Interview with Michael Mitchell

(Photo provided by Michael Mitchell)

First of all, how did you first start running?

My running career started all the way back in 6th grade gym class. My teacher, Gary Lee, was the XC and distance track coach. We had to run the mile and I remember I managed to run a sub 6 minute mile. Coach Lee then convinced me to not participate in soccer next fall and instead run XC. When I showed up for my first XC practice in August 2011, the only real long distance running I did was racing. Being the aggressively-competitive one-hundred-pound youngster that I was, I ended up running in front of the varsity boys for the whole run. Everyone one the team thought at first that I was going to give up the strenuous pace for my first practice, but were amazed when I managed to run in front of all of them my first practice. Granted I was really tired and sore but I felt very accomplished. That fall I had the honor of competing on the Blake boys varsity XC team which really shaped my running career. That season our team had the ability to compete at a very high level and we placed 4th in state. I had incredible teammates who now huge role models of mine; Brandon Clark who was a NXN qualifier, state champion in the mile and went on to run for UPenn, and Clare Flanagan who was also a state qualifier, a multiple time state champion in XC and track and went on to run for Stanford.

 What are all your personal records, including cross country?

800m: 1:57.4

1600m: 4:29.49

XC 5k: 15:54.5

 Do you do, or have you done, any other sports?

I did nordic for two years in 8th grade and freshman year, but I soon realized that it wasn't the sport for me. This past winter I decided since this will be my last time to compete in a new sport I joined alpine skiing which I loved. My brother, who now plays baseball at Colby College, was a very good alpine skier, respectively a multiple time team state champ. I made so many new friends in alpine and fell in love with a sport again.

 What is your favorite or most memorable competition you've ever been in?

The 2011 Section 4A meet. That was my first section race ever. Our team was ranked third in state at that point in time and we wanted so badly to win sections and hopefully go on to win State. Minnehaha was also in our section and they were ranked 4th in state at that point. I was the 6th runner for our team leading up to that race and I ended up our 5th. It was a really close race between our runners and the Minnehaha runners. This race may have been my best race of all time. I ended up edging out the 5th Minnehaha runner by .35 seconds and placing 16th with a 17:19.91. By doing that we tied Minnehaha so it went to our 6th runner and we ended up winning the section. The senior captain gave me the trophy to hold at the awards. There is this one picture of 7th grade me holding the trophy with my much older teammates (the youngest one besides me was a sophomore) and all of us were so happy. 


(Photo provided by Michael Mitchell)

Other than your own teammates, who are some of your favorite athletes to compete against?

Being in the IMAC conference Blake competes against a lot of the other IMAC schools in many different races in both XC and track. In my freshman and sophomore year Mike Destache (SPA), Ephraim Bird (Minnehaha) and I always clashed at many, many races in both fall and spring seasons. I actually ran my fastest 5k time with both of them pushing me really hard. Now from junior and senior year I've always had Declan Dahlberg (MPA) to compete with in quite a bit of races. 

 Who are some people that have been most helpful to you in your athletic career?

Gary Lee, my XC and distance coach from 7th grade to freshman year was really influential. He really wanted the best for me and always saw potential in me. He is an amazing man both as a coach and as a life mentor. Charlie Cracraft, my track coach, has become much closer to me as I have started running middle distance in track. He is so incredibly motivating and always has to laugh at my lighthearted foolishness. Lastly Clare Flanagan. She and I became very close friends even though we are separated by three years. She was truly a great athlete, not to mention a very good student. Even though she was out for her whole senior year with a knee injury she still managed to stay upbeat and resilient. 

 Your freshman and sophomore years, The Blake School ran in Class AA, but all your other years they have been Class A. Was there much difference between those two experiences?

When we first learned that Blake was moving to Class AA in the spring of 2013, my teammates and I were very upset. Not only were we being moved up a division but we were moved into the section of death, 6AA. This really hurt our team. Many people quit because we simply did not have the numbers to compete in 6AA. It's one thing to move up to Class AA, but it's another to be in 6AA. But I decided to rise to the challenge. Since I had made it to state XC in 7th and 8th grade, I wanted to ensure that I would have a spot at State XC my freshman and sophomore year. Class AA really pushed me hard. In 2013 I barely qualified, being the 7th qualifier and running a 16:22.4 and nudging out Andrew Sell from Washburn by .8 seconds. In 2014 I also barely qualified after trying and failing to lead the chase pack, running a 16:26.9 taking the final qualifying spot and just squeezing by Matt Wilkinson of Minnetonka by .2 seconds. I passed out after both races. 6AA has definitely made me a stronger runner but it also made me arrogant my junior year, not training as hard as I should have. I am grateful for the two years I had in Class AA but I am more than happy to be back in Class A where our team has an actual chance to compete in XC and track as individuals. 

 What are your main goals for this upcoming track season?

Goal number one is to actually run this track season! A week after my alpine season ended in mid-February I injured my knee. It's getting much better and hopefully I'll be up and running soon. Besides that, I hope to qualify for the Hamline Elite Meet, and just keep improving on my 800m and 1600m time. Also our boys 4x400m team ran a 3:33.75 last year at sections and we have everyone returning. We hope to run faster and compete in State this year, but we will have some tough competition! 

 You've been a very good runner for a long time. How have your perspectives, strategies, or attitudes changed since you first started running varsity in 7th grade?

I literally spent 6 years, 1/3 of my life, competing in XC and Track at the same level. I've seen and raced against legends (though they were always much better than me) like Josh Thorson, Matt Welch, Connor Olson and such. I was so young compared to everyone else around me. I never expected senior year would come that quickly. One thing that I really wished I had changed about my attitude was that I always said to myself; "You'll be better next year and be one of those guys eventually." Well I'm here at senior year and I can say without a doubt that I did not get that much better in most of the distance races. When I look back and realize that I didn't really care enough when I needed to, like the off season, because I thought I always had next year. What I should have done is gritted my teeth and tried to be one of those guys in the current moment. My injury that I have right now makes me especially sad because I cannot do that much-needed off season training for this track season to really improve. I really am trying to make my knee feel better as soon as possible so I can save what little time I have left for my last high school season. If this track season doesn't happen I will be disappointed, but I still have hopefully 4 more years that I can work with and not make the same mistake of living in the future. 

 Do you have any college plans?

I will be running XC and track at Lehigh University next year. I am very excited for the opportunity and also I will have a fellow Minnesotan joining me on the track team. Evan El-Halawani, the Class AA 300 hurdle champion, is also going to be with me in Pennsylvania. 

 What were some of the things that attracted you to Leigh University, and what are you most eagerly anticipating about college?

I didn't really know much about Lehigh until I did an official visit there. I had my eyes set on other places but when my parents convinced me to visit there I loved it. The campus is beautiful, the athletics are D1 with amazing facilities, but the thing I really loved was the team. The track and XC teams really seemed like a family and my future coach, Coach Todd Etters, seems like a great guy and I am looking forward to train under his guidance. I am extremely excited to be a part of that family next year.


(Photo provided by Michael Mitchell)

Do you have any rituals, routines, or superstitions either on or off the track?

I have a weirdly obsessive/stalker-like trait of memorizing my competitors/competing teams times and/or stats and madly trying to calculate races before they occur. I acquired this trait from when I discovered Milesplit in 7th grade, and I think it really showed this year in alpine. There is no Milesplit-equivalent for alpine skiing, so I ended up stalking other team's websites and acquiring info about them in the dark recesses of the internet. Then the next day at practice I would show up with about ten different papers in my hand for my coach telling him exactly what we needed to do as a team to qualifying to State and whatnot. 

 When not running miles or running on ovals, what might we find you doing?

I love nature and hiking. These last couple summers I have done trips with an organization called Overland Summers which is for high school students. Two summers ago I spend a month backpacking and climbing glaciers in Alaska and these past summer I was in Tanzania for three weeks hiking, volunteering and, one of the highlights of my life, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I've made such great friends from these trips and we are still in touch today. 

 What is one place that you have never been that you would love to hike in?

It's one of my goals in the future to climb Denali. I hiked the tallest mountain in Africa and I would really like to stay home in the US and challenge what America has to offer. 

 Tell me one bizarre fact about yourself.

My initials are MMM (Michael Mark Mitchell), as are my brother's (Matthew Mark Mitchell). My parents are named Mark and Michele. We have three dogs named Mollie, Mayzie and Millie. Finally we live in Minnetonka, Minnesota.