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Molly Huddle Gearing Up For 2021 After “Power Hour” On The Track

By Karen Rosen | Dec. 02, 2020, 12:50 p.m. (ET)

Molly Huddle competes at the 16th IAAF World Athletics Championships London 2017 on Aug. 10, 2017 in London.

 

What can you do in an hour?

Most folks can watch a TV drama (including commercials), take a tennis lesson or wash a load of laundry and start the dryer.

Molly Huddle can run more than 11 miles – farther than any U.S. woman in history – setting two other American records along the way.

She calls it a “power hour.”

On Nov. 1, Huddle ran for 60 minutes on a track in Attleboro, Massachusetts, covering 11.14 miles or 17,930 meters. The two-time Olympian also set women’s American records for 15 kilometers (50 minutes, 7.82 seconds) and 10 miles (53:50) without breaking stride.

Huddle, 36, now holds 10 American records, 11 if you add one from a women-only road race.

“We decided to find a challenge that was an appropriate size for this year and for me, where I am right now (in my training) – and that was it,” Huddle said. “It was fun. I had never done anything like that on the track before, so it’s always nice at this age to mix things up and do new things.”

Only three other women were on the track with Huddle as they ran a sanctioned race under COVID-19 protocols. Two runners were pacesetters, with one dropping out before the finish.

For those doing the math, 17,930 meters is almost 45 laps. A 10,000-meter race, Huddle’s longest on the track to that point, has “only” 25 laps.

“You know, I thought it would be boring, but I liked it,” said Huddle. “I just went into 10K mode, where you just click everything off and zone out.”

Once she got through one 10K, she made good progress toward finishing another.

Huddle’s coach, Ray Treacy, gave her splits every 400 meters. She was trying to hit 80-second quarters, which is about 5:20 pace per mile.

On Instagram, Huddle wrote, “The hour went by pretty fast actually!”

She now has six American records on the road (5K, 10K, 12K, 20K, 10-mile and half marathon) and four on the track (10,000, hour, 10-mile and 15K). Huddle is a former American record holder in the 5,000 on the track and currently holds the record in the half marathon for women only. (Keira D’Amato recently broke the 10-mile American record for women only).


Perennial Podium Finisher
Huddle is also a 28-time national champion at distances from 5K to 20K, which includes odd races like 7 miles and 12K. She won her first title in 2008 and not a year went by without at least one – until 2020 .

Huddle also has a formidable streak of making every Olympic and world championships team since 2011.

She figured to double her chances this year as one of the favorites going into the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon on Feb. 29 in Atlanta.

Huddle added the marathon to her repertoire in 2016, placing third at the New York City Marathon in her first attempt at the distance.

She and Treacy knew that if the Olympic trials didn’t work out, she could simply shift her focus to the 10,000 meters on the track, where she holds the record of five straight national titles from 2015-2019.

Somewhere between the 20th and 21st miles of the 26.2-mile course, Huddle was in 13th place, but “going backwards and getting passed.”

She said Treacy told her before the race, “If it’s going really, really badly, just step off and save yourself for the track.”

That’s what Huddle did, but she wound up saving her legs for a season that “just never happened.”

Within a month, the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials – Track and Field in June and the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 were postponed due to the pandemic.

“It was definitely a bummer,” Huddle said. “I almost felt a little bit of relief because I did feel like I needed more time, but then I didn’t think it would extend this long. For an athlete of my age, this is too much time to go by without a season. You don’t want to let a year pass you by, but sports just took a backseat. There were more important things going on.”

She said 2020 became the year when you “just do whatever you can with what you can.”

Treacy suggested Huddle see what she could do with an hour. The race is rarely attempted by world-class runners these days, but was popular in the 1980s when Treacy and his brother John were elite runners.

“It was probably July,” Huddle said, “and he was like, ‘Oh, you should tackle the American record  – it’s definitely something you can get. You just have to decide how fast you want to try to go.’”

You don’t want to let a year pass you by, but sports just took a backseat. There were more important things going on.

Molly Huddle, Track & Field

Honoring a Women’s Running Pioneer
Huddle tried to get in good 10K/half marathon shape to chase the three records set by Nancy Conz in 1981 in Amherst, Massachusetts (53:06 for 15K, 55:58 for 10 miles and 17,273 meters for the hour).

Most of the records Huddle has broken had been held by her contemporaries, like Deena Kastor or Shalane Flanagan. With these  records set before Huddle was born, she did some research on Conz, a Chicago Marathon champion who passed away in 2017 at age 59 after battling cancer.

“She was a local Massachusetts legend and she raced a lot during the first days of women’s marathoning, so it was kind of cool just to bring more attention to her,” said Huddle, a 10-time All-American at Notre Dame who lives in Providence.

The legendary Joan Benoit Samuelson, who lost to Conz in Avon marathons in 1980 and 1981,  called Conz “tenacious,” a word that could also be used to describe Huddle in her running career.

Because meets during the pandemic are few and far between, Huddle’s husband, Kurt Benninger, took on the job as organizer. He hosted a “test meet” in August to see what it was like under COVID protocols. Huddle won the 3,000 meters in the first meet of the “Rhode Island Summer Series. In September, she won the 5,000 in the second meet of the series. Both times were underwhelming, but Huddle felt “good vibes” to be back in action.

In staging the hour race, however, they had trouble finding a facility, so moved across state lines to the Attleboro track.

The event was limited to 15 people:  Huddle and the other three runners, Benninger, Treacy, the officials, the timer, her chiropractor and five friends. Some of the cross country runners from the local high school watched from afar.

“We had someone at the gate counting people as they came in,” Huddle said, “but it was not a nice day so there weren’t that many people banging down the doors to get in.”

Although the day began with nice weather, it turned rainy and cold before the race.

“I was like, ‘At least it’s not windy and at least it’s not freezing – it’s just wet, so you can deal with it,’” Huddle said. “But I know I don’t typically run well in those conditions, so I was a little bit nervous.”

With the temperature in the mid-50s, it was just warm enough for her.

“I definitely wasn’t as fit as I was hoping,” Huddle said, “but fit enough to get under Nancy’s record.”


Redemption For A “Year That Didn’t Happen”
She called the achievement “somewhat redeeming,” adding that “2020 just was like the year that didn’t happen. Because the (marathon) trials didn’t go well, I was so ready to bounce back and get a better race under my belt.

“I’m glad we got to put on that track race, just so that it felt like I could do something even if it it was at home with only three other women on the track.”

Actually, this was Huddle’s second time setting three records in one day. In the Houston Half Marathon on Jan. 14, 2018, she set American records on the road for the 10-mile, 20K and half marathon. However, Ruti Aga of Ethiopia won the race and Huddle was seventh.

Among all of her records, Huddle said her favorite is the 5K on the road, where she clocked 14:50 to win the B.A.A. 5K in 2015.

“That’s the only one that I actually won the race,” Huddle said, “so that’s kind of cool because I feel like the records are usually a consolation prize for me. It’s like, ‘I didn’t win, but we ran fast,’ or ‘Oh, I didn’t medal, but we ran fast.’”

When she set the American record in the 10,000 on the track of 30:12.17, Huddle placed sixth at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.

Well, she won the race on Nov. 1, even though it technically doesn’t have an official name. It’s hard for it to be the Rhode Island Summer Series when it was in Massachusetts.

And with that, Huddle called it a season. She is resuming training this month as though everything will happen next summer as planned.

“The 10K on the track is something that is familiar to me, so I consider it my strongest event,” Huddle said. “I just have to get back to what I know, and I need my body to cooperate.”

She said she will try to build in more rest, physical therapy exercises and non-running work just because she’s a little later in her career.

“When you’re over 35, things break down, they don’t build up,” Huddle said. “I know how much wiggle room I have, so we’re thinking, ‘Let’s be realistic and do what’s best for you this year so that in the summer you’re fresh and ready to go.’”

In the meantime, Huddle hosts “Keeping-Track, A Women In Sport” podcast with Alysia Montano and Roisin McGettigan where their guests include athletes as well as movers and shakers in the sport.

“I like the storytelling of it,” Huddle said.

She is also teaming with Sara Slattery, a friend and former competitor, on a book called “How She Did It.” They are profiling female distance runners, including Americans Lynn Jennings, Flanagan, Houlihan and international athletes from countries such as Kenya and Japan.

“We hope for it to be advice and kind of a training guide for high school and college-age female distance runners,” Huddle said of the book, which is scheduled to come out in January 2022.

Also down the road, Huddle can see herself trying another power hour. Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands set the world record of 18,930 meters (11.76 miles) while Mo Farah posted a new men’s record of 21,330 meters (13.25 miles) in a Diamond League exhibition in September.

“I’d love to do it again,” said Huddle.

Maybe next time the public will even be able to watch.

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Molly Huddle