The 2012 Olympian heads to Boston with a new name, new outlook.
When Amy (Hastings) Cragg crossed the line in 2:27:03 at last October’s Chicago Marathon, she didn’t scream out with the thrill of victory (she was fifth) or dance around after a huge personal record (her time matched her existing PR). Instead, she felt a more subdued emotion after several years of failed marathon attempts.
“Honestly, it was a huge relief,” Cragg says. “The whole point of Chicago was to get myself back on track with the marathon. I was just trying to get to the point where I knew I could improve.”
The 2012 Olympian at 10,000 meters will look to build on that starting point when she competes for the first time in the Boston Marathon. (She was entered in but did not start last year’s race.) Cragg has raced infrequently since Chicago, but the results have been encouraging. She won the Rock ’n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon in 1:12:04 on January 18 while purposefully running marathon pace, then on March 14 won the U.S. 15K championship at the Gate River Run in 50:18. The light racing schedule has been offset by a longer marathon preparation period, with more weeks of higher mileage and a larger base of long runs.
“Three months out from Chicago I wasn’t anywhere close to 20-plus mile long runs,” she says, “but three months out from Boston I was already going 20-plus, and doing longer tempos. I’m just a little bit ahead. But because I’ve had this nice slow, steady build up I feel ready. Tired, but not overdone.”
Cragg found that winter mileage easier to log in Phoenix, where she, husband Alistair Cragg (a three-time Irish Olympian), and teammate Molly Huddle—who are based in Providence, Rhode Island, under coach Ray Treacy—relocated for January and February. Although she still logged most of her miles solo due to Huddle’s differing schedule and her usual training partner, New Zealand marathon record holder Kim Smith, being pregnant, Cragg was thrilled to escape snowy New England.
“I tried to train through [the weather] last year, and I was just broken by the end of the winter,” Cragg says. “This one was so much worse. Right before we left, everyone was talking about how this was going to be such an easy winter since the last one was so bad. We thought maybe we should stay, since then I could train on the [Boston Marathon] course. Now I think we’ll go down to Arizona every year.”
Buoyed by the ideal training weather In Phoenix, Cragg has a series of goals for Boston. Those include attacking the Newton Hills, coming off the hills feeling strong, and placing as high as possible in a world-class field.
“You always want to be top American, but if the [other Americans] happen to have a really bad day and you’re right in front of them, that’s nothing special either,” she says. “When it comes down to it, if there’s anyone around you with 6 miles to go, you’re going to race them. The 10K mentality kicks in. It doesn’t matter if they’re American or not.”
One change at the top of the field is the conspicuous absence of Rita Jeptoo, who won the Boston Marathon in 2006, 2013, and 2014. Jeptoo also won the last two Chicago titles, but is now suspended for two years following a positive test for theperformance-enhancing drug EPO. With the alpha runner gone, Cragg believes the race may open up a bit more in the front.
“Jeptoo was just unbeatable when she was racing, and I think that’s because she was on drugs,” she says. “That whole thing was just such a mess. It’s so annoying.
“I guess, honestly, the mentality that I’m going in with is if I’m in fifth place, I’m going to fight for every position, because you never know who’s going to get taken down in front of you now [by a drug suspension],” Cragg continues. “I’ve gotten a little less naïve, I guess. It’s just a different mentality. Every second, every position counts because you never know any more.”
As much as Cragg wants to succeed in Boston, her long-term goals are clearly centered around next year’s Olympic Marathon Trials in February and Olympicsin August. At the Marathon Trials three years ago in Houston, Cragg ran 2:27:13, the fourth-fastest Olympic Trials time in history, but failed to qualify for the team after placing fourth. (She subsequently made the 10,000-meter team and placed 11th in the Olympics.)
“I know I can be in the top three in my heart,” Cragg says. “At the same time I’m still racing against Shalane [Flanagan], Des [Linden], Kara [Goucher], and a bunch of girls who are right behind who want to make the team just as badly. Even if Boston goes really well, I’m not going to think, ‘Oh, I’ve made it.’ Fourth place will always kind of be in the back of my mind.”