RunBlogRun opines: Molly Huddle is a student of the sport. A fine distance runner from 5,000 meters on up, Molly will be debuting over the marathon distance after the Rio Olympics, at the TCS New York City Marathon. But, from now until August, we will be seeing Molly Huddle on the track. Here is David Hunter’s story about her 10,000 meter victory on Day two.
2016 U.S. Olympic Trials / Track & Field
Molly Huddle: Transforming Disaster Into Inspiration
Resilient Athlete Captures 10,000 Meter Crown
July 2nd, 2016
Everyone makes mistakes. They can’t be avoided. But it is the manner by which a person reacts to the inevitable mistakes – their demeanor; what they learn; how they move on – which can provide genuine insight into one’s character.
Last August in Beijing – in the final of the women’s world championship 10,000 meters – American distance star Molly Huddle committed a horrible gaffe. Only strides away from the finish line and what should have been a sparkling bronze medal performance, Huddle initiated a premature, pre-finish line celebratory arm-lifting display of joy. But there was no joy. That brief, regrettable gesture proved to be just enough to allow Emily Infeld – her hard-charging teammate – to barely slip by Huddle in the final stride to claim the medal that Huddle surely thought would be hers.
The commission of a horrific mistake in front of a capacity stadium crowd, a vast television audience, and countless more who viewed the virally-transmitted video would have been enough to devastate a lesser person. But Huddle found a way to transform crushing misfortune into a positive force in her life. “I’m trying to just learn from it,” Huddle reveals. “There’s not a ton I learned from it, to be honest. It’s sports. I’m trying not to dwell on it.” What did she do? Among other things, she went on a road race tear last fall – winning national road championships at 5K, 10K, 12K, and 10 miles. She rode that momentum on into 2016 by ringing up a second place performance at the Millrose Games 5000 meter run, nipping Joyce Chepkirui at the line to successfully defend her New York Half Marathon title, and grabbing the laurel wreath with a victory in the B.A.A. 5K on Patriot’s Day weekend. “I don’t think I’ll ever get over it,” explains Huddle matter-of-factly. “I just want to move past it, not dwell on it, and not let it steal anymore from me by fixating on it.”
On Day Two of these Trials, Huddle faced her biggest test yet since the “Beijing incident”: the Olympic Trials 10,000 meter final against a field of 23 other competitors which included her nemesis Infeld. The late morning start time – planned to avoid the late afternoon heat – proved unfortunate as a blazing sun and a cloudless sky turned the Hayward Field track into a furnace. Undaunted, Huddle wasted no time getting right to work. The American record holder at 5000 meters went right to the front and led the field through the first kilometer in 3:11 with Jordan Hasay, Aliphine Tuliamuk and Kim Conley tucked right in behind. “I debated about taking out the pace. But I didn’t want it be too much slower than 76-77. It was getting all bunchy, so I just decided to be safe and go to the front.”
The lead pack was still a robust 15 in number as Huddle crossed 2K in 6:23. The bunching Huddle feared ultimately caused disruption as a jostled Kim Conley nearly lost a shoe soon after the lead pack hit 3K in 9:36. After a quick track sit down to make the necessary footwear adjustment, Conley – always a gamer – popped back up and began a measured chase to regain contact with the leaders. Hers was a noble, valiant effort which ultimately proved unsuccessful.
By 4K – passed in 12:55 – Kellyn Taylor and former NCAA champion Murielle Hall had moved to the front grouping of the dwindling lead pack. By the time the leaders hit in halfway [16:08], the lead pack had been trimmed to around a dozen. Relentless in her pacing, Huddle, her plan to dispense pain from the gun, and the blazing heat were working to thin the herd. “I kept thinking that I have to trust that this is hurting them,” explained the pace-setter. “I knew I couldn’t get weak now.”
At 6K [19:19], the racing became serious as the pace quickened and Huddle led Tuliamuk, Hall, Hasay, Infeld and Laura Thweatt away as the others went out the back door. The war of attrition was underway. A 3:08 kilo brought Huddle to 8K in 25:38. In the process, the leader had jettisoned all but Hall, Infeld, and Tuliamuk. 5 laps remained as 4 athletes would play musical chairs for the three Olympic spots. Tuliamuk would be the first to let go.
With 800 remaining, only Infeld clung on to Huddle as Hall trailed, another 20 meters back. At the bell, Huddle had a 3 step lead over the world champion bronze medalist as the Notre Dame grad continued the pressure. Huddle simply pulled away – covering the final circuit in 68.7 to conclude a 2:56 final kilo – to cross the line in 31:41.62. Infeld -absolutely spent – crossed 2nd in 31:46.09 while former Longhorn star Hall took 3rd [31:54.77] to grab the third and final berth on Team USA women’s 10,000 meter Olympic squad.
Afterwards, Huddle – tired, but happy – reflected on the race’s end game. “With a lap to go, I just put everything I had into it. I just tried to stay calm,” the new champion said. “I know it wasn’t a fast time. I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t take any risks.” She also offered insight on her bold move to grab the lead from the gun. “I wanted it [the race] to be a little faster. I just wanted to stay out of trouble in the front there. But it can be hard and lonely in the front when there is no one next to you. I thought if I couldn’t break away in the first 5K, then I would wait until the last 1200. That’s just kind of what happened.”
A veteran of national championships and global gatherings, Huddle knows how to manage pressure on the big stage: “This is just such a spastical year. This meet is enormous. And the pressure can feel enormous,” she admitted. “So I’m just trying to not have an out-of-body experience on the track,” laughs Huddle. “I’ve learned to just tune that out and pretend it’s any other race.”
Huddle – who currently plans to compete at 5000 meters later at these Trials – downplayed any attempt to attach special significance to her last lap battle with Infeld. “I tried to just stay on the inside. As long as I was in the top three, I knew that took a lot of stress off of me,” Huddle declared. “I thought if Emily passes me, she passes me. I know she’s been injured, so I am glad that she made the team. I know she is thrilled with that. She’s really tough.”
A 2012 Olympian at 5000 meters, the new champion was asked about her versatility in making the ’16 Olympic team at 10,000 meters. “It’s cool to be able to move up. Maybe next time I’ll try the marathon. I think it would be cool just to have a taste of everything.” responded a serious Huddle with just a hint of playfulness. Those who have witnessed the extraordinary poise and strength Molly Huddle has exhibited in the past year know she could do it.