SAGE HURTA-KLECKER SAYS she has always run her best when she focuses on competing, rather than worrying about times. But as she found out, when you are trying to establish yourself as one of the top 800-meter runners on the pro circuit, it’s hard not to get caught up in breaking 2:00.
The Colorado grad entered the ’22 season, her first as a post-collegian, with a 2:00.08 PR (from the previous year’s OT heats), agonizingly close to the benchmark of prestige in the event. “Last year, especially at the beginning of the year, I felt a lot of pressure to get my times down,” she admits. “Because I felt like even though I had really solid PRs, they weren’t at the same level as my competitors in the pro fields. But now I don’t feel that way as much.”
With good reason. She knocked sub-2:00 off her to-do list in her outdoor opener, winning April’s Penn Relays in 1:59.76, then went on to breach the barrier 7 more times, topped off by a 1:57.85 to take 2nd in the Monaco Diamond League.
“It’s nice to really know, because you can tell yourself that [you are capable of it], but it’s hard to really believe it until you prove it to yourself,” she says. “Now there’s that expectation that you should be able to do this, pretty much, when the time comes. You have to be able to do that.”
The Monaco race came as part of a season-ending stretch in Europe that also saw her take 2nd in the Chorzów DL and 3rd in the DL Final in Zürich. “Those three races were the ones were I really felt locked in on 800 tactics, and my fitness was good and my confidence was there,” she says. “I’m most proud of how I was able to show up at these big events right away. It was a little bit of a shock and a little bit of just putting myself in the races and seeing what happens. I’m happy with how I committed to it and raced pretty well.”
Alas, the low point of the season had come at USATF Outdoors, where she blasted a then-PR 1:58.30 in the semis, but could only manage 7th (1:59.43) in the final two days later. She admits that she overcompensated in the semis to erase the memory of the Trials, where she fell in the homestretch of that round on the same Hayward Field track. “It had gone so poorly the year before, I really wanted to do well and I think I overdid it a little bit,” she says with a laugh.
While disappointing, it was a valuable lesson about managing energy between rounds that she’ll carry into this year’s outdoor nationals, the selection meet for the World Champs in Budapest. “Now that my body has run that pace and I have gone through races like that, I’m more prepared, if it does take a 1:58 in the semi,” she says. “Where I was like, ‘That’s all I had, and now I have to do it again 2 days later.’”
Qualifying for Budapest in an event that coach Dathan Ritzenhein calls “probably the hardest team to make,” is her top goal. “You’ll probably have to be in sub-1:58 shape. That was the standard last year,” Hurta-Klecker says. “Even without the extra spot [from Athing Mu’s Wild Card], it’s so deep through top 8-ish in the U.S. that it’s still gonna take sub-1:58. And then being able to execute on the correct date.”
Hurta-Klecker’s consistency came during a period of major change for the upstate New York native. She went through her first full year as a member of Ritzenhein’s On Athletics AC in Boulder, and in October she tied the knot with her college sweetheart, teammate Joe Klecker, a ’21 Olympian in the 10,000.
On the track, she was joined by new OAC teammates Sinta Vissa, the ’22 NCAA 1500 champion for Ole Miss, followed by 1500/5000 standout Josette (Norris) Andrews. “It’s been nice to have some company, because a lot of everything was on my own,” says Hurta-Klecker, who also overlaps in some training with 5K/10K star Alicia Monson. “Sinta brings this lighter energy to practice, where I can get very serious and focused. It’s been a great balance. And I’ve only done a couple of workouts with Josette, but she’s great energy as well.”
Though she’s now one of the top 800 runners on the planet, earning the No. 10 spot in last year’s World Rankings, Hurta-Klecker has plenty of credentials at longer distances. She won a Pac-12 title in the steeplechase, even if she wasn’t thrilled about it. “The steeplechase is a really grueling event [and] I didn’t really have it in my heart to push through sometimes when it got really difficult,” she says. “It wasn’t what got me out of bed and excited to train in the morning.”
She also helped Colorado win the ’18 NCAA Cross Country team title as the Buffs’ No. 4 runner (22nd overall). And the high point of her collegiate career, of course, was winning the NCAA Indoor mile title as a senior. She’s hoping to continue to explore her potential in the 1500 and mile after lowering her PRs to 4:01.79 and 4:25.45 last year. “I see longer term my trajectory going towards the 15,” she says, “so I want to gain a little more experience racing it.”
But the 2-lapper remains her primary focus, and she is working on honing her final 100. “That was a big thing for me last year, I felt like I could put together a really good 700m, but there was just a different level of strength that was required for those slight moves that were made on the homestretch,” she says. “The very best people can really attack the homestretch in an 800, which is really hard to do. So it’s a big area of improvement for me.” ◻︎