By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2017 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
NEW YORK (10-Feb) — Entering Saturday’s 110th NYRR Millrose Games here in Manhattan, Amanda Eccleston feels like she belongs. The 26-year-old resident of Ann Arbor, Mich., is coming off a breakthrough year and knows that –with a good race– she could be crowned champion of the NYRR Wanamaker Women’s Mile. That’s a title that seemed far-fetched just one year ago.
“I’m really excited for this year’s race. It’s probably my favorite indoor meet, my third time doing it and second time in the mile,” Eccleston told Race Results Weekly. “I’m just looking forward to seeing how I do in a really fast field. Hopefully we all go with the rabbit, get out there and see what we can do.”
A year ago, when Eccleston raced this very meet, she finished third in 4:26.63, a personal best. Her mindset entering that race was vastly different from her outlook today. Speaking at the NYRR RunCenter, Eccleston described how finishing a dramatic fourth at the Olympic Trials 1500m last summer catapulted her confidence to a whole new level, one she’d never experienced before in her career. Having once questioned if she belonged on major starting lines, Eccleston now feels like she does.
Coming down the homestretch of the 1500m final in Eugene, Eccleston was neck-and-neck with Brenda Martinez and Morgan Uceny for the third and final spot on the podium. Though she finished a dreaded fourth place, missing an Olympic spot by .03 of a second, Eccleston smiled as she entered the mixed zone and met the media.
“There’s obviously a huge sense of disappointment with missing out on the Olympic team, but I was so proud of my race and finish there,” she remembered. “It’s so tough because you are facing incredible runners, all twelve of us, especially the ones who finished top three and ran great races. But it was sort of a huge stepping stone. I finished fourth there; for me to dream of actually going to the Olympics is [now] realistic. It’s not just this crazy pipe dream anymore.”
For years, Eccleston had worked with University of Michigan coach Mike McGuire with the hopes to contend for spots on global championship teams, be it the World Championships or Olympic Games. To come so close meant the tandem had made a giant stride forward.
“It kind of reaffirmed that and sort of gave me renewed confidence going into the rest of the races that summer. I belong here and I can be shooting for the win in these races,” she recalled. Eccleston would close out the summer of 2016 with a new mile PB of 4:25.64 (finishing second at the Sir Walter Miler in North Carolina); take the win at the Hoka One One Long Island Mile (4:26.87); and place fourth at the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile (4:20.6). “[The Trials] helped me have the results match my mindset going into [races]. It showed that everything we’ve done and talked about wasn’t just just talking, it was something we really could achieve.”
Eccleston has carried her refueled confidence forward into 2017, and is ready to let it shine bright at The Armory on Saturday. While the Trials was a big positive, Eccleston said that the training group back in Ann Arbor has also served as a support system over the years. Along with fellow Michigan alums Nicole Sifuentes, Shannon Osika, and Rebecca Addison, the quartet has announced the new name of their training group under coach McGuire: True Blue Elite.
“It’s been great to have them push me as teammates, have your back and be able to support you as well. We get really excited for each other’s accomplishments,” she said. “We all have slightly different strengths on and off the track, and it works well together both in practice and in having fun, traveling together.”
All four remain connected to the University of Michigan distance program that McGuire leads. Eccleston is a volunteer assistant coach, and has helped take the younger runners under her wing; she has especially connected with those who are going through injury.
Running only 40 miles per week, Eccleston spends five or six hours a week cross training, either on the bike, elliptical, or aqua jogging. She completes her cross training with the team’s injured runners, developing a support system that helps both Eccleston and the Wolverines.
“You see them throughout the season slowly progressing and getting more and more confident, learning how to dig deep. That was so cool. Seeing that inspires me in my own running,” she said. “It’s been really nice to contribute in that way.”
While the University of Michigan is racing in Boston this weekend, Eccleston will have her hands full at The Armory in the NYRR Wanamaker Women’s Mile. Her goals remain firm, a fast time and top-three finish. For this year in general, she’s aiming for the elusive spot at an international championship.
“Very similar set of goals [to last year]. I want to make the world championships team for London, I want to bring my PR’s down a bit and I’d love to run sub-four this year,” she said. “It’s kind of like this continual process of getting better and better.
“I’m 26. That’s not young, but it’s not super old so we’re hoping to have four more years, if not more, to keep going.”