High School Girls Indoor AOY — Elizabeth Leachman

In the 2-mile, the first of her two Nike Indoor Champs wins, Leachman eased into it and then sped up to a huge negative-split. (VICTOR SAILER/PHOTO RUN)

IN HER SHORT TIME on the national scene, Elizabeth Leachman (Champion, Boerne, Texas) has earned a reputation as a front-runner who likes to hammer the pace early. But coming into the Nike Indoor Nationals in early March, Leachman’s coach had been preaching the power of patience.

“She likes to lead, she likes to drop everybody because it’s stressful to have the uncertainty of racing,” says Jenny Breuer, who stepped down as Champion’s distance coach after the cross country season but continues to work with Leachman. “We talked about how if she goes into the race and does exactly what she’s been doing that she’s going to play right into the hand of the field.”

The 16-year-old soph had already won the Foot Locker XC title in the fall and run a trio of outdoor 3200s under 9:50 in February, “lapping multiple people multiple times and running in lane 2 for half of the races,” Breuer says. Her fastest 8-lapper, 9:43.74 on February 15, was worth No. 3 all-time on the absolute prep 2M list at the time. So while her front-running tactics have certainly produced outstanding results, she arrived at the Armory open to trying this new strategy.

“My main goal, especially in the 2-mile, was to be ready to run the race however the competition was presenting instead of just trying to go out hard like I usually do,” says Leachman.

Though she did take the lead early in the 2-mile, she followed a cautious pace, coming through the first mile in a conservative — for her — 5:03.40. From there, with rival Jane Hedengren on her heels, Leachman slowly increased the tempo and blasted a massive negative split (4:40.76, faster than her outright mile PR), winning the race by 5 seconds in 9:44.16, No. 2 all-time indoors or out.

As planned, the strategy allowed her to produce an impressive finishing sprint, opening up most of her margin on Hedengren over the final two laps. “That surprised me,” admits Leachman. “I’ve never been able to really close that fast. I usually burn myself up a little on the front end and so it was nice to know that I could do that if I saved a little something for the end.”

She came back the next day and smashed Katelyn Tuohy’s HSR in the 5000 by more than 8 seconds, running 15:28.90 after lapping the entire field. That time would have qualified Leachman for this year’s NCAA Indoor championships.

Watching remotely back in Texas, Breuer knew Leachman was going to produce something special based on the trademark smile she had during the race. And, of course, she had seen firsthand what her pupil was doing in training. “About two weeks earlier she had done a workout, 2 x 1½ miles on the track, progressively getting faster each lap,” says Breuer. “Her time for that workout was 15:02, just chilling, by herself, just us at 6 o’clock in the morning.”

Leachman showed early promise as a frosh, but not on her current scale. “Her freshman year she was just a normal two-sport athlete,” Breuer says. “She was also a swimmer, and she was injured coming into the cross country season so she was doing a lot of pool work. She was a good solid high school runner.” She finished 20th at the Texas 5A championships pacing the runner-up team.

Once she had the opportunity to train consistently, her potential began to reveal itself. Breuer recalls an eye-opening performance last March when Leachman ran her first 3200, clocking 10:52.18 on a brutally hot day against weak competition. That qualified her for Nike Indoors and from there, Breuer says, “it went to a different stratosphere.”

Leachman won the Texas 5A 1600 in 4:47.28, then placed 3rd in the 2M at Nike Outdoors in a frosh class record 9:57.65. The momentum continued in the fall, when she added a state cross country title and won the South regionals for both Nike Cross Nationals and Foot Locker.

Leachman was disappointed to finish 15th at NXN but rebounded a week later to take the Foot Locker title by almost 14 seconds. “That race was really special to me because after NXR [Regionals] was one of my best races of the cross country season and I was on a high, that was brought down quite a bit by my race at NXN,” Leachman says. “So to be able to end the season well and to get to meet all the people I met there was just a really fantastic end of the season. It made it really special.”

Under Breuer’s guidance, she has avoided overtraining, and in fact doesn’t run every day. “I’m pretty low mileage,” Leachman says. “Depending on what point I am in the season, I’ll do anything from 30 to 45 miles a week.” She cross trains with a mix of elliptical, pool running and swimming, and has continued as a member of the school’s swim team, wrapping the season in January.

Looking ahead, Leachman is keeping her goals relatively modest, even as she knows outsiders might be expecting loftier targets, like qualifying for the Olympic Trials in the 5000. “We’ve talked about it a little bit, but that’s not the specific goal in mind,” she says. “Just trying not to put any expectations on that. If that happens, it would be great.”

Mainly she wants to improve her times in the 800 and mile and continue to have fun alongside her teammates. More than one watchful adult has already handed her copies of recent books written by professional runners like Lauren Fleshman and Kara Goucher, filled with the cautionary tales of many young woman athlete prodigies.

“I feel really blessed with all the opportunities that have been presented to me and the attention I have been getting has been great,” Leachman says. “And I hope that I can use it to promote the best messages possible and be a good example for other runners who may look up to me.”