Grace, O'Connor, And Felnagle Ready For First Test Of 2017 At UW Preview

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Some of the U.S.'s best distance professionals will open their 2017 seasons at the Washington Preview this Saturday LIVE on FloTrack. The NorCal Distance Project trio of Kate Grace, Leah O'Connor, and Brie Felnagle will line up in the 3000m to test their fitness and kick off the new year.

The group arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona to kick off a month of training at 7000 feet in mid December. The mountain town is home to several professional runners and groups, like Hoka One One's NAZ Elite, but at any month in the year Flagstaff is a temporary training home to the world's best athletes. Grace, O'Connor, and Felnagle are new teammates--O'Connor joined in September and Felnagle in November--and the trip was the perfect mix of hard training and forming friendships.

"It's been good for us to get to know each other," O'Connor said. "We all do kind of specialize in different events, but when we all come together there are certain points in different workouts where somebody else strength kind of leads us to more quality work maybe than we would have been able to do on our own."

O'Connor joined the group in September after suffering a partial tear in her plantar fascia before the Olympic Trials. The 9:18 3K steeplechaser--the third-fastest American ever after Emma Coburn and Jenny Simpson--finished 14th in the Trials final and knew she needed a change.

Related Read: Leah O'Connor Joins NorCal Distance Project

For Felnagle, the familiarity of NorCal Distance coach Drew Wartenburg and Olympian Kim Conley led her to move from her native Washington to Sacramento.

"I've actually known Drew since high school," Felnagle said. "I had that connection. Knowing him and Kim personally made it not as much of a change."

Felnagle was the 2007 NCAA champion in the 1500m running for the University of North Carolina and has been training in Washington, most recently with the Beasts Track Club, ever since. She set PBs in the 1500m (4:05) and 5K (15:14) in 2013 and qualified for the IAAF World cross country championships in 2015.

"I think we've all had a day where we weren't feeling it," Felnagle said of the training in Flagstaff. "It's so nice to just be able to latch onto someone else's energy."

"Comparing to the outdoor season, speedy workouts [leading up to the indoor season] are harder," Grace added. "But that's always kind of the case because you're basically hitting those speeds for the first time."

This Saturday in Seattle will be the trio's first big test of 2017. They'll be rabbited by their teammate, Olympian Kim Conley, who coincidentally won this race last year in 9:01.

For Felnagle and Grace, their return to the Dempsey Indoor facility will be a familiar one. Their current 3K PBs of 8:54 and 8:55 come from finishing first and second, respectively, at the 2013 UW Invite. FloTrack has the highlights to prove it:

Watch the UW Indoor Preview LIVE on FloTrack this Saturday, January 14!

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