Coming into this past year’s indoor season, Cade Flatt was among the top high school 800m athletes in the country with a personal best of 1:50.25. But being “among” the best was far from satisfying for Flatt. Over the course of the next eight months Flatt managed to establish himself as the best, dropping his PR all the way down to 1:46.48, making him the top ranked high school athlete in the event this year and the second fastest of all time.
The Oval sat down with Flatt to discuss this transformative year as well as his experience at the US Outdoor Track and Field Championships, where he gets his confidence from, his relationship with pressure, the recruiting process and much more.
The Oval: So you just came off the US Championships. How are you feeling? Did the experience help you to learn any valuable lessons or grow your confidence?
Cade Flatt: I guess both. In terms of confidence, after the prelim it feels like I belong at that level and that’s why I didn’t do U20s. I knew I could’ve done U20s and could’ve done well and made that team but I got the experience of the real thing at this early of an age when I’m inexperienced so that next time I go I’m gonna be ready.
Trials are coming up, I’m gonna be ready and know what to do with racing back to back days, finding ways to recover and talking to different athletes and coaches and doing research. I’m happy with the experience but it's a little bitter-sweet. In that prelim I felt great, I know I said multiple times, if I wanted that national record I could’ve gotten it, I was just kind of holding back for that semi-final.
Then I got to the semi-final and kind of screwed myself over in that first 200 and couldn’t bounce back from it, but I learned a few valuable lessons.
TO: Were there any feelings of intimidation having athletes like Donovan Brazier in your opening heat and competing on such a large stage?
CF: No, besides Baylor Franklin, Donovan Brazier was the first one to talk to me. So I wasn’t too intimidated by anybody. I feel like I’m at that level where if you go into a race intimidated or scared of anybody, you’ve already lost. And that’s the one thing I noticed at athlete check in, you could tell just by looking at people who were fearful and who weren't, who wanted to be there and who didn’t think they belonged there.
I felt like I belonged there but there were definitely some pros where I’d be in the same room as them and I could look at them and tell them “You don’t want this as bad as this other guy.”
TO: Was it surreal to look at yourself in that moment and realize you had reached this level?
CF: Yeah 100%. I said to Donovan as he was sitting beside me while we were putting on our spikes — I’m not one to like talk to competitors or to be friendly before I race, I’m usually pretty focused, but I had to say something — I was like ‘dude this is crazy, I’ve been watching you, being a track kid and you’re the 800 guy and this is my event, I’ve been studying you for like 2 years.’
It’s crazy just sitting besides him while changing into our spikes. If you would’ve told me last July after Brooks PR that I’d be going and racing in the US Champs, I wouldn’t have believed you.
Something just flipped this year and just changed everything for me so it’s definitely been surreal.
TO: Track seems to be a sport in which athletes usually shy away from trash talk but you seem to defy that norm. Where do you think that personality comes from and what kind of responses have you gotten from your “trash talk?”
CF: It’s never been a character or been anything that’s fake. When I say something I mean it. This is just me being real and not being fearful of what other people think. I get a ton of support from it. I get a lot of people looking up to me and a lot of kids saying ‘hey you’re my inspiration’ and that’s surreal to me. But that’s who I do it for.
The haters and the naysayers I really couldn’t care less what you’re saying and whether you like me or not.
I’m not in this for you, I'm in this for me.
But I think it’s something that gets more hate than it should. I think people should look at me and be motivated. I’m a high school kid that set huge, unreasonable goals that people wouldn’t have believed and I’m going out there and doing it and chasing greatness every single day. I was talking to my parents about the hate and I was like:
‘You look at the all time greats, you got Jordan, you got Muhammed Ali, you got Prefontaine, Conor McGregor — when he was in his prime — and what do they all have in common? They have this outspoken belief where they’re not afraid to back down and they believe in themselves so other people start believing in them too.’
There’s something to that and everybody in athletics wants to be one of those guys but they don’t want to be outspoken because they don’t think they can get there.
Well I think I can get there. I believe in myself and I know I’m in a position where I can say this and mean it and follow through.
TO: This has clearly been a huge year for you. Can you talk about what’s been like to experience such rapid improvements in your times and such an increase in your status?
CF: Yeah it’s interesting. In the track world I feel like a celebrity.
When I was walking through the athlete area at the trials I heard someone yell “Yo is that Cade?” And I look over and it’s Grant Holloway. You know what I mean?
People like that make me feel like a celebrity but in the real world I’m not out there yet. But yeah, it’s been crazy, people wanting pictures with me and I get a ton of DMs everyday. I always try to respond to every DM.
I Facetimed with some kid for like 30 minutes yesterday who just wanted to talk to me. I’m down to do anything like that. Anybody who supports me and believes in me I’m willing to give back and do whatever I can for them. The supporters are who I do it for.
TO: In terms of your progression on the track, did you always feel that you were on this trajectory to be running so fast at this point? Or was there a point where you made a huge jump?
CF: So from sixth grade up to junior year I was number one in my class every year on Milesplit. Sophomore was the pandemic year, so that doesn’t really count and junior year I was second in my class.
Right after Brooks PR last year in July I was at 1:50.25 and I worked really hard. Every ounce of me went into that race and I got fourth. And then in November during preseason something just clicked and I started saying these things and having these big goals. I said “you know what I’m just gonna go for it” and I started saying “best ever,” “best ever” every rep. “This is what world champs do,” “this is what state champs do,” “this is what national champs do.”
I started saying that every rep and then my team started saying that every rep and it just brought something out of me. And then we had our first race indoors and I hit 1:49 and it was like “okay, I’m there” and then every race after that it just kept increasing and this self belief just started unfolding before my eyes.
TO: You’ve said in the past your training is very low in mileage. What does that training look like? Do you ever do recovery runs or is it all composed of workouts?
CF: No recovery runs. I guess towards the latter part of my season when I had states and New Balance and the US Trials, I did a 10 minute run once a week but it would be super slow and easy. I would only run like a mile. I never did any distance runs during the season. It’s a lot of speed and I’ll lift two days a week. I would mostly get my volume on these 5k based workouts where I’ll do reps at a 5k pace so it would be a slower pace but I’d get my volume up but even then it still wasn’t a lot of volume.
My coach’s philosophy, Andrew Johnson, is just to get me to the highest level doing as little as possible and I think he accomplished that. He’s a great guy.
TO: What was your recruiting process like?
CF: So I actually have a map in my room of the United States and it has a pin on it for every school that contacted me and watching that map fill up was surreal. I think every power five school besides a couple hit me up. But yeah the recruiting process was surreal and a blessing. It would be kind of annoying at times when you’re with your friends or you’re doing something and you get these colleges calling you, but it’s a good problem to have. I’d tell my parents “it’s a lot right now but I’m blessed and there’s kids all over the country that would pray to be in this position. Ole Miss just checked all the boxes for me. They had everything I wanted in a school.
TO: How did you get into track? Were your parents runners?
CF: So my dad was a football and basketball guy, he’s like 6-foot-7, and my mom didn’t do anything. I was a basketball kid for the longest time.
Marshall County, where I’m from, basketball is huge. Kentucky is a basketball state. So I wanted to get in shape for basketball and my mom was like “you need to try track.”
My granddad would always say I was light on my feet from the time I was a baby. So I tried track and my first meet I hated it. I did the mile and the high jump. I liked the high jump but I hated the mile. I was gonna run the 800 that night too but the meet got called because it was too late so I didn’t have to run it and I was like “oh thank god no 800, whatever that is.”
And then the second meet coach put me in the 800 and I was gonna quit if I didn’t like it. So I ran the 800 and won and it was the number one time in the country as a sixth grader so I was “okay I’ll stick around and see if I can maybe win a few more.”
TO: And then, everything changed.