Big 5 Invitational Track Meet Credit: Alexandra Fleischman

When Penn women’s track and field coach Gwen Harris approached Paige Madison this winter to run the 800, the junior hurdler had her doubts.

One lap was hard, but two seemed impossible.

“At first I was really nervous actually,” the Ann Arbor native said. “I was like, ‘No, coach I don’t want to do the 800.’ But I knew that I had to do it and needed to.”

For Madison and her junior teammate Victoria Strickland, running the 800-meter dash is paying dividends, no matter how painful it may be.

“Going into the 800 has helped me significantly in the 400,” Strickland said.

Last season, Strickland focused exclusively on the 400 and 4x400-meter relay, but after increasing her mileage over the summer, she was ready to make the jump.

After struggling with the increased distance in her first outdoor 800, though, she talked to Madison about conserving her energy for the final kick.

“It takes a lot of discipline to stay back and stay relaxed,” Strickland said. “After speaking to [Madison], she said going into it I needed to know that last 200 [meters] is going to be hardest part of my race.”

Madison was quick to give her advice.

“If you imagine that it hurts there, and you tell yourself you’re gonna push through it, it’s all mental,” she said.

Strickland has embraced her new role as 400 and 800 runner. She even set a team-leading time and personal best of 2:12.85 in her last outdoor 800.

“Anytime you run an overdistance you are going to improve on the lower distance because you get stronger and you have a little more energy,” Harris said.

“We thought she would be a great 800-meter runner, and it’s paying off.”

For Strickland’s teammate, the adjustment has been less than obvious.

An intermediate hurdler who aspires to hit the 56-second mark by the end of the year, Madison has incorporated the 800 race solely for training purposes.

According to Madison, running longer distances has helped her maintain a constant rhythm of 17 steps in between each hurdle, especially after the sixth hurdle when fatigue sets in.

“The 800 really helps you when you get to that point [where your steps break down] and gives you the training you need to get through that wall,” she said.

Madison, who will continue to focus extensively on shorter distances and hurdle races, has translated the mental preparation of the 800 into team success.

Both Madison and Strickland are key components on a team that Harris believes could “win the 4x400” at the Heptagonal Championships next month.

It may be hard, but with their newfound training, it’s definitely possible.

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