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Fast Women: Anna Rohrer's return to competition
Britton Wilson breaks her own collegiate 400m record twice.
Issue 237, sponsored by New Balance
After a decade of injuries, Anna Rohrer finds a formula that’s working
(This has been condensed to fit into the newsletter. You can read a more detailed version of this piece here.)
From the beginning of her running career, Anna Rohrer’s talent and willingness to push herself were evident. Her biggest challenge was staying healthy. She was a four-time national champion in high school and an eight-time All American for Notre Dame, but Rohrer’s successes were interspersed with injuries. After college, she pursued professional running, but a recurring back problem got in the way. By the spring of 2021, she was not sure if she’d ever be able to race at a high level again.
But over the past two years, Rohrer has been easing back into competition. At last month’s Boston Marathon, she finished 22nd in 2:30:52. She was the first woman from the mass start, and her time was a personal best by nearly six minutes. Nineteen days later, Rohrer won a half marathon in 1:11:31, another big PR. After years of frustration, Rohrer, 26, has figured out what works for her, and she’s able to dream big again.
As a sophomore at Mishawaka (Indiana) High School, Rohrer stormed onto the national scene, winning the 2012 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships. But the following year, she developed stress fractures in both navicular bones in her feet and needed a wheelchair for a stretch. She recovered and won three more national titles, including repeating as Foot Locker champion as a senior.
Rohrer continued a similar pattern in her five years at Notre Dame, excellent performances followed by frustrating periods of injury. She graduated in 2020 and joined the Boston Athletic Association’s High Performance Team that fall. But her back injury returned, and in the spring of 2021, she decided to take a break from competitive running, to let her body and mind heal.
When Rohrer returned home to Indiana, she met with a doctor who told her the pain would likely continue if she kept doing what she was doing, and surgery wouldn’t change that. She took some time off from running, and then gradually eased back into it.
The itch to race came sooner than she was expecting, and she lined up for the Drumstick Dash in Indianapolis near the end of 2021. Rohrer surprised herself, winning the 4.6-mile race in 23:49, which is 5:10 per mile. The following April, she ran 1:13:51 at the Carmel Half Marathon, her longest race to that point. And the next month, she made her marathon debut, running 2:36:31 at the Green Bay Marathon and qualifying for the 2024 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
When Rohrer entered this year’s Boston Marathon, she didn’t try to get into the elite field. “I was oblivious to what the elite field was,” she said. “I thought it was going to be all women running low 2:20s.”
In reality, she would have held her own. In starting with the masses, Rohrer had people to run with the whole way, but she didn’t have personal bottles along the course, which she thinks led to some dehydration by the end. She got a lot of cheers being the only woman up near the front of the mass start, and the crowds appreciated that she was assigned bib number 617, which is Boston’s area code.
She went through halfway in 1:14:33 and faded a little around mile 23. “It felt like I was running 10:00 pace,” she said, but her slowest mile was only about 7:00. Her 2:30:52 was a breakthrough performance, but she’s already thinking about where she can shave off more time.
Rohrer told herself that if she got through Boston feeling okay, she could race the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis, not far from her home in Carmel. That’s how she ended up lining up again only 19 days after Boston and earning another PR. And now she will take a break before heading into another training block.
Through trial and error, Rohrer has discovered that her injuries have tended to come from doing fast speedwork on the track, as well as not giving herself enough recovery. In the past, she would push workouts harder than she should, even if she didn’t feel great, just to hit the times she wanted. Now she does more effort-based training. “I know what a pace should feel like,” she said. “I’ve done it for like 15 years.”
Rohrer is self coached, and for the time being, she prefers that. Leading up to Boston, Rohrer kept her weekly mileage in the mid to high 80s, but she thinks doing a little more in the future could help her legs at the end of a marathon. She has been leaning into her strengths, which includes doing long threshold and tempo workouts, and she has been replacing some of her hard speedwork with hills, where she can mimic the intensity she’d experience on the track without as much pounding.
Rohrer works full-time as a mindset coach for business professionals and has a side gig coaching runners. For now, she plans to keep working. “I think it helps me to not have running as my full focus,” she said. Saucony has been providing Rohrer with shoes and gear, and she would love to have more support going forward.
Rohrer says that her family, friends, and husband help keep her grounded. Rohrer married Nick Heiny last year. She has legally changed her last name to Heiny, but for now, she’s sticking with Rohrer in the running world.
She plans to run some shorter races this summer and do one more marathon and half marathon before the Olympic Trials, in Orlando, Florida, on February 3, 2024. In her next marathon, Rohrer would like to see how close she can get to the Olympic standard of 2:26:50. “I know it’s like a good four minutes to drop,” she says. “But I just dropped six, so who knows?”
She hasn’t thought too much about the Trials yet, but like most who line up for a shot at making an Olympic team, she has thought about what it would be like to qualify for Paris 2024. But she’s remaining focused on the present.
“I think of the big goal, and then I think of what’s possible with a stretch—never just what’s possible, but what’s possible, and then push a little further than that,” Rohrer said, sounding like the mindset coach she is. “And then I return to the present and think about what I need to do today to get as close to that outcome as I can.”
Thanks to New Balance for supporting Fast Women
I loved giving away a pair of New Balance shoes on Instagram last week. (If you didn’t win, there will be other chances.) I asked people to share their favorite New Balance shoe, and what surprised me was the number of different shoes that people listed. (You can see the post here.) I was interested to see the responses, so I went through and tallied a little more than half of them before Instagram froze. The favorites were:
The Fresh Foam X 1080v12 - This was, hands down, the most popular trainer. So popular that I’m thinking about trying them out again.
The Fresh Foam X 880v13 - These are what I’ve been running in and from the votes, it’s clear there are many of us out there.
The FuelCell SuperComp Trainer - Like the two shoes above, this is a training shoe, but its a super shoe, so running in it is a very different experience. Imagine running on little trampolines.
The FuelCell SuperComp Elite - This was the most popular racing shoe, and it’s meant for distances up to the marathon.
The FuelCell Rebel v3 - These are also popular, and a couple people commented that they like them for workouts and/or tempo runs.
You can check out these shoes at the above links or visit a local run specialty store to try them on.
Britton Wilson lowers her collegiate 400m record twice
Britton Wilson of Arkansas is one of the next big stars in women’s running, and though she has collegiate eligibility remaining, there’s no way she’s not going pro at the end of the season. In the meantime, it’s fun to watch her clean up in the NCAA. On Friday in the prelims at the SEC championships, Wilson improved her own collegiate 400m record to 49.40. And on Saturday, she lowered it again, to 49.13.
Here are the fastest U.S. women ever in the 400m:
48.70 Sanya Richards-Ross
48.83 Valerie Brisco-Hooks
49.05 Chandra Cheeseborough
49.13 Britton Wilson
49.26 Allyson Felix
Other college conference highlights
Five days after setting the collegiate 5,000m record of 15:03.12, NC State’s Katelyn Tuohy ran her first-ever 10,000m race, at the ACC Championships. She looked so smooth, ran 32:56.75, and earned 10 points for her team, which was the goal. (ACC results)
Virginia’s Margot Appleton won the 1500m at ACCs and her time, 4:14.58, was nothing unusual, but she ran her last two laps in 64.87 and 61.90, which is impressive.
Notre Dame’s Olivia Markezich (9:40.65), Katie Thronson (9:44.11), and Sophie Novak (9:48.83) swept the top three spots in the ACC steeplechase, but this is my favorite thing they’ve done recently.
LSU’s Michaela Rose won the SEC 800m by more than four seconds, running a meet record 1:59.73. She looked fantastic. Rose said she was following her coach’s instructions to go out conservatively, which doesn’t sound like it’s her preferred way to race the 800m. This article has a little more of her story and explains why things are coming together for her now. (SEC results)
It was fun to watch Florida’s Parker Valby and Alabama’s Mercy Chelangat and Hilda Olemomoi square off in the SEC 5,000m. They have all been coached by Will and Samantha Palmer this academic year, after the coaching duo made the move to Florida in the middle of the indoor season. It looked like Valby was on her way to victory in only her second race of the season, when Chelangat made one last push. Valby still won, 15:25.03 to 15:25.07, but it was dramatic.
Emily Venters won the Pac-12 10,000m title in 32:32.98 and became the first Utah athlete to win an individual Pac-12 T&F title. And two days later, Simone Plourde became the second, winning the 1500m in 4:09.48 and breaking Shelby Houlihan’s meet record. You can watch the full race here. I was also impressed by Stanford’s Melissa Tanaka in second, who ran 4:09.85, a four-second PR. (Pac-12 results)
Oregon State’s Grace Fetherstonhaugh (9:39.23) and Kaylee Mitchell (9:45.21) went 1–2 in the Pac-12 steeplechase, and Fetherstonhaugh doubled back with another win in the 5,000m (16:01.78) the following day. She was Oregon State’s first individual Pac-12 T&F winner as well.
LSU’s Alia Armstrong (12.40), Arkansas’ Ackera Nugent (12.43), and Kentucky’s Masai Russell (12.47) took the top three spots in a fantastic SEC 100m hurdles race. (Armstrong also ran a wind-aided 12.31 in the prelims.)
Texas’ Ackelia Smith won the Big 12 long jump with a world-leading mark of 7.08m (23-2.75). She’s now No. 2 in collegiate history behind only Texas alumna Tara Davis, who holds the collegiate record of 7.14m (23–5.25). (Big 12 results)
Betsy Saina wins her first USATF title
With a little over 1.5 miles remaining in Saturday’s USATF 25K Championships, Betsy Saina made a big move coming out of a water station, and she held off Keira D’Amato to win her first national title, 1:24:32 to 1:24:39. There was some drama when Saina almost missed the last turn of the race, but she quickly got back on course and held her lead. Saina averaged 5:26 per mile for the 15.53-mile race, which was hosted by the River Bank Run in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
This was Saina’s first time racing in a USATF championship, because she was born in Kenya, didn’t become eligible to represent the U.S. until 2021, and had a baby in December of that year. She made a strong return to racing last fall. In March, Saina finished fifth at the Tokyo Marathon in 2:21:40. She’s hoping to make the 2024 Olympic marathon squad, which would be her second Olympic Games. Representing Kenya, she finished fifth in the 10,000m at the 2016 Games, running an impressive 30:07.78.
A year ago, D’Amato finished second in a good race with Aliphine Tuliamuk. This year, D’Amato finished a closer second to Saina, who was Tuliamuk’s college teammate at Iowa State for a stretch. Saina earned $10,000 for the win, while D’Amato took home $5,000. In addition, the women got a 10:30 head start, and the first runner across the line earned a $2,500 equalizer bonus. Saina held off men’s winner Leonard Korir (as did D’Amato) and earned $12,500 total.
Jessa Hanson ran a strong race to finish third in 1:25:33. Dakotah Lindwurm and Nell Rojas, both of whom were racing less than a month after they ran the Boston Marathon, finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in 1:25:58 and 1:26:19. (Results | Saina’s post-race interview, top right)
Other News and Links
This is a touching article about Margo Malone, who won the Pittsburgh Marathon just over a week ago. She lost her mother to colon cancer in 2021. “Anytime it got hard, I thought of [my mom], but I also thought of all the people that supported our family when she was sick,” Malone said.
Sarah Lorge Butler wrote a good article about how 2:24 marathoner Susanna Sullivan balances her teaching and her training. Sullivan is likely to represent the U.S. in the marathon at this summer’s World Championships. (Runner’s World)
Kenya’s Cynthia Limo has had a really good year so far on the U.S. road racing circuit, and this article tells some of her story. Limo took years off from racing to have three children, one of whom died before her second birthday. She misses her children tremendously when she comes to the U.S. to race, and that’s part of the reason she’s moving up to the marathon—it will require less time away from home.
Brenda Martinez had Achilles surgery last week.
Christine Yu’s book, Up to Speed: The Groundbreaking Science of Women Athletes, comes out tomorrow. You can read an excerpt here (Outside) and listen to her discuss it on the Run Farther & Faster and Running for Real podcasts.
Roberta Groner, 45, ran her fastest marathon since 2019 in finishing sixth at the Copenhagen Marathon in 2:31:37. She had her eye on a PR and Colleen De Reuck’s U.S. 45–49 record of 2:30:51, but she didn’t quite get there. Groner said on Strava that the heat got to her, but she was happy she stuck with it. (Results | Nice pre-race feature on Groner)
You can read a full recap of the Kip Keino Classic here and the results are here. Sha’Carri Richardson running with her arms outstretched for the last four seconds of the 200m was next level. Mary Moraa’s celebration dance after she won the 800m in 1:58.83 was great. And you can watch other video highlights here. Kyra Jefferson, who was second in the 200m, tweeted about what happened when a helicopter tried to land in the middle of the warmup track.
New York high school senior Karrie Baloga set a U.S. U20 record and high school record in the 2,000m steeplechase, running 6:22.85 at the Loucks Games, despite a mid-race fall.
Grayson Murphy was great on the Some Work, All Play podcast. (She comes on just after the 14:00 mark.) In addition to talking about her success, Murphy was very open about the race anxiety she deals with, particularly on the track, and the fact that criticism online can really get to her. She said it took a couple of years to get over it after reading some ugly threads about her on the LetsRun message boards. She alludes to a tough home life growing up, and I was impressed to hear that Murphy coached her twin sister, who doesn’t run consistently, to run a 35-minute 10K last year. This summary doesn’t do the episode justice; it’s a good one.
Last week’s episode of Nobody Asked Us was one of my favorite ones so far, mostly because I thought Kara Goucher and Des Linden had some insightful things to say, and I enjoy listening to smart women talk about the sport. (And I appreciated Linden’s hand injury update, even though I don’t want to know too much detail. She ended up tweeting a gory photo of her hand and I regret that I saw it. I recommend not clicking on the link.)
Northern Iowa coach and professional runner Alex Teubel talked about finishing a close sixth at the USATF 1 Mile Road Championships on Women’s Running Stories. And I am impressed by anyone who manages to run at such a high level while also serving as the head coach of a collegiate program.
I always enjoy hearing from BYU coach Diljeet Taylor, who was on the Citius Mag podcast last week. It was interesting to learn that she has developed an app called Status (launching soon) that will help people check in on their mental health.
Additional episodes: Erika Kemp on Starting Line 1928 | Emily Pifer on I’ll Have Another (her book, The Running Body, is so well done) | Anna Rohrer on C Tolle Run | Sara Vaughn recapping her Boston Marathon experience on Road to the Trials | Lauren Hagans on Lactic Acid | Mirna Valerio, Stefanie Flippin, and Carolyn Su had a good conversation about their experience as women of color in running, on Making Strides | Sydney Devore on RunChats with @RonRunsNYC | Natasha Wodak on Women Run Canada | Lisa Weightman on For the Kudos
To anyone who has made it this far, I’m excited to say that I should have Fast Women merchandise for sale soon.
Thanks to New Balance for their commitment to Fast Women and to everyone who helps make this newsletter possible via your contributions on Patreon and Venmo. And thanks to Sarah Lorge Butler, who has worked on Mother’s Day five years in a row to help me get this newsletter out. I hope you all have a great week and happy running!