Interview: Molly Huddle
By Becky Orfinger

Molly Huddle on her way to a fourth-place finish at the 2001 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.
(Photo: New York Road Runners)

Molly Huddle Links:
Pre-Foot Locker Molly Huddle Bio (12/01)
A rapid run to the nation's elite (7/01)
Molly Huddle leads outstanding performances at Elmira-thon (6/01)

At the 2001 New York State Track & Field Championships, Molly Huddle, then a junior at tiny Notre Dame High School in Elmira, burst out of anonymity with a 1,500/3,000 (4:31.21/9:43.40) double. Only a week later, she finished third in both the mile and the two-mile at the highly competitive Adidas Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Since her breakthrough track season, Huddle has only become stronger, fitter and faster. She was a regular on the upstate New York road-racing scene during the summer between her junior and senior years, running (among other impressive times) a 16:45 for 5K, which broke the national record for her age (16). In the fall of 2001, Huddle competed as the sole member of her school's cross country team and was undefeated in every race she entered until the Foot Locker Northeast Regional Championships, where she was second behind Natasha Roetter of Massachusetts. Huddle was fourth at her first Foot Locker National Championships in Orlando, Florida.

Because her high school does not have a girls' indoor track team, Huddle played basketball and competed at several local all-comer's meets during the winter. She ran nation-leading times in the mile and two-mile at a meet at Cornell University, winning the two-mile in 10:19.8 (an adult man who finished 17 seconds behind was her closest competitor) and finishing tenth overall in the mile (4:56.9). Huddle's stellar times attracted the attention of the Millrose Games officials, who invited her to compete in the prestigious mile race at Madison Square Garden, but fuzzy New York State eligibility rules prohibited her from racing there. In her final race of the indoor season, Huddle demolished the mile field at the National Indoor Championships with a meet record time of 4:46.42.

Huddle recently took a break from her homework to talk to us about her training, her college decision and her plans for her final high school track season. Now that it's finally spring track season, how is your training going?
Molly Huddle: All during indoor season, I was chasing the mile record [4:38.5], so my workouts were geared toward that. Since Nationals, I haven't been doing too much speed work, just longer repeats and mileage. I saw recently that the outdoor mile record [4:35.24] isn't that far off the indoor mile record, so I think that's what I'll be aiming for later in the season.

Have you decided which high-profile meets you'll be running?
I'll be running Penn Relays for the first time this year. I heard that the 1,500 and 3,000 were back-to-back, so I guess I'll have to choose one. It will probably be the mile. I also thought about going to Arcadia, but it doesn't fit into my schedule as well as I would have liked. I definitely want to make it back to Raleigh [for outdoor nationals] at the end of the season, and I'm thinking about Junior Nationals in Palo Alto as well.

Who do you think your main competition at Penn Relays will be?
There are so many great girls, it's hard to say - I guess whoever decides to show up and run! I heard that [2001 Foot Locker finalist and 2002 Millrose mile runner-up] Liz Gesel is going to run at Penn, and Megan Olds from Gloversville, NY is always a threat. Tracey Brauksieck [another FL finalist, from Homer, NY] has a lot of sprint speed, too.

Are you going to run in any meets with your team? Do you plan to run any low-key dual meets, for example?
I'll run in about five or six dual meets and some local invitationals. Our first big invitational is in Lansing [N.Y.] on April 13, and there should be at least 10 teams there. I would like to keep some of the smaller meets low-key, but I know that unlike last year, everyone will be watching me and keeping track of my times. The bar has definitely been raised… If I have an off day and don't run so well, people might wonder what happened.

Is spring track a popular sport in your school? I know you don't have an indoor girls' team.
No, it's not. This year there are only about 20 girls on the whole team - and the girls' team is bigger than the boys' team. Lacrosse is pretty popular in the spring and this year they decided to let girls play on the boys' lacrosse team, so that took away a lot of people. Softball and baseball are also really popular sports.

How did you manage to get yourself to an elite level of high school running in the past year?
I really just ran more consistently than I had in the past. In the past, I didn't do too much running during basketball season. Last year, I ran on the weekends and after basketball practice if I wasn't too tired. It helped me to build a solid mileage base and improve my track performances. I worked harder than I had been because I knew I could do better.

Your track and cross-country achievements must have attracted the attention of a lot of college coaches. How did you make the decision to commit to the University of Notre Dame? Your dad is a Notre Dame graduate, right?
Yes, my dad went to Notre Dame and introduced me to the school. It was a hard decision, but that was where I thought I would be happiest running and just being a student. I really liked the atmosphere there, too. I was also considering Duke and Georgetown. But Duke already had an amazing group of recruited runners after the early signing period, and I was worried about too much city running in Washington, D.C. Georgetown does always have a great distance team, though.

I tried to think more about where I personally would be a successful runner, rather than part of a successful team, because I know that the team can change a lot in four years. But Notre Dame's distance team is pretty good right now. They were 19th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships and won the indoor Big East Championship. The facilities there are great, too - the indoor track is almost 400 meters.

The Notre Dame coaches seem to emphasize quality of races and not quantity so that the girls will peak at the right time. I think that will suit me well. There are also enough girls on the team to have "A" and "B" groups so that no one has to race every weekend.

How did you find the whole recruiting process?
Well, all the college visits definitely disrupted my training. There are all these rules about how you can't do workouts with the team on official visits. But each one was sort of like a little vacation. All the girls I talked to were pretty honest about their experience and they had all been through the same thing with recruiting and scholarships. By the end, I was glad I was getting to visit these schools on my own. If I wasn't going to college on a sports scholarship, I would have gone with my parents and taken the tour with them. This way, I got to see things for myself.

We noticed that Katie Ryan, who now runs for Boston College and is from the same town as you in New York, competed at some of the same all-comer's meets that you did this winter. I know she went to a different high school than you go to, but did you two run against each other before she was in college?
No, I didn't know Katie from before but I ended up talking to her a lot about colleges and recruiting at the meets. She was really nice and helpful and had a lot of insight about how to choose a college.

How was the experience of competing in open meets this winter? Had you run in these all-comer's meets before this year?
No, this was the first time I ran in these meets. They were a lot of fun and pretty low-key.

After running some great races at those meets, was it really disappointing to find out that you couldn't run at the Millrose Games?
I wasn't shocked when I found out I couldn't run. When they first invited me to run there, I had a feeling it might not be possible. It was a disappointment, especially because one of the reasons I quit the basketball team was to be eligible for Millrose.

What did you think of the one high-profile indoor meet you did run in, the National Indoor Championships?
It was nice to be competing against people in my age group after the open meets! The meet was a lot of fun because I knew a lot of the other girls from Foot Locker. It was great to see them again. I had hoped to run ten seconds faster in the mile than I did, but it was still a PR and a meet record.

Is the mile your favorite distance to race?
It used to be the longer, the better, but I really like the speed of the mile. It's over faster, too.

Do you think that the mile will be your specialty event in college, too?
I'll probably end up concentrating on the mile, but I think my coaches will experiment with me a little. I think the 800 might be a good race for me and I've never really focused on it. Longer races, like the 5,000, are also a possibility.

Do you visit Dyestat and other running sites to see what your competition is up to during the year?
I check in with Dyestat occasionally - I don't get online all that much. I just saw that some of the California girls have already run really fast times in the 3,000. It's so early in the season for such fast times, but they have great weather out there.

What did you think of your first Foot Locker experience in Florida?
It was great. I had so much fun. It was so cool to meet all the other kids because we all had so much in common. The Foot Locker people totally load you up with free stuff, too. It was also neat to meet famous athletes like Suzy Favor Hamilton. She was so nice.

The race didn't go as well as I wanted… I just didn't feel like my usual self when I was running. It might have been because of the humidity, but it could have been end-of-season burnout. I just tried to stay close to the girls who I knew would be the top runners. It would have been suicide for me to go out with [winner] Amber Trotter. [Trotter ran a 5:05 opening mile.]

Was Amber as down-to-earth as we've heard she is?
She was really nice and well-spoken. I think that was a bittersweet race for her, because she wasn't sure if she was going to run track and she knew it might be her last high school race. She was definitely trying to just enjoy it.

What did you think of her decision to speak openly about her struggle with an eating disorder?
I thought it was good, because everyone looks up to her as a runner and a person. I know eating problems are common among female runners, so it's good to educate girls who are less experienced [about eating disorders.] Most of the girls on my team are not too concerned with food and that whole issue… but sometimes girls who haven't been running that long don't understand that you have to eat to have energy.

Is anyone else in your family athletic?
I have a twin sister and two older sisters, but none of them are into sports. My dad has been a runner for a long time and still runs. I started running road races with my dad when I was in Junior High.

Who are your role models, both in running and in everyday life?
Most of my running role models are men, actually. Steve Prefontaine is everyone's favorite, but I really look up to him. I also look up to my dad a lot. He's the one that got me into the whole sport and encouraged me to stay with it.

It's kind of cheesy, but I also look up to Oprah Winfrey. I admire her because she's one of those women who took the ropes in an unconventional role. I look up to people like Oprah who have strong personalities.

What are your interests outside of running?
My mom is an artist and I like art a lot too. I like to paint and draw and I've always taken portfolio art in school. Art is a convenient hobby and it's something you can do your whole life.

Kind of like running.

Becky Orfinger is a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer and runner.

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