After Falling Just Short of Spot in London Olympics, PU Alum Higginson Primed for Worlds Steeplechase
Ashley Higginson’s dream of competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics died in the backstretch at Hayward Field last July as she placed fourth in the steeplechase at the U.S. trials, just missing the top-3 finish required to book a spot to the London Games.
While the former Princeton University standout was disappointed to fall just short of the Olympics, she took positives from the experience.
“There was a mix of emotions,” said Higginson, a 2011 Princeton grad who was an All American in the steeplechase for the Tigers and was an eight-time Ivy League champion, winning the indoor mile, 3,000 and 5,000 as well as the outdoor 3,000 and 5,000 and the steeplechase three times.
“I learned a lot. I set a personal record by so much in the race. I did a lot more than people expected.”
Applying the lessons that she learned from the trials, Higginson recently placed second in the steeplechase at this year’s USA Track and Field championships in Des Moines, Iowa and will get her shot at international glory as she competes at the IAAF World Track and Field Championships in Moscow, Russia this week.
“This year I came in a lot more confident and prepared,” said Higginson,” who clocked a time of 9:46.25 in the 3,000-meter event at the nationals in earning her trip to Moscow. “Last year, it was more of a dream. Now I believe I deserve to be in the top 3 and I wanted to take ownership.”
For Higginson, a native of Colts Neck, joining the New Jersey-New York Track Club after graduation from Princeton helped her take things to another level.
“My intensity went way up,” said Higginson, who was a recipient of the 2011 C. Otto von Kienbusch Award, the
highest senior female student-athlete award at Princeton.
“I have to commend coach Farrell [longtime Princeton women’s coach Peter Farrell] for his ability to cultivate great athletes, students and girls. He keeps them fresh, you need to be balanced in college.”
In working with NJ-NY, Higginson was able to make a greater commitment to her training. “It wasn’t the mileage as much as the intensity,” said Higginson.
“In college, we would have two track workouts a week and a long run on Saturday. We would do repeat 800s and miles. With NJ-NY, we do three days of speed training, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Monday is a strength day with 800s and 1000s. On Wednesday, we do a four or five-mile tempo run in the morning and then do 200s on the track in the afternoon. On Friday, we do speed work; it is the lactic attack. We do hard 800s.”
Higginson decided to start law school because she didn’t want to have all of her eggs in one basket.
“I made a lot of decisions this year; I decided to stay in New Jersey and start law school at Rutgers,” said Higginson, who had been accepted at the University of Colorado law school in 2011 and contemplated relocating to Boulder.
“It was reaffirming to do things my way and have it all work out. It was hard in the fall, Gags [NJ-NY coach Frank Gagliano] was understanding and changed the schedule around for me. You can always have a bad week of school, running, or social life so it is good if you have something else to focus on instead of one thing.”
Higginson had a good week in Des Moines at the U.S. championships as she cruised to a fourth-place finish in her heat and then coolly executed her race plan to earn her second place finish in the championship race.
“Going into final we thought one or two athletes would take it out fast,” said Higginson.
If one went, I could sit back but if two went out I would have to go with them. Only one went out fast and I stayed in the pack. I made my move with 600 meters to go. I was so relieved to make it.”
Since making the worlds, Higginson has been fine-tuning things. “I am sharpening. I went over to Europe; I had one steeple that didn’t go well,” said Higginson.
“I also did a 1,500 (a 4:11.82 in Heusden, Belgium) and mile (a 4:34.47 in Dublin, Ireland) and had PRs in both. I am doing speed work, lowering my mileage and sleeping more. Tapering is tough, especially going from end of June to mid-August. That is a long time, I needed to have some intensity in the middle of that.”
As Higginson looks ahead to the Moscow competition, she knows it will take mental toughness to make an impact.
“I am shooting for a time and to make the final,” said Higginson. “We had two Americans (Emma Coburn and Bridget Franek) in the Olympic final and I think we will be prepared to medal in 2016. It will be hard for me to medal this year. As coach Farrell always said, just run your seed time in the final and be your best self on the day.”
Higginson, for her part, is prepared to make her dream of competing at the Olympics a reality as she aims for a spot in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games.
“I graduate from law school in 2015; I have a year to train full time,” said Higginson. “I am very surprised and thrilled at how far I have come. It is nice to see what you can do when you really put time into it.”