After placing eighth at the men’s cross country NCAA Northeast Regional Championships earlier this month, Jeff Perrella ’11 earned a spot at the NCAA National Championships, which were held last Monday. At the national championships, he ran the 10-kilometer course in 31:21.4 at a pace of just over 5 minutes a mile and placed 120th out of 246 total runners, meeting his goal of finishing in the top half. Perrella, who transferred from the College of William and Mary in 2007, is the first Bulldog to make it to nationals since Lucas Meyer ’05 in 2004. He spoke with the News about the recent National Championships and his cross country career at Yale.
Q First of all, congrats at your performance in NCAA nationals. That must be really exciting. Can you tell me a little about the race itself?
A Obviously it went out pretty quick. I was pretty excited about it. I’m not sure what time the leaders were at — they were probably around 4:35 or so [minutes per mile] — but I wasn’t too far back, at about 4:45. From my standpoint, I was trying to stick to the race plan that my coach and I had worked out ahead of time.
Q What was that plan?
A It was to go out a little bit more conservative and then work my way in with the pack, keeping up in the race. It was a very windy day, and if you got caught running alone, you essentially were completely sapped. Whenever I was out of the wind, I had to just move up a little bit, and I think I consistently did that throughout the race, which was good.
Q Was this a different strategy than other races that you’ve ran?
A Yeah, absolutely. Each race you approach a little bit differently. This was certainly a different approach than what we used at Regionals and what we used at Heps. You have to adapt your race plan for every race.
Q Did you ever expect to make it to nationals?
A It was always my goal, since I came here, since I started running. I had always expected to get there a lot sooner, but I have dealt with a number of injuries. I always knew I had the talent and I’ve always worked very hard at it.
Running is very simple. You get out of it what you put into it, and I put in four-and-a-half years of working just as hard as I could possibly work day in and day out. I seldom missed a day that I took completely off in the past four-and-a-half years. So I knew I had the cumulative work behind me coming into the season, and I knew based on the work I’ve done and based on times that I’ve run, that [making it to nationals] was a possibility. I never went into a race thinking that I didn’t have a chance to win. If you want to be good at this sport or at anything that you do, you can’t go in conceded. So much of what you do is confidence. You just have to have confidence in yourself.
Q How long have you been running cross country?
A I started my junior year of high school.
Q Why did you start?
A I’ve always been pretty quick. I was a soccer player pretty much all of my life. My freshman year, I went out for the track team as well. I lost a lot of weight running. When I went out for the team again my sophomore year playing soccer, I wasn’t nearly as effective as I used to be, being 30 pounds lighter, so I got knocked around a lot more. I saw that and I realized that I was going one way. I saw the potential. I saw that it was something I enjoyed. I just like going out for runs every day, so it made sense to make the switch.
Q Why did you choose to come to Yale?
A A whole host of reasons. Certainly a lot that has to do with it is Coach Ireland. I remember him from the initial recruiting process. He was someone I always respected and I really liked. He was a straightforward guy who definitely had his act together in that respect. He was the one who always told it to you like it is, and I certainly like that about Coach. When I made the decision that I wanted to transfer [from William and Mary], he was the first coach I called, the first person I talked to.
The guys on the team are another huge factor. One of them was a high school rival of mine that I have known for a number of years [Kevin Brown ’10]. It seemed like a very good environment for training. There was a great group of guys who are very hard working and all have their minds set in the right direction. For me, the most important thing was that I felt comfortable in the group. I felt there were a lot similar like-minded people who have similar goals to mine.
Q What will you be up to for the rest of the year?
A Well, I graduate in December. After that, I’m definitely taking a little bit of time off from running—which means that I’ll still be running every other day for a couple of months, while I get healthy and get my foot healed up. Also, I’m going on a cross country road trip with a teammate who’s graduating in December as well — Eric DePalo ’11. We have a two- to three-month road trip planned where we’re going to do a lot of hiking and camping, which I’m really looking forward to. After that I’m hoping to get into the running world again and possibly try to run professionally.
Q What was the season highlight for you?
A The biggest highlight for me of the season was when we beat Harvard at home. That was a huge victory personally for me. Even though I didn’t win the race, I executed the race plan that we worked out ahead of time perfectly, and so did the rest of the team. Everyone came in to do exactly what we were supposed to do, and we got the results that we wanted and the results that we knew we could get and we planned to get. Frankly, it doesn’t get any better than that, than to see the whole team carrying off the trophy at the end of the day.