Last November, Molly Pritz turned a few heads in her 26.2-mile debut at the New York City Marathon, finishing as the top American woman in 12th place with a 2:31:52 clocking. The 24-year old, who lives and trains in Boulder, Colorado, dominated last year’s U.S. 25K championship as well, winning by three minutes. The Bucknell grad has had to deal with equal parts elation and devastation in her young career, however, fracturing her kneecap while training for January’s Olympic Marathon Trials, a race she started but was unable to finish.
So far this year, Pritz — who said she’s been “hitting better workouts than she’s ever hit” — has been on a tear, running a 1:10:45 personal best to win the San Francisco 2nd Half Marathon in July, and following that up with a close runner-up finish to Renee Metivier Baillie at the U.S. 20K Championships in September, where she ran 1:07:21.
We caught up with Pritz earlier this week, just a few days before she headed to sea level to make her final preparations for this year’s New York City Marathon on Nov. 4.
Two-part question: How does it feel to be returning to New York as the top American finisher from last year’s race? And do you feel any additional pressure this time around, especially considering the stellar U.S. field that’s been assembled [this year]?
I certainly feel differently than I did last year. I put no pressure on myself last year just because I was coming off an injury, it was my first marathon — there were just so many variables, but I even had a hard time betting on myself. So, finishing as top American at New York was just a monumental feat for me and I was nothing but excited about it. Originally, heading into New York [this year], I felt like there was some pressure just because you do want to retain that title and show that it’s not a fluke and that you can go back and repeat. And then they released the field and you see all these huge names that are some of the best runners in our sport and some of the best female marathoners ever to grace the U.S., and it puts a little less pressure on me because there’s such big names coming into the race. I still put a lot of pressure on myself. I have big goals and I hope to accomplish them, and whether that puts me as first American or eighth American, I don’t care. I just want to be able to hit my time goal and hopefully that will put me in the hunt.
Last year you had a killer debut at New York, but were forced to drop out of the [Olympic] Trials due to injury. What did you learn from your first two marathon experiences?
The Trials wasn’t even in the cards. I fractured my kneecap and was only running for like 10 days before the Trials and I didn’t even want to go. A couple close friends, whose opinions I really respect, they convinced me to go to the Trials and experience it. They said, ‘you’re 23, it’s your first Olympic Trials, just go and see what it’s like’ — and it was a miserable experience because I knew I wasn’t going to actually race the marathon and it’s hard to go to a race knowing you wanted to be a part of it but you couldn’t. New York, it set me up for knowing what I wanted to do for the rest of my career. I wanted to make myself into a marathoner in every way possible and everything has been structured and geared toward those goals ever since then.
Building off that question, New York is going to be your third marathon start. You’re only 24 years old. What do you think you’re ultimately capable of in this event?
I’m really not sure because I feel like I’m still progressing pretty rapidly. Two years ago my PR in the half marathon was a 1:15:54 and I ran a 1:10:45 this year, so I just feel like there’s a lot of room for growth and that excites me. I try not to put any limits on myself — and at the same time, no expectations. I just take it one race at a time and hope that that development can keep edging me forward. We always want to think we have a lot of potential left in this sport so I’m trying to just do everything right so I can maximize my potential and create the longest career I can. We’re being smart choosing the races that I do and the training that I do to set me up long-term. Ideally, I’d like to see myself in the low-2:20s, even coming as close to breaking 2:20 as possible, but you’ve gotta take it one race at a time.
You’ve mentioned past struggles with injury. You’ve been relatively healthy for a while now, particularly this training segment. What has been the key to staying healthy and what have you done differently that’s allowed you to train at such a high level and stay in one piece?
I’m not doing anything crazy different as far as workouts or training. I did move to Boulder because there’s more resources for therapy and preventative measures. I get more massages, I go to the chiropractor, I get acupuncture done and I just think that helps keep me together and ward off injuries before they become something that takes me down for the count. But, at the same time, I think a lot of my injuries have been due to other life stresses, when other things get in the way of running, so I’ve been trying my best for the past, oh, almost year to segregate myself from other life stresses and just focus on what really matters to me. I don’t want anything else to get me down when I’m trying to run my best. So, just trying to keep a positive outlook and emotionally staying positive. I think that’s helped me more than anything to stay healthy.
Lastly, you mentioned your move to Boulder. That’s where you live, that’s where you train, but as I understand it you’re coached by Mark Hadley, who lives in North Carolina. I know you run with Brad [Hudson]’s group a lot [in Boulder]. How does that work out?
It’s a really great setup for me. I think that Mark Hadley knows the marathon better than anyone could ever realize. He can train you perfectly for the marathon and I really respect that about him. I love having him write my workouts. He knows exactly what I need from a scientific perspective and as a science-minded person myself I can really respect the science of the sport. It is hard just because he doesn’t see me on an everyday basis and can’t be at my workouts. Brad is so good at bringing that personal touch to all of his athletes, so I can show up at the track and Brad’s like, ‘You look like crap, you should not do a workout today,’ or he tells me, ‘Man, you’ve been looking strong for weeks now. This is awesome. You need to stay on this track and keep it in check because you’re looking great!” So he adds that personal flair to the science that Mark brings to the table and it’s a great dynamic for me. I think it’s also been key in keeping me healthy, just having someone there. Mark writes these great, challenging workouts and I have a habit of pushing too hard myself and Brad’s like, “Yeah, why don’t we just chill out a little bit here.” So it’s been great having both of them on my side.