Friday, November 11, 2011

Extra, extra...

Read all about it!  This is a bit of a hodge podge on all the happenings since Twin Cities.  For being a rest and recovery month, October has been quite busy.

Sometimes I feel like I'm beating a dead horse with this, but I truly appreciate all of the hometown support I still have.  After the Twin Cities Marathon, I received a lot of coverage in two of the local newspapers.  This was great, but the neatest aspect to me was that both reporters have been interviewing me since my high school days.  Kip Ritenour of The Warren Sentinel has always been a constant supporter and Jeff Nations of The Northern Virginia Daily hadn't interviewed me in about 10 years since writing for The Winchester Star.

Harrison eager for Olympic trials


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Emily Harrison, a Warren County graduate, is preparing to run in the Olympic trials for the 2012 Olympics. Courtesy photo

By Jeff Nations -
Emily Harrison is right where her coaches predicted she'd be all along, from high school to college and now as an elite distance runner.

Maybe Harrison didn't even believe it herself, not all the time, not on some of those grueling training sessions as the miles piled up and up and up.

For years, the former Warren County High School and University of Virginia cross country and track standout had been told the same thing -- eventually, someday, she could become a first-rate marathoner.

That day has arrived, and then some. On Oct. 2, Harrison ran in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in St. Paul, Minn. She finished third overall among women, the fastest American runner in the field of 3,675 women in the race.

Impressive enough, but then consider this -- in just her second complete marathon ever, Harrison clocked a 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials "A" qualifying time of 2 hours, 32 minutes and 55 seconds over the 26.2-mile road course.

Harrison's time was nearly 10 minutes faster than her previous best -- and first -- marathon, when she ran a 2:42.27 in the Chevron Houston Marathon on Jan. 30. In between, she tweaked a hamstring while leading the race midway through the Pittsburgh Marathon in May, and since then had been building toward the Twin Cities race.

"I'd say it's not a surprise in one sense, but in another it is a surprise," said the 25-year-old Harrison. "It's one of those things where I've been building towards it with my workouts, but anything can happen in a race. It's a marathon; I knew it was possible, but until you have that time on paper you didn't quite believe it."

Harrison projected to have an even faster time, had conditions been just perfect, but the 2:32.55 was a solid effort nonetheless and vaulted her into "'A" qualifying status after she hit the "B" standard for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials during that Houston debut.

Running for the Flagstaff, Ariz.-based McMillanElite team, Harrison has set her sights on at least contending for a top-10 finish -- maybe, just maybe, top five -- at the Olympic trials coming up Jan. 14, back in Houston. Only the top three runners will represent the U.S. in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and Harrison isn't banking on making that short list this time.

"I think it's going to be tough to make the team. We'll see what happens," Harrison said. "It was a good decision to move up in distance [to marathons]. If you look at a lot of the top American marathoners, they're older, they're in their 30s. I'm glad to get an early start."

What Harrison will be shooting for is another personal record time, right around the 2:30.00 range. That should be good enough for a top-10 finish, at least.

The road to Houston is still a long way off, and these days Harrison spends the long hours of running the trails of northern Arizona mostly with her indefatigable training partner, her 1-year-old border collie named Super Bee.

Like Harrison, Super Bee is a Virginia native who made the trip West as a puppy riding snugly under her future running partner's airplane seat. Like Harrison, Super Bee soon caught the running bug and has been a constant presence ever since during training sessions.

"She's always ready to run," Harrison said. "She's excited when she sees the running shoes come out. She's even started doing some of the longer runs with me."

A long run by Harrison's estimation has few parallels, not when an average week of training consists of 90 miles of running. It soon will be more, as Harrison begins training in earnest for Houston with weeks topping 100 and perhaps even 110 miles.

That daunting mileage figure is not so challenging these days for Harrison. Following her standout career at Warren County under coach Mike Tanner, Harrison went on to become one of the University of Virginia's best distance runners. A three-time All-American (twice in cross country, once in the indoor 5K), Harrison was All-ACC and All-Southeast Region four straight years for the Cavaliers.

A variety of injuries slowed Harrison somewhat on the track, among them a nagging shin problem and a bruised knee, but she still qualified twice for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the 10K.

Harrison drew McMillanElite head coach and director Greg McMillan's attention while at Virginia, and he offered her a spot on his team following her 2008 graduation. Harrison had been all set to stay in Charlottesville and continue training with Virginia coach Jason Dunn, but his decision to take a job at Stanford meant Harrison had a decision of her own to make. A quick call to McMillan, and Harrison was starting to pack for the trek to the high elevations of Flagstaff.

"It definitely was kind of a big change," Harrison said. "I could get home pretty easily for holidays in Charlottesville. I've spent the last couple Thanksgivings out here, and the last Christmas."

Harrison relies on the support of her McMillanElite teammates, often training up to six days a week with them. That training schedule is demanding, but Harrison still has time available to work with area schools and youth programs as a volunteer coach. Eventually, she might like to get into coaching full-time.

Right now, Harrison is focused on the next mile, the next milestone -- and trying to keep her mind off ice cream. A recently discovered gluten sensitivity issue that had plagued Harrison the past couple years has led to a diet change, including an avoidance of wheat and some dairy products.

"They have some sort of substitute for ice cream, but it's not the same," Harrison said.
It's a price to pay, but a small one for Harrison's improved energy level. The Olympic trials are firmly in Harrison's focus, and beyond that perhaps the Boston Marathon or New York Marathon.

"It's still very different, stepping on that start line," Harrison said. "In that instant, you're thinking, 'Wow, I'm really prepared for this.' And at the same time you get the feeling that 'I'm totally unprepared for this.'

"The second one did come easier than my first one, just because I felt more fit and mentally prepared. But the end of the race is still hard.

From the same edition of The Warren Sentinel, Kip talks about my high school career breaking the way for our running programs in Warren County.

As covered in a previous blog, I am proud of Warren County running and how far they've come.  Seamus, a Warren County Wildcat, just won the Region II Cross Country Championships this past weekend and has goals of a State Title this coming weekend.  

Speaking of high school running, part of why October has been so busy is that I have been in Phoenix almost every weekend either for a Dr. John Ball visit or for a high school cross country meet.  It's that time of year for spreading the word about the 2012 adidas-McMillanElite High School Training Camp.  Our inaugural year was a hit, and we're looking to make 2012 even better!

Super Bee was admittedly the bigger draw at the
2011 Doug Conley Invitational. 

An evening run in South Mountain Preserve.
At the top of Dobbins Lookout.

The 2011 Arizona State Cross Country Meet, put on by Arizona Interscholastic Association, was a success in many ways.  First off, the adidas tent was a hit....

At the 2011 Arizona State Cross Country meet.

Secondly, despite heavy storms the night before, course flooding that delayed the meet a full hour, and cooler temperatures, there were plenty of strong performances from the athletes.  Bernie Montoya of Cibola, a 2011 adidas-McMillanElite Camp attendee, won the Division I race for the second year in a row as junior.

The view from the adidas tent at
the Cave Creek Golf Course, site of the State Meet.

The biggest news of the day was Coach Trina Painter and the Flagstaff High School ladies.  Tatiana Gillick, only a sophomore, is now the Division II Champion.  Not only was Tatiana a champion, but her entire team was as well.  After winning their state sectional meet in a record low 19 points, they continued their winning streak with a very young squad.  

Also, a big thank you to Coach Painter and her athletes for helping with our camp promotion this fall.

I mentioned visits to John Ball and cross country meets, but Super Bee also had an adventurous October.  On two weekends we made the trip to Florence, Az, where Bee got in touch with her roots...

On the way back from Phoenix this weekend, I was met with snow on the approach to Flagstaff.

Approaching Flagstaff.