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TF360: Heather Wilson Readies to Take on the Roads

Published by
RunnerSpace.com/RoadRacing   on Apr 19 2014, 08:28 PM

Former UConn Standout Ready to Shine Professionally

By Scott Bush

2013 was quite the year for 23-year old Heather Wilson. The former University of Connecticut middle distance standout put up new personal bests in the 800m and 1,500m distances, running 2:03.30 and 4:08.25. In addition, Wilson qualified for the final of the 1,500m at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, finishing tenth overall. 

As part of the NJ*NY Track Club, Wilson is setting even higher expectations for herself in 2014. After a quiet indoor season, where she set a new personal best over the mile, she's ready to improve her PRs on the track and take on the roads for the first time, competing at the USA 1 Mile Road Championships this coming Tuesday in Des Moinse. 

We caught up with Wilson this week, discussing her breakthrough season, what lies ahead, her favorite cereal and much more!

Follow Heather: Twitter | NJ*NY TC Bio

Scott Bush (SB): After a terrific 2013 racing season, you've had a relatively quiet start to your 2014 season. How is training going? What's new?

Heather Wilson (HW): After a great but long outdoor season, I took some time off this fall to attend to some nagging tendinitis in my foot. Because of this later start, there was a little less emphasis on the indoor season and more on continuing to build up my base. I was able to grab a small PR in the mile at the New Balance Games and to experience running a 2k (automatic PR) at the NB Grand Prix.

Training has been going really well. I have been able to stay healthy and train consistently over the past few months, and I feel like I now have a solid base. As of late, workouts are beginning to focus a bit more on speed and doing more intervals at race pace. I am excited to see what this season holds, especially now that I have a full year of post-collegiate racing under my belt. I feel like last year was a lot of learning the ropes and getting experience. Now that I am more comfortable and knowledgeable, this year the focus will be more about showing I can run with the big dogs.

SB: The USA 1 Mile Road Championships are coming up and the competition is fierce. What are your expectations heading into Tuesday's race?

HW: This will be my first road mile, so I am extremely excited that my first time out will be in such a competitive field.  A few of my NJ-NY Track Club teammates ran this race last year, so I’m going to badger them for some tips about the course. As far as personal expectations, I just want to compete hard and enjoy the experience (of course vying for the win is always in the back of my mind for any race).

SB: With the success you had last year, with strong PRs set over 800m and 1,500m, will you focus in on one of those events this year or will you continue to challenge both distances?

HW: While my main focus in college was the 800, post-collegiately I have shifted more attention to the 1500. I think I have a lot of room to improve in the 1500, especially as I become more comfortable with the tactics and nature of the race. Last year I shaved 10 seconds off my college 1500 PR, so I think I have a lot of untapped potential there. I will certainly still race some 800s this spring. I think improvement in both races go hand in hand. You need the speed of the 800 to close hard in the 1500, and you need the strength of the 1500 to hold on that final 200 of the 800.

SB: You're part of the NJ*NY Track Club, which is one of the very best training groups in the United States. What's it like being part of such a strong team, led by such a legendary coach?

HW: I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of such a talented group of runners. There is a huge comfort in knowing that no matter what the workout (strength, tempo, or speed), I am going to have someone there to challenge me. There is definitely a sense of camaraderie on and off the track. The majority of the team lives within a two-mile radius of each other, so we get together not only for training runs and workouts, but for potlucks and movie nights. It is reminiscent of a college team, but with more flexibility and independence.

You know your coach is a legend when he is referred to as “The Godfather of Track”. The passion he brings to the sport really translates to his coaching. He really challenges his athletes with his workouts, but it is because he has such immense faith in their abilities. He has this ability in practice to push you beyond what you think is possible.

SB: A lot of people know of your accomplishments since you graduated from Connecticut, but don't know of your progression during college. You were a good high school, then became a great collegiate runner. What led to your strong progression during your collegiate career?

HW: Like you mentioned, in high school I was decent but not highly recruited. I ended up being a recruited walk on at UConn, and came into my freshman cross country season just hoping I wouldn't get dropped on runs. I ended up having fairly good freshman and sophomore track seasons, but nothing to write home about.

After being the last entrant into the 800 at the NCAA East Regional meet my sophomore year and watching the final from the stands, I had a small epiphany. I didn't want to be watching finals, I wanted to be competing in them. I realized I wasn't fully committing myself, and started to focus more on the little things like nutrition and sleep. 

I had much more consistent training that summer and was able to increase my mileage. That indoor season I had a break through and made it to the NCAA Indoor Championships for the first time and placed fourth in the 800. That was the launching point I needed. From there it was a matter of continuing to build on that initial success.

Another large component of my improvement through my collegiate career was my college coach, Andrea Grove-McDonough. She was really able to help me continue to progress and begin to realize my potential as a runner.

SB: Since turning pro, what have been the biggest changes in your training that have allowed you to continually progress?

HW: I think the biggest difference is the consistent training I've been able to string together. The luxury of not having to race every weekend has allowed me to create solid training blocks with little interruption. I've been able to increase my mileage and get in a better base in the fall. 

Another huge factor has been the intensity and difficulty of Gag’s workouts.  In college I couldn't imagine finishing some of the workouts I've done since joining NJNYTC.

SB: How did you first get started in the sport of track and field? 

HW: I did a lot of different sports growing up, but the common denominator in each was the running component. In junior high I had to choose between track and softball and decided to try track. I ended up being pretty good and the next year they moved me up to varsity. After my freshman year a bunch of the track girls tried to convince me to join cross country. At that point I had a love affair with soccer, but decided to give cross country it a try. After making it to states in cross country that year and my track times improving that spring, I decided to have an exclusive relationship with running.

SB: Final question and most pressing...you mention on your Twitter profile that you're a cereal enthusiast. If you had to choose your favorite two cereals to eat forever, what would those be?

HW: Ah saving the best question for last. This is a tough one since there are so many quality cereals out there, but I’m going to have to go with Cinnamon Life and Peanut Butter and Chocolate Puffins.

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