Nov. 18, 2013
By Adam Van Brimmer
Katie Townsend is no tortoise, but she is proof that slow and steady can win the race.
The Georgia Tech distance runner has topped her team’s finish list in 10 consecutive cross country meets dating back to the start of the 2012 season. Her success is a product of her ability to maintain the same steady pace from start to finish.
“I really only have one gear and it rarely takes me to the front early,” Townsend said. “But I kind of work my way up, slow and steady, and roll on through.”
Townsend’s steadily improving pace makes her a contender for the NCAA Championships in November. She has two top-10 finishes this fall and placed 35th at the prestigious Louisville Classic in October. She finished 53rd out of 227 runners at a Pre-National Invitational meet run on the NCAA Championship course on Oct. 19th.
Running closer to the front goes against Townsend’s nature but would boost her finishes, Drosky said. Even at a steady pace, passing dozens of competitors burns up energy. Plus, the farther ahead of others she is in the final mile, the less chance they will catch her in the sprint to the finish.
Townsend describes her finishing kick as “laughable.” Her one gear is easily maxed out.
“I don’t have sprinter’s speed; I pass people because they slow down,” she said. “I’m working on my kick, but for the most part, it’s better for me to be several hundred yards in front with a quarter-mile to go.”
Getting To The Front
Townsend has always run from behind.
She took up distance running in middle school when her best friend joined the track team. She enjoyed the exercise and decided to go out for cross country as a freshman at Lakeside High School, located near Augusta.
She joined the Panthers along with another freshman, Anna Bowles. Bowles came from a running family: Her father, Ken, ran cross country and track at the University of Akron. He volunteered to help coach the team and his distance running background helped mold a dynasty.
Bowles and Townsend became best friends and proved a dynamic duo, but Bowles always finished out front. She won two cross country state titles and three track and field championships. Townsend was a perennial top-five finisher, including a second-place finish in the 3,200 meters as a senior.
“It wasn’t awesome that she beat me every race, but she is the reason I became as good a runner as I did in high school,” Townsend said of Bowles. “It was good to have someone to look at and say ‘That is the level where I want the be.’”
The duo split up for college. Townsend aspired to be an engineer, leading her to Georgia Tech, while Bowles signed to run with the Georgia Bulldogs. Stepping out of Bowles’ shadow required an adjustment period for Townsend, one that’s ongoing. She still battles an inferiority complex on the course, Drosky said.
“In high school, she thought she was No. 2, that she should be behind Bowles,” Drosky said. “She has the same mindset here at times. The difference is, we think she’s better than most of the girls she runs against.”
Endurance In All Things
Townsend’s high school coach, Jerry Meitlin, once praised Townsend for her “thoroughness.”
It’s a trait that she continues to exhibit today. Georgia Tech’s Drosky takes a high-volume, low-intensity approach to training, perfect for a pacer like Townsend. She focuses on her regimen and running mechanics. Running “never gets boring” to Townsend and her pace quickens as her fitness improves.
Such discipline translates to academics as well. She recently changed her major from biomolecular and chemical engineering to material science and engineering this year. She was an Atlantic Coast Conference All-Academic team selection last school year.
She equates academic success to winning on the track and the cross country course.
“School is an endurance thing, just like running,” she said. “I keep going until I get through it. I don’t think about how long or hard it is. I just try and finish.”