Uceny still loves the 800 meters, and in Lignano, Italy, on July 19, she led five American compatriots under the two-minute mark, including her World Championships teammates Alice Schmidt (1:58.61 PB), and Maggie Vessey (1:59.17). It was definitely a feel-good moment during the long, grinding season.
“I’m not going to lie,” she said with a laugh. ”Running that 800-meter in Italy was pretty fun. It was definitely a nice break after doing all these 1500′s. It made me realize I’m not just a 1500-meter runner. I still have some speed.”
Training with Anna Pierce has also helped Uceny, she said, both on and off of the track. A bond formed between the two athletes almost from the first day she was in Mammoth Lakes. ”I can’t really put a measure on how much she’s helped me, and it hasn’t just been as a training partner,” Uceny said. ”She’s just always a really positive person to be around, and she’s really encouraging, and just helpful across the board. When I first moved to the group, she was teaching me the drills and the new weights, and things like that. Having her in practice at the same time is really helpful because she’s more of a sprint person and I’m more of a strength person. So, when it comes to sprint day I know I have to bring my “A” game to try to stick with her. She really helps me push myself there.”
Making the transition to Mammoth Lakes –a ski resort– was easy for Uceny, who recalled that it began snowing only one week after she arrived. Being from the Midwest, she said that she always thought of California as a state of beaches and warm weather (the group trains in San Diego in the winter).
“I’m from the Midwest so I’m used to the snow, so it wasn’t that shocking,” she recalled. ”Honestly, it’s a beautiful town, the scenery is just amazing, and you kind of feel that you are living in a postcard everyday.”
Mahon’s intimate coaching style, has also worked for Uceny. ”I think as a runner, what we do is deeply personal because it’s just us and the track. Like, if you have a bad day, you can’t blame it on anyone else really but yourself, or in your training. So, he really realizes that. So, through all of the training you’re doing physically, he’s also training you mentally so that you’re strong enough and in a better state of mind so that you can handle all the training. Sometimes he’s just asking you questions, then you realize that he’s psychoanalyzing you, and your like, we’re not just having a regular conversation. But, he’s digging in, trying to see what makes you tick.”
Uceny, now a favorite to make the USA Olympic team next year, finished sixth at the 2008 Olympic Trials in the 800m in an unusual race. A four-athlete pile-up in the semi-finals resulted in the head referee ruling that all eight athletes from the first semi should be allowed to advance. That meant that an unprecedented 12 women contested the final. Uceny vividly recalls the race.
“It was terrible,” she said, able to laugh about it now. ”I remember doing a waterfall start (and thinking), really? We’re doing a waterfall start in the final? I pretty much remember everyone going out so hard to try to protect themselves and get out of the way, then being a death march for the last 200 meters. Definitely not my type of race.”
With her European season suspended until the conclusion of the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, Korea, next month (she is not running the 800-meters in Stockholm as had been reported), Uceny will remain in Lucca, and go directly to Korea from there. She said she just plans to continue her patient approach, and doesn’t mind waiting for success to come to her.
“I’ve had to be really patient over these last few years because, like you said, I’ve had this slow, steady progression. But, I think that’s probably been the best way to do it because I just learned so much over those years, and I’ve done things so I can say, hey, that wasn’t the best thing to do. I can also look back and see what did work for me that led to the successes. So, all those years together have made me a different person and athlete, but this year for sure, will be the biggest learning benefit for next year.”
Uceny’s parents helped her see the value of hard work. As a teenager she got her hands dirty in her father’s masonry business, cutting bricks and mixing mortar.
“I worked for him for a few summers and I just gained a lot of respect for him, and everyone else who does that kind of hard labor,” she said. ”It’s no joke.”