(Lead photo courtesy of Zach Hetrick, http://www.zachhetrick.com)
In the second edition of Empire Women All-Stars, we touch base with the Redwood Empire’s most recent National Champion, Lauren Wallace. Lauren captured a historic 1,000m indoor title earlier this year, despite beginning her T&F career as a sprinter while at Ukiah High School. We chat with Lauren about the move up in distance, her journey as a professional, and what lies ahead.
Despite being the Redwood Empire’s most recent middle-distance star, you took a different trajectory than many others. Can you tell us a little bit about your introduction to the sport?
I owe my beginnings of the sport to three people – my mom and dad, Lisa Cortina and Scott Wallace, who both ran high school track and cross country, and my high school coach and mentor Dan Jurado. My mom and dad laid the foundation, and Dan helped develop me as a sprinter. My parents always knew that I would eventually gravitate towards the distances, both being long distance runners. But I loved the sprints, and Coach Dan encouraged me to develop as much speed as I could in those early stages.
The transition happened at the end of my freshman year in college. My coach at the time, Deanne Vochatzer, pulled me aside and asked if I would be interested in running the 800m. I was a walk-on for the program and probably would have done anything they asked, so long as I stayed on the team. I obliged and my mother was thrilled (laughs).
In 2013 you made the jump to the national level, competing at NCAA’s and the US Championships. What was it like performing at such a big stage in such a (relatively) new event?
Both of those events were such incredible opportunities for me. The NCAA championship didn’t end exactly how I wanted it to. I placed 8th but ran away with a personal best. The US Championships were on an entirely different level. I had never raced against women that I had looked up to for so long. To toe the line against those incredible women solidified that I wanted to live this life for some time to come.
What would “high school” Lauren say if you were told that one day you’d be a National Champion – in the 1,000m?
I wouldn’t have believed myself. High school Lauren didn’t envision herself running after college. I didn’t know what the NCAA regional meet was until I was a sophomore in college (the year that I qualified). High school Lauren wanted to join the Peace Corps.
How has this breakout year changed things for you?
Earning the US National Indoor title did change some things for me both on and off the track. Oiselle re-signed me through 2016 and expanded my contract. They made it possible for me to no longer have to work my part time job and instead allocate my time to training and recovering full time.
Despite that 1,000m victory, you’re primarily an 800m runner. The United States is arguably the best country in the world at 800m. How has that depth helped you, and how is it a challenge?
It is an honor to be able to compete with the best in the world right here in the United States. Having this much depth in the 800m always keeps you hungry for more. It’s really easy to refocus during a tough track workout or long run when I think about all the other talented women I get to toe the line with. It definitely is challenging as well though. It’s going to be extremely tough making World and Olympic teams in the coming years when really anyone in the final could run away with a top three spot.
You’ve dabbled in the 1,500m, including a nice PR just this week. Any thoughts on eventually moving up, or at least adding it as a more serious secondary event?
I don’t know if I’ll ever move up permanently, but I wouldn’t write it off by any means. I am already starting to consider it a more serious event for myself. I’d like to be nationally competitive in both the 800m and the 1500m. It’s always nice to have options.
Well, you’re unquestionably competitive at that 800m, and you’ll prove it yet again at the USATF Outdoor Championships coming up in Eugene on June 25th. What should your fans expect to see there?
My preliminary goal is to earn a lane in the final. As we talked about earlier, any woman in the final has the ability to contend for a spot on the team.