Interview: Mary Jayne Harrelson
By Parker Morse

Mary Jayne Harrelson runs 2:04.26 to finish fifth in the 800m at the 2002 adidas Boston Indoor Games.
Mary Jayne Harrelson wins the 2001 NCAA Outdoor 1,500m title.
(New York Road Runners Photos)

A Brief Chat with Mary Jayne Harrelson (August 2001)
Harrelson ends career with victory lap | Harrelson second in 800 (June 2001) interviews Harrelson

Mary Jayne Harrelson won the NCAA championship at 1,500m less than a year ago, but the transition to open competition after her graduation in spring 2001 was practically seamless. Harrelson had been running big USATF meets since 1998 and making finals since 1999. She took a year off from school in 2000 to train for the Olympic Trials, where she made the finals of both the 1500m and 800m. NCAA champion at the longer distance in '99 and '01, she kept inching up the U.S. rankings while still a collegian.

Still, seeing her at the adidas Boston Indoor Games, where she ran 2:04.26 to finish fifth in the 800m, you had to notice a change. While racing as hard as ever, the previously hyper-focused Harrelson seemed downright outgoing off the track; in fact, she was giving answers with a big grin before we could even get out any questions.

Mary Jayne Harrelson: I'm 23, I'm single, my favorite food is enchiladas. What else do you want to know? Well, it's your first full season as a post-collegian and professional, where are you headed?
I'm going to Millrose next weekend, and then I'll do the 4k World Cross [Winter Nationals in Vancouver, WA]. This season is pretty much geared towards that. I kinda got a late start training for indoors, due to just having a late season outdoors. I took a whole month off, my first break ever. Took a whole month off, enjoyed it, and now I'm bringing it back very slow. I've been injury free this entire training cycle. It's been incredible.

That's been pretty rare for you, hasn't it?
I've been really plagued in the past with injuries. It's not that I'm weak, it just kinda feels weird, and my body's handling the training incredibly. After Winter Nationals, hopefully I'll qualify for Indoor Nationals at Millrose, I'll try to do the 4:47 there [she ran 4:36.20], and hopefully go to Indoors, and after that, we'll just see what outdoors holds. This year, I'm going to do a 5k on the track.

Have you done that before?
I've only run one 5k before, and that was at an all-comers meet, and I raced guys. I ran 16:38, which was pretty embarrassing because it's not that fast.

I've only run that fast twice.
I'm trying some new and different things in running, as far as training goes. I mean, the speed's going to come. I can easily get fast. The endurance is what we're working on, and it's going great.

Are you still in Boone [N.C., where she attended Appalachian State University]?
No, I'm at Virginia Tech now, in Blacksburg. I'm a coach there. It's kinda strange, but training is going great. I'm still with Ben Thomas, who I've worked with in the past, he's been my coach. He's actually the head distance coach there, so we work together, in the office and out on the track. It's going really good, I must say, no injuries, no problems, I just have some fast times to chase.

So where do you see yourself fitting in the open track world? Are you a miler, or are you better off in the 5,000?
I'm definitely better in the mile and 1,500m. Last year I was sixth in the world [in the mile], and fourth in the U.S. So I'm definitely working on the mile this year, that's my goal. I want to get back in it, and get ready for 2004.

What happens if you make the team for World Cross?
I'm going. I can't wait. We've done a lot of hills to get ready for the 4k, so I think I'm ready for that.

You went last year, didn't you?
No, I didn't go last year, I went the year before, when Worlds was in Portugal. I got eighth in Greensboro, but lots of people didn't go, so I was actually the third one on the team. I'm super excited.

You seemed pretty pleased with your race today.
Last year, indoors, I was sick and injured the whole time. I didn't do well here at all last year. I was sick, having problems, and I had a few injuries. By the time outdoors came, I was finally beginning to train well. I had a good NCAA meet, an okay USATF meet, then an awesome rest of the season, from USATF on, into August.

Did you get to race in Europe at all?
That's a really funny story. I went to Montreal and ran 4:07:37, and the "A" standard was 4:07-flat. I got into a meet in Monte Carlo, and the day before I went I was in a car wreck and put my knee out. I couldn't walk for two weeks, I had lots of physical therapy, I was just a mess. Then I went and did the Falmouth Mile [held annually in conjunction with the Falmouth Road Race]. It was the first workout I'd done in a month and a half, and I ran a 4:34 there. And I said, OK, I guess I can run at the World University Games. I got fourth in 4:11, which is great, but I should've won the whole race.

So besides training and coaching, what are you doing in Blacksburg?
Hanging out as much as possible. It's a great place, a great place to train. It's a lot like Appalachia.

Do you have people to train with?
Not so much. I run with the guys from the team, and sometimes I do speed with the girls. There was a girl training there, but she's moving. She did 5k-10k, so we did some distance together. But usually it's just me and my coach out on the track. They've got a really nice indoor facility there. What else do you want to know?

Not much that I can think of, what else do you want to tell us?


(Interview conducted 1/27/02, posted 2/8/02)

Parker Morse is a freelance writer in Amherst, Massachusetts. He is the former Online Editor for Runner's World.

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