Former Viking standouts eager to take on world’s best

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Montgomery graduate Kim Conley won the third and final spot on the U.S. Olympic team in the women's 5,000 meters in 2012. (Associated Press)

Montgomery graduate Kim Conley won the third and final spot on the U.S. Olympic team in the women’s 5,000 meters in 2012. (Associated Press)

Setting personal bests at elite meets following a surprise spot in the Olympics has Kim Conley on track for the World Championships.

Rediscovering the joy of racing after sidelined several months with a serious knee injury has Sara Hall making a long shot bid for the U.S. team and Moscow.

The All-Empire greats out of Montgomery high will be rooting for one another at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships running through Sunday in Des Moines, Iowa.

“My training since London has gone well. The main focus of this year is to make the world team,” said Conley, running in the 5,000 meters. “After making the Olympic team last summer, it’s a goal that feels much more attainable than in years past.”

Returning to world track competition would mark a major milestone in Hall’s recovery from a broken kneecap and severed tendon suffered during a September training run fall in Hawaii. Slogging through a sometimes frustrating yet mostly rewarding return to competition, Hall is confident entering the nation’s biggest meet.

“I’ve been pushing myself to catch up,” said Hall, running in the 3000 meter steeplechase. “I’m feeling more fresh now and ready to test myself. The goal is always to make the world championship team.”

With one of the nation’s fastest 5,000 meter times this year, Conley is poised for another break through. Making the World Championships, set for Moscow in August, would send Conley back to Europe a year after running for Team USA in the Olympics.

Reaching the Olympics culminated several years of steady improvement following graduation from UC Davis in 2009, including turning pro.

“There was certainly an adjustment period last fall, but thankfully I have a great support system around me that have helped me to adapt to what we call ‘the new normal’ and I’m very happy that I can do this for a living,” Conley said.

Adding several bests to her highlight reel since London has Conley brimming with confidence.

Finishing second in the USA Cross Country Championships was the reward for a winter of strength training. But then Conley said she was humbled by finishing back in the pack at the World Cross Country Championships, in snowy Poland.

Shifting her focus to the track in April, Conley refined her speed training. Running a fast pace and still finding another gear to close out races is the goal.

Running personal records at a pair of elite meets has Conley tuned for the national championships. Conley ran her best 1,500 meters at the Oxy High Performance meet, in Los Angeles. Two weeks later, iIn early June, she lowered her best in the 5,000, at the Prefontaine Classic, in Eugene, Oregon — the top American in a tough international field.

Tweeting after both races, Conley said the 1,500 was a “check off the 2013 goal sheet” and that she was “very grateful for the opportunity to race at the pre classic.”

Still, she knows how challenging making a U.S. team can be after gaining the final Olympic spot on a stirring stretch run and lunge at the trials.

“Because I made that team by only .04 seconds, I know I have my work cut out for me this weekend if I’m going to make the team again,” Conley said.

While not among favorites in the steeplechase at nationals, Hall will draw on past success in the event to challenge for a spot in the world championships.

“My times this year haven’t quite put me there,” she said. “But I’m back. It just takes time to rebuild.”

A seasoned pro of eight years, Hall has found a distance and degree of difficulty — the steeplechase features hurdles and water jumps — that seem to suit her best on the track.

Among the top Americans a year ago, Hall reached the Olympic trials finals only to fall short of her dream of competing in London.

Recalling she doesn’t race for the end result but for the love of running, Hall was back on the trails in Redding and Flagstaff. Then her fortune of running mostly injury free since high school turned.

“I’ve been in kind of uncharted territory,” Hall said.

Hall broke kneecap and cut a tendon after tripping over a pipe and hitting a sharp rock during a run in Kona, Hawaii, in September.

Following surgery she couldn’t run for three months. Cross training on stationary and elliptical bikes, paddle boarding, and therapy helped with fitness and the recovery.

After her first training run in January she immediately started thinking about races. A month later Hall ran the cross country nationals. Finishing eighth after working through the field from 30th, she was pleased with the effort despite not defending her title.

“Being at the race, let alone placing that high, was a thought that earlier I would have never entertained,” Hall said. “It will be a moment I treasure and draw on for the rest of my career.”

Not satisfied with just competing, Hall set out to return among the nation’s best in the steeplechase. Behind in training Hall pressed at times and then backed off for her legs to come around.

Running a seasonal string of track meets including a 5000 with Conley at Stanford has Hall feeling strong going into the national championships.

“This is kind of like a reward for all that time grinding it out,” Hall said.

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