Interview with Molly Huddle
by Alex Hutchinson

Molly Huddle runs in second place during the 5,000m final at the 2004 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
(Both photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)
Huddle runs the 5,000 at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials.

Molly Huddle has been successful at every level of competition so far. Representing Notre Dame High School in Elmira, New York, she finished fourth at the 2001 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships, and set a national high school record of 10:01.08 in the two mile. As a freshman at the University of Notre Dame, she finished sixth at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, and set an American Junior record of 15:36.95 for 5,000m at Mt. SAC. As a sophomore last year, she lowered her best time to 15:32.55 and earned third-place finishes in the indoor and outdoor NCAA 5,000m.

A month after last spring's NCAA outdoor meet, Huddle made her debut at the next level of competition, running the 5,000m at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Her seventh-place finish made her the top collegiate runner in the race, ahead of Division III champion Missy Buttry and perennial rival Sara Bei of Stanford.

This fall, Huddle leads a strong Notre Dame cross country team, along with All-Americans Lauren King and Kerry Meagher, and the fifth-place finisher at last year's Foot Locker Nationals, Sunni Olding. Huddle opened her junior campaign last Friday at the Notre Dame Invitational, where she placed second behind Stanford's Bei. She spoke to us by phone the following day. Let's start with the Notre Dame Invitational yesterday. Can you give us a blow-by-blow description of what happened and how the race went for you?
Molly Huddle:
I just went out with the Stanford girls and the Michigan girl [Rebecca Walter]. That was the plan — my coach said just go out with the leaders. They let me lead pretty much the whole way. Looking back on it, it wasn't very smart of me to be two steps ahead of them the whole time. I think the Michigan girl stayed with us for the first mile and a half, and then it was just the two Stanford girls [Bei and Alicia Craig] and myself for the rest of the race. And then Sara Bei pulled away, because she put on this amazing kick in the last 400m to 600m of the race.

FW: So you were leading until 400m or 600m to go?
Yeah. But I could feel that she was fine, and not under any stress. I could feel that she was going to do that pretty much throughout the whole race, and I didn't know what to do — whether I should just fall back. I wanted us to have a fast time, so I just went with it, and I was thinking 'Well, I'll just see what happens.' And that's what happened [laughs]. I could feel it coming the whole way.

FW: But you were able to hold off Alicia Craig.
Yeah. They were both behind me — they were both just right off my shoulder pretty much the whole way, and then in the end Bei had a kick and Craig didn't really have as much.

FW: It seems like you often run from the front. Is that just the way you're most comfortable running?
Yeah... Sometimes I just go out too fast.

FW: Have you tried to work on different strategies?
Yeah. It kind of depends on the race too. If I know there's going to be someone in it that's going to really take it out hard, I'll probably be more conservative. But in a race like this when I know that I'm going to be one of the top few people, I want the pace to be good. I don't really want it to come down to a sit-and-kick type of race. It still ended up like that [laughs], and I was trying to avoid that.

FW: Right.
But at nationals for track this past year, I tried to just stay back with the pack more. It was really humid and hot so I was like 'I'll just try and outkick whoever's with me in the end.'

FW: And Bei outkicked you there.
Yeah, she outkicked me in the end. So, I don't know, I've tried both ways. I'm still learning.

FW: I notice that the times were really fast compared to last year's Notre Dame Invitational. Are you 40 seconds fitter than last year, or were the conditions better?
No, the conditions were better. I would like to think that I was fitter, but pretty much every single person on our team had a significant improvement, like 30 or 40 seconds. A couple girls actually improved by a minute and a half. Between the guys race and the girls race, everyone did so much better that it's probably because it was a fast course. I think I'm at about the same fitness as I was last year.

FW: What races do you have for the rest of the cross country season?
We have Pre-Nationals and Big East, and then Regionals and then Nationals.

FW: How is the team looking for NCAAs?
I think we're better than we were yesterday. We're really hoping that [injured All-American] Lauren [King] is going to come in at Nationals, because our fifth runner was farther back, and Lauren will bring us up a lot. I think realistically we can have five in the top 40.

FW: Five in the top 40, wow. So are you shooting for the top of the podium, or top three or something like that?
Yeah, we're shooting for top three. We were last year too. Ever since my freshman year [when Notre Dame finished third as a team] we've been 'We want to be three or better.' We just have to pull it off this year.

FW: How about personal goals for NCAAs?
I don't know... I think this race is a good gauge. I'd be happy with top 10, ideally top five. But I think in cross country you do best focusing on the team, just because it takes so much out of you. I think it's probably best to be really close to the lead pack — top three, top five, around there. Then if you can get that far, maybe you can mix it up in the end. I'm not going to say that I'm aiming to be champion no matter what. I'll be happy with All-American at this point [laughs].

FW: I guess last year was a disappointing race for you [when she placed 41st at NCAA XC].
Yeah, it really was.

FW: Do you know what happened with you, or how it developed?
I don't know. We were talking about it a lot after it happened. I would ask Lauren, I would ask Coach Connelly... I think it was just a lot of little things, like the weather was really cold, and I don't know, maybe I wasn't in as good shape. I really don't know any one thing. I just know it was a strange feeling all throughout the race, I just didn't feel like myself. Maybe it's just that I had a bad race on a big day.

FW: Yeah, that happens. In hindsight, do you think you went out too hard or anything like that?
Well, I definitely ran the last part of the race so much slower than the first part, so I guess that means I went out too hard. But I wasn't going out at an unusually hard pace. I should have been able to maintain it... I just hope it doesn't happen again!

FW: I'm sure it was just one of those days. Let's talk about your training a bit — what's a typical week for you during the cross country season?
We haven't really done a lot of speed or that kind of work yet really. Usually we'll do a workout Tuesday and another workout Thursday. Something longish, like seven or eight times three minutes hard, or mile repeats. Sometimes we'll do it on a hilly course, sometimes we'll do it on the grass, or down at the golf course. And then the rest of the days are just normal runs, up to an hour, except for Sunday which is usually our long day.

FW: How long are your long runs?
We usually go by minutes, so it's been up to, I think 80 is the highest number — 70 to 80.

FW: What would you guess your weekly mileage is right now?
Well, every other week I take Wednesday off, so depending on which week it is, usually 60 to 70.

FW: Is that the highest you've ever been?
Yeah, that's definitely the highest. Last year I would rarely hit 70. I hit it a few times earlier in the season, and then I'd say like 60s, high 60s. And then freshman year I was around 50, pretty much.

FW: How fast do you run on your normal run days?
I can't really tell... Some days are easier than others — like Mondays we usually go medium pace. But then on my real easy days, like every other Wednesday, I'll go... probably 7:00 pace.

FW: How about over the summer, did you take a long break?
It wasn't too long — it was about a week, and then I did a week of really easy running, like 5K a day. And then I started just doing base. I didn't do a workout until I came here — I didn't even do a fartlek, just long runs.

FW: How about some of the things that you might do outside running — do you do weights? Just upper-body, or lower-body too?
Yeah, we lift — we try to lift twice a week, but I'm only doing body-weight stuff right now. We don't do a ton of leg stuff — just lunges and stuff like that.

FW: Any other extra things, like stretching or eating certain things, that you think make a big difference?
Not really. I just try to make sure I keep being smart — like I try to eat balanced meals at normal times of the day, try to go to bed earlier this year than I have in the past, and, I don't know, drinking a lot of milk because I don't want to get any stress fractures...

FW: Going back to last year's track season, you had a great run finishing seventh in the Olympic Trials 5,000m. Is that about what you were hoping or expecting?
Yeah, that's what I was hoping to do. I was thinking if I could finish in the middle of the field that would be awesome. I was kind of worried, because it's a long season for outdoors. I was feeling a little stale right after NCAAs, but I backed off for a few days and then I felt fine.

FW: So your real peak was at NCAAs and you were just hanging on until Trials at that point?
Yeah. But I was still doing workouts and stuff between them — I didn't just taper from NCAAs.

FW: Was that your first time racing against the professionals?
That many, yeah. I mean, I've raced against Shalane [Flanagan] before. And at Mt. SAC, I think Shayne Culpepper was in the race my freshman year. But I've never run with so many great runners all at once.

FW: Was it intimidating?
Yeah, it was. I tried not to think about everyone that was in there. I just tried to think about the people that I knew I would be close to. Like I knew Missy Buttry and I would probably be similar.

FW: So having raced some of these people before at NCAAs and Mt. SAC, that helped the transition?
Yeah, it did. It wasn't a total shock — but I was still intimidated [laughs].

FW: Have you thought at all about running post-collegiately, and whether that's something you're going to want to do in the future?
Yeah, I definitely do want to try to do that. I think... I don't know, I can't really picture myself not trying to go to the Olympics, realistically, the next time it's around. I think that would be the next step, to try and train for it, and make that pretty much my job.

FW: Have you started looking around at some of the post-collegiate groups that are out there these days, like the Farm Team?
Not really. I was kind of introduced to some of them just by looking where the other post-collegiate athletes go, like where [Notre Dame alumni] Luke Watson and Ryan Shay are. But I don't really know anything about what's out there. I'm pretty naive right now [laughs].

FW: How about where you are now — have you enjoyed Notre Dame?
Yeah, I really have... I love it at Notre Dame. I don't go home a lot, so I feel like this is my home — and I like it. Our team is great, and I like running here.

FW: What do you tell recruits when they come?
That's pretty much what I tell them. I just tell them how we have everything we need here. We have great facilities for the team, a great indoor track. We tell them about Coach Connelly, tell them how comfortable he is to be around, how conservative he is if you're injured — he's the best coach to have for that, he gets you healthy.

(Interview conducted October 2, 2004, and posted October 7, 2004.)

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