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Stepping It Up: Exclusive Interview With Anna Pierce

The 2008 Olympian is now known for more than her wild hairstyles.

Anna Pierce is aiming to place high at next year's world championships.
Middle-distance ace Anna Pierce is aiming for a spot on the podium at next summer's IAAF World Championships. Photo:

The 2008 Olympian is now known for more than just her wild hairstyles.

Interview by: Megan Whitney Kinney

Olympian Anna Pierce is perhaps best known for her fast times and funky hair colors. The talented middle distance runner lives and trains at altitude in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., under coach Terrence Mahon. Pierce is a multidimensional athlete whose had great success at 800 meters, 1,500 meters and the steeplechase. This past summer Pierce took first place in the 1,500 at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, and at age 26 she’s accomplished feats most other elite middle-distance runners can only dream of accomplishing over the course of an entire career. She’s broken 4 minutes in the 1,500 meters, run under 2 minutes in the 800 and took first place in the steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2008. recently caught up with Anna “Fierce” Pierce to talk about her most recent track season, what it’s like training with Terrence Mahon and The Mammoth Track Club, as well as what her goals are heading into this winter and the upcoming indoor and outdoor track seasons. Where are you are in your training right now?

Anna Pierce: Right now I’m just building up to peak mileage. This past week I was at about 70 miles, so it’s just kind of getting back in the groove of things. I just started doing workouts maybe two or three weeks ago. So, just kind of getting in shape basically.

Did you take a break after the outdoor season?

Yeah, I took about two weeks off. I usually take three weeks off, but for some reason I just felt a little more anxious to get going this year than I have previous years. And then we went on vacation to Hawaii, and then we came back here.

Looking back at your 2010 outdoor track season, how did it go? What were the accomplishments and were there any disappointments?

It was definitely up and down. In terms of accomplishments, I was really excited to win the 1,500 meters at USA’s. That was my first 1,500 outdoor title that I’ve had, so that was exciting for me. That was definitely the highlight of the season. After that, it was a lot of up and down. Through Europe, I was focusing on the 800 and the 1,500 and I felt a little disjointed with that. It never really gave me too much of an opportunity to do a big training block. The schedule messed with me a little bit, and I never really found my groove. So, I was a little disappointed. But I still feel like 2010 wasn’t a big focus for us, so I probably wasn’t as geared up for it mentally as I should have been. I will be for next year because it’s a world championships year.

Were there specific lessons or takeaways that will impact your training?

A lot of it is just being able to let go of disappointments. I tend to beat myself up a little too much over things I might not have accomplished, goals I didn’t reach. Not PR’ing in 2010 was kind of a weird year for me, because I’ve PR’d pretty much every year since college. So, I think just not getting too caught up on disappointments from 2010, and looking at what I did accomplish, even just in practice. I know I was in very good shape. A lot of it is just trying to be a little more low-key about 2010 –it wasn’t really that big of a deal.

So for 2011, do you already have specific goals in mind?

Terrence and I had a meeting as soon as I got back to Mammoth and outlined the main points of 2011, which of course is [the] world championships podium, and then moving back from that, would be making the team at USA’s. So those are the two major goals. Then everything else, American records, stuff like that, doesn’t motivate me quite as much. So, I’m just trying to look at that podium finish as the primary goal.

So what’s next for you on the horizon in terms of racing? And what events do you plan to focus on?

I think for 2011, the 1,500 meters is going to be my primary focus. I’ll also run some 800’s and I’ve even been tossing around the idea of an early steeplechase. The 1,500 is definitely going to be my focus. In terms of the next competition that we’re going to be doing, I think Morgan Uceny, my training partner, and I are probably going to go over to Europe –which I’ve never done before for indoor track season, but to try to nail down traveling a little bit better, because I’m kind of a terrible traveler. I think it would be good for us to just do like a short trip over there, bang out a couple races, and then come back. Just kind of shake off 2010 a little bit, and gear up a little more for outdoor track in 2011.

What’s it like working with Terrence? In what ways have you developed under his guidance?

He’s pretty intense. He’s like a really competitive guy. So we understand each other pretty well because I can be extremely competitive as well. He knows how to make me kick, and it’s kind of funny. It’s like the third year, and I was just saying to one of my teammates the other day – I feel almost like a veteran. It’s kind of silly, at 26, to be a veteran, but I feel like we’ve got a good groove. We communicate really well. I feel like we just don’t have to go over all the little things we had to the first two years. If I have a problem with something I just bring it up, and he says, ‘I don’t know – I’ll think about it.’ And he comes back and fixes it, or explains to me why he’s not going to change it. So, I like the relationship that we have. It’s pretty good.

The 2008 Olympic Trials champion in the steeplechase, Pierce is also the reigning U.S. champion at 1,500 meters. Photo:
The 2008 Olympic Trials champion in the steeplechase, Pierce is also the reigning U.S. champion at 1,500 meters. Photo:

Can you talk a little more about Mammoth Lakes? What it’s like to train there? What does one do for fun outside of hill repeats?

Living in Mammoth it’s definitely an isolated life, but I think it’s important for us. We often have game nights with the other people on the team. We play a lot of board games, and we plan outings to go to happy hour. I’m really into cooking and baking. Learning how to bake at a high altitude is very challenging. So it’s stuff like that, non-running stuff that we like to do.

Do you have any response to the Hall’s (Ryan and Sara Hall) decision to leave coach Terrence Mahon and the Mammoth Track Club?

Well, it was definitely something that was their decision, and Terrence’s decision. And I think it’s a private matter for sure. But Sara, and Ryan and John [Pierce’s husband] and I, we all get along. It’s not like they’re ostracized from our life or anything like that. Sara came over and hung out the other day, and I mean, we’re still friends. It’s not a negative break or anything. I just think it was probably time for them to move on. I’m sure we all come to moments like that in our life. It’s their decision and I respect it.

What do you love most about running?

I feel like it’s a lifestyle that fits me really well. I feel very content with what I do. It’s actually really satisfying for me – to have one goal, and something that I’m just trying to figure out, how can I achieve that goal? What’s the best way that I can go about living my life to make me a better athlete?

To know that I could be done with my career, and maybe have accomplished something that a lot of people don’t really get the opportunity to experience, that’s what I like about running. It’s really just exploiting my potential. It’s also not working in an office. It doesn’t really feel like work when I get to run with a bunch of really cool people everyday.

What motivates or inspires you? I mean, are there days–say in the middle of the Mammoth winter–that it’s hard to get out the door?

I never really think it’s that hard for me to get out the door. I’d say it’s just slogging through the really hard workouts in Mammoth that probably I need more motivation with. And that always comes back to just looking at the previous year and saying, ‘Well, I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to accomplish’, or perhaps I did accomplish something great. Like, from 2009 to 2010, I was saying to myself, ‘Wow, I had a great year last year. But I still think I can be a lot better.’ So it’s just looking at areas where I want to improve, and just reminding myself, you know, the third lap of the 1,500 is never going to get any easier, so how can I make myself tougher? How can I become more callous to that pace? I continue to remind myself I want to win medals, and be the best that I possibly can be in that year. So it’s just, everyday. It’s not something that I have to remind myself like monthly. It’s like everyday, every hour, always having to remind myself and re-motivate myself.

Do you have a running hero? A female runner that you look up to, past or present?

Joan Benoit Samuelson has always been inspiring to me. She’s kind of crazy, and she’s from Maine. I have known her growing up, not personally, but I saw her on commercials and stuff, and obviously our events are very, very different. But she’s always been really nice to me and she’s always reaching out to me and saying, ‘Oh, I think you could be a great marathoner.’  I’m like, ‘Have you lost your mind?’ She’s great. So, I’d say she’s someone to look up to. In a small town, to have an athletic hero in Maine is really quite rare. There are just very few athletes that come from Maine. So I’d say she sticks out in my mind.

What tips do you have for recreational runners who want to get faster?

I’m really inspired by competition. So I think signing up for a competitive race really makes a big difference. I have a bunch of friends who are no longer in the competitive scene running, but they used to run in college, and they’re always saying, ‘You know, when I sign up for a race, even just a local road race, I find I train a lot harder, I actually get out the door five times a week, instead of three times a week.’ You know? So I think just having a competition to look forward to makes a huge difference. Also, I love being a part of a team. Being a part of Mammoth Track Club makes a big difference. That’s why it’s not hard for me to get out the door and go running, because it’s more like playtime, you know? I get to go hangout with a bunch of my friends, instead of just going on a run by myself.

How about for beginners who are looking to ward off injuries?

When I first started running, I guess the things that made a big difference was going to a specialty running store and having someone fit your foot to the right type of shoe. So definitely that helps. Because if you’re in a really uncomfortable shoe, of course no one’s going to go running. Other things—I think having a planned route is kind of cool. So if you say to yourself, ‘Oh, I’ll go out for twenty minutes today’, but then you get five minutes through the run and you say, ‘Oh I’m tired, I’m just going to turn around and go back.’ If you’d actually planned out a route, you know ‘I’m going to do this loop’, a lot of times that helps, I’d say, to stay motivated. And maybe, going to see a landmark or something like that. That’s something that I used to do — exploring.

If you weren’t a full-time runner, what do you think you would have ended up doing?

That’s really hard. People ask me all the time, ‘What would you want to be when you’re done running?’ I can barely think beyond that right now because I’m so in the thick of running. I guess probably something in the environmental field, just because that’s what I studied when I was in college. But I don’t know. I just don’t really see myself doing that anymore. But perhaps if that’s happened right after college, that maybe I’d be really into that too. But right now, I just can’t see it.

What’s something that your fans might not know about you?

I don’t know – I’m pretty open. I pretty much tell whoever interviews me everything. I’m not very good about keeping my mouth shut. So…hmmm, what might they not know about me? I have a big mouth! I tell everybody everything. And I like to cook a lot, but that’s really generic.

Beyond speed and talent, you’re also known for some daring and stylish hairdos. What’s the current color, what should we expect to see next? And I’m curious where you get your sense of style.

I don’t even know if you’d call it a sense of style. Maybe it’s the lack of style. I think fall has been kind of hair rehab for me, because typically I’ve done something crazy with my hair in the summer. And now it’s like brittle and needs a little break from all the crazy colors. Right now it’s probably not that far away from my natural color, but with more blond in it. I get excited about our Nike uniforms being a new color each year, so I tried to match my hair last year to my uniform. So that was fun. I was thinking about playing on that for next year. I’ve heard that the uniforms are red, so maybe something red!

When I first came to Mammoth, Terrence was like, ‘So, what’s going on with your hair? What are you doing?’ At that time, he was like, ‘You’re more known as the girl with the crazy hair than for your performances.’ I was like, ‘Oh, ouch!’ I mean, it was probably true. It was the cold, hard facts. I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll step it up.’


Megan Whitney Kinney a freelance journalist and runner based out of New York City. She spent the last five years producing for fast-paced news shows, including the award-wining Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. You can reach her at