Harvard's Graham Blanks After Winning The 2023 NCAA Cross Country Championships

The CITIUS MAG Podcast

November 22, 2023

"I'm a part of this team and that's the most important thing. I don't really want to isolate myself as an individual on the squad. We are the squad. "

If there are two words to describe Graham Blanks coming into this season it is: slept on.

It started when he graduated from high school, and like most of his Crimson teammates, took a gap year. During that time, he ran 13:27 for 5000m in what would have been his freshman year. Once classes started and his eligibility clock began to tick, he finished 23rd in 2021 behind Hicks, Young, and Robinson, before struggling with some injury. In 2022, he was 6th at NCAA XC, ran 3:56 for the mile, and lowered his 5000m to 13:18 before finishing 2nd outdoors.

Blanks seems to have all the tools to be a great runner. He trains like an animal, running 100 miles a week at like 95% sub-6 minute pace (classic Coach Gibby!). He ran a 40-minute cool down after winning and then a 15-mile run the next day. Though all that quality volume has not been at any detriment to his closing or opening speed – the first 1000m of NCAAs was in 2:29. And he’s quickly gaining a reputation for possessing the clutch gene, despite sometimes being a self-proclaimed dumbass.

Get to know the former Athens Academy star, go inside his training and much more in this episode. Plus, we answer a bunch of your questions from Instagram.

Graham Blanks - CITIUS MAG PodcastGraham Blanks - CITIUS MAG Podcast


What was your mentality going into this season? Did you go into it believing that by the end you would have a shot at winning the national title?

“My first goal was ‘win everything’ and my second one was ‘be a good teammate’. They probably should’ve been flipped in order of importance, but I definitely thought I could win everything otherwise I wouldn’t have set that goal. These things are never easy, so it’s pretty amazing to get through the season and accomplish those things. It’s a new level for me so I'm trying to adjust my goals and keep shooting for the stars.”

How do you define being a good teammate?

“It comes in all different ways. I try to divert a lot of the attention from me towards the team because it really is a lot bigger than just me and my performances. I have a lot of supportive teammates and great staff at Harvard – so that's one thing I try to do. The other thing is just stay in the moment with the guys. In the end, I'm a part of this team and that's the most important thing. I don't really want to isolate myself as an individual on the squad. We are the squad. We refer to ourselves as the hive-mind. I think we even said that on the line at NCAAs – three, two, one, hive-mind.”

Has the team vibe or culture changed? Where did all these traditions and parts of the team culture come from?

“We were last at Heps the year before Gibby came in and now we're averaging 15th at NCAAs, which isn't what we want, but it's a huge step from where we were. I think a lot of that comes from the team culture. We try to be like one big team. I mean, the team's pretty much my only friends on campus because we just spend so much time together. There's definitely a lot of team team tradition.”

Let's unpack the race. That morning when you woke up, did you feel any external pressure from the fact that people saw you as a favorite to win?

“The external pressure doesn't really get to me, it's more the internal pressure. I've made a big effort to reframe that stuff so that I don’t put too many expectations on myself. All I know is that if I put in a good effort and try my hardest, that's all that really matters. People can see me trying really hard and if it's not my day, whatever – as long as I put it all out there. So if anything, it's more just excitement and gratitude that I feel in those moments. The pressure is certainly there, but it's something I try to tune out.”

What was going through your head when you made the big move? When were you telling yourself, “okay, this is where I want to shut the door on him”?

“I figured maybe 1k would be good. We do a lot of training like that at Harvard. So I knew I wanted to make that move… Going with 1k to go is also a type of bluff. I mean, of course I don't feel good, but who knows what Habtom [Samuels] thought or what other people thought. I knew it was something I was going to have to do… As I was saying, even if it didn't work out, I knew I wouldn't regret it because I knew it would make for a good finish. I knew people would at least be entertained and that I would at least finish second. So I'm happy with how it played out.”

What does this do for your confidence? Where do you see yourself now that you have to shift back to the track?

“It's still the same goals, which is to win everything. I'm here to try to win races. So nothing has really changed for me after winning this race. Nothing has changed with my competitors and how good they are. I definitely still have a ton of respect for the people I have to run against at these big races. And I know it's not going to get any easier to win these races – but the goal remains the same, which is to win everything. Winning the race definitely does a lot for my confidence; this was something I wanted to do and felt like I could for a while, so now it's just trying to keep the ball rolling and keep picking up big performances.”

How do you manage coursework with an intense training schedule?

“The main thing is time management and being really responsible, which is really hard to do… It’s just trying to find times to work, which is normally after dinner. It’s practice, dinner, work, bed and then classes in the morning and then practice, work, dinner, bed. But it's something you get used to. And the more you do it, the easier it gets. You figure out how to get stuff done more effectively. It’s something I'm still learning how to do myself.”

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Chris Chavez

Chris Chavez launched CITIUS MAG in 2016 as a passion project while working full-time for Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and grew his humble blog into a multi-pronged media company. He completed all six World Marathon Majors and is an aspiring sub-five-minute miler.

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