As usual, Anna Pierce was nervously pacing in the moments before a race, self doubt running through her mind: “Why am I doing this?” she asked herself.

As usual, she had an answer.

Pierce, the Greenwood native and 2002 graduate of Telstar High in Bethel (as Anna Willard), was one of six women running a 1,500-meter race in San Diego last Thursday.

Instead of just using it as a tune-up for the U.S. Olympic Trials, she decided at the last minute to try to achieve the Olympic “A” standard of 4:06.00 for the event.

“I’m more of a racer,” she said. “So I decided I wanted to get the standard out of the way.”

Paced by Mammouth Track Club teammate Morgan Uceny — the top U.S. female 1,500 runner — for the first 1,000 meters, Pierce made the standard with a little room to spare.

She finished in 4:05.42, giving her a big lift going into the U.S. Olympic Trials at Eugene, Ore. Now she can concentrate on finishing in the top three.

“It was very important to have (the standard) going into the trials,” she said. “You never know what type of race that will be.”

The 28-year-old Pierce will get her first chance to run in the women’s 1,500 prelims at 6:50 p.m. Thursday.

“Currently, I’m feeling good, really good,” said Pierce, in a phone interview from San Diego where she has been training. “I feel ready mentally and physically.”

And that says a lot.

Pierce, who competed in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and finished 10th in the 3,000 steeplechase, is coming off a 2011 season punctuated by health problems.

After the Beijing Olympics, she switched to the 1,500 and quickly became one of America’s best, running a 3:59.58 in 2009.

But she was infected with a parasite while in Beijing and the antibiotics she took to fight it affected her immune system adversely. She would get sick when she was at altitude, or when the weather turned colder. She became fatigued as her immune system broke down.

She finally went to a nutritionist in San Diego, who, she said, “rebuilt my whole system. He put my body through a detox.”

At the end of the 2011 outdoor season, she stayed in Europe a couple of extra weeks, running in several races.

The results weren’t great, time-wise, but did wonders for Pierce. She was able to get her training, and race-day routine back on track.

“I was able to build on it this year and feel I made some really nice progressions,” she said. “I’m feeling healthy and handling a full training load.”

Having achieved the “A” standard, Pierce feels very confident going into the trials. She is known for her finishing kick and is ready to make another Olympics squad.

“If all goes according to plan, I should be in the top three,” she said. “That’s the plan. Whereas in 2008 I wanted to win the Olympic Trials, I realize now it’s all about qualifying. That’s what will get you another five-six weeks to hone in and get ready for London.”

And being in London is important to Pierce. That’s why she ran last week to get the standard.

“Before that race, I asked myself why do I still have this burning desire to go (to the Olympics) again,” she said. “I knew if I didn’t (get the standard), there was a good chance that I was not going to be on the team.

“I’m not ready to be done. I feel there’s so much more to be done. I was 10th in the steeplechase. I want to be better than 10th. I want to be in medal contention. I feel I have a lot of unfinished business.”

Pierce discounted speculation that she was going to compete in the steeplechase again, to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in that event.

“For me to go back to it almost feels like a cop-out,” she said. “I know, just on my natural ability, I could do it. But it’s not what I want to be doing.

“I feel like I’d be doing it just to get away from a more competitive event. I want to do what I love most, even if it is a more competitive event.”

That she’s training with Uceny, who has a qualifying time of 4:01.59, lets Pierce to know exactly where she stands. “And I know I’m not that far off,” she said.

Since achieving the “A” standard last week, Pierce has been tapering her training for her races.

“We’re kind of kicking up the intensity but lowering the volume,” she said. “At this point, everything is done. You can only mess it up by doing too much.”

 

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH