Jordan Hasay found herself in a taxi with American marathon record holder Khalid Khannouchi on Wednesday night after arriving in Chicago ahead of Sunday’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon. He looked at her for a second before turning to ask, “Aren’t you that young 800 meter runner?”
She laughed for a second, because she never really specialized in the 800 meters but he was definitely referring to the 16-year-old girl in the 1,500 meters of the 2008 Olympics Trials that sparked some hope for the future of American distance running. It was her. Nearly 10 years later, Hasay is now arguably one of the strongest U.S. marathoners and could be considered a contender to win Sunday’s race.
High school runners can often find stardom but it’s sometimes difficult to get that to translate onto the college scene and even more so into the professional space. Hasay has been fortunate to have thrived in all of them. She rose to prominence at Mission College Preparatory High School in San Luis Obispo and then went on to earn 18 All-American honors and win two NCAA titles in indoor track at the University of Oregon, before signing a professional contract with Nike. She currently trains with the Nike Oregon Project and works with coach Alberto Salazar (who remains under investigation by USADA) and Pete Julian.
“I think it comes down to being passionate about running and not necessarily caring about the wins and losses,” Hasay says. “I haven’t always had the most successful years because in college I wanted to do a lot better than I did but consistency is important. I was looking back at my Oregon career and I never finished less than fourth at an NCAA championship except for my freshman year in cross country, which is kind of expected. I think that’s incredible consistency that shows I can make it count on the biggest stage.”
She qualified for the 2013 world championship team in the 10,000 meters on the track but didn’t make it in 2015 and missed the Olympic team with a ninth place finish in the 10,000 meters and a 13th place finish in the 5,000 meters at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. The decision was made to move to the roads and contest the marathon in 2017.
Against a field that included some of the best East Africans and seasoned U.S. Olympian Desi Linden, Hasay was expected to test the 26.2-mile distance and possibly get some jitters out of the way in her debut. It took many by surprise to see her make the podium and clock the fastest debut by an American woman ever when she crossed the finish line in 2:23:00.
“When I did really well in Boston, it’s one of those things where all the expectations tend to increase,” Hasay says. “People could see that as pressure but I really see it as a privilege. I know what to do because I’ve done it all my life. I don’t really look at it as expectations but more as goals. People expect me to run fast in this race and that’s fine because that’s my goal.”
Sunday’s marathon is the first of many that Hasay has already started mapping out. When the IOC officially announced the Olympics would be held in Los Angeles in 2028, Hasay did the math to calculate she’d be 36 and then planned out a few marathons into her journal.
“Since I started running and when I was a little kid, I always said I wanted to make the Olympics,” Hasay says. “That’s my long term and ultimate goal. I’ve had a few shots on the track and now I’m hoping that it comes true in the marathon for 2020 and beyond. Thinking about that puts things into perspective for me and takes the pressure off this weekend for example.”
“We’ve seen with people like Meb [Keflezighi] and Edna Kiplagat that you can actually reach your prime at that age if you take care of yourself,” she adds. “Most people think I look like I’m 12 or 13 so give me 10 more years and I’ll look like I’m 26, which I actually am now. It’ll be perfect.”
No American woman has won a gold medal in the Olympics since Joan Benoit Samuelson did it when the 26.2-mile distance was added for women at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. This weekend almost saw an intersection of American distance running eras. Hasay and Samuelson were supposed to be in the same race (with Samuelson’s 2:21:21 personal best from the 1985 Chicago Marathon listed ahead of Hasay on the elite entry list) but the 60-year-old was forced to withdraw from the race due to an injury setback in training. Thus, her quest of becoming the first woman to run a sub-three hour marathon at the age of 60 has been put on hold. Hasay says she doesn’t necessarily want to model her career after Samuelson or world record holder Paula Radcliffe, who she had never met until Thursday, but she looks up to both.
In the lead-up to the Boston Marathon, Hasay’s mother, Teresa, passed away unexpectedly in November 2016 at the age of 56. Professional athletes have different ways of coping with the death of a loved one. Running, which was what bonded Hasay and her mother, served as her coping mechanism. Hasay recalls not sleeping well in the first couple months after her mother’s death and would get up before the sun to go on a run on the same six-mile loop that they did together for so many years. From a young age, Teresa gave Jordan the nickname “Paula” in honor of Radcliffe and always believed that the marathon would suit her best.
“Boston was something that kept me driven because she knew about it,” Hasay says. “It was a big goal to run that marathon. It’s different now doing things that she didn’t know about, like Chicago she obviously didn’t know. It feels kind of different to make my own footsteps in that regard but it’s a huge motivation to me. The marathon is something that you need that is a deep motivation when it gets really hard.”
She believes that solely focusing on her debut allowed her to subdue some of the pain of personal tragedy. For this training cycle, she found herself journaling and reading more. She particularly found motivation from notes that fans and supporters wrote to her about running after losing a loved one. Hasay says there have been no hiccups or niggles in training. On paper, workouts have been going better than before Boston.
“There’s this long run that I do at Nike, which is a 20-miler. I did it for the first time last September and immediately called my mother afterward and she was so excited. She said to me, ‘Well done, Paula,’” says Hasay. “Now, I always get excited about doing that route and it’s funny because at the time it seemed like such a big deal because that was the farthest I had ever run. I did it last week as part of my pre-race workout and ran it even faster. I’m sure she’s looking down and guiding me in every step.”