Chasing The Olympic Dream: Sophia Gorriaran

By: Carlos Fernandes II

Known for her sit and kick strategy in many of her races, Sophia Gorriaran, was the second of the three high schoolers to achieve the OTQ, which she achieved at the American Track League #3 meet on February 7th, 2021 in Fayetteville, AR. At this meet, she finished second in 2:02.44 (.06 seconds under the OTQ), only .33 seconds off of first, and out kicking the well-known Nicki Hiltz by .07.

Who is she?

Only a sophomore, Gorriaran, still has a lot of high school track to run and has a lot more to learn from running. Growing up she said she played almost every sport you can think of (tennis, basketball, gymnastics, field hockey, swimming, etc.) and now she’s a two-sport athlete in Lacrosse and Track. Gorriaran’s father was also a two-sport athlete in Football and Track at Brown University. Her mother picked up running out of pure enjoyment post collegiately. Her family as a whole enjoys running, so naturally she drifted more towards running and eventually fell in love with the competitive side of the sport. 

Weekly Training

Training is constantly shifting as Gorriaran has to juggle her Track sessions around her Lacrosse practices and games that happen 5-6 times a week. Most of the time she has to get her track work and gym sessions in after her Lacrosse practices. However, now that Track has started to pick up with her running fast times and earning the OTQ mark, she said she’s started to dial back on Lacrosse and will only occasionally play if she feels like it in order to keep her legs fresh for Track.

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are usually her workout days where she’ll do longer more endurance sessions on Monday, mid-distance sessions on Wednesday, and faster speed sessions on Friday. On the other days she has recovery runs where she takes it nice and slow running no faster than 8:00-8:30 avg for 3-6 miles. On most Sundays, she takes a day off to let her body fully recover.

The Uncertainty of the “Covid Year”

Going into Indoor Nationals, Gorriaran believed she was in the best fitness of her life and was looking forward to squaring up with both Willis and Whittaker. When the race was cancelled, it was disappointing for her, as an Indoor Title was a huge goal of hers. As a result, she decided to take 2 weeks off before slowly getting back into training.

During this time of training, she really enjoyed it and honestly thrived because she was only training for Track, since there were no lacrosse practices or games to attend. Later in the summer, her father put on the Providence Cobras Twilight Micro 3-part meet series, where she ran a 25.70 in the 200m, 2:03.36 in the 800m, and 4:32.58 in the 1500m. She also ran an 800m race at the Music City Distance Carnival, running 2:02.97 (only .47 off the OTQ) and another one at the Ed Murphy Classic, where she ran 2:02.90. 

Gorriaran has always had her father as her coach, so she’s gotten used to having him in her life in both the parent and coaching role. She sees her father as someone who is constantly pushing her to achieve her potential. He’s hard on her and expects the best from her, but he’s also constantly there supporting her. It’s the perfect mixture for her and she truly enjoys having her father also be her coach. 

The Road to Breaking Through

At the beginning of 2021, Gorriaran stepped on the track to run an 800m against the other two top 800m runners in the nation, Willis and Whittaker, at the VA Showcase. This was the first test for the fitness she had just achieved during the “Covid Training Block” and would set the tone for what was possible for this year. “I just wanted to start off where I was last Indoor,” she said about this race and she managed to finish second to Whittaker and hold off Willis to the line in a time of 2:03.96. While this was a good 1 second off of the two marks she set back in the summer of 2020, it was indeed a great season opener that gave her the confidence she was ready to do something big. 

On January 31st, 2 weeks after the VA Showcase, Gorriaran threw down a 1:27.02 in the 600m at The 757 Showdown. In this race, Roisin Willis took it out hard and Gorriaran settled in place right behind her. With 100m to go, Gorriaran unleashed her kick that landed her the victory as Willis dove at the line. 

“[The 600m race] gave me a lot of confidence for my 800.”

On February 7th of 2021, in Fayetteville, AR, Gorriaran lined up at the American Track League #3 to see if she could run two laps around the track just a little faster than last time. On the line with her was Adelle Tracey, a 1:59.86 800m British runner and Nikki Hiltz, a 4:01.52 1500m runner and a 4:32.29 Miler. These are both world class runners 10 years older than her and would create a challenging and fast race.

Going into the race she said, “I was going for the OTQ mark and hoping I would get it, but I wasn’t like ‘you need to get it now or I’m done,’ because I knew I could have other races later [where I could get the OTQ] if I wanted to.” This mindset of not putting too much pressure on herself to achieve the mark and instead just focusing on racing ultimately helped her achieve the mark. She said that her strategy going in was “just go for it and try to hold on at the end.” Coming down the homestretch she was in the lead and was able to fend off one of her competitors as she finished 2nd with a time of 2:02.44 (.06 seconds under the OTQ).

The Trials of Miles NYC Qualifier

Going into the Trials of Miles NYC Qualifier, Gorriaran revealed that she didn’t feel like she was as sharp or as race ready as she would’ve liked because she hadn’t been training super hard due to having a lacrosse game a couple days before the race and the day after the race. “I was training for lacrosse [leading up to this race] and basically running when I could.” Despite a lack of preparation and her focus on lacrosse, she still managed to finish 5th with a time of 2:02.93. 

While this time demonstrates that she’s very consistent and able to run in the 2:02-2:03 range, the question has to be asked as to if lacrosse is taking away from her running? She believes that it’s helping her from a strength perspective, but doesn’t help her as much with speed. 

“If I want to get to top race shape, I have to stop playing lacrosse for a few weeks so I can run my best.”  

Despite this acknowledgement that lacrosse seems to hinder running, she expressed that she wants to continue playing actively and hopes to play in college along with track. Now I’m not attempting to say that she should quit lacrosse and just focus on running, Hobbs Kessler is a great example of how another sport, rock climbing, has given him strength and helped his overall running. However, he realized that he needed to dial back on his rock climbing and make sure his focus was one running. After he made this decision, he’s taken off and become the number 1 800m runner, 1500m runner, and miler in the country. Gorriaran is still a sophomore and still has a lot of growing to do. Imagine how good she could be if she decides to dial back the lacrosse and emphasize her focus on running.

Getting Mentally Ready

When Gorriaran began running against the pros, she admits that she had a lot of nerves, but she also expressed that it was really exciting. Now that she’s raced pros more, she’s still nervous, but less so than when she started out. 

“They’re a lot tougher than high school runners like they’ll definitely push you around more.” 

Racing against the pros for Gorriaran carries less pressure than racing against fellow high schoolers. Now that she’s made a name for herself, people expect her to always win and run well at the high school level. However, when she’s running against pros, the expectations are lower because next to the pros she’s still a novice. 

While she said she doesn’t do much race visualization and mindfulness exercises to strengthen her mindset, she always sits down with her coaches to discuss in detail the upcoming race and what tactics she should use. 

Message for Other Athletes

The message Gorriaran wanted to leave for other athletes is that you should only do something if you’re really passionate about it and it makes you happy. Sacrificing your time for something you don’t really enjoy and aren’t passionate about is very exhausting and will leave you unfulfilled. She also truly believes that, “If you put in the work, you’ll definitely see results. If you’re not seeing results right away, just wait and keep working at it and you’ll get to where you want to be.”