Distance runner’s development aids breakout season

Junior Laura Docherty broke the Gophers’ 10,000-meter record at her first outdoor meet last weekend.

Minnesota distance runner Laura Docherty leads the pack at the Jack Johnson Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, at the University Fieldhouse.

Image by Bridget Bennett

Minnesota distance runner Laura Docherty leads the pack at the Jack Johnson Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, at the University Fieldhouse.

by Megan Ryan

Junior distance runner Laura Docherty is having a breakout season.

But her success has been long in the works — since birth, actually.

Docherty’s parents were both runners at Iowa, and her sister and younger brother followed suit. Her older brother ran at Loyola University. Her dad works for Nike.

“My family’s obsessed,” she said.

Docherty broke the Gophers’ school record for the 10,000-meter run in her first outdoor meet of the season last weekend. She shaved seven seconds off a time that has stood since the 1980s.

Breaking that record so early in the season was all part of the plan, Docherty said.

Volunteer assistant coach Sarah Hesser said Docherty was more nervous than usual heading into the race.

“I knew how important it was to her and how much she really wanted it,” Hesser said. “You don’t get a lot of opportunities in the 10,000 because you don’t race it very often. So you kind of take your shot when you have it.”

Hesser said Docherty turned a corner almost a year ago when she finished fourth in the 10,000 at the Big Ten outdoor championships. She earned All-Big Ten and All-Midwest Region honors last fall in cross country, and she placed second in the 5,000-meter run at the Big Ten indoor championships about a month ago.

“You can’t overstate how impressive it is to get that record because it’s a really hard one to get,” Hesser said. “We’ve had some phenomenal 10,000-meter runners in the last 10 years. … Because of the way the race works, you have to be in the right race at the right time.”

The school record was the first of many goals Docherty had this outdoor season.

Without the pressure of achieving a fast time, Docherty can focus on placing high at the postseason meets.

Docherty said her goal is to win the Big Ten outdoor championships in the 10,000-meter run and advance from the NCAA regionals to the finals — something she has never done in her track career.

Fellow junior distance runner Kelli Budd is Docherty’s roommate and said her teammate has a racing instinct and confidence that helps her achieve whatever goals she sets.

“At this point, I don’t even know what she can do because I feel like she surprised everyone,” Budd said.

Budd said Docherty, a team captain, encourages her teammates and sets the bar higher for all distance runners.

Docherty will take this weekend off from competition and probably won’t run the 10,000 again until the conference championships in May.

“Just with the schedule this year, I don’t really race very often,” Docherty said. “I love racing … so it is like frustrating when you can’t get out and show what you can do.”

But Hesser said it’s necessary to pace Docherty’s training, as she will potentially run several grueling 10,000-meter races in the short span of the postseason.

Docherty has one more year of eligibility left but said she’s already thinking ahead to running professionally after graduation.

“I’m not ready to be done after one more year,” Docherty said. “I love it too much.”