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Texas 16-Year-Old Breaks Two High School 5K Records

Elizabeth Leachman ran 15:28 for 5,000 meters indoors and 15:25 outdoors—but she’s taking the long view.

Elizabeth Leachman has built an impressive running résumé during her first two years of high school. Last December, the sophomore won the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in San Diego in 16:50, finishing 14 seconds ahead of the second-place runner.

She made headlines on March 10 at the Nike Indoor Nationals meet in New York, when she broke an indoor track record for previously held by Katelyn Tuohy. Leachman, 16, ran 15:28.90 for 5,000 meters, bettering Tuohy’s high school record (15:37.12), set in 2018, by more than 6 seconds. Leachman averaged 4:59 per mile. 

Then on March 28, she ran the 5,000 meters at the Texas Relays and took an additional 3 seconds off. Her time, 15:25.27, broke Natalie Cook’s high school record (15:25.93) from 2022. 

Her coach, Jenny Breuer, doesn’t care about any of that. She just wants her athlete to run even splits. 

Leachman, who goes to Boerne Champion High School, in Boerne, Texas, a suburb of San Antonio, knows her pacing can be a weakness. But she’s working on it.

“That’s definitely been a struggle for me,” she said. “I really like to go out hard and just kind of get after it. But I pay for it at the end, for sure.” 

That’s why according to Breuer, the 5,000-meter record wasn’t even the most important race Leachman ran at the Nike indoor meet. Two days earlier, Leachman won the 2-mile in 9:44.16, splitting 5:03 for the first mile and 4:41 for the second. 

The 4:41 was (unofficially) a mile PR for her. It also proved to her that she didn’t have to lead. Leachman has had some poor (for her) races after going out too hard, most notably at Nike Cross Nationals last fall, the week before her Foot Locker win, when she rocketed out to a 17-second lead in the early miles before fading to 15th place.

“You can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result, so [for the 2-mile] we really just talked about waiting for the 1200, six laps in, then go,” Breuer said. “She likes to lead. It stresses her out not to lead. I think that gave her a lot of confidence she could race differently and still win.” 

Breuer says Leachman is easily the most talented athlete she has had in 28 years of coaching college and high school athletes. But she spends most of her time holding Leachman back. 

After she contended with hip bursitis and tendinitis in her hip and hamstring as a freshman, Leachman embarked on a vigorous cross-training regimen, alternating sessions of pool running, the elliptical machine, and the ARC trainer. 

Her weekly schedule is similar to that of Parker Valby, the University of Florida star who is a four-time NCAA champion. Leachman’s routine includes only three or four days each week of running, for about 30 miles total. She’ll do a 90-minute session of cross-training on the days she doesn’t run, and on the days she does, she’ll put in an extra 30 minutes of cross-training after the workout.

A typical week, Breuer said, will include a long run, a threshold run or intervals, and a shorter interval workout. The long run is usually 9–11 miles. She tried to have Leachman run by time, but she ended up running too fast and too far, so they went to a mileage limit. 

A recent threshold workout was 4 x 1 mile at about 5:10 pace, with a one-minute recovery between miles. The speed day was 4 x 600 meters with a 200-meter float between each. She never does more than a mile for warmup or cooldown, so that workout totaled less than 4 miles. 

They’ve also spent a lot of time doing 200s in 36 seconds and 400s in 72. Breuer will sometimes have Leachman do those after the main part of the workout, just to get the feeling of the pace she should not exceed. 

“If you have to take the lead, do not go faster than 36 or 72,” Breuer said she instructed Leachman before the 2-mile. “Do not run a 68. Please.”

The coach and the runner sometimes challenge each other. Leachman wants to do more. Breuer wants her to stay healthy and develop over time. “I’m always pulling her back,” Breuer said. “Err on the side of caution.”

For all the unusual ability Leachman has—a powerful aerobic engine, the discipline to work hard at cross-training—there’s one thing that she doesn’t have that most 16-year-olds do: an Instagram account. 

That’s been a deliberate choice on the part of Leachman and her parents, who don’t want to see their daughter swept up into the frenzy and pressure that can sometimes descend on young, female runners. (See: Tuohy and Valby.) 

“I think if it was fully up to me, I probably would have it,” Leachman said. “But my parents don’t want me to, and I’m okay with it. I haven’t really fought it.”

When she was at Nike Indoor Nationals in New York, it was the first time she had encountered fans who wanted to take pictures with her. It wasn’t too weird, she said. “It was mostly other high school girls and then a couple of younger girls,” she said. “It was sweet. I never expected that.” 

The social media moratorium is a way to keep Leachman’s high school experience as typical as possible. She maintains a perfect GPA. She works occasional shifts at a gym after school, staffing the front desk or the babysitting area, where parents drop their kids while they work out. She likes to be with her teammates, helping score points for Boerne Champion, even though she does many of her workouts alone or with the boys’ team during cross-country season. 

She follows what’s happening in pro and college running, but not obsessively. She knew Valby ran 14:52 in winning the NCAA indoor title—“insane” Leachman called it—but then she didn’t give it much more thought. 

“Because running is important to me, it’s the focus of what I’m doing a lot of the time,” she said. “When I’m away from it, I try not to make my whole life focused around it, so that I can be more balanced in general.”

The adults in Leachman’s life sound a constant drumbeat: You are more than your performances. 

“We talk a lot about external expectations, and just because you’re good at running doesn’t mean that it’s everything that defines you,” Breuer said. “That’s what’s really hard, I think, for a 16-year-old to remember sometimes when the spotlight is on. I try to remove that pressure as much as possible and remind her that this is supposed to be fun.”

There is plenty of time for all the extras. Leachman will have to wait to see if her 15:25 gets her entry into the Olympic Trials this summer, but Breuer is playing the long game. 

“She has a really good perspective,” Breuer said of Leachman. “Her parents have done a super job. And also, I say, ‘I want you to be an amazing college runner, I want you to be an amazing professional runner, if that’s what you want to do. We don’t want you to peak in high school. That’s not the goal.’”

(03/31/2024) Views: 157 ⚡AMP
by Runner’s World
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