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Stepping It Up: Exclusive Interview With Anna Pierce

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published Nov. 23, 2010
  • Updated Nov. 28, 2010 at 11:48 PM UTC

The 2008 Olympic Trials champion in the steeplechase, Pierce is also the reigning U.S. champion at 1,500 meters. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Can you talk a little more about Mammoth Lakes? What it’s like to train there? What does one do for fun outside of hill repeats?

Living in Mammoth it’s definitely an isolated life, but I think it’s important for us. We often have game nights with the other people on the team. We play a lot of board games, and we plan outings to go to happy hour. I’m really into cooking and baking. Learning how to bake at a high altitude is very challenging. So it’s stuff like that, non-running stuff that we like to do.

Do you have any response to the Hall’s (Ryan and Sara Hall) decision to leave coach Terrence Mahon and the Mammoth Track Club?

Well, it was definitely something that was their decision, and Terrence’s decision. And I think it’s a private matter for sure. But Sara, and Ryan and John [Pierce’s husband] and I, we all get along. It’s not like they’re ostracized from our life or anything like that. Sara came over and hung out the other day, and I mean, we’re still friends. It’s not a negative break or anything. I just think it was probably time for them to move on. I’m sure we all come to moments like that in our life. It’s their decision and I respect it.

What do you love most about running?

I feel like it’s a lifestyle that fits me really well. I feel very content with what I do. It’s actually really satisfying for me – to have one goal, and something that I’m just trying to figure out, how can I achieve that goal? What’s the best way that I can go about living my life to make me a better athlete?

To know that I could be done with my career, and maybe have accomplished something that a lot of people don’t really get the opportunity to experience, that’s what I like about running. It’s really just exploiting my potential. It’s also not working in an office. It doesn’t really feel like work when I get to run with a bunch of really cool people everyday.

What motivates or inspires you? I mean, are there days–say in the middle of the Mammoth winter–that it’s hard to get out the door?

I never really think it’s that hard for me to get out the door. I’d say it’s just slogging through the really hard workouts in Mammoth that probably I need more motivation with. And that always comes back to just looking at the previous year and saying, ‘Well, I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to accomplish’, or perhaps I did accomplish something great. Like, from 2009 to 2010, I was saying to myself, ‘Wow, I had a great year last year. But I still think I can be a lot better.’ So it’s just looking at areas where I want to improve, and just reminding myself, you know, the third lap of the 1,500 is never going to get any easier, so how can I make myself tougher? How can I become more callous to that pace? I continue to remind myself I want to win medals, and be the best that I possibly can be in that year. So it’s just, everyday. It’s not something that I have to remind myself like monthly. It’s like everyday, every hour, always having to remind myself and re-motivate myself.

Do you have a running hero? A female runner that you look up to, past or present?

Joan Benoit Samuelson has always been inspiring to me. She’s kind of crazy, and she’s from Maine. I have known her growing up, not personally, but I saw her on commercials and stuff, and obviously our events are very, very different. But she’s always been really nice to me and she’s always reaching out to me and saying, ‘Oh, I think you could be a great marathoner.’  I’m like, ‘Have you lost your mind?’ She’s great. So, I’d say she’s someone to look up to. In a small town, to have an athletic hero in Maine is really quite rare. There are just very few athletes that come from Maine. So I’d say she sticks out in my mind.

What tips do you have for recreational runners who want to get faster?

I’m really inspired by competition. So I think signing up for a competitive race really makes a big difference. I have a bunch of friends who are no longer in the competitive scene running, but they used to run in college, and they’re always saying, ‘You know, when I sign up for a race, even just a local road race, I find I train a lot harder, I actually get out the door five times a week, instead of three times a week.’ You know? So I think just having a competition to look forward to makes a huge difference. Also, I love being a part of a team. Being a part of Mammoth Track Club makes a big difference. That’s why it’s not hard for me to get out the door and go running, because it’s more like playtime, you know? I get to go hangout with a bunch of my friends, instead of just going on a run by myself.

How about for beginners who are looking to ward off injuries?

When I first started running, I guess the things that made a big difference was going to a specialty running store and having someone fit your foot to the right type of shoe. So definitely that helps. Because if you’re in a really uncomfortable shoe, of course no one’s going to go running. Other things—I think having a planned route is kind of cool. So if you say to yourself, ‘Oh, I’ll go out for twenty minutes today’, but then you get five minutes through the run and you say, ‘Oh I’m tired, I’m just going to turn around and go back.’ If you’d actually planned out a route, you know ‘I’m going to do this loop’, a lot of times that helps, I’d say, to stay motivated. And maybe, going to see a landmark or something like that. That’s something that I used to do — exploring.

If you weren’t a full-time runner, what do you think you would have ended up doing?

That’s really hard. People ask me all the time, ‘What would you want to be when you’re done running?’ I can barely think beyond that right now because I’m so in the thick of running. I guess probably something in the environmental field, just because that’s what I studied when I was in college. But I don’t know. I just don’t really see myself doing that anymore. But perhaps if that’s happened right after college, that maybe I’d be really into that too. But right now, I just can’t see it.

What’s something that your fans might not know about you?

I don’t know – I’m pretty open. I pretty much tell whoever interviews me everything. I’m not very good about keeping my mouth shut. So…hmmm, what might they not know about me? I have a big mouth! I tell everybody everything. And I like to cook a lot, but that’s really generic.

Beyond speed and talent, you’re also known for some daring and stylish hairdos. What’s the current color, what should we expect to see next? And I’m curious where you get your sense of style.

I don’t even know if you’d call it a sense of style. Maybe it’s the lack of style. I think fall has been kind of hair rehab for me, because typically I’ve done something crazy with my hair in the summer. And now it’s like brittle and needs a little break from all the crazy colors. Right now it’s probably not that far away from my natural color, but with more blond in it. I get excited about our Nike uniforms being a new color each year, so I tried to match my hair last year to my uniform. So that was fun. I was thinking about playing on that for next year. I’ve heard that the uniforms are red, so maybe something red!

When I first came to Mammoth, Terrence was like, ‘So, what’s going on with your hair? What are you doing?’ At that time, he was like, ‘You’re more known as the girl with the crazy hair than for your performances.’ I was like, ‘Oh, ouch!’ I mean, it was probably true. It was the cold, hard facts. I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll step it up.’

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Megan Whitney Kinney a freelance journalist and runner based out of New York City. She spent the last five years producing for fast-paced news shows, including the award-wining Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. You can reach her at megan.w.kinney@hotmail.com

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Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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