Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 26
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
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FINISHING KICK: Catha Mullen races to the finish line in cross country action. This spring, Mullen ended her Princeton University track career in style as she won the 3,000-meter run at the Ivy League Heptagonal meet and then placed 10th in the 5,000 at the NCAA Championship meet in a school-record time 16:04.75, earning All-American honors in the process. In late June, Mullen punctuated her brilliant final campaign by winning the 1,500 at a meet in Shanghai that culminated the Tigers' 13-day tour of China.

Mullen Overcame Bumps for PU Track Ends With All-American Honor, Win in China

Bill Alden

Catha Mullen wasn't sure where she would end up in her final season with the Princeton University women's outdoor track team.

Struggling with an IT-band injury early in the spring, the senior distance running star was unable to log the training miles needed to be in top shape.

After finally getting into action at the Penn Relays in late April, Mullen proceeded to reach unprecedented heights. At the Ivy League Heptagonal meet, Mullen placed second in the 5,000-meter run and produced an electrifying last lap kick to come from behind to win the 3,000.

Days after graduation, Mullen kept starring for the Tigers, placing 10th in the 5,000 at the NCAA Championship meet in a school-record time 16:04.75, earning All-American honors in the process.

Last week, Mullen ended her Princeton career in style, winning the 1,500 at a meet in Shanghai that culminated the Tigers' 13-day tour of China.

As Mullen rounded the track in China, she had mixed emotions as she reflected on the finality of the race.

"It was a little bittersweet," said Mullen. "It is going to be sad to hang up the spikes."

Mullen was anything but sad to get the chance to go on the trip to China which was open to any members of the track team who had scored at the Heps meet.

"I was extremely excited," said Mullen, who was one of 51 athletes included in the Princeton travel party. "I was jealous of Harvard and Yale getting to do an international meet with Oxford and Cambridge every four years. I didn't think that seniors were going to be able to go so I was happy to find out that we would get the chance to go."

On the flight to China, Mullen had some apprehension about what was to come. "I was excited but a little uncertain," said Mullen, a native of Bronxville, N.Y. "I didn't know what to expect."

Once she was there, the sights exceeded her expectations. "In Beijing, we got to see the Great Wall and we walked on the wall for a couple of hours," said Mullen, noting that the Princeton contingent also visited the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and Tiananmen Square.

"We went to the summer palace which is out of town on a lake. We got to ride on dragon boats. Shanghai is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen. You could see the incredible rate of change in the city. It's on two sides of a river. On one side is the old city and the other side is the new city with beautiful skyscrapers."

The team's morning workouts provided the athletes with a respite from their busy sight-seeing schedule. "It was nice to be able to run," asserted Mullen. "We were doing so much touring, it was a good break."

The meet in Beijing, though, proved to be no break. "It was really, really competitive," said Mullen. "We were supposed to be going against athletes from Beijing City University but they recruited athletes from all over the city. It was like going against a Beijing All-Star team. It was interesting not knowing the competition or their times. There was a lot of guesswork; you had to focus on your race plan."

In the meet in Shanghai, Mullen stuck to her game plan as she ran to victory. "I was a little apprehensive after the race in Beijing," said Mullen. "I went out a little fast in that race. For the one in Shanghai, I just wanted to wait until the last 100 meters to kick."

Mullen had used that patient strategy to pull off her stunning win in the 3,000 at the Heps. "I had run in the 5,000 that morning and I didn't do too well," said Mullen, who clocked a time of 9:45.07 in winning the race by .11.

"The pace was slow and I panicked in the middle of the race and went too fast. I couldn't follow the winner at the end. In the 3,000, I decided to go with the flow and just trust my kick. I waited until the last lap and I passed everyone including Lindsay Donaldson of Yale."

In preparing for the NCAA meet, Mullen had to keep her focus while going through the commencement whirlwind. "We were on the run all week, going from the baccalaureate to a cocktail party to other senior functions," recalled Mullen, who also starred for the Princeton cross country teams. "We had the athletics banquet Thursday night and then reunions all weekend. It was emotional. A half hour after graduation, you are packing up to make the flight across the country. I was happy there were two races at the nationals."

In the NCAA competition, Mullen had to utilize tenacity as well as patience to end up as an All-American. "In the heat, I was in last place most of the race and I slowly moved up," said Mullen.

"In the final, the lead pack went out at 72 or 73 seconds a lap. The second pack was at 75 seconds; I knew I needed to stay with them if I was going to be in the race. It was a little uncomfortable but I had to keep up. I made All-American because two of the runners in front of me were non-Americans. When I came to college, a big goal of mine was to make All-American. I had made it indoors but I wasn't sure I was going to make it outdoors."

For Mullen, her performance at the NCAAs marked the culmination of her Princeton track education. "I learned a lot about racing," said Mullen, who raced at Princeton along with her twin sister, Caroline, also a star distance runner for the Tigers.

"In high school I was able to get by on natural ability and training hard. I didn't get the essence of racing. I just started to get that this year. I learned to keep cool and not worry about what happened at the beginning of the race."

In terms of life lessons, Mullen learned a lot from serving as the co-captain of the cross country and track team. "Being a captain really helped me mature," said Mullen, who will be soon starting a job with UBS in New York City. "You are responsible for yourself and the other girls; you're putting everything into something you love. You get out of something what you put into it."

And Mullen ended up getting the most out of herself as she went down the homestretch of her Princeton career.

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