Wil Zahorodny has been one of the most versatile runners at Damascus High School and in Montgomery County for the last several years. He showed just how versatile he is when he won the 500-meter county and regional titles last indoor season. Later, he did the same thing outdoors in the 400-meter dash while helping his teammates get to states on the relays. This fall, he was right back to distance running where he finished 3rd in the county, 2nd in the region, and 4th in the states, but he'll tell you the best part was getting the entire team to states with him and placing 5th as a team. As he shifts his training to more speed-oriented workouts for track season, he tells mocorunning about his progression throughout high school and why he loves to do it all.
MoCoRunning: You were pretty strong when you first started running track in your freshman year. Did you play many sports when you were growing up? When did you decide to give running a try?
Zahorodny: I've been playing pretty much every sport you can think of since I was little, but I stuck mainly to baseball, basketball, and soccer. As for running, I never even thought about it until middle school where we were forced to run the mile every Friday. My main motivation to run fast those days was so I could have more time to play basketball afterwards. But I realized I was a decent runner so I went out for indoor track my freshman year after skipping xc because I had no clue where the track was. My coach still won't let me live that down.
MoCoRunning: You took over as the top runner on your cross country team in your sophomore year, but you had a little trouble getting your team back to the state meet. What was it like trying to rebuild your team the last few years and finally making it to the state meet as a team this year?
Zahorodny: The past few years were fun because we had a great group of guys, but the seasons were kind of disappointing in the end. But this year has been amazing. Not only has our guy's team been rebuilt, but our girls also made a big turnaround to make it to states and place well. It's so much more fun to practice every day now because we know we have a shot at accomplishing something.
MoCoRunning: What’s the difference between running by yourself and running with a team at the state meet?
Zahorodny: People may not realize it, but there is a huge difference when you run without your team. When I had to walk down to the starting line without the guys who had been beside me for the past few months, I felt so weird. Without a team there beside you, you don't have as much to run for. Running as a part of a team this year made things more enjoyable because we were in it together.
MoCoRunning: What do you think about the team that you will be leaving behind?
Zahorodny: I am leaving behind what is probably the most talented group of runners Damascus has ever seen. Our five sophomores seem to feed off of each other and just keep getting stronger. Things are setting up perfectly for them and I hope they are finally able to pull off a state championship next year.
MoCoRunning: At the cross country state championship meet, you knew that you were going up against some outstanding runners such as Joey Thompson, Graham Bazell, and Dylan Bernard. Can you tell us your strategy on that day on that course against those runners?
Zahorodny: My strategy is usually pretty simple. I just go all out from the time I hear the gun and leave nothing in reserve. I also never back down from any of those big name runners or try to make a race plan where I let them go because I'm always trying to win. States was no exception and I guess it worked out pretty well.
MoCoRunning: A lot of cross country runners join the track team and their training doesn’t change very much. How much does your training change from cross country to track?
Zahorodny: I think what changes for me the most during track is the people I run with. I'll be with my distance teammates half of the time, and during the other half I'll be doing workouts or practicing hand-offs with our sprinters. I love being able to be around both groups and it keeps me from getting bored with one style of training.
MoCoRunning: You were basically an 800-meter specialist for a while on the track and it wasn’t unusual to see you in a mile or two-mile. Last winter you decided to really go after the 500 and you won the county and region titles in a big way. How do you determine what events you are going to focus on?
Zahorodny: I run the races that my coach decides our team needs me in the most to score points. This changes from meet to meet depending on who we have available. Last year I also ran in a few relays just so we could give some of our seniors a chance to run at states because they had never had the opportunity. The good thing about my training is that once the championship season comes, I'm ready for anything that we need.
MoCoRunning: How do you manage to perform so well in such a wide range of events from meet to meet?
Zahorodny: I've been doing this since middle school where I broke my school's 100 meter and mile records. But I don't know how I've been able to do it. Most of the credit has to go to my coach because he always seems to have me prepared for anything and everything.
MoCoRunning: If you run in college, do you think you will still run every event or focus on one or two events?
Zahorodny: I have no clue what I will be running in college. I don't even know what I would want to do if I had the choice. That will be my coach's job to decide where that team will need me the most. I'm sure I'll still have fun no matter what he or she decides.
MoCoRunning: As most people know, you won the 500m county title out of the 4th or 5th heat with nobody even close to you. Wasn’t that difficult running all by yourself and not knowing where you needed to be for the win?
Zahorodny: It seemed like it would be hard with nobody there, but I got a little help from the lighting at the sportsplex. As I came off of each turn, my shadow made it seem like someone was going to pass me so I would speed up. This was what drove me around the track. The worst part of that event was after I was done running though. I hated standing there watching three more heats go by because all I could do was hope that nobody would run faster.
MoCoRunning: You’ve already run sub-50 in the 400m and sub-16 in the 5k. You have won multiple county and region titles. What is left to accomplish in high school?
Zahorodny: I have run a range of pretty good times but to me none of them are good enough. But more importantly, I want our team to pull off at least one state championship this year, even if it's the girl's team. And if I can get an individual championship in there to go with that, it'll be even sweeter.