By Jonathan Gault
December 1, 2020
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No American marathoner has experienced more ups and downs during this Olympic cycle than Jordan Hasay. When Hasay first transitioned to the roads full-time at the start of 2017, she was a sensation, much like her high school days when a teenage Hasay, long blonde ponytail bobbing in the wind, won two Foot Locker Cross Country titles and dazzled the crowd at the 2008 Olympic Trials at just age 16. Fast half marathons early in 2017 in Houston (68:40) and Prague (67:55) set expectations for her first marathon at 2017 Boston through the roof, and somehow, she exceeded them: her 2:23:00 broke Kara Goucher‘s US debut record by almost three minutes. That fall, Hasay knocked 2+ minutes off her pb, finishing third in Chicago in 2:20:57, the second-fastest marathon ever by an American woman. The sky seemed to be the limit.
But Hasay was brought back to Earth the following year: she didn’t run a single marathon in 2018, withdrawing on the eve of the Boston Marathon due to a stress reaction in her heel; a fracture in the same heel forced her out of Chicago that fall as well. 2019 brought highs and lows: a third-place showing in Boston set Hasay up as a prime contender for a spot on the US Olympic team, only for her coach Alberto Salazar to be banned from the sport in September, just two weeks before Hasay dropped out of Chicago after just 5k with a hamstring injury. Hasay still wasn’t at 100% for the Olympic Trials in February 2020, where she gutted out a 2:37:57, 26th-place finish on a brutal day in Atlanta.
Post-Trials, 2020 has offered a chance for Hasay to reset. Now working with former marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe, Hasay took a chunk of time off following the Trials to heal the back and hamstring issues that plagued her in Atlanta and has reduced her training volume in an effort to stay healthy. With limited racing opportunities and no major marathons until the fall of 2021 (at the earliest), the pressure of expectations has momentarily paused. Hasay doesn’t need to rush back to race.
Hasay is racing on Sunday, though, traveling to Spain as one of just two Americans entered at the Valencia Marathon (Emily Sisson will also be racing the half). But Radcliffe is hoping Hasay approaches it differently than her last few marathons.
“She is healthy and looking forward to getting back out and enjoying racing again,” Radcliffe wrote in a text message to LetsRun.com. “We think this year of all years, if you are healthy and have an opportunity to get out and race, you should go and have fun.”
Hasay has never been one to shy away from big goals. Within hours of finishing third in Boston last year, she declared that she would chase the American record in Chicago in the fall. Injured there, Hasay rushed back for the Trials and ran them at less than 100% because she had to run the Trials — giving up on her Olympic dream was simply not an option. Radcliffe can relate, perhaps better than anyone. In 2004, just two weeks before her best shot at Olympic gold, Radcliffe developed a leg injury. She ran those Olympics in Athens anyway, but the injury, stress, and pressure left her a shell of herself. She dropped out of both the marathon and 10,000 meters.
Radcliffe’s hope is that Hasay’s return on Sunday is more about “rediscovering her love of racing” than dealing with the stress of expectations.
“We don’t really have a time goal,” Radcliffe wrote. “I really want her just to get back to racing without stress and enjoying it, so have deliberately said to just enjoy the race and not look at splits too much.”
It may help, Radcliffe added, that those splits will be in kilometers rather than miles, and thus slightly harder to interpret.
As for Hasay’s training, Radcliffe admits she has not had a perfect buildup. But she believes Hasay has a solid base and is, most importantly, healthy. She has raced once since the Trials, clocking 74:27 at a solo half marathon in Oregon on November 9 — a poor effort by Hasay’s standards, considering her half marathon pace from her marathon pb is almost four minutes faster. After the race, Hasay said she struggled in the cold conditions, but there was more to it than that.
“She wasn’t feeling right in the weeks before the half,” Radcliffe wrote. “We thought it was a stomach virus as she had had a virus, but then had no energy at all in the half and we found out she had a stomach absorption issue. Luckily that could be treated and she has been feeling stronger and better every day since.”
As a result of that half, expectations aren’t super high for Hasay on Sunday, though that’s not to say they don’t exist at all. Every professional runner faces some amount of stress and pressure while competing — especially when you’re the second-fastest marathoner in US history. Putting yourself out there for the world to see is part of the deal.
But it doesn’t have to be the only part of the deal. Running, even at the highest level, can still be fun. Radcliffe is hoping that, whatever result Sunday’s race may bring, Hasay rediscovers that feeling in Valencia.
Talk about Hasay and this article on our messageboard. MB: What is Paula Radcliffe hoping to see from Sunday from Jordan Hasay on Sunday at the Valencia Marathon?