By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
(10-Jan) — Last year four-time USATF road mile champion Heather Kampf had a quixotic idea. The 35-year-old, who won the NCAA indoor 800m title for the University of Minnesota back in 2006, had hung up her track spikes after the 2021 season and was experimenting with running longer distances on the roads.
Why not try to qualify for the 2024 USA Olympic Team Trials Marathon via the half-marathon distance (1:12:00 or faster), then make her marathon debut at the Trials?
“I realized that I wasn’t that far off of a qualifying time in the half,” said Kampf who ran a 1:13:19 half-marathon in Minneapolis last September, a race she had approached as a fast training run. “I thought that would be really neat.
“I’d have to look up the stats about how many runners have made it to five Olympic Trials in any events, but it would be pretty fun to do all the way from the 800 to the marathon.”
Kampf –who has personal bests of 2:00.04 for 800m, 4:04.46 for 1500m, and 4:27.23 for the mile– has modified that plan, slightly. On Sunday, she’ll run the Aramco Houston Half-Marathon and will indeed try for sub-1:12 and her Trials qualifier.
However, she has also decided to run Grandma’s Marathon in June so she can have at least one marathon under her belt before the 2024 Trials. She’s gone “over-distance” in her half-marathon training, and she now thinks that doing a marathon this year is her best strategy for the Trials next year.
“It’s a nice, fun, different frontier to chase and explore that’s so different from before,” Kampf told Race Results Weekly in a telephone interview. “I’m finding a lot of joy in it.” She continued: “We did a 20 mile training run in this build-up for the half-marathon, which I know is unnecessary.
“But, if I can run 20 miles I can run a marathon. From there, I just thought it would be fun to do Grandma’s Marathon from there.” She added: “Everything ahead of me is a blank slate.”
It is unusual for an athlete who spent 12 years focused on the 800m to move up to the marathon. Kampf first broke 2:03 in 2006 and went under that standard in seven seasons from 2006 through 2016. She competed in the USA Olympic Team Trials as a half-miler in 2008, then in the 1500m in 2012, 2016, and 2021. She made the semi-finals all four times.
But Kampf also loves the feel of road running, especially the road mile where she developed a unique blend of fitness and tactical skill which earned her the moniker, “Queen of the Road Miles.” Kampf competed a dozen times in the USATF road mile championships from 2010 to 2021 and achieved the best overall record of any American, male or female.
In 12 starts she won four times and made the podium eight times. In nine appearances at the prestigious New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile in New York she made the top-4 three times, including a third-place finish in 2016 where she was beaten only by international medalists Jenny Simpson and Laura Muir.
Kampf’s incredible consistency in training and racing is what will likely set her up well for marathon success, even if she doesn’t have experience at longer distances. She always looked after her body and spent little time on the sidelines with injuries.
“What I thought it was all those years was having really healthy training,” Kampf explained. “For a long period of time I didn’t have any major disruptions for almost my entire career. My first major injury is when I turned 30 years-old.
“I think just staying healthy was one thing, and I’ve always loved it. There’s never been a time when it wasn’t the best part of my day to go out and train and work out. You build that momentum and believe that you’re a consistent performer.” She added: “You create your own little belief system that you’re always going to show up.”
Kampf, who is self-coached, is going into Sunday’s race with the belief that her training has prepared her for a sub-1:12 performance if conditions are good, even if her feet have hardly touched pavement recently due to the harsh Minnesota winter.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” she said. “It’s tough because here in Minnesota I’ve been doing, I’d say, 95% of my running on a treadmill. It’s been pretty snowy, icy and cold, so I just want to play it safe and be on solid ground.
“I think I’m a really efficient treadmill runner, but I’ve been doing nine miles of work this week at 5:25 pace (about 1:11 half-marathon pace) and that felt pretty comfortable. I don’t know, exactly, how that’s going to translate on the roads, like hard to say it’s the same thing.”
Houston’s famously-fast course, with a large number of both men and women running at a fast pace, was the big draw for Kampf. She thinks it’s the perfect set-up to get her Trials qualifier.
“I know that people go to Houston to run fast, and be in a competitive environment with people I can tack on to and go with,” she said. “My commitment is to run at that pace, or just under, and go for as long as I can and see where I am at the end.”
Kampf has no illusions of achieving a top finish at the Marathon Trials, but would savor the opportunity just to be a part of it. She would be 37 years-old. Very few distance runners have made five Olympic Trials in any combination of events (Sara Hall did it six times from 2004 to 2021 competing in the 5000m, 1500m, 3000m steeplechase, 10,000m and marathon).
“It would just be nice to put a good foot forward,” Kampf said. “I have no belief, necessarily, that I’m making an Olympic team, but I would like to perform well at the Trials and honor the opportunity that it is to be there.” She added: “It’s fun that I still have pages in my record book to write.”
PHOTO: Heather Kampf (right) after finishing third at the 2016 New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile in 4:19.7 behind Jenny Simpson (4:18.3) and Laura Muir (4:18.4). Photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly