The senior cross-country captain finished first at the Westtown Invitational Sept. 30, placed first in his 1,600-meter heat at the Henderson Invitational, and broke the school’s indoor 3000-meter record last winter. He earned All-Inter-Ac cross-country honors last fall, and according to Haverford School cross-country head coach Tim Lengel “was a huge part” of the Fords winning their Inter-Ac cross-country title since 2001 last fall. Merhige also helped the Fords’ cross-country team win Haverford’s Hattersley award (highest scholastic average for a program).
Q: Tell us a little about the course conditions at the Westtown Invitational. What was your most vivid memory of that race? What do you think was the key to your performance that day?
A: The course conditions were great. Westtown is a tough course, but it’s always fun to race there. My most vivid memory is moving to the front after the two-mile mark. The key to my performance was planning to be aggressive from the start. I wanted to get out fast with the top group, and pull away on the two hills at the end.
Q: What do you consider your best cross-country race so far this season, and why?
A: I consider Westtown to be my best race of the season so far. The meet was my first invitational win, and I was very confident in my preparation and race strategy.
Q: Briefly describe for us your pre-race preparation (physical, mental) on the day of a race.
A: My pre-race preparation changes a lot based on the start time of a race. For morning races, I like to get up early and do a very short shakeout jog to wake myself up. When we race in the afternoon, I prefer to sleep later, and I mainly focus on my diet and hydration throughout the day. Mentally, I try to prepare myself for different situations so that I am never caught off guard during a race.
Q: As team captain, how do you feel you can best exercise your leadership role?
A: I feel that I can best exercise my role as a captain by being a motivator. During our tough workouts, I strive to lead by example and push everyone on the team to be a little bit better.
Q: Tell us a little about your running shoes, the type of shoe you favor and why.
A: I am pretty all over the place when it comes to running shoes. While I do tend to cycle between brands, I have been wearing Brooks since last Spring. Typically, I look for a comfortable shoe with a decent amount of energy return. As for racing, I wear Nike track spikes/flats and Altra cross-country spikes.
Q: What has been the most important thing you have learned on the cross-country track this season?
A: I have learned a lot about leadership and mental toughness this season. My training has been much more individual this year than it was last year, so I have had to adjust my mindset at practice.
Q: Last fall, Haverford School won the Inter-Ac cross-country title. What was your biggest memory of last season – can you share it with us?
A: My biggest memory of last season was definitely winning the Inter-Ac title. We had not won the Inter-Ac since 2001, so it was a big accomplishment for the team. The results announcement at the awards ceremony was a great moment. I especially remember borrowing the girls’ trophy to take team pictures since the boys’ trophy had not been returned.
Q: What’s your favorite local running venue (outside of Haverford School’s course) and why?
A: My favorite local course is the Belmont Plateau, which hosts both Inter-Ac and PAISAA championships. The course is very difficult, known for aptly named “parachute hill,” but it is a great setting for big meets. In terms of training, my favorite places to run are the Haverford College nature trail and Ridley Creek State Park.
Q: What aspect of your running are you working on most recently?
A: I have recently been working on increasing my weekly mileage. Over the summer I started running twice a day so that I could reach 50-55 miles a week. As the season progresses, I will put more emphasis on shorter, speed training. But for the past few months, it has been important to build a strong base.
Q: You broke the school’s indoor 3,000-meter record. What is your most vivid memory of that race – can you share it with us? Does your running strategy change at all, running indoors versus running outdoors?
A: That meet was actually my first track race. I remember being overwhelmed by how many other teams there were. Once the race started, I tried to go out fast and work my way towards the front of the pack. My strategy changes because of the mental differences in running indoors vs. outdoors. An indoor track is only 200 meters, so you are running twice as many laps as you are in an outdoor race.
Q: You would like to run cross-country for a college program. What college(s) are among your current favorites? What do you think you might like to major in at college? Is there a career field that particularly interests you at the present time?
A: My current favorites are Johns Hopkins, Amherst, Middlebury, and Washington & Lee. I am planning to major in Political Science, International Relations, or Economics.
Q: Do you participate in any other extracurricular activities at Haverford School? What sparked your interest in these activities?
A: I am a member of the debate team, an editor for our literary magazine (Pegasus), and a student tour guide. I have always been interested in photography and graphic design, so becoming an editor for Pegasus seemed like a great activity for me.
Fun facts – Will Merhige
Favorite book: The Great Gatsby.
Favorite TV show: The Wire.
Favorite athlete: Roger Federer.
Favorite team: Philadelphia Eagles.
Favorite pre-race meal: Chicken parm and pasta.
Favorite color: Blue.
Family members: parents Anthony and Sharon, brother Peter.
(To be selected as Main Line Boys Athlete of the Week, a student-athlete must first be nominated by his coach.)