time. Here's what Caroline has to say about running and coaching while balancing a busy schedule.

Caroline Grunenwald After Strawberry Plains Half Marathon
1. What are you goals for this racing season?

Right now I am training for the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon in March. I would like to set a new marathon PR, but mostly my goal is to just get out and compete on my hometown course and see how my training has progressed since my last marathon (Boston, 2014). After the marathon, I plan to focus on shorter distances like the 5k and some trail races for the summer season.


2. I run because: ____________________

I love chocolate. And running.


3. What is the most rewarding thing about running?

For a while the most rewarding aspect of running was setting new PR's, but I have found that being a part of the running community and spending time outside every day are just as satisfying. I also really like that I get to see things and places that I would have otherwise missed. Some of my most memorable experiences have occurred while running in a new place, like the time a 5 mile run accidentally turned into 13 miles in the Middle of Nowhere, Louisiana and ended by getting picked up and scolded by an elderly woman named Doris Ann who said it was too dark and dangerous to be running (she was right). Thankfully she gave me a ride home or I would probably still be out somewhere in Lincoln Parish.


4. When did you start running?

I started running in high school where I competed in cross-country and soccer, however I did not take running very seriously until college. During my freshman year some of my soccer teammates convinced me to go out for track thinking it would help us stay in shape for soccer season. It turns out I was a much better runner than soccer player; in fact most of my soccer success was due to being able to outrun opponents and get to the ball first. The actual passing and dribbling part was not so good. After this realization, I switched to the distance team and started running more competitively.


5. What things do you consider when planning your racing schedule?

When I am planning a racing schedule, I first identify my goals and then try to pick a "goal" race. I then add a few tune-up races leading up to the goal race. These give me a chance to test out my race strategy, help me evaluate my current fitness level, and practice important logistics like what to eat for breakfast.


6. What is your favorite distance to race and why?

I think it depends. If it is a trail race, I say longer is better. I enjoy being out in the middle of the woods, plodding along, so I would prefer to be out there as long as possible. As for road racing, I think I like the half marathon the best. It is a challenging distance and one that I think I have a lot of room for improvement.


7. What is your biggest running/racing accomplishment?

I would have to say that my biggest running accomplishment is the fact that I am still competing after 10 years and plan to continue for many more. I like to think my biggest accomplishment is yet to come... Also, I have only been hit by a car and bitten by a dog once. These are pretty good averages considering I run almost every day.


8. How do you find balance in life with work, school, running and your social life?

Balancing coaching, training, and work is not easy. I try to fit in my runs whenever I can, sometimes in the middle of an experiment when I have a long incubation step or at lunch. I am also lucky that my husband, Nick, is very supportive and helps me make time to get out every day.


9. If you could train for a day with any athlete, who would it be and why?

It depends...


For a speed workout/tempo, I would love to run (and let's imagine I could keep up) with Laura Fleshman. Her blog is hilarious and I think it would be interesting to hear her point of view regarding the business side of professional running. Plus, hard workouts are so much better when your training partner can still make you laugh despite the fact that your leg fell off 200m behind you.


For a road run, I would pick Shalane Flannagen because we are practically twins. She loves cats; I love cats. She is blonde; I am kind of blonde. She is fast; I could probably keep up on a bike. Ok, so perhaps we are not twins, but I would love to discuss marathon training, racing strategy, and mental toughness with her. That lady has some grit.


Or, I would pick a trail run with Dean Karnazes. I have a feeling that guy has some wild stories.


10.What is your biggest inspiration and why?

I am constantly inspired by the dedication and positive attitudes of my training partners and the KTC running community. Even in the dead of winter in the sleet or snow, I see the same friendly faces working hard on the greenways. If they can do it, I know I can.


11. What brought you to KE?

I joined KE in 2013 when I decided to run my first marathon. I had the grand goal to qualify for Boston and had absolutely no idea how to get started. I liked that KE had practices where I could train with other athletes and the idea of having a specific training schedule that was tailored to my own personal goals. 2 (soon to be 3) marathons and a handful of PR's later, I am still here.


12. You're a coach for the Tennessee Running Club and the Pilot/Flying J Kick Start program. How are you enjoying that?

Coaching other athletes helps me to see training from a new perspective and to better understand the philosophy behind certain workouts and programs. I like that it challenges me to understand how other types of athlete think and approach training, as well as to just be a better communicator and leader in general. At times it can be difficult to figure out how to effectively motivate someone or identify the perfect pace to complete a workout, and sometimes it involves a little of trial and error. However, when I am on the same page as an athlete, and we both know the purpose of the workout and where the athlete is at mentally and physically, that is when the magic happens. The best part of coaching is seeing an athlete break through their own mental or physical barrier- whether it be completing a tough workout, racing to a new PR, running further or longer than they have ever done, or just showing up despite all of the difficult things that are going on their life. Watching my athletes attain that sense of satisfaction and a renewed confidence is why I coach.


13. What are some of your favorite pastimes/hobbies when you aren't running?

I enjoy exploring the outdoors (hiking, biking, canoeing, etc.) and going to sporting events with my husband. I also like cooking and listening to NPR.


14. You moved to Tennessee from Wisconsin, how do you enjoy Knoxville?

Knoxville is great! We love the weather and being so close to the mountains. I We also enjoy exploring downtown and the local parks. You can often find us wandering through the Market Square farmers market on Saturdays looking for produce and our favorite homemade doughnut vendor. Plus few things are better than UT football gamedays and tailgating with the rest of the Big Orange nation. After living here for 4 years, is pretty safe to say I am now a VFL.