It wasn’t a race she ran that showed Walter Johnson coaches Tom Martin and Ashley St. Denis that Jenna Goldberg was serious about cross country.
It was a race she wasn’t going to be running. A JV runner her freshman year, Goldberg was not on the Walter Johnson roster for the state meet. But when the team made arrangements to go up to Hereford High School to practice on the course a week before the championships, Goldberg asked if she could come along.
“They went and did a hill workout at Hereford and hung with the varsity girls,” St. Denis said. “I remember taking a video and saying ‘we got ’em!’ They liked the team, they wanted to be a part of it.”
It was a stunning turnaround from the girl who turned to cross country with Caroline Kennon when the two were cut from the soccer team.
“For the first four weeks, they were the saddest runners I ever saw,” Martin said. “They hated everything about it. I had to be a salesman. I encouraged them, tried to see that it’s a positive environment, it’s about fun.”
Goldberg wasn’t entirely new to running. She had run the Bethesda Turkey Chase 10k and Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon, but her disappointment over the soccer team took a while to get over. It helped when senior members of the team took an interest in her and taught her how to persevere though tough races.
“They taught me to accept that not every race was going to be my best, and it helps to just accept that and move on, knowing that improvement isn’t a straight line.”
Martin said that’s part of the deal he makes with his athletes, asking seniors to reach out to freshmen, helping them learn the nuances of what it takes to be a successful runner. It helps him out too, particularly early in the season when he is getting to know that year’s team.
“I give them a structure to discover themselves in, and then I can guide them,” he said.
That method goes beyond their freshman years. As a senior, Goldberg finished fourth at the Oatlands Invitational, topping the Montgomery County contingent at the race, and Martin said that was done with no instruction from him.
“This early in the season, we just want to see where the kids are and let them come to their own decisions about how they race,” he said. “After a while, I give them a little more input to help them toward the end of the season.”
Goldberg did improve, and during her sophomore year, she finished 14th in the Maryland 4A championship, finishing fourth for the Wildcats and helping the team, along with fellow former soccer player Kennon, win its fifth consecutive state title. After an anemia diagnosis halfway through her junior year, she started taking iron supplements and was back in business before the start of the outdoor track season, where she finished third in the state in the outdoor 3200 meters.
Now a senior, verbally committed to Wake Forest, she has taken on Martin’s charge of welcoming the freshmen runners, helping them feel welcome but also enthusiastic about even the difficult parts of the sport. She invites the entire team on long runs and learns more than just the new runners’ names.
“You have to make everything as exciting as possible,” she said. “If our coaches say we’re doing mile repeats, you just say ‘yes! this is my favorite workout, it’s such a good workout.’ They always respond to the energy you put out.”
Her favorite workout? Coincidentally, it’s mile repeats.
RunWashington is throwing in a season-long surge of cross country coverage. In September, we’re featuring our All-RunWashington team. So far we have profiled: