Phew, it’s finally safe to take your hands off your eyes and fully enjoy former teen star Laura Roesler’s facility with two laps of a track. It’s almost painful to watch young talent like that–so brilliant, so full of potential. We don’t want to see the heartbreaking flame-out that history has comprehensively demonstrated is the fate of so many high school phenoms. And we didn’t!
Though 2015 will be her first season as a pro, she’s been making headlines as a runner since 2006. That was her freshman year at Fargo South High School, when she won the state cross country title in the fall, then the 100 meters, 200, 400 and 800 at the North Dakota state track championship in the spring. Amazing? No, what’s amazing is that she did it again in 2007, and a similar version of Near Total Domination throughout her high school career, racking up 22 state titles in all. And she was not just competitive within North Dakota. She made it to the semifinals of the women’s 800 meters at the 2008 Olympic Trials, twice was runner-up in the 800 at Junior USA Track & Field Championships, and in 2010, came within one-hundredth of a second of advancing to the finals in the 800 meters at the 2010 IAAF World Championships. That was just her prep years. Then she went to Oregon.
Again, Roesler navigated the minefield that is NCAA Division I athletics, not just squeaking by but finessing the whole shebang–17-time All American, five-time NCAA champion, top scholar and finally, winner of the 2014 Bowerman Award as college track and field’s top woman athlete.
So it’s with a mixture of relief, excitement and, yes, pride (I’ve been on the Roesler bandwagon since she was a braid-rocking, popcorn-loving 16-year-old), that I got hold of her by phone to talk about her first pro season. She’d had a busy morning there in San Antonio, which is why lunch was happening at .
When you were a high schooler in the 2008 Olympic Trials, did you imagine you’d be professional runner? Were you one of those kids who has their whole life mapped out?
That would have been pretty daunting–I was definitely not thinking about running professionally. I wasn’t even thinking about college yet. I was just trying to go out and compete and have fun with what I was doing. I have no idea what I was thinking–that whole experience was kind of a blur.
Going to Oregon is a dream for many high school runners. After a stellar career there, and signing with Nike, I think the expectation was that, of course, you would join Nike Oregon Project or Bowerman Track Club. Why did you leave Oregon?
It is one of the top running programs in country, so I did get to fulfill my dream, and I’m very lucky. When I was looking at what was next, I thought the best decision, to help me move on as a professional, would be to move out of my college atmosphere. By physically moving–different town, different people–I thought that would help me transition to running professionally.
Rose is probably not the first name that comes to mind when you’re talking about mid-distance coaches. Why did you choose to train with Rose?
I’ve known Rose since I was in high school. She’s a really good coach, and she specializes in the 800. I want to build my strength and endurance, and she knows how to do that, so she is the best fit for continuing my career as professional.
Who are your training partners there?
Kendra Chambers, she has 51-second speed in the 400. She moved up to the 800. And Dana Mecke, who ran 800 and 1500 at UTSA.
No thoughts of going back to Fargo after college where, incidentally, it’s 9 degrees right now?
Why San Antonio?
It has everything I need–physio, anti-gravity treadmills, places to lift, a good support team. And the weather is awesome–today it’s about 70, sunny.
You’re racing against Ajee Wilson who opted out of college running. Do you feel fresher because pro running is new to you, or was the four years in the NCAA a grind?
I feel like my time in the NCAA helped me developmentally. It set me up well for post-collegiate running. My coaches planned for the long term, not just to get as much out of me as possible during my four years there. I sort of feel like a freshman again, no pressure. Everyone has to start at the bottom, but I plan to improve like I did in college.
Do you regret going through the college athletics system?
Nope, going pro right out of high school was never an option, it was never something I wanted to do. I wasn’t good enough for one thing, and I wanted an education. I wanted the experience of running on a team, and it was best developmentally–it helped me develop my talent so that I could be a professional. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing now if I hadn’t run in college.
Did you take time off after outdoor nationals last year, or go directly to Europe?
I went to Europe and ran two races, then took all of August off.
When you say you took time off, did you just not train or…?
I don’t run at all.
Two minutes is a huge barrier for 800 runners. What was it like to break two-minutes [Roesler ran 1:59.04 at 2014 USA National Championships in June]?
I had been ready to break two minutes for quite some time before I actually did. I expected it, but at the same time, it was a weight off my shoulders, to finally get that off my list. I knew it would just take the right mix–USAs set up perfectly, it was a perfect day. It was definitely fun.
What’s different about your training now than when you were at Oregon? Mileage? Strength?
I didn’t do much mileage in college. I’m doing a little more now, but it’s still pretty low–maybe 20 to 25 miles a week. Now I do more strength workouts for the 800, not all the speed stuff I used to do for 4 x 400. I did mile repeats for the first time this year, 3 x mile. That was definitely something new, pretty hard. It’s a different type of workout than sprinting–you’ve got to stay focused for longer; it’s more strength.
The 800 is the crossover point between sprinters and distance people. Sprinters hang around stretching, work on starts and handoffs, then take an ice bath. Distance runners go out and run 15 miles. It seems like you’re leaning toward the 400/800 life rather than 800/1500/3000. Are you a sprinter?
I’m definitely like a sprinter. It takes time for me to build up my mileage. My greatest asset is my speed*; we’ll never lose sight of that. [*For reference, watch the last 200 meters of this race]
I heard you canceled your indoor season because you’d stepped on a rail…
No, I had some inflammation in my achilles. We’re just going to back off and let it go away.
Are you running at all right now?
Nope, cross-training on the bike and in the pool.
What’s your first outdoor race this year? Your focus this season?
It’s up in the air, depends on when I start running again. Focus is on making the World team in the 800.