By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Cierra Runge enjoyed the best of two coaching worlds last week at the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia.
As a member of the U.S. women’s team, she had the opportunity to work with her future University of California-Berkeley coach Teri McKeever, and not far away working with the men’s team was her North Baltimore Aquatic Club (NBAC) coach Bob Bowman.
She said she went into the meet hoping the combination of two of the best coaches in the sport would help her realize her dream of winning her first senior international medal either at Pan Pacs or in the near future.
Before the meet, after making the team in both the 400 and 800 freestyles, Runge admitted she was ecstatic to be on the team and was definitely excited for the beginning of the rest of her international swim career.
“I could not be more excited to be here at my first senior international meet with both of them (coaches), and I can’t wait to see what happens in the future,” Runge said. “I could not be more excited for Pan Pacs. I am going to see what I can do and see if I can bring home some medals for the United States. I am looking forward to having the experience under my belt and developing new friendships. It’s also just really cool to be in Australia!”
With Pan Pacs behind her, Runge’s attention now shifts to her freshman season at Cal-Berkeley.
Considering less than two years ago she was concentrating her training and events on the sprint freestyles, making the transition to mid-distance events like the 400 and 800 have taken time – and patience.
Looks like it’s paying off. Not only did she finish second behind Katie Ledecky at Phillips 66 Nationals in both events, but she made good on her pre-Pan Pac dream when she won silver (behind her U.S. teammate) in the 400 freestyle.
“After 2012 and 2013 I started to do more yardage and work on my endurance as well as my speed,” Runge said. “I moved to the distance group and started training with Gillian Ryan, Becca Mann, Lotte Friis, and recently Sierra Schmidt. The support within the entire training group helped each of us make it through many tough workouts and in the end each minute put into those workouts was worth it.”
She said she has made the biggest improvements over the past year or so in her strength and confidence.
“Every time that I was able to go faster in practice or go a best time in a meet, I started to gain confidence,” said Runge, who said she likes to watch cooking competition shows and cook whenever she can. “I knew that the work that I was doing was working and that I could go into meets and not worry so much because I trusted my training.
“My stroke has always been long and more of a 2-4-8 stroke, and I think that this year Bob decided to try a different approach with my training to see what I could do in the longer events. I started doing more distance oriented practices and more practices a week. I increased weights and dry land as well.”
Runge’s start in the sport began when she was 4 years old. She was enamored with the Olympics, particularly swimming.
She said when the swimming events came on during the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, she was glued to the TV and told her mom she really wanted to do that, too.
Having completed high school this year, Runge said she was able to focus on her training this summer and felt good going into Nationals.
She knew what her goals were and was determined to attain them – and have some fun at the same time.
“I felt smooth and strong, which is how I wanted to feel,” Runge said. “It was my goal to be in the top 2 and make the Pan Pacs team. I tried not to think too much about it in the week leading up to Nationals and the actual swims. I just wanted to keep loose and have some fun racing.”
“Being able to go best times and be a part of the Pan Pac team was amazing. When I hit the wall and saw that I was in the top 2 in both the 800 and the 400, it was just a flood of happiness and a little bit of relief. It has been a dream of mine to get to this point and to accomplish that meant a lot to me.”
In addition to great coaching, Runge attributes the support and confidence she gleaned from her teammates as the extra motivation she needed to make it through arduous practices as she made the transition from sprint to distance.
She also relied – and continues to rely – on her own personal goals that remain in front of her with each stroke and kick.
“What I want to do in 2 years or 6 years from now helps me a lot and when I sometimes lose sight of that I have my friends and training partners there to remind me,” Runge said. “They have gotten me through many different practices. When I thought I couldn’t go faster or I wanted to stop, they were there cheering and pushing me on and reminded me why I am in and why I love this sport.
“I think that my confidence going into the next two years is going to be good. I am reaching what I have been setting out to do for a long time. Ever since I was little, I have dreamed of going to the Olympics and the fact that I am making my way toward it is so surreal and exciting.”