The Stride Report will be running a series of articles consisting of interviews and op-eds from athletes across the nation. Our aim is to bring you a variety of perspectives from multiple collegiates in the running community who have been impacted by the recent competition cancellations.
Wisconsin's Alicia Monson has emerged as one of the best distance runners in the NCAA over the past couple of years. The defending indoor 5k national champion owns personal bests of 15:31 (5000) and 8:45 (3000). She was also the 2019 Millrose Games 3k champion as well as the runner-up finisher at the 2019 NCAA XC Championships. We asked Alicia a few questions about the recent meet cancellations and how she was impacted.
Many thanks to Alicia for the great insight during such a crazy time!
The Stride Report: Let’s talk about your season real quick. You recorded a time of 8:53 for 3000 meters at the Millrose Games, but decided not to run the 5k until the BIG 10 Championships. Was there a reason behind that?
Alicia Monson: Coach Mack and I went into this season with a bit of a different plan and mindset compared to my 2019 indoor season. Obviously, my 2019 indoor season was great - 8:45 in the 3k at Millrose, and a 5k national title.
However, we decided to take indoors more slowly training-wise this year and to gear up for what we expected to be a long outdoor season, with the goals of 5k/10k NCAA titles and racing in the [Olympic] Trials in June. So really, the reason for not running a 5k until Big 10s was that we just weren’t focusing on it yet.
I did a lot of speed development this season, and we thought the 3k at Indoor Nationals (especially at altitude) would speak to my strengths of a distance race that still has some fun championship-style kicking. Our focus was always on June, so competing for an NCAA title in the 3k during indoors (and throwing in some DMR mile legs during the season) was a great way to switch up my training which would hopefully translate to the longer races during outdoors.
TSR: Where were you when you found out that the Indoor National Championships were going to be cancelled? Can you take us through some of your own emotions and how it impacted everyone around you?
Alicia: Coach Byrne called a meeting of our Wisconsin athletes and staff in the hotel to tell us that the meet would be cancelled and we were getting flights out of Albuquerque the next morning. It was pretty heartbreaking at first as us seniors there for Wisconsin (Ollie Hoare, Zach Lorbech, and me) realized that we wouldn’t get to compete in our last indoor NCAA Championships. After putting in so much work over our seasons and career, it was rough to not be able to show the way we had prepared for it.
After a bit, though, we (me, Ollie, our DMR men) actually ended up going for a run with guys on the Indiana team. It was great to just get out of the hotel, talk things over, chat, stop, stand, walk, and spend time with each other.
TSR: Was there ever a point when you realized that cancelling the national meet was a realistic possibility? If so, when was that?
Alicia: We had a suspicion that the meet could be cancelled when we were in the airport to leave from Madison a few days before the championships. We had just gotten news from our coach that our school would be going online for two weeks and we heard a lot of talk about potential outdoor events to be cancelled (we had already heard about Stanford shutting down classes and limiting attendance to sporting events. Stanford usually has a big distance meet [the Stanford Invite] early in the outdoor season to get NCAA Prelim qualifying times).
However, Coach Mack encouraged me to continue to have the mindset to prepare to race a 3k at the NCAA Championships. We planned to be ready to race because for the days we were there, it seemed like even though events would be cancelled in the future, the meet would still happen that weekend.
Obviously, things changed as there was a pretty big domino effect in the sports world with cancellations.
TSR: The NCAA is expected to grant an additional season of spring eligibility while recent reports suggest that additional winter track eligibility is “unlikely”. What are your thoughts on that? Do you know if you will be taking extra eligibility yet?
Alicia: I don’t yet know if I will be taking my extra eligibility - I have some thinking to do and conversations to have about my goals. Luckily, I have great support at Wisconsin and I know we will make a good decision about what my next year will look like. I absolutely agree with athletes getting spring eligibility back. Athletes, senior or not, had their seasons taken away for obvious and important public health reasons. Competing in the NCAA is a special opportunity so I am very thankful that athletes are able to get this eligibility back if they decide to take it.
I also think that athletes should get winter track eligibility back. There is obviously the argument that most of the season’s competition was finished, but I think it is also important to point out that most people (including me) structured their season with the intent of being most ready to race at the National Championships. If I had known that I wouldn’t be able to participate at NCAAs, I could have peaked my training for a race like Millrose or Big Tens, taken some down time, and gotten ready for outdoor season.
Of course, no one could have expected that this would happen and right now, we have bigger concerns (i.e. the COVID-19 pandemic). However, as the NCAA makes final eligibility decisions, I hope they take into account that this uncontrollable event put a stop to an important career-building championship, and therefore season, for a lot of people.
I am so thankful that I was able to earn an NCAA title at indoors last year, and I feel for everyone that was going to have great performances and possibly even win their first national titles.
TSR: Per the Scrambled Legs Podcast, you have been visiting certain professional training groups as of late. What has that experience been like and how have the recent developments impacted your visits (if at all)?
Alicia: I feel pretty lucky to have already been looking into what my professional career could look like. It’s been helpful to visit some training groups and see what training/racing can look like out of college. It’s also been cool to just interact with group members and coaches because the running world is pretty small, so it’s great to get to know people that you already know of. My teammates and I also laugh a bit because it is kind of being in high school going on official visits at college again, but this time it’s almost like a job interview; it would be a pretty cool job to have!
The short answer is that recent developments definitely open up time to think about what is next, whether it be another year in the NCAA or not. Right now, in the spirit of our civic duty to not spread Coronavirus, I’ve been sticking around Madison and have not been visiting any groups. However, if we do our job right with social distancing, we definitely have lots of time for thinking and phone calls with our people.
TSR: What’s next for you? What will you do over the next few months?
Alicia: Next for me is to keep on training in the hopes that outdoor track meets will eventually take place even though the NCAA season has been cancelled. It’s hard to say right now if or when that will be, but after taking some time to feel all the feels about the cancelled championships and season, I’m looking forward to finding a sense of normalcy with training.
It helps to still have some of my teammates and coaches around. We are looking to get in training and are hoping for the Olympic Trials to go on, so we will be ready when that comes. In the meantime, between runs, I’ll be attending lectures on clinical nutrition, finding as many indoor core/strength workout videos as possible, and spending a bit of time with the awesome group of people I live around (6 feet apart, of course).