Q + A WITH ALLIE BOHANNON
by Dave Milner | interview conducted 02.04.07 & 2.11.07
Twenty-year-old Allie Bohannon, a UCLA redshirt sophomore, was a promising, but not outstanding, cross-country runner while prepping at Harpeth Hall. She showed great ability over 800 meters and 1600 meters, but had a tough time keeping it going over 3 miles. At the state cross-country meet, she was 7th as a freshman in 2000, 6th as a sophomore, 8th as a junior, and then 16th as a senior in 2003, her senior year. Not what you would call a meteoric rise; not even steady progress. Just consistency near, but not at, the top of the private school runners in a state that was languishing well behind most of the eastern United States. On the track, though, she fared much better. And it was in the spring that she would display her full range of talents, for Allie Bohannon was truly a jack of all trades.
In the spring of 2001, four months after helping the Honeybears basketball team advance to the final four at the state meet, the talented frosh won the 1600 at the state meet on the track, clocking 5:17.96, and, putting the explosive strength she had earlier exhibited on the hardwood to good use again, she placed 5th in the pentathlon.
The following year, her Hoops team were state meet runners-up and Bohannon was voted by The Tennessean as the #2 defensive player in the state, with 119 steals for the season. Despite struggling with a knee injury sustained that season that would prevent her from qualifying for the state meet in her preferred events the following spring, she managed to cap a somewhat abbreviated track season with another state ring, as part of the 1600-meter relay quartet that edged Brentwood Academy by four hundredths of a second. And she had earlier improved one spot to finish 4th in the pentathlon.
2003, her junior year, was a banner year. In February, the Honeybears Hoops team continued their improvement and won the state championships, with Bohannon improving her own varsity steals record to 129 and averaging 10.5 points per game. On the track, she won her second 1600 state title, clocking 5:11.46, and edging teammate Kathryn Dennison, capping an undefeated season at four laps, during which she lowered her PR to 5:05.03 (her PR until last week) at the Nashville City meet. She was also 4th in the pentathlon again, and 5th in the long jump (she jumped 16'11" that season).
And In her senior year, in 2004, after having knee surgery the previous fall, she won the 1600 at the state meet for the third time, clocking 5:12.27 (with Dennison, now running collegiately at Princeton, runner-up again), and then, just 45 minutes, later added the 800 title in 2:16.76.
On top of her individual state titles, Bohannon was an important cog in the Harpeth Hall athletic juggernaut, with coach Susan Russ at the wheel, that won 4 straight cross-country team titles and 4 straight track team titles at the state meets. Clearly, Bohannon was a talented all-rounder and showed great promise at the middle distances, but there was little to suggest that just three years later, she would be vying for an individual berth for the NCAA National cross-country championships and then slicing almost half a minute off her 1 mile PR. But that's what happened.
At the NCAA West Region Championships, Bohannon, in just her first full year running cross-country for UCLA, posted an 11th place finish (clocking 21:37 over the 6K course). And he performance very nearly earned her a spot at the National Championships in Terre Haute, IN. At-large selections were made the following week, and had the University of Washington Huskies been given an at-large team bid, then Bohannon would have been given an at-large individual bid for Nationals. But the Huskies, and thus Bohannon, were denied. Bohannon had been UCLA's No. 2 finisher in every race last fall, but broke through two weeks earlier, with an impressive run at the Pac-10 conference meet. She led the team for the first time in her career and ran over a 25-second PR, covering the 6k course in 20:47. It was a huge performance from a young runner whose previous superlatives had only extended to four laps of the track.
A little over two weeks ago, in Seattle,WA, she showed gave a heavy hint that the extra endurance she had garnered in the fall woud translate into a breakthrough track campaign in 2007. At the Husky Invitational, she clocked 4:43.43, a whopping 30-second-plus PR, and was only beaten by 2006 U.S. 5000m champion Lauren Fleshman and 2004 Olympian Jen Rhines. And then, last weekend, she shaved another two seconds off her PR and took a step closer to a National Championships berth with a 4:41.42 clocking at the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville,AR.
She has a long way to go to match the exploits of fell Harpeth Hall grad and mentor, Margaret Sloan (nee Groos), but, under the watchful eye of Bruins coach Eric Peterson, she has taken a huge step in the right direction. TR talked to her mile PRs in Seattle and Fayetteville.
TR: When and how did you get started running competitively?
AB: I started running competitively in the 6th grade at Ensworth Middle School, when I went out for the Cross-Country team.
TR: Had you already began playing basketball prior to that?
AB: Yes, I started playing basketball first in the YMCA League.
TR: At Harpeth Hall, you won a total of 14 state championships - 4 individual titles on the track, one as part of a winning 1600-meter relay team, and 9 team titles - 4 in cross-country, 4 in track, and 1 in basketball. If you could pick one above the other thirteen, which meant the most to you, and why?
AB: My last track season meant the most to me. I wanted to finish my high school career on a high note and being able to win the team championship and winning the 1600m and 800m individual championships were the goals I had set for myself prior to the meet. Doing so felt very rewarding and emotional, since it was my last meet.
TR: How did you manage to balance three very different sports, make good grades, and still have time for a social life?
AB: I think, because I had always been involved in sports from a very young age, it made it easier, as I got older, to balance my life. It also helped to have a great support system, in my family and friends, there to help me if I needed it. Of course, like with anything, there were sacrifices that I had to make, but I never felt I missed out on much and I enjoyed what I was doing.
TR: Do you think competing in all three sports led to your knee injuries?
AB: Knee injuries are fairly prominent in basketball, so I don’t think running had as much to do with it. With basketball, as you know, there is a lot of starting and stopping, which can be hard on your knees. I also grew really fast my sophomore year which contributed to my knee pain. It was during a basketball camp that I tore my cartilage and after that I decided to give up basketball and just focus on running.
TR: Throughout high school, you were advised by two Tennessee Sports Hall of Famers, legendary coach Susan Russ, and 1988 Olympian and fellow Harpeth Hall grad, Margaret Sloan (nee Groos). Those are some pretty capable hands to be in.
AB: Yes, I was very lucky to have the opportunity to be advised by both coaches. Each had been very successful over the years. Coach Russ had had many great winning seasons throughout her coaching career, I think totaling somewhere around 20 state championship titles. And Margaret's advice has been invaluable to me with the time she spent working with me over the years helping me develop more efficient biomechanics. She’s been through it all and I feel very lucky to have her to call and discuss training: both the physical and psychological aspects that the sport demands. Needless to say, I have been very fortunate and have learned a lot from them.
TR: How did you end up at UCLA?
AB: Initially I came out to California with the intention of visiting only USC and Stanford. However, my parents and I arrived early and decided to take a quick look at UCLA. We were lucky enough to squeeze in a meeting with Coach Peterson and I got a tour of the campus and absolutely fell in love while I was there. It was no question for me, once I’d seen the school and talked with Coach Peterson, that this was the right fit for me to do what I wanted academically and athletically. Prior to visiting California, I looked at Princeton, UVA, UNC, Duke, and Vanderbilt. UCLA had all the pieces I was looking for in a college- a great program, great academics, great training weather, and in a neat city with plenty to do. I wanted to join this program to grow from being a small fish in a big pond to a bigger fish and I felt UCLA could get me there.
TR: Obviously you are now training at greater volumes and intensities as a collegiate runner, but, philosophically, what are the main differences in coaching styles between Coach Russ and Coach Peterson at UCLA?
AB: To be honest, I don't really know much about training philosophies. College training is obviously much more strenuous than the training I did in high school. My mileage has been increased and my interval training raised to a higher level of intensity. We are running more miles, but not significantly more than what I was used to. I’ve benefited greatly from Coach Peterson’s training program and have become a better runner with respect to my strength and endurance compared with the runner I was in high school.
TR: You didn't run Cross-Country in your freshman year at UCLA? Were you being groomed to be a 2-lap specialist?
AB: Yes. I was focusing on middle distance training, rather than the longer distances, as I transitioned from high school to college training. My focus, coming in, was always on track rather than cross-country.
TR: During your freshman year in track, you knocked 2 seconds off your 800m PR to clock 2:14.11. Tell briefly about that spring season.
AB: I raced at the UCLA Invite, which was our first meet of the year, and my only race before I had my second knee surgery. I re-injured my knee shortly after that meet and my season was cut short as a result.
TR: You redshirted your sophomore X-C season? Were you still struggling with the knee?
AB: I sat down with Coach Peterson and we decided the best thing would be for me to take my time in returning to a full training load, in hopes of preventing yet another knee injury. We decided to redshirt cross-country, and focus, instead, on getting ready for the indoor season.
TR: During your sophomore year in track, you lowered your indoor 800m PR to 2:12.89 and clocked 2:13.01 outdoors. A step in the right direction, but not the big jump to the next level that you were probably hoping to have made by then. How did that season play out?
AB: That season has been the most frustrating for me to date. The beginning of the season showed exciting promise for a good outdoor campaign, and I finally felt like I was healthy, but encountered yet another setback, this time due to illness. I struggled through most of the season, not feeling my best, and it wasn’t until my physical at the end of the season that I found out that I’d had mono for the previous three months.
TR: Last fall, obviously, was a fantastic breakthrough season. In your first real season of collegiate cross-country, you ended the campaign as the Bruins' #1 runner, earned all-conference status, were 11th at regionals, were voted the Most Outstanding cross-county runner by your teammates, and very nearly ran your way into a National Championships individual berth. What was behind this transformation - a solid summer of training, a change in diet, a change in attitude, or just being injury-free long enough to train consistently?
AB: I think the transformation was due to a combination of all of these elements. I talked with Coach Peterson at the end of last year and he told me that I could be pretty good at a lot of things, but running was something I could be great at if I really wanted it to be. This kind of opened my eyes and made me realize I only had a small window of opportunity to make that happen. So I went off that summer and shifted my focus and made summer training a priority. I built a strong base and I think as a result, it has helped me remain injury free so far this season. I’ve hopefully had enough of my share of injuries. It also helped me jump right in and help the cross-country team early in the season, which was something I’d not been able to do in the previous seasons. After training well up in Mammoth for our team camp, I gained a lot of self-confidence, which helped me race well.
TR: And then you came back to Nashville over Thanksgiving and won the Boulevard Bolt 5-mile in [what I believe is] a course record time of 28:40. Was it fun to come and race on your home turf? Talk briefly about that race.
AB: The Bolt has been a tradition for our family to run ever since I was in the 4th grade. For me, it has always been fun to come home and see a lot of family friends who participate in it as well. It’s a nice course to run a fast time since it’s relatively flat. Once I got out there and was feeling pretty good, I decided I wanted to see what I could do.
TR: Did you take some down time over December?
AB: I took a little down time, but it’s hard to take significant time off and not lose a lot. We had about 4 days off and then we had a week of running every other day before we got back into training for track.
TR: Clearly the strength you gained during the cross-country season is going to pay dividends this track season, provided you stay injury free. Your 4:43.43 Mile in Seattle hacked 22+ seconds from your PR and saw you place 3rd in a loaded field, with only 2006 U.S. 5000m champion, Lauren Fleshman, and 2006 Olympian, Jen Rhines, finishing ahead of you. Your time beat the NCAA Provisional qualifying time for the National Championships in March by 4.57 seconds. Was that the goal going in? Did you even have a time goal coming into that race? Talk us through it.
AB: I hadn’t raced the mile since high school, so it was somewhat unfamiliar territory, and I wanted to use this race to feel it out and become more comfortable with this distance. I’ve never really been that interested in focusing on times and splits because each race develops so differently and it’s easy to get frustrated early on if you’re not hitting a mark. My focus was on remaining as relaxed as I could for as long as I could and be engaged and competitive throughout the whole race.
TR: Your next race, at the Tyson Invitational on February 9th, saw you slice another two seconds off your PR. You said beforehand that you were seeking a NCAA automatic qualifier time (4:40.60). Were you disappointed to not get the auto time, or just happy that you are still headed in the right direction? Or maybe both?
AB: Getting the automatic qualifier would have been great, so I won’t have to just rely on the provisional for getting into the NCAA meet. But I couldn't be disappointed in myself with a new PR.
TR: Having already had the very competitive mile race in Seattle under your belt, were you more confident going into the mile in Fayetteville? And was your strategy any different?
AB: I definitely had the confidence of knowing I could compete at this level because of the Seattle race, so I felt more sure of myself going into [the Tyson] race. I just focused on staying in the top third of the race early on and kicking as hard as I could to finish.
TR: And the next day you lowered your 800-meter PR to 2:11.02, capping off a great weekend for you. How did that feel?
AB: It felt great to win the heat and get another PR. They have a nice venue in Fayetteville for racing. It was a great weekend with a lot of fast track performances.
TR: Currently you are ranked #11 in the nation among collegiate milers, and look like a good bet to return to Fayetteville for the NCAA National Championships on March 10 (last year the NCAA accepted 17 milers into the meet, and some athletes may opt for the 3000m/5000m). Your team is slated to return to Seattle for the MPSF indoor meet on February 23-24. Will you take another crack at 4:40 there, or are you and Coach Peterson just going to roll the dice with your 4:41 clocking?
AB: As of now I'll just be running the 800 at the MPSF meet to try and knock off some more time in that race, which will help me in the mile. We're hopeful the 4:41 time will hold up and be enough for a bid to the NCAA's.
TR: Do you think the 1500m/1 Mile may be your best distance on the track, or will you and Coach Peterson be prioritizing the 5000m?
AB: This distance has always been my favorite and I think I can be the most successful at it. I don't think I'll be shifting to the 5k for outdoors.
TR: What about the steeplechase? With your already demonstrated hurdling and jumping ability, I'd think you could do some great things in that event?
AB: We haven't talked about doing the steeplechase and to be honest I haven't put much thought into it. It looks like a fun race - I always see those pictures of crazy falls in the water pit-and I'd love to try it, but I think I prefer the mile.
TR: What are your goals on the track for the rest of 2007?
AB: Honestly, I don't have any specific time goals set in mind at this point. Maybe later on down the road I will, but right now my goals for the season are to continue my trend of improvement as well as score for the team in the Pac-10 conference, NCAA Regional, and NCAA National meets.
TR: Do you still play basketball recreationally?
AB: I don’t play basketball anymore, but I love watching it. I’m definitely a college basketball fan, but not so much of an NBA or WNBA fan. It’s been really fun to be a Bruin these past couple of years with our basketball team doing so well.
TR: When you're not running or studying, what do you like to do to relax?
AB: I love going out to the movies with my roommates and friends and I’ve also learned how to surf, which has been really fun, although pretty hard. I like listen to music too, and I just downloaded Norah Jones’ new album, Not Too Late, which I love.