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NEW YORK — After Mary Cain stepped off the track last August at the 2013 IAAF World Championships following her tenth place finish in the 1500m final, the 17-year-old believed her season was over. For many, the end of the world championships brings a nice break from training, a chance to relax and put the running shoes away for a few weeks.
That wasn’t the case for Cain. Coached by Alberto Salazar, Cain’s next phase of training began less than 24 hours after becoming the youngest finalist in world championships 1500m history. Her focus for the next five months: improving her form.
“I started off literally the day after I raced in Moscow. Alberto was like ‘Oh you know that two week break? That isn’t happening. Go out there and run an 800m,’” Cain recalled in an interview here today, her facial expression showing the initial shock.
Since that day — August 16, 2013 — much has changed for Cain. She has turned professional, signing with PACE Sports Management and the Nike Oregon Project. Cain also started her senior year at Bronxville High School, just outside of New York City. And, alas, Cain has been fine tuning her running mechanics.
“Alberto took me on because I am a young athlete and I am still malleable,” Cain said, speaking at The New Balance Track & Field Center at The Armory. “It’s one of those things where we went hard with the form changes.”
In the weeks and months since the outdoor season concluded, Cain’s primary objective has been to work on her hips. Observing past race photos, one may recognize that Cain had a tendency to appear as if she was sitting. With the help of Salazar, Cain has worked to make sure her hips are now a bit further back.
In addition, she’s slightly altered her breathing and the movement of her arms.
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If her professional debut on Friday night was any indication, Cain’s finely tuned focus has been beneficial. As part of a workout, Cain raced the 500m and 800m at the NYC Gotham Cup, placing second and first, respectively.
In the 500m, Cain began from the back and gradually worked her way up towards Jamaica’s Sophia Smellie. Smellie would win in 1:11.63, with Cain less than a second back in 1:12.43. Cain’s time is the seventh fastest high school mark of all-time in the discipline.
Roughly 30 minutes later, Cain returned to the track for an 800m. The race began with a bit of a misstep, as Cain’s legs got caught on a competitor. But Cain reacted immediately, staying on her feet and cruising away to an easy win in 2:08.51.
“In that 800m, I tried to calm myself down and work on getting my hips a little farther back. When I kick I tend to be a little bit too tight and all over the place,” said Cain, sporting a small cut on her right knee from a competitor’s spike. “But the hips right now have been the most important part.”
Recently, Cain hit the 60 mile-per-week mark in training, getting close to what she routinely ran in 2013. While her specific focus may have changed more towards mechanics, Cain insists that running as a professional isn’t all that different from competing as a high schooler, which she did for the past three years.
“The only thing about being a pro now is that I am doing the same exact thing as last year except I am getting paid for it,” she said. “That’s the thing a lot of people don’t realize … I feel like this is just the next step.”
Cain has a busy racing schedule this indoor season: Next up is a 1000m contest at Boston University on Thursday, then a mile at the BU Terrier Invitational on the weekend of Jan. 24, followed by a 2000m race at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on Feb. 8.
A week later, Cain will return to The Armory for the NYRR Millrose Games. There she will race the 800m against friend Ajee’ Wilson, Iceland’s Anita Hinriksdottir, and Jamaica’s Natoya Goule. Goule is the reigning NCAA Champion.
Upon returning to her home track, Cain hopes to achieve something special.
“I’m very excited,” Cain said. “One thing I would like to do for the sport is try to encourage people.”