Morgan Uceny Runs Toward Redemption

Morgan Uceny Runs Toward Redemption

By Sarah BarkerComing off the final turn in heat three of the Hoka ONE ONE Middle Distance Classic 1500m, Morgan Uceny was in good position—she worked her w

May 28, 2016 by Taylor Dutch
Morgan Uceny Runs Toward Redemption
By Sarah Barker

Coming off the final turn in heat three of the Hoka ONE ONE Middle Distance Classic 1500m, Morgan Uceny was in good position—she worked her way out of a box to the front, and was outside of a tight group that included Rebecca Tracy, Kim Conley, and Cory McGee. She battled them down the stretch, and in the last 15 meters, opened a small gap on her competitors to cross first in a season-best mark of 4:09.27.

“I haven’t given up on myself, and neither has my coach,” Uceny said in the post-race interview.

Running toward redemption

The last three years have been frustrating for Uceny. In 2011, she ran the fastest 1500m in the world (4:00.06) and was a Diamond League champion. In 2012, she was an Olympic finalist in the same event. But after three tragic falls in Olympic and World Championship finals and some injuries, it became tougher to translate fitness into performance.

“The mental part of racing is just as big a part as physical,” Uceny said by phone just prior to the Hoka race. “For the past several seasons, I’ve been fit, but haven’t been able to put it together at races.”

Of course, the mental game is a lot harder to tweak than the physical. “I have to commit in races, take a risk, and go for it,” she said. “I just have to trust in my fitness and trust in my coach.”

Uceny’s long-time coach, Terrence Mahon, thinks a combination of maturity, life balance, and the urgency of an Olympic year have been beneficial for her racing mentality.

“She’s a more mature athlete with more balance in the rest of her life. When she comes to the track, she’s able to dig in and really focus on what she needs to do,” Mahon said. “This being an Olympic year, she’s ready to put everything on the track. It’s now or never. Continuing to drag on is not easy for an athlete of her caliber. For anyone who’s been on the top of the mountain, settling for halfway is not acceptable.”

Training for the Trials

In the fall of 2015, Uceny and BAA High Performance training partner Emily Lipari started building base. After jumping in with some of the long-distance runners, she logged her longest training run ever—15 miles—and hit 70-mile weeks, which is pretty standard for her.

“We’ve done the same types of training, but this year we did more altitude," Uceny said. "I just came off of three-and-a-half weeks in Albuquerque. That’s our second trip to Albuquerque, and we spent some time at Mammoth Lakes in the fall. I’ve had a lot of success from altitude.”

Uceny has an enviable mix of natural speed and endurance (according to her high school coach, she excelled at everything from 200m to two miles). She raced mostly at 800m in college with an occasional 4x400m relay, but never did cross country. Building volume while remaining injury-free has been a gradual process. This past January, nine years removed from college, she ran her first race over a mile: a 3K, in 9:04.87. Now, Uceny said she’s enjoying longer tempo runs—something she could not have said nine years ago.

“We focused on speed a little earlier this year to be sharp coming into the season," Uceny said. "I started out with 4:09-high at Payton Jordan, but I’d like to get the Olympic qualifier (4:07) sooner rather than later.”

She described a key speed-endurance workout done at altitude: “2x800 at race pace, so 2:12 to 2:14, with four minutes of rest, followed by a moderate tempo run of two to three miles at 5:45-6-minute pace. Then some faster 300s, maybe three at 45 to 46 seconds.”

She also lifts weights twice a week, and almost always does plyometrics after running.

Unfinished business

Uceny will focus on the 1500m at the U.S. Olympic Trials in July, rather than the 800m. “She’s had the greatest global success at 1500,” said Mahon. “And she has unfinished business there—overcoming the falls. I think she’d like to retire knowing she did everything she could. Running the 800m this year would be like running away from that.”

She was upbeat and confident about her Olympic team chances in a deep event among contenders such as Shannon Rowbury and Jenny Simpson, who many feel have a lock on two of the three team spots.

“I don’t agree at all,” Uceny said. “Last year is last year; I don’t think there are ever sure things. My goal is always to get myself in the top three.”

The strength-building is paying off as Uceny dropped a 9:04 3K debut earlier this year. WATCH: