Feb. 26, 2010
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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Wednesday, Aug. 12, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2009-10 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Becoming fit and fast required more than running shoes and a training log for University of Iowa junior Amanda Hardesty. The primary necessity was a lifestyle modification.
Hardesty was never a bad egg or a trouble-maker — far from it. Her cross country and track times were nothing to sneeze at. But to contend against the Big Ten elite, she needed to figuratively eat, drink and sleep track and field.
“Different people transition differently,” Hardesty said. “I had a slow start and it was hard for me. By the end of my sophomore year I started to feel like I was the type of runner I wanted to be. That’s when I realized the things I needed to do: go to bed on time, schedule, prioritize, eat right and be consistent with my training. I struggled with my training at first.”
A native of Valparaiso (Ind.) High School, it’s easy to see why Hardesty blended in when her college career began, making it difficult to stick out in the crowd. Not only was her twin sister Lauren a member of the Hawkeye cross country and track teams, but for two seasons she ran in the shadow of prep teammate, Racheal Marchand, who became an All-American at the UI.
“When I first came to college, it was really frustrating,” Hardesty said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be the best runner on the team, but this was a completely different field. You don’t realize it until you get to college. It’s mentally hard because you’re competing against the best of the best.”
So instead of being the team MVP or an all-everything performer, Hardesty struggled to break through with collegiate success. During her first season as a Hawkeye, Hardesty befriended few, if any, distance running peers; except for her sister, there weren’t any her age in school. So instead of hanging out in the dorm with teammates, the Hardesty’s connected with classmates who were adequate role models, with one major exception: the friends weren’t required to sacrifice and adapt to a distance-running routine.
“I was staying up too late and not thinking about what I needed to be thinking about,” Hardesty said.
Layne Anderson, UI head women’s cross country and track and field coach, noticed a transformation in Hardesty. Not so coincidentally, it also corresponded with her emergence as a top-flight distance competitor.
“Different people transition differently,” Hardesty said. “I had a slow start and it was hard for me. By the end of my sophomore year I started to feel like I was the type of runner I wanted to be. That’s when I realized the things I needed to do: go to bed on time, schedule, prioritize, eat right and be consistent with my training.”
“Amanda has largely made the decision and the commitment to do all things required to be a great collegiate distance runner,” Anderson said. “She’s getting the appropriate amount of rest, eating properly, she is doing very, very well in school and she had a tremendous semester. She’s training at a higher level than she’s ever trained. Everything in her life right now is extremely positive and as a result, she’s running maybe even a little faster than she expected to be running.”
During her most recent mile race Feb. 13 at Iowa State, Hardesty ran 4 minutes, 48.69 seconds; her best time entering the season was 5:04.46. During her most recent 3,000-meter run Feb. 6 at Notre Dame, Hardesty recorded an NCAA provisional-qualifying time of 9:30.71; her fastest clocking entering the season was 9:50.76.
“I always had the support of my family and friends,” Hardesty said. “I was trying to stay positive and patient and I trusted my coaches and the training.”
Hardesty is majoring in sociology with a minor in human relations. She would like to eventually become a counselor for grades K-12.
A barometer of the season Hardesty was about to have came during Iowa’s season-opener Jan. 16. Competing on the 200-meter track in the UI Recreation Building, Hardesty won the mile by nearly seven seconds in 4:56.68.
Anderson has a flair for developing All-American-caliber distance runners. Hardesty’s progress has been similar to the paths of former recent Hawkeye greats Meghan Armstrong and Marchand. Armstrong won a Big Ten Conference title in the 3,000 in 2008 in 9:17.
“Amanda didn’t come in with the credentials to say she was going to dominate within the Big Ten right out of the gate,” Anderson said. “Some of our better runner s had to go through that development process as well. Somewhere in Amanda’s sophomore year she just made the decision she was going to do the things we talk about — live the life of an outstanding collegiate distance runner and as a result, she’s poised to do some great things at the Big Ten level and maybe put herself in some discussion for an individual national appearance.”
Hardesty and the Hawkeyes will compete at the conference championships Saturday, Feb. 27, and Sunday, Feb. 28, in State College, Pa. Hardesty is entered in the 3,000 run Saturday at 4 p.m. (Iowa time) and possibly the 5,000 on Sunday at 2 p.m. (Iowa time).
“She’s going to try to accomplish two things,” Anderson said. “Run as fast as she can humanly run and score as well as she can and see if she can lower her provisional time and move a little bit closer to what it may end up taking to get to the national meet.”
Said Hardesty: “I’m really excited for it. I had a good PR at Notre Dame and my training has been going well. I feel like I can get a good time.”
There is no shortage of running partners for Hardesty now. The Hawkeyes boast a strong middle distance and distance unit that includes graduate student Megan Lessard, senior Fionna Fallon, junior Hannah Roeder and sophomores Brooke Eilers, Betsy Flood and McKenzie Melander. Four of those student-athletes: Roeder, Eilers, Flood, Hardesty and Fallon were members of the 2008 UI cross country team that placed 24th at the NCAA championships.
“I’m thankful to have a group like this,” Hardesty said. “There’s good team chemistry; we’re all pretty close. It’s like training with your best friends. I’m a pretty competitive person, but if I’m going to get beat, I would prefer it be one of them so I can still be genuinely happy.”
Last season Hardesty placed eighth in the Big Ten meet in the 3,000. Anderson told her that could be just a beginning, and her career has taken off ever since.
“The sky’s the limit,” Anderson said. “I believe if things fall in place this weekend that she’s capable of running faster (than her 9:30 PR) and possibly significantly faster.”