Louise Hannallah is a senior at Churchill High School. Since she began running for the Bulldogs her freshman year, she was one of the top distance runners in the state. She has continued to improve throughout her high school career and has a knack for coming up with big performances when it counts the most. During the indoor season, she won the Montgomery County 3200 meter title in a time of 11:18. This past spring season, she lowered her 1600 meter best time to 5:09 and her 3200 meter best time to 11:06. She takes her racing seriously, but when the race is over, she is one of several girls in a unique class of Montgomery County distance runners who are best friends. Here she explains why she gets along so well with all of her distance running opponents. She also describes her approach to training and racing, how it has changed over the last few years, and where she hopes to be by the end of this upcoming cross country season.
MoCoRunning: Are you doing anything exciting this summer?
Hannallah: This summer's been pretty fun! I am actually working at a kids sports camp during the week and I'm having so much fun! I almost feel stronger just by working there because I'm playing sports all day long, however it does mean I have to get up before work and run at 6 in the morning... which isn't too thrilling. I've also been visiting colleges during my weekends and meeting track coaches and TRYING to start the whole college process. But I'm going to the beach for a week with my family in South Carolina and that's about it!
MoCoRunning: What kind of training are you doing this summer?
Hannallah: This summer I've definitely changed my running pattern from my last two summers of training. Last year I would run really long but at a more leisurely, comfortable pace. This summer I've been running the same amount of mileage except I've lowered what used to be my normal running pace (like 8:30/9 minute miles) to maybe 7:30/8 minute mile pace. Also I would push the pace of my runs about once a week. And finally I've been focusing a lot more on core workouts and TRYING to lift weights, haha.
MoCoRunning: Are you training with any specific goals in mind for this season?
Hannallah: I do have some goals in mind, mainly for my team. I have a lot of hope and high expectations for my Churchill girls and I'm really excited for the season to begin! One main goal for my team is to place higher than we did last year in States, so hopefully top 3. Also I have individual goals for each of my top 7 girls that I just know each one will be able to fulfill. For me, I would love to run a 5k around 18:30, and I have other more specific goals but I'm pretty sure if I tell, I'll jinx them! haha sorry!
MoCoRunning: Did you go to a cross country camp and do you have any good stories from camp?
Hannallah: I went to Concord Cross Country Camp with most of the Montgomery County schools and I loved it!! This year was so much more enjoyable for me because so many of my teammates went and I was able to spend a lot of time with all the Northwest and QO girls! Also I felt 100 times more prepared for camp this year than I did last year so I wasn't completley dieing on every hill, haha.
Hmm exciting story... I would have to say when all the QO and Good Counsel boys kept ruining our cabin by building "forts" with our furniture and dumping food on our floor, the Churchill girls (and one Blair girl) got them back! Hahah, me and four other girls snuck into their cabin during dinner on Thursday night and took all their sleeping bags and blankets off their mattresses and dragged all 25 mattresses into the common room and made a bunch of piles blocking their entrance. I would have to say it was more exciting than it sounds because I am not daring at all, haha, AND we did break the rule saying we weren't allowed into the boys rooms (but on our defense they weren't there when we did it!) Haha, so our punishment was only to clean it all up and we didn't get in trouble, and all the girls thanked us in the end.
MoCoRunning: How is it that you are so friendly with all of your top competitors? Shouldn't you all hate each other?
Hannallah: I've been competing againest the same girls for two years now so I think I can't help but have a connection with all of them. All the Montgomery County girls that I race with are so nice and inspiring in their own ways. I've found out that by being friends with these girls they have taught me so much and by admiring them I seem to be pushed even further. Cara Harrison, for example, who has become my really close friend, has always been there for me before races (during the last two years of outdoor states we would warm up together before the two-mile so that we wouldn't have to warm up alone, which made me feel so much better). By branching out and meeting other runners I truly believe it can only make you stronger during a race because you feel more comfortable, but at the same time it's important not to lose your competitive edge.
MoCoRunning: How do you feel that you have matured as an athlete on race day throughout high school?
Hannallah: When I was a freshman during outdoor track season (my first running season) I was terrified weeks before a race, even if it was a dual meet! Now I certaintly feel as if I know how to focus my nerves to just help me during a race. I've learned to just accept the fact that I'm racing no matter what and that getting nervous can only hinder, not help, my performance. I think before my two-mile my junior year outdoor season I was the most calm I've ever been before a race and it really helped my performance.
MoCoRunning: Do you have any sort of rituals or routines on race day?
Hannallah: On race days I definitely have a routine! The night before a race I have the same meal (chicken, pasta, corn), the morning before a race I have the same meal (a bagel with scrambled egg), and then at lunch I have the same meal (ham sandwich, lots of fruit, and chips)! Haha, so I do get kind of paranoid on race days!
MoCoRunning: This past season you and your little brother Mark were running close to the same times. Of course he is still young and improving rapidly, but did you guys have a rivalry this year?
Hannallah: Haha, I've never raced my brother. Just the fact that he is out there running makes me happy. He's the complete opposite of me, which can get frustrating, because he has so much potential but doesn't look at running with the competitive enthusiasm that I do. During dual meets when I would run in the two-mile with him I would find him picking up the pace every time I was near him, which made me happy and only want to push him further! But I've been running with him over the summer and he seems to be a lot more serious this season so hopefully I won't be able to stay with him for long!
MoCoRunning: Do you have any other siblings?
Hannallah: I have one sister who's 21, and we have a really close relationship. My sister has never been into the whole athletic scene. She thinks I'm crazy for running every day like I do, but secretly I just think she's jealous :) haha.
MoCoRunning: Do you carefully plan out a race strategy before a race or do you prefer to dive in and react to the conditions around you?
Hannallah: I've never really been one to plan out a race before it happens. The only thing I really know before a race is that I have to give it everything I've got for however long I run for, and if I do, then I'm satisfied.
MoCoRunning: What about the 3200 at states this year where you placed 2nd behind Marika Walker in 11:09. It seemed like a well-executed race plan, but was it really just a result of "giving it all you got"?
Hannallah: No, I'd like to say I had a plan during my two-mile at states but I really didn't, haha. The only thing I knew was that I had just run in the 4 by 8 so there was no point in taking it out fast in the first two laps of the race. Halsey Sinclair and Marika Walker took off before I could even respond, but I guessed (prayed, haha) that the heat would get to them and that they would slowly fall back. And they did! Once I managed to catch up to Marika I felt like I had so much energy and just took off with her.
MoCoRunning: You do a great job of coming up big when it counts the most. Is there a secret to your success at the state championship meets in both track and cross country?
Hannallah: When it comes to big meets (such as states) I think I just realize that all my hard work and training has been completed for these races. One of the things I want to work on this season is focusing that attitude to EVERY race, not just the big ones. (For example, after I fell during my mile at outdoor states, I was shocked and it took me what felt like forever to get up. But once I was up all I could tell myself was that it was the last race of the season and that I had to give it everything I had left. I think if I didn't have that attitude, I would have stayed 17th place instead of 4th!)
MoCoRunning: Like many other girls, you set your 1600 and 3200 personal records in some very fast races at the 4A West Regional Meet this spring. What is it like racing when Morgane Gay leads the pack in sub-5 pace or Halsey Sinclair takes it out in sub-11 pace? How do you deal with that?
Hannallah: Sometimes it is kind of discouraging seeing someone running a good 10 seconds in front of you, but I think, for me, the most important thing was that I just focused on who was next to me, not who was miles in front. Halsey was a terrific runner in the sense that she knew exactly how to break me during a race (she always sped up right when I would catch her), but that only made me push myself more. Honestly racing someone that's not quite at my level has only inspired me to train harder so that hopefully one day I can be up there too.