By Rhett Butler, Sports Information Assistant
It is morning at Valhalla, and the sun is rising over Clark Track as groups of runners can be seen churning out laps around the stadium. Alainna Chretien, along with the rest of her teammates, is finishing strides on the home straight. She has come quite far in her four years with the Berry College cross country team and has learned a few things along the way.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN:
Born in Fort Riley, Kan., Chretien moved around a lot during her childhood. Her father was in the military, and they lived in Germany for three years from her eighth grade year until the end of her sophomore year in high school, attending an American school. They moved to Savannah, Ga., her junior year, and enrolled in New Hampstead High School for its inaugural year.
The transition from living in Germany to living back in the United States was difficult.
"When I was in Germany, I wanted to move to the U.S.," Chretien said. "But when I got here I wanted to go back to Germany. The food was a lot saltier when I first got here, and little things like that would make me miss Germany. I don't notice it as much now. There was a more carefree attitude in Germany. Over here, everything feels rushed. If you go out to eat, it feels like the waiter rushes you. Over there, you would only have a waiter when you asked for it. They check on you constantly here."
She was interested in cross country when she returned to Savannah and e-mailed the new coach, asking to join the New Hampstead program.
"I started running in ninth grade in Germany," Chretien said. "Technically I joined in eighth grade, but all I did was walk around with a friend while the others ran."
Cross country was different in Germany as well. She was on a very large team, but at her school in Savannah, she found herself as the sole cross country runner. She did not run very much mileage in high school either.
"I think I did six miles once on accident," shared Chretien, laughing a bit. "I usually ran three miles a day, plus whatever I did at soccer practice."
She had a good relationship with her coach in high school and was very excited to have seen him at one of her races earlier this year.
ARRIVING AT BERRY:
Chretien arrived at Berry in the fall of 2015, with her first year on the cross country team being a big transition to a program that aspires for high mileage weeks.
"I could not even run three miles when I first got here," Chretien said. "My first run was with Austin Fowler and Brandon Jackson, and I threw up. It was awful. I did nothing over the summer leading up to the season, maybe two miles. It was probably the only time I have ever thrown up on a run."
She credits her overall growth and adaptation to the training from Head Coach Paul Deaton.
"I definitely believe that Paul's training methods, and the consistency that it gives you really made me the runner that I am now," Chretien said. "I had a very modified, light schedule the first few weeks because I was so out of shape. He took me from that to where I could run the mileage with the rest of the team."
Chretien found out that she was anemic her sophomore year, after struggling through workouts. Working to bring her levels back to normal led to major drops in her times, and Chretien became very competitive later that year during track season. Her success helped the women win their first ever Southern Athletic Association title in cross country the following semester.
"Winning conference was insane," Chretien said. "It was the first time we had won, and the best part about it was how unexpected it was. We had talked about second or third, but everyone ran well that day and everyone was so elated. To have everyone have a good day all at once was awesome. I am really glad that I got to be a part of that."
Chretien was named a team captain for the Vikings this year. She has led the team through one of the toughest years a team can face, and she credits her success as a leader to those who have helped her along the way.
"Paul and Jen Ngetich have been a great help this season, and having good relationships with all of my teammates made this year fun," shared Chretien.
Last weekend, Chretien qualified individually for the NCAA DIII Cross Country National Championships, along with her teammate, Abby Carroll. No small feat, these two were among seven total individuals to qualify apart from their teams, with the pair headed as only the second and third runners in Berry's NCAA history to ever race in the national meet.
"I felt tired crossing the finish line last week, but I was super excited," Chretien said. "In a way, it had not hit me, so everyone was more excited than me, at least immediately. My sisters came up to watch, and they were jumping up and down. The girls I raced at regionals were awesome, and everyone had a great time when we finished, so we were all congratulating each other. It is a big deal to qualify for nationals, and we all celebrated that."
"I am excited I do not have to go alone too," Chretien noted. "Carroll will be with me, and it is crazy because she is only a sophomore. It was so close. I knew she wanted it so badly, and I wanted it for her too. I am especially glad to have her going because we work really well together in races."
At nationals, Chretien plans to run as she has all season: ferocious and ecstatic.
"I plan to go out and run as well as possible," she said. "I am both nervous and excited, and I do not have any pressure on myself because I made it. It's going to be a very packed, very fast race, and I am excited for the experience."
Deaton spoke high praises of Chretien as well.
"Alainna never seems to take herself too seriously and never seems to take anything too lightly," he said. "I love her approach to life. She brings so much to the team. And she is crazy fast."
While there is still much more to look forward to during track, Chretien has already led a banner senior year.