Going the distance with runner Jacob Ridderhoff

| Senior Sports Editor

Junior Jacob Ridderhoff is a mid-distance runner on the track and cross country teams. He hails from the suburbs of Chicago and studies mechanical engineering. Ridderhoffs have been a presence in the athletic department for nearly a decade: Jacob’s sisters Rebecca and Jessica were members of the cross country and soccer teams, respectively. Jacob himself is a formidable competitor: a three-time All-American who makes it work indoors and out. This week, Student Life talked to Jacob about how he approached the 2020-2021 season, growing up with athletic siblings and his hopes for upcoming seasons.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Student Life: After the season ended last year, did you keep training through the spring?
Jacob Riderhoff: Yeah, [head coach Jeff] Stiles sent stuff out for us to do during March and April when we would have been having a track season. It was harder for me to get a lot of stuff done without seeing a purpose, so to speak. There [were] no competitions or anything coming up. He sent training out and I did it to the best of my ability. Sometimes [it was] a little more lenient, just because he was realizing that emotionally and mentally, some people just kind of needed a break, especially when COVID was a lot more restrictive in those months. In May, June and July, the focus kind of shifted towards cross country. And I felt a lot more motivated and I had a lot tougher training to do because I was hoping that we would have a season for cross country in the fall, and [that] ended up getting canceled, but I didn’t know that yet so I was still working pretty hard.

SL: After the cross country season was canceled, did you still have that purpose in training? How did that affect you?

JR: After coming back to school and seeing a lot of the rules of the school had made for us and other athletes and students in general, I think I had kind of expected the season to be canceled. And obviously [I was] witnessing other universities in D3 cancel their seasons and my high school friends who run in college having their seasons canceled, so I was thinking that probably was going to happen for us, too. So when it did happen, it wasn’t a huge letdown because you know, it obviously wasn’t a shocker. But it just kind of put things in perspective that it was out of my control. I just kind of stuck to what I knew, which was just doing training that the coaches would send out and I mean just doing it to the best that I could because that’s all I really could control.

SL: Were either of your siblings also home during the pandemic?
JR: No, they actually both live in St. Louis, they graduated from Wash. U. a few years before I did. So they live in this area and they work, so they end up just staying in their place.

SL: Gotcha. I asked because I know that they were also Wash. U. athletes. I was wondering if they’d been motivators for you during COVID.
Yeah, when we’ve been home together sometimes, like over Christmas, or when it has overlapped with their schedules and stuff sometimes it’s a good motivation to see that like “Oh, well they’ve done college athletics and they can handle the workload so I don’t really have an excuse to back off a bit,” but it wasn’t as much of an influence on me because they weren’t really around.

SL: Were y’all competitive growing up?
JR: I think so. We’re all athletic and we all did separate sports. So it was pretty competitive just whatever things you have around the house or we’d do games or whatever, go out into the backyard. I think part of my competitiveness has come from them. I think using them as an example and seeing how they performed before me motivated me in the past and continues to do so because I see how successful they were. And so I try to take after that.

SL: Do you think your parents have a favorite?
JR: I don’t think so. I mean, my parents raised us pretty well and definitely foremost put it that we were supposed to be friends with our siblings, and obviously we still are very close. But I definitely don’t think our parents had a favorite. I mean we all we all really grew up pretty well together.

SL: If you won an individual national championship next year, do you think you’d be your parents’ favorite for like a month?
JR: I think they’d be proud of me, and I think my sisters [would] be super happy for me, but it’s not something that I really hope would happen.

SL: Fair.
JR: And that’s something I’ve never even thought about really. I just want to do them proud and do right by them because obviously they put a huge investment in me to help me go to school, so I think I’m doing it for them, not to gain their approval, if that makes sense.

SL: Gotcha. I also had a question about your major. You’re an engineering student right?
JR: Yes, mechanical.

SL: Do you think any of the skills you’ve learned in mechanical engineering have helped in track at all?
JR: I think it’s more just the work ethic with engineering. It’s not a very easy major; you get what you put into it. The same goes with track. If you’re not going to put in the work, or if you’re not going to run and work out in the morning or when it’s cold or hot or whatever, you’re not going to get out the results that you want. So I think that is probably the biggest comparison I draw between the two. But they take different drives to do.

SL: What do you enjoy about running?

JR: I really struggled answering that question for a while. It wasn’t until COVID that I really could answer that. I think it’s just, it gets me away from my daily life of school or work or anything. I just get to leave that behind for an hour and just get some time to think or relax or just clear my head. It’s just a good stimulus for my mind I think, and it really helps me put stuff into perspective, and also it gives me motivation towards school and other stuff that if I can work hard [with] running and I can do like a crazy run or I can run far, then I can do other things with school or with work. It just keeps me motivated to get up every day and do those other things which don’t often bring as much joy.

SL: Do you ever run for pleasure or to clear your mind?
JR: Well, we have a training that our coaches sent out where we have harder interval work on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so that’s normally our practice times. Then on Mondays we have a longer run that’s mandated by our coach—not that he has to enforce it. Then Tuesdays, Sundays and Fridays are more easy, just kind of recovery. So if you needed to take a day off, you could. So those days are a lot easier. I’d say many of those days are just easy pleasure runs. It would be that, where it’s just nice to run a few miles slow or with a group of friends maybe they don’t see as much, before COVID, obviously, but those are the days that’s probably more fun. I don’t really run for pleasure outside of the training that I’ve been given.

SL: That’s definitely fair. I’ve talked to Stiles so I imagine that a lot of the workouts he has for you are pretty intense. Just running on your own for pleasure seems like it would be a bit heavy.
JR: Yeah, I mean if you’re doing mileage outside that the coach doesn’t know about it’s probably not a good idea because he knows probably what I can handle. It’s a little different than what other sports see, where if you have your training for basketball or baseball and you have practice times, then you go outside on your own to get extra work in that would be totally like a good thing to do and obviously would probably help you get better, but for running it’s a little different, where if you did that, it could probably lead to an injury because it already wears on your body so much.

SL: Next season, you’ll be a senior for both cross country and the track team. What is your hope for what that year looks like for you?
JR: I don’t know if I’ve really thought about that yet. I’m just trying to focus in on what the spring will have in store. That’s still up in the air. I’m just hoping to get back to that sense of normalcy and get a bigger team together. Just be able to compete at events and meets like it was back when I was a freshman and sophomore. I think regardless of any of the goals I have personally, I would much rather be able to run with my team. It makes me appreciate running at meets and competing and hanging out with teammates a lot more when I don’t get to do it every weekend. My goal is just to be able to have a fun, normal season next year.

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