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Q&A: Amy Hastings Keeps an Eye on Olympics

The American runner recently finished fifth in the Chicago Marathon, matching her PR of 2:27:03.

The American runner recently finished fifth in the Chicago Marathon, matching her PR of 2:27:03.

After a 2:27:03 debut at the 2011 LA Marathon, Olympic 10,000-meter runner Amy Hastings became the eighth-fastest American marathoner of all time. However, a string of sub-par situations plagued many of the runner’s 26.2-mile plans the last couple of years—from missing a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic marathon team, to a poor showing at the 2013 New York City Marathon, to a withdrawal from Boston earlier this year. However, Hastings reignited the spark at the 2014 Chicago Marathon on Oct. 12, placing in the top five, a first for American women since Desiree Linden’s fourth-place finish in 2010. Her time—2:27:03, her exact PR—put her across the line first for the Americans. Competitor caught up with the California native and talked Chicago, training for the Trials on the east coast and what makes the marathon so special.

Congratulations on a great race in Chicago—how weird was it to tie your PR (2:27:03) exactly from your marathon debut in Los Angeles three years ago?

It was so strange! I couldn’t believe it when I crossed the finish line; I saw the clock flipping over to 2:27 when I was pushing in, but the thought of exactly tying that time didn’t even cross my mind.

You led the race in the beginning and dropped back a couple of times during the race in Chicago—but you finished in the top 5, a first since 2010. What would you have done differently during the race to have gone sub-2:26 like you’d hoped to do?

I think the only thing I could have really improved upon was going out slower. My coach and I had talked about averaging 5:34 for the first 13 miles, and I think I was closer to 5:31. It doesn’t sound like that much of a difference, but it was enough to kill me in the last 3 miles, which is where I lost a lot of time. If I had gone out closer to 1:13 [in the half] instead of mid-1:12, it might have gone a little bit better.

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You’ve been training with Molly Huddle over the summer and doing more intense workouts under your coach, Ray Treacy, since moving to Providence, R.I. What was that transition like for you, moving from Mammoth to the east coast at the end of 2012?

There’s been some big adjustments. In California, the workouts weren’t quite as intense, but they happened more often, so you had less recovery in between. Whereas here we have really, really intense workouts, but we get three days on average recovery—sometimes even four days. It’s definitely different—the workouts are a lot harder than in Mammoth. Anytime you make a change, there’s always a step back. I told myself, “OK, you get two years to get used to it. You’re not going to worry about times, just get used to the training.” Luckily with Ray, because he’s a college coach, he’s really good at adjusting things right away. When things aren’t working, he changes it. He only has a few years with these college runners, so he has to change things immediately, within a season, to get them going again. Last year I was definitely just getting a handle on the workouts—they were just so much more intense than what I’ve done before. This year, I got it, and now it’s more about recovering. Now I have a pretty good grasp on doing the workouts and coming back each day to do them again.

What is the most fun workout for you?

I actually really love long runs—that’s the day I feel best and what gives me the most confidence, when those are going well. Although I don’t know if I would count those as a workout! My favorite workout would be ladders down—I love them, I think they are so much fun. It’s a track workout—like 12K down to 8K, 4K, then 2K—that kind of workout. You have to get faster but it keeps getting shorter—it’s a lot of fun but you feel completely drained after.

Looking back on your last couple years of racing, you’ve had a handful of tough days with the marathon. What are the big overall lessons you’ve learned as a runner from those races that you will carry forward into 2015 and to the Trials in 2016?

With New York [in 2013, where Hastings finished in 2:42:50], I learned that it’s better to come in feeling a little underprepared going into the marathon. I think I got a little too excited early on. I actually had better workouts before New York than before Chicago this year—but I just overdid it and got too excited and a little greedy with what I thought I could do. Because of that, before the race even started, things were unraveling. Just a lot of little things started coming up, so when I got to the starting line, I was just exhausted, and that really hurt me. This year, instead of pushing to the point where I was just killing myself, I just tried to do what I could every day, the best I could. I always had the next workout in the back of my mind; I had to get through this one, recover, and then do the next one, which was a big help.

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Sounds like a great mental approach to workouts. What are some of your racing goals for the next year, and will we see you in Boston next April?

Everything is always geared toward the next Olympics. This Chicago was specifically for the Olympic Trials, kind of; it was supposed to be the start of marathoning going well. I would like to get in another one before the Trials where I can try to run a little bit faster—that way I feel confident going into [the Trials]. And also, just to get a firm hold on the distance and not take an entire year off before I race it again. I definitely will do another marathon—I’m not sure which one yet, because at the same time, I have to work around the 10,000 on the track. I have to get my “A” Standard this coming year. If I do the Trials in 2016, because it’s February, if I have to get the “A” Standard after that, it’s not much time prepare to go to Stanford [Invitational] and do it, since there aren’t that many 10,000m races. I want to make sure I get it ahead of time and not have to try and run it at the Trials to make a team if, for some reason, I can’t make it in the marathon.

So the marathon is your top choice?

I 100 percent want to do the marathon. I feel like it’s going to be my best event. I have the most potential in it. And also, I’ve seen crazy things happen in the marathon at the Olympics. But in the 5K and 10K, it has been forever since someone won that you’ve never heard of or someone ranked 10th medaled. It just doesn’t happen—the women up front are just too good. In the marathon, people sneak in all the time. I’m hoping to be one of those people who sneak in!

What is it about the marathon that gets you more than running 10,000 on the track or on the roads?

The track is so intense. I love the 5,000—it’s just so much fun because there’s tactic and you also have to dig really deep. The marathon, the fact that you have to be so patient in the beginning, it’s a game of chess. You have to be so smart, and no matter how much you kind of hope, you will pay for [not being smart in the beginning] at the end if you’re not. I think I just love you have to go in with this plan and have to be so careful. A matter of seconds at one point can mean minutes later on. I love that part of it. Also, I get a lot of confidence seeing miles, just looking down and clicking off miles. It’s a little game to get them as close as possible to one another. It’s not so much competing against everyone around you as it is competing with yourself, the clock and everyone else in the race. It’s like a three-way battle. On the track, it’s almost always racing against whoever else it out there.

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Obviously there’s some unfinished business for you at the Trials after missing a spot on the U.S. marathon team in 2012. How are you feeling about the Trials overall?

I feel really good. This last race gave me a lot of confidence. I really thought it was going to go well. I feel like I can make the race go well, and I think I can improve a lot in training now that I’ve figured Ray’s training out. Honestly it’s not so much running faster in the workouts, it’s continuing to do the same workouts and just getting better and stronger.