By Jeff Nations
Emily Harrison wants to run, and nothing can steer her from that singular desire -- not a cross-county flight, nor international borders, or even a certain famously termed "moat" stretching from the East Coast of the United States to the shores of the United Kingdom.
Harrison, the former Warren County High School and University of Virginia standout runner who has recently relocated her training base back to Flagstaff, Ariz., boarded an airplane for the long flight across the Atlantic Ocean to England to run in Sunday's Brighton Marathon. As one of the "Elite" runners in the women's field, Harrison has a strong shot at winning or at least posting a high finish if all goes according to plan.
"There will definitely be some competition up front," Harrison said during a telephone interview Tuesday. "If I put together a decent race, I hope to finish in the top three -- that's my goal -- or at least in the front group."
Based on her best marathon time of 2 hours, 32 minutes, 55 seconds set at the 2011 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis, the 27-year-old Harrison ranks as the second fastest female entered in Sunday's race. Ethiopia's Aregu Lechisa was just about a minute faster (2:31:56) in last year's Nice-Cannes Marathon. Former course record holder Aly Dixon, who won the 2011 Brighton Marathon in 2:34.51, also represents stiff competition for Harrison.
"I think it's a good race for me," Harrison said. "This will be my first time over there, so it will be interesting. From what I've seen, it's a fast course. The biggest hill is in the first mile."
Harrison has been gearing up for this race with sometime training partner Ian Torrence, who designed her training regimen for this race. Coming off the high-mileage training necessary to make her debut as an ultramarathoner in last November's JFK 50-Mile race run along a section of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, Harrison has had to scale back a bit on the sheer distance workouts she'd been logging. Torrence, an accomplished ultramarathoner, advocated more recovery time between quality workouts for Harrison as she geared up for Brighton.
"This training cycle has been sort of an experiment," Torrence said during a phone interview Tuesday. "From what I gather, she doesn't feel as beat up as she has been in the past. We're going to find out if that's a good thing or not."
Harrison won't have the support of Torrence or her former teammates at Flagstaff-based McMillan Elite in Brighton --- Torrence and many of the McMillan-affiliated runners will be competing instead in this weekend's Boston Marathon.
Looking ahead, Harrison plans to jump back into her ultramarathon training as she prepares to run for the first time in this summer's Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. That event, a trail race starting in Squaw Valley, Calif., represents the biggest mileage jump yet in Harrison's career. Harrison also has her sights set on a return to the JFK 50-Mile race, where she posted an impressive second-place finish last year.
Despite the ultra-distance races, Torrence said Harrison's training is still focused on running marathons. Harrison competed for the first time last year in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston. Harrison had, at best, an outside shot at qualifying for the U.S. national team in that race but instead had an off day on the course.
"She's probably going to be running marathons for at least a couple more years," Torrence said. "She's focused on running in the Trials and being successful, ripping it up in marathons.
"The training to this point is pretty much marathon-based. I think the ultra training makes you stronger. You learn a lot about yourself doing it."
Harrison enjoys the challenge of training for both marathon and ultramarathon events.
"I like to keep mixing it up," Harrison said. "I think I want to sort of get the best of both worlds. I think I still have room to improve in marathons right now."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>