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Polley Establishes His Place In The Pack

Washington native returns home to run Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle 1/2 Marathon as member of Hanson’s-Brooks Distance Project.

Written by: Mario Fraioli

At last year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle half marathon, Drew Polley found himself playing the role of the lone wolf.

Having just graduated from Washington State University after a successful cross country and track career, Polley was making his first foray into post-collegiate road racing – a scary scene for a 23-year-old who had never before raced beyond 6.2 miles, and who no longer had teammates to call his own.

“Man, it was pretty tough mentally,” recalled Polley. “The last four miles or so I was all by myself out there.”

Despite being forced to fly solo into uncharted territory, Polley soldiered on, eventually finishing fourth in a 1:06:44, less than a minute-and-a-half behind the winner, Elija Nyabuti of Kenya. It was an impressive debut for the former Cougar, whose biggest collegiate claim to fame was qualifying for the NCAA Cross Country Championships as individual in 2007.

“Last year at this time I didn’t think I’d be running professionally,” Polley said. “A year ago in Seattle was where I got my foot in the door with elite running community, so it’s nice to come full circle and it’s just a fun place for me to be.”

This weekend, the native of Port Orchard, Washington returns home to The Evergreen State as part of a pack of runners from the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, a professional running team based out Rochester Hills, Michigan aimed at developing Olympic-level athletes. Polley will again run the half marathon, this time alongside three of new teammates.

“I’ve had my sights set on this race for a while,” Polley said. “The pressure’s off a little bit this time around. I’d love to come to Seattle and see how fast I can run, see how much faster than last year I can run and have some fun. I feel like I can be a little more relaxed and a little less conservative and go out there and take some chances and just have some fun. I’m really excited for this next year of racing.”

While Polley’s next year of racing is certainly worth looking forward to, his last year of racing is certainly worth reflecting upon as well. After a successful start to his road racing career in Seattle last June, Polley made his marathon debut at San Antonio in November, finishing as top American and eighth overall in 2:20:59. Shortly after San Antonio, Polley decided to put his graduate studies in environmental engineering on hold for a while to join the Hansons-Brooks team – a move, so far, that has more than paid off.

In April, just a few months after moving out to Michigan, Polley made his big-race debut at the Boston Marathon, exceeding even his own expectations by finishing 16th overall and fifth amongst Americans in 2:16:36, a personal best by over four minutes.

“Boston was a pretty nice surprise,” Polley admitted. “The idea was to run conservatively and just get under 2:19 to get a qualifier for the (Olympic) trials. I ended up running a negative split. It’s one of those few races where I’ve had a lot of fun even though I was hurting at the end.”

Polley’s performance at Boston easily qualified him for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon, which will take place in Houston on January 14, 2012. Hitting the sub-2:19 qualifying time so soon before the race is a huge weight off the shoulders of Polley, who will use the next year-and-a-half to take a break from the monotony of marathon training and focus on getting faster over shorter distances.

“The plan now is to focus on some shorter races,” Polley explained, “just to work on my speed a little bit. My coaches are trying to mix up the training so it doesn’t get too monotonous. It keeps things fun. If it ever stops being fun or if I stop seeing improvement then I can move on, but right now that’s not at all in my thoughts.  I want to see where I can take it in the next few years. I’m pretty excited. I think I still have a lot of untapped potential, so it might be a while.”

Polley has started tapping into that potential in a big way since landing in Michigan just a few months ago. The energy of his new environment, along with the support of his coaches, teammates and sponsor, has helped Polley establish himself amongst a pack of runners who are collectively focused on the same goal – running fast.

“It’s great to have teammates every day that you’re living with and training with,” Polley said. “The best part is you’re with these guys who have run some pretty intimidating times for the marathon and other races but you train with them every day and it starts to make you realize that you can do it too and it’s not that insurmountable of a task to start running well.”[sig:MarioFraioli]