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A runner above the rest: WWU’s Kevin McDermott sets his own pace

Athlete has become one of the best long-distance runners in WWU history

Western Washington University's Kevin McDermott starts out in the front of the large crowd of runners.
Western Washington University's Kevin McDermott starts ahead of the pack Sept. 23, 2023, during the Bill Roe Classic cross country meet at Lake Padden. The junior took his first trip to the national meet this past indoor season after becoming the second man in GNAC indoor history to win gold medals in the mile, 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter runs. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)
By Mathew Callaghan Sports Intern

When COVID-19 swept across the world in 2020, Western Washington University distance runner Kevin McDermott took it as an opportunity to hone his craft. 

After his freshman indoor track season in 2020, McDermott believed he was running slower than he did in high school. He felt his focus wasn’t where it needed to be to have a successful college career. So, while the planet waited in quarantine for normalcy to return, McDermott ran. 

“COVID was not a good time,” said McDermott, now a junior. “It was awful … But in terms of my running career, it had a huge impact. [It was] just a chance to step back and really focus on making myself into the best athlete that I could be. That’s carried me the last few years. And that’s just my focus every day — how can I make myself better?”

During COVID-19, McDermott, a South Kitsap High School graduate, returned to his hometown of Port Orchard and began to increase his mileage by running in suburban areas, the backcountry and along the water. He looked at what his older teammates were doing outside of practice and decided to emulate their training. Before long he was running up to 90 miles a week. 

Western junior distance runner Kevin McDermott stands by the track at Western Washington University. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)

Now, four years later, McDermott estimates he averages between 70–90 miles a week during the school year and 100 miles a week in the summer. He runs 8 to 12 miles, once a day, at a pace of between five to seven minutes per mile. On Sundays, he runs 16 to 20 miles.

McDermott, who was recently named the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Indoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year, is currently working toward his master’s in business administration at Western. Weekly, his schedule is filled with track practice four or five days a week, school, the weight room twice a week, long runs on Sundays, and 15–25 hours per week spent bookkeeping for local tea shop Spice Hut. 

“It comes down to time management and just understanding that I’m not gonna have a ton of easy days,” McDermott said. “It’s almost good with running because it forces me to live a disciplined life. I can’t just go for a run and then goof off all day and not be focused. I kind of have to be focused every day. I think that makes me a better athlete.” 

T.J. Garlatz, Western’s assistant cross country and track and field coach, oversees training and recruitment for distance runners and has aided in McDermott’s development the past five years. 

“He’s a good example to people that if you do commit to the program, and work hard over an extended period of time, you can transform your fitness and change the expectations of what you’re capable of doing,” Garlatz said.

“The first year he was here, it was a little bit of a struggle, of a transition, and then COVID hit,” Garlatz continued. “When we came back that fall … you could see he started to make the jump up from being, like, a random dude who maybe could do it, to someone who’s going to be instrumental to the program.” 

Kevin McDermott running in between other runners.
Western Washington University’s Kevin McDermott broke the indoor program records for the mile run and 5,000-meter run Jan. 26-27 at the UW Invitational in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Jacob Thompson/WWU Athletics)

Weight room work, combined with 20-mile progressive runs — similar to what a marathon runner might do — along with his threshold workouts have molded McDermott into who he is now, Garlatz said. 

The work has paid off.  

McDermott captured the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s outdoor 5,000-meter title in May 2023. He followed that up by winning the GNAC cross country championship in October 2023. 

He broke the school’s 5,000-meter indoor record with a time of 13:50.77 at the UW Invite in January. He then won his second straight GNAC indoor track and field title in the 5,000 meters in February. 

He became just the second man in GNAC history to win the gold medal trio in the mile, 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters at the GNAC Indoor Championships. 

McDermott went on to earn second-team All-America honors in the 5,000- and 3,000-meter races, placing 12th and 16th, respectively, at the NCAA Division II Indoor National Championships. 

Western’s interim head coach, Ben Stensland, said while he hasn’t had as much time to work with McDermott as Garlatz has, he still has monitored the athlete’s development.  

Western Washington University’s Kevin McDermott runs during the UW Indoor Preview Jan. 13 at the Dempsey Indoor athletic facility on the University of Washington campus. (Photo courtesy of Anders Norman/WWU Athletics)

“He’s so passionate about the sport, and he’s so willing to grind,” Stensland said. “It’s not just been the physical stuff; it’s also been a cool process to see him develop his confidence. Just his faith in himself, his belief in himself, I think that’s something that he’s still developing. With that being said, I think the sky’s the limit for him.” 

McDermott said he would like to run professionally after college but doesn’t believe it’s a career path he could make enough money from. Hoping to one day compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials, McDermott said it’s the memories he’s made with his team and coaches that will stick with him 10 years from now. The records and trophies are just a bonus. 

“There’s nothing like accomplishing a goal that you set,” McDermott said. “The amount of work that you have to put into the sport to see improvement, especially at this level, makes it just so unbelievably gratifying when you get there. That feeling is something I keep chasing.” 

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