New Pro Drew Hunter: "In Better Shape" Than 2016
Virginian made tough decision to go pro, pass up college.
By Sabrina Yohannes, RunBlogRun.com
Virginia teenager Drew Hunter makes his debut in the Millrose Games' prestigious Wanamaker Mile on Saturday, after clocking fast times in two races this indoor season.
Hunter, who became a professional athlete upon graduating high school last year, ran 3:58:92 for the mile at the New Balance Games in January before returning to the same venue in New York for the Armory Track Invitational last weekend and running a personal best over 3000m.
"It was my first time in a racing environment in a long time," Hunter, who'd last raced in November, told RunBlogRun about the New Balance mile, in which he narrowly held off Julian Oakley to win. "I just wanted to compete and win the race and hopefully break four minutes in the process. You could train as much as you want but racing's different than training and so you never truly know what type of fitness or exact shape you're in or how you're going to perform, so it was a good start."
Despite having limited experience over 3000m -- in which he ran 7:59.33 last year, a high school national record -- Hunter said he likes the distance and thinks it suits him. "It's obviously a little bit longer but it's more even, a smooth race," he said. "It's easier to run like 32 pace -- 31.5, 32-second pace -- for laps than it is to run, like, 29s and 30s for a short race. It just doesn't hurt as bad."
But the Armory Track 3000m also served an additional purpose for Hunter. "Last year, I broke eight minutes and my coach was like, 'Alright, now I know you can run under 4:00,' so if I run under 7:55, then I know I can run a little bit lower under 4:00," he said ahead of the longer race last week, adding, "Just kind of mentally, you know you have the strength here, and you've run well in the mile and you have the speed, so to put it all together, it brings you confidence to run well in the Wanamaker and races down the road."
In the 3000m, he placed third in an invitational field, but in a personal best 7:51.90. "I stayed with the rabbit and a gap formed after that, but it's an eight-second PR so it's OK," he said. "The first 3K of the year, so I can't complain."
As to what that performance tells him going into the Millrose Games, Hunter said, "It tells me I'm in better shape this year than I was last year."
He broke four minutes for the mile last year while running for Purcellville's Loudon Valley High, erasing fellow Virginian Alan Webb's 3:58.96 indoor national high school record with a 3:58.25, before bettering it to 3:57.81.
"I'd like another P.R. again," Hunter said of the 2017 Millrose Games Wanamaker Mile, which he's looking forward to contesting for the first time. "Oh, I'm excited, it's the Wanamaker Mile! It's THE indoor event. Everyone looks forward to it. It's on TV. I've watched it on TV as a kid. It'll be really special to be a part of that."
"My parents are track fans forever, so I'm sure I watched it growing up, but I don't remember the first ever race," he said. "I remember watching Bernard Lagat winning, I don't remember what year that was." Lagat won multiple Wanamakers.
"It's cool to know that people are going to be watching you," Hunter added about being on the other side of the TV cameras. "My parents will be there [at Millrose], but my whole family won't be there, so my siblings, my relatives, my friends, will all be tuning in, so it'll be cool to have that spirit. Gonna come full circle."
Hunter's first indoor season as a pro is well underway, with him having made the major decision in 2016 to pass up college athletic offers.
"It's been a good decision," he said. "I'm excited. I have opportunities like the Armory and racing against really good guys."
But the decision was a tough one to make. "It was very difficult just not going to college," he said. "No one else has really done this before, so it's a unique decision. There's not really anyone to really learn from. It's a learning curve."
"I'm taking a gap year now, but next year, I'm planning to go to school and take online courses or some form of education, maybe," he said, adding that what helped him make the decision was that it was "Just a good opportunity and something I couldn't pass up. I mean, there's not many chances you have to get a very good contract in this sport, so the fact that I had a good contract and adidas is a very good company and everything kind of came together."
Though Hunter pointed out that his situation was different from other athletes who went professional early, he has nevertheless taken some lessons about things to keep in mind. "Just keep finding the fun in the sport that you had when you first started: Just the simple joys of going for a run or just the simple joy of traveling to races and meeting some people that would be your friends for the rest of your life. It can get very complicated and you can make it hard on yourself but at the end it's still just a pure sport of running."
Long term, he said, "Everyone wants to make an Olympic team. It's kind of a long ways away. So we'll see, take it a day, a year at a time."
The long-term view is one advocated by his father, who, along with his wife Joan previously coached Drew, now trained by Tom Schwartz. "If you're at this level, you're not quite at the top level, you want to be at the top level, which is to make world championship teams, make Olympic teams," Marc Hunter told RunBlogRun. "As I told him -- gosh, a couple years ago - the guys who make the Olympic finals, the world championships finals, the NCAA finals, the guys who stay the healthiest the longest, it's just a gradual progression. And I think he's really taken that to heart, and that's his goal: Every year, improve a little bit, improve a little bit."
"adidas signed him long-term to make sure that he has time to develop," said the senior Hunter of his son's 10-year contract. "The fact that he can just concentrate on running and the fact that he has this opportunity is quite amazing."
Asked if he'd had any misgivings about his son's decision to go pro, Hunter spoke of the trade-offs. "I think you always have misgivings, because I ran in college and I loved it, the whole camaraderie team thing, and I know he'd miss that, but when I looked at the offer, I'm going, oh my goodness, if I were 18 years old, I wouldn't even think about it," he said. "It took him from February to June to actually decide the decision, so he was heartbroken about it because he was so close to Andy Powell at [the University of] Oregon; he was close to a lot of the guys on the team. Just to have that decision was just extremely tough on him."
"Once he made it, I think, the only regret he had during that time was when he was watching the NCAA cross country championships and he kinda wished, 'Oh, I wish I was out there with the boys!'" Marc Hunter continued. "But as soon as the race was over, he cleared his head and he was like, 'I'm really blessed to be where I am right now."
Photo: Drew Hunter at New Balance Games, photo by PhotoRun.net