Boston, long known as a distance-running mecca, is now home to one of the world’s top milers: Morgan Uceny, who has followed her long-time coach, Terrence Mahon, as he’s taken the helm of the new high-performance group at the Boston Athletic Association.
Living in East Watertown, Uceny—who was ranked #1 in the world at 1500 meters in 2011—can head about 1.5 miles in one direction to reach the popular running path along the Charles River, or a mile in the other direction to the widely known 2.5-mile loop around Fresh Pond. Or she can run through the Emerald Necklace out to Jamaica Pond, whose plowed 1.5-mile path is a godsend to the locals training for the Boston Marathon.
And she’s only about 10K from the Reggie Lewis Center, where she will compete in the 1000 meters at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on Feb. 8.
“I’ve seen the world, and the country,” said Uceny, who spent 2013 training with Mahon in England and two months this fall at altitude back in Mammoth Lakes before heading East. “Boston’s been a really good experience so far. All of us (including training partners Anna Willard and Jen Rhines) are really excited about hopefully staying here more permanently … hopefully until the end of my running career. That would be great.”
Uceny, 28, ended last season on a high note with two good road miles, a win at the CityGames in England and a strong runner-up performance at the NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile Presented by Nissan. But for most of 2013, she struggled to recover after crashing to the track on the last lap of the 2012 Olympic final.
After taking a few days off, Uceny started to train again and realized that “something was off.” Her back continued to hurt for months; at one point she was in so much pain, unable to walk or even to lie down, that she went to the hospital. Between that and a chronic foot injury that bothered her going into London, she wasn’t herself again until those road miles in September.
And not just physically.
“This past year, it was just a lot of getting over the physical injuries as well as the emotional trauma,” said Uceny, who had also fallen in the 2011 IAAF World Championships, in which she was a gold-medal favorite. “All of a sudden when I was in races, I could tell that I was really tentative in packs, and I wasn’t comfortable being jostled. I’d look at pictures and I’d always be running on the outside, kind of worried about falling again. I had to keep racing and keep racing to get comfortable with it again. This weekend will be another test of that.”
Uceny will open her season on Saturday by running the mile at the New Balance Games in New York City, before returning home to Boston for the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix two weeks from now.
“Last year I was still really emotionally connected to the fall at the Olympics,” she said. “I couldn’t talk about it without tearing up. Now it still makes me sad, but it doesn’t have the same hold on me that it did. Now we’re looking forward, to the future.”
Two weeks ago, Uceny got a glimpse of that future when she and some of her training mates attended the women’s free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which were held in Boston and served as the final selection event for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
“That was really cool,” she said. “It was just fun to be back in that kind of environment where you know they’re competing for a spot on the Olympic team.”