Lessons Learned For Elise Cranny

Thrilled to win the OT 5000, Elise Cranny went on to find tougher racing in Tokyo. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

MOMENTS AFTER CROSSING the finish in the Olympic 5000 last summer, Elise Cranny had an epiphany: she had been told by teammates and coaches what to expect in her first international final on the senior level, but none of that advice prepared her for the reality — or intensity — of the closing laps.

“It was unlike any other race that I’ve been in,” Cranny says of her 13th-place finish in Tokyo. “I was told the race would go like that, where the leaders will probably squeeze down the last 5 laps, but I had to experience that for myself.”

Just as she had been advised, the leaders (led by eventual gold medalist Sifan Hassan) had gradually accelerated over the course of the race before a hard drive to the finish in the final kilometer. Cranny’s 14:55.98 left her a straightaway off the podium.

In the aftermath, she discussed the race with teammate Karissa Schweizer, who had finished a step ahead in 11th. “We wished we would could run that again in a week, so we would know how to execute that so much better,” Cranny recalls from her winter training base in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Alas, there are no do-overs in the Olympics, but flash forward 6 months and Cranny got her chance to put the lessons from Tokyo to use.

At the Hemery Valentine Invitational on Boston University’s famously fast oval, Cranny took charge over the closing stages of the 5000 and steadily increased the pace to blow open the race. Though her Canadian training partner Gabriela DeBues-Stafford (14:31.38) got the better of her on the final lap, Cranny was rewarded with an American Record 14:33.17.

More importantly, she says, it proved that she is capable of racing aggressively. “That’s something that I’ve been trying to work on the last couple of years, learning to run from the front a little bit more and take risks, instead of just relying on a kick,” she says. “Going into a lot of races [in the past] I would say that I was going to do that, and then I wouldn’t follow through. So for me, this was a huge mental step forward in that regard.”

While obviously pleased with her time in Boston (which obliterated the previous AR of 14:47.62, set in ’09 by one of her coaches, Shalane Flanagan), she is most encouraged by the way the race played out. Closing out the race with a string of 33-second laps, Cranny covered her final 1600 in an impressive 4:27.81.

“That’s really something that I’ve tried to be intentional about since Tokyo and think about in practice, and that I tried to put that into practice in the race,” she says. “That was a really eye-opening experience… being able to grind from a long way out.”

This is the latest milestone in career marked by steady improvement. As a HS senior in Niwot, Colorado, Cranny won the ’14 New Balance Indoor 800 and clocked 4:10.95 for the 1500, which still makes her the No. 5 all-time prep performer. She finished 4th in the 1500 at the World Juniors that summer before heading to Stanford. For the Cardinal she was a consistent NCAA scorer, which opened the door to sign with the Bowerman TC in early ’19.

The transition to training with a decorated professional team was not without its challenges. “When I first joined I was finishing half the workouts and getting my butt absolutely kicked, and you feel so far from where you want to be,” she admits. “But then you stop and reflect on who you’re working out with. People who have medaled at World Championships and Olympics and have set records.”

In fact, it has become a right of passage for Bowerman newbies to struggle with the volume and intensity of Jerry Schumacher’s daunting program. “There is such a steep learning curve with every single person that comes in,” Cranny explains. “But I think there is something motivating, and keeps you sane knowing that it’s something that everyone has gone through. You just have to keep showing up.”

(It has also helped having her boyfriend, fellow Stanfordite Sean McGorty, on the team. “We have similar goals and aspirations in the sport,” she says of McGorty, who was in on the Boston fireworks with a 5K indoor PR 13:09.21 of his own. “To have a partner who fully understands that is really special.”)

The routine certainly seems to be working with Cranny, who will turn 26 in May. In her first pro season she finished 7th in the 5000 and 9th in the 1500 at USATF. Then, during the height of the pandemic in ’20, she lowered her PR to 14:48.02 at one of the Bowerman intrasquad meets.

Last year she cut her PR in the 1500 down to 4:02.62, then won the 5000 at the Olympic Trials (outkicking Schweizer in a tactical race) before placing 4th in the 10. That was just the second 25-lapper of her career. She had debuted at the distance with a 30:47.42 in February ’21, which vaulted her into the No. 3 spot on the U.S. all-time list.

This year, with an eye towards the WC Trials, Cranny will give the longer race another try on March 05 at Sound Running’s “The Ten” in San Juan Capistrano, California. “I want to get in one more 10K before USAs just to try to keep figuring out the event,” she says. The timing unfortunately means she will skip the USATF Indoor one week earlier.

“I really wanted to do USA Indoors and Jerry was open to that, but then we talked about what would be best for [the outdoor] championships to try to make the World team,” Cranny says. “We have an open dialogue and decided that for my development and trajectory right now, doing a 10K is best for that.”

Assuming she makes Team USA, she is eager to put her increased confidence to use. “I want to work on the skills needed to compete at the global level,” she says. “Tokyo was my first real experience with that. I want to be able to use what I’ve learned and put myself up there with the Kenyans and the Ethiopians and Sifan.” ◻︎