by Madison Neuner
Cross country alumna Kerri Ruffo is currently an assistant coach with her former team, while also doing some pretty crazy training of her own. She holds the Northeastern all-time record for the 10,000 meter run on the outdoor track, and spent her time after graduation training for the Chicago marathon, which she ran in 2:43 to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
The Red & Black’s Madison Neuner, who is also a member of the cross country team, sat down with Kerri before her big race.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Red & Black: What has your training process been like for the Chicago Marathon?
Kerri Ruffo: I started at 80 to 85 miles a week and worked my way up to 95, which is something I’ve never done before. My max in college was 75. So it’s been a lot more intense and a lot more volume that I’m used to.
But it’s really made me appreciate the sport all that much more, and has reignited a passion that I didn’t think could really get any bigger. So I’ve been enjoying it, but it’s been really hard. I’m exhausted all the time.
R&B: When I saw you running and when I saw the paces, I was pretty intimidated by it, just as a relatively new runner. Do you think you’re intimidating?
KR: I don’t want to be intimidating. That’s the last thing that I want. I have been there, so I understand that it can be incredibly intimidating to see super fast runners, but as I progress in my running career, I just hope to inspire people and motivate people and give off the message of positivity.
I think intimidation is a really negative thing. And that’s the last thing I want to do. I post those things because I’m proud of them, but the message is to not boast.
I wasn’t the best and I came from kind of a lesser background. I wasn’t great at running my freshman year of college. I was just kind of okay. I’m still building. I don’t consider myself great still. So it’s just to show the progress that I’ve made, and to tell others that they can kind of have that same path.
R&B: When did you start running?
KR: Both of my sisters are nine and 10 years older than me and they both ran in high school. So I first was introduced to running through them and I think I was eight when I first went to those fun runs that they do, those two laps around the track. That was my very first race. I did pretty well. And I loved it. I just fell in love. And then I got into road racing a little bit later, probably around 10. My first road race I ever ran I made the paper because everyone was like, who is this child running against like these old men? And then I started doing Junior Olympics, and that’s when I kind of decided that I wanted to run professionally one day.
As time went on and I continued to run more, that dream kind of started to fade because things weren’t going that well in college. I had a surgery my sophomore year and just kind of lost passion for the sport, lost belief in myself. Now all of that’s kind of coming back.
R&B: Can you kind of talk to me a bit about what racing and being a racer means to you?
KR: It’s a lifestyle to be a racer. You have to sacrifice so many things. I’ve sacrificed friendships. I shouldn’t even say this, but at one point I broke up with my boyfriend because I just wanted to, like, focus on me.
It’s selfish at times to chase big scary dreams. We battle so much outside of running, and I think to be a racer you need to learn how to push through so many battles that aren’t even related to running at all. It does take a lot of discipline and love for the sport and heart and soul and passion and all of it.
It’s the hardest thing I have ever done, but I have done it for 16 years. I don’t regret any of it.
R&B: Which is adorable, but it would also be really cool. So for a young, inexperienced runner who wants to go to the Olympics for steeple one day, what advice do you have?
KR: Put your head down and work hard and fiercely believe in yourself. You can’t go wrong if you do that. If you do the work and you trust your coaches and you are smart in your decisions regarding injuries and eating healthy. I had a severe eating disorder and it deterred me from doing a lot of really cool things. And so I don’t ever want that to be a problem for anybody.
Just grind and be patient and be selfish. If that’s really something that you want to do one day, if you want to go to the Olympics, say it out loud, talk about it. I was embarrassed to say it out loud because of what people would think and because I’m not there yet and I’m not a pro runner. And so I was afraid that people would think that I was crazy for wanting that. But own it and own yourself. If it’s your dream, it’s your dream and no one can take that from you.
You never know what’s going to happen on the day. And I mean going into the trials is the first step. So I go to the trials in 2020, maybe I don’t make top three, maybe in 2024 I do, you know? Just keep grinding and believing.
R&B: Why do you wake up in the morning?
KR: I have been battling depression for a while and um, a lot of mornings it’s hard to wake up. You don’t really want to get out of bed. It’s is literally draining. A lot of times I’m, like, questioning my purpose and running, as silly as it may sound, is what gives me that purpose and it’s what gets me out of bed and it’s why I wake up. And it’s not to run fast times or prove anything to anybody. It’s just, I love it more than anything in the world. And I think it’s really cool to have something that you can be that passionate about in that, um, you know, I am beating depression, and winning, because I have this thing that fuels me and lights a fire in me. And I think a lot of people might not have that thing or haven’t found it yet. And so every day I wake up because I have that. And I’m really lucky to have that. I get to influence people because I get to do so many things because of running, you know? People think I do it to run fast and to make the trials and, like, those things are associated with it and those things are mad cool and I’m so happy I get to do those things, but I have people because of the sport that make me want to live. And I just think that’s really cool.