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Focus on : Neal Holtschulte of Williams College
Just two months ago, if you had mentioned the name Neal Holtschulte to me I would have just shaken my head and said, “Nope, never heard of him.” Not that I’m out of the loop entirely, but excuse me if I never heard of Marysville, Ohio, a small town a half-hour northwest of Columbus. The fact that he now attends and runs for Williams College isn’t much more help because most of us in eastern Massachusetts keep forgetting there is a western part to this state.

The first time I saw Neal run was in the D3 Eastern Regionals in Maine. I can’t say I saw him, more like I saw in the results that he placed 4th.

I included a picture of his finish on Neal finally caught my attention when I looked up the results of the nationals. I was checking in on some other runners and teams. But there, lo and behold, was Neal listed as the top New England finisher – in the lofty position of sixth.

I caught up with Neal on-line a few weeks ago. He took time from his busy final exam schedule to answer a few questions. I found him very articulate and eager to answer.

northrunning : When did you start running?
Neal : I started running in seventh grade. Up until that time, my sport of choice was soccer.
northrunning : What got you into running?
Neal :  In fourth grade everyone ran a mile in gym class and I had the fastest time for my grade. Also I never tired easily playing soccer but lacked talent handling the ball, so running seemed like a suitable sport for me, and it was much better than sitting the bench.
northrunning : What were the high points of your high school career?
Neal : I ran for a small division III high school in Ohio and didn't really bust out until college. I did, however, break my school record in the mile (4:31), two mile (9:48), and 5k (16:16). Other high points include placing 11th at States in XC, this is for div III high schools, and third in the two mile in track.
I was more than a little interested in why someone would move from Ohio to Western Massachusetts to attend college.
northrunning : Why did you choose Williams?
Neal : I looked at a lot of small liberal arts colleges in New England and it was very difficult to rank them because they all purport to have excellent professor student ratios, facilities, libraries, labs, etc. Williams in particular stood out in two ways that appealed to me. First, it seemed that Williams had stronger sciences than other colleges I had visited, and secondly I really liked the cross country coach, Pete Farwell, when I met him as a prospective student. These might not have been the strongest motivations to base a life changing decision on but everything worked out in the end, because I’m sure I made the right choice.
Having found greater success in college than high school, I tried to find out what makes Neal tick.
northrunning : Why do you continue to run?
Neal : I first started to run in middle school because I had a propensity for it, a talent. The positive feedback of steady improvement reinforced my enjoyment of the sport. The excitement of winning races was a great appeal. As I continued to run in high school I came to enjoy the relaxing effects of running. It helped me burn off nervous energy while giving me solitude and plenty of time to think. I still enjoy all of these benefits that I get from running but the central reason that I run now is that it is engrained in me. A runner is what I am in the sense that it is an important part of how I define myself. It’s become more than habit, perhaps one might call it a positive addiction. Though I enjoy some time off, it doesn’t take long for me to feel a craving for a run.
northrunning : From where does your motivation come?
Neal : In a race I get more than enough motivation from the competition, my teammates around me, and my own drive.
In training: As I've said, running relaxes me. I'm usually looking forward to practice and eager to run. When I don't feel like practicing I can usually count on my competitive spirit for motivation. Running speed-work with Matt Winkler (1500m record holder, second man at nats) is one of the chores that I undertake because I'm competitive and because I know running with him will make me a better runner. Of course that latter motivation doesn't drag me through a 400 like the former one does.
northrunning : Do you have a favorite running book?
Neal : Actually, I can’t claim to have read many running books. I have read The Complete Book of Running by James Fixx, so I guess it’s my favorite. It’s a great book for beginners or just as a book to get psyched up about running. I found the chapter on a runner’s diet particularly interesting.
northrunning : Do you have a favorite psych song?
Neal : No, I prefer not to listen to psych-up music before races. I rarely have trouble getting psyched up for a race, and usually focus on the opposite problem, trying to relax myself.
Finally we moved on to the subject of his recent races!
northrunning : What’s it like running for Williams?
Neal : How about, “the greatest experience in the world"? Even if any other college could top the scenery we get to run through in the Purple Valley, they couldn't possibly match the camaraderie of this team. I feel an incredible sense of pride being on this team.
northrunning : Did the lead cart mix-up in Maine affect your race?
Neal : Yeah! I passed the Keene State guys because of it. But seriously, I was not lead astray if that is what you meant. Tuft’s Brigham and both of the Keene runners followed the cart the wrong way. I believe MIT’s Schmeckpepper was the first person to make the correct turn and I was the second.
northrunning : Do what do you attribute your great performance at Nationals? Did you expect it?
Neal : Second question first, no I didn't expect 6th at all. I told people beforehand that I would be ecstatic with a top ten finish, much less the second/third place that I spent most of the race in while a voice in my head screamed holy shit you're in second!
I attribute my performance to great coaching, great training, and the fact that I pushed myself harder than I ever had before. Pete coaches us not to worry about the meets earlier in the year. Regionals and Nationals are what matter and that's what we focus our training on.
northrunning : How about Williams placing #1 for a New England team. What was the reaction like?
Neal : We all knew we could do it. Like I said, we train for the end of the year, for the big races. Nonetheless we were still excited and happily surprised. When Mitchell was told that we placed sixth he assumed that the “we” referred to the women’s team!
northrunning : If there is anything else you’d like me to say about your running, teammates, family or coaches.
Neal : I would like to thank my friends and family who came out to see my race. I had a seven member fan club at Nationals.
Now that Neal is on my radar screen it will be good to follow his progress over the next few years at Williams. With what he has done already, his running future appears bright. From time to time northrunning will check in with Neal to see how he and the Williams team is doing.