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Ally the Miler: Peare embraces middle distance

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Allison Peare (Mohammad Khursheed, TFV Media)Allison Peare (Mohammad Khursheed, TFV Media)
Allison Peare has emerged in recent weeks as a serious contender in the mile at the NCAA Indoor Championships, which begin on Friday. The senior's ascent to elite status amongst collegiate milers is all the more impressive considering she didn't even believe the distance to be her ideal race until just a few months ago.

For much of her career Peare considered herself an 800-meter runner. She had experienced modest success in the race in her first two seasons at UK, but nowhere near the heights she's reached in recent weeks.

Soon after head coach Edrick Floreal took over the program in summer 2012, and brought in women's distance assistant coach Hakon DeVries, Peare was put on a path that in many ways diverged from her initial athletic plans.

The change may have been the best thing to ever happen for Peare's career, she just took a while to embrace the new direction.

"Ally for her entire career identified herself as an 800 runner, and it took me about a year to convince her she was a middle-distance runner," DeVries said. "I wouldn't say she completely believed me until two minutes after the 2013 SEC Outdoor 1500 final (the outdoor mile equivalent). I had tried her in a 1500 and a Mile earlier in the year and she didn't have nearly the success I thought she could, but that day it finally clicked and was a huge confidence boost."

The confidence only began to really pay dividends in a noteworthy national manner within the last month.

"My increased confidence started from Hakon and Coach Flo," Peare said. "When you have both of your coaches telling you that you have something special and that they believe in your abilities, it eventually starts to sink in. Every time I walk by Coach Flo at practice, he looks at me and says 'Ally the Miler.' Also, in one of my very first practices with Hakon he told me that I was going to be a great 1500 runner, I just didn't believe him."

Peare's newfound belief was on full display in mid-February at the Iowa State Classic, where she broke 1989 SEC Mile Champion Lisa Breiding's school record (4:38.37 in 1989) by more than two seconds. She then lowered it to 4:38.14 in a Bronze Medal performance at the SEC Championships.

She enters the NCAA Championships as the No. 5 national seed in the mile, and will be able to focus on the event, as opposed to also running the 800 as she did at the Southeastern Conference Championships two weeks ago.

Team Backbone

The Kentucky women's track and field team has enjoyed a head-turning indoor season, rising to No. 6 in the country ahead of the National Championships.

Indeed, since Floreal took charge of the program before the 2012-13 season many have taken note of the team's improvement.

Peare scored in both the mile and 800m at the SEC Championships. She will compete only in the mile at the NCAA Championships. (Mohammad Khursheed, TFV Media) Peare scored in both the mile and 800m at the SEC Championships. She will compete only in the mile at the NCAA Championships. (Mohammad Khursheed, TFV Media)
Rightly so, much of the credit for the team's improvement has gone to the teams headliners. Floreal brought in the fifth-ranked recruiting class in the nation prior to this season, highlighted by Dezerea Bryant -- the nation leader and SEC Champion in the 60m -- and Kendra Harrison -- the nation leader and SEC Champion in the 60m hurdles.

But one recruiting class does not a program make, especially one that aspires to compete for team national championships.

To reach elite status in the ranks of collegiate track and field, it takes more than just a few top athletes. A deep corps of athletes needs to put in tons of hard work and commitment to attain SEC and NCAA scoring levels.

And to build a roster deep enough at a place like UK -- which hadn't experienced a great deal of success in the seasons leading up to the onset of Floréal's tenure -- the coaches needed to find returning team members with the hidden talent and work ethic to become elite competitors.

Peare has become the poster child for Wildcats who have developed at a rapid rate in the past year and a half. In fact, her emergence as one of the nation's elite milers is very much attributable to her change in attitude in recent months. That change is in line with the broader change in team culture under Floreal.

During the 2012-13 campaign, Cally Macumber and Chelsea Oswald both went from often-injured squad members who had never really performed at championship meets to multiple-time SEC champions and All-Americans.

"I think that Cally and Chelsea were the best thing that happened to Ally," DeVries said. "They shouldered the pressure last year while Ally was developing and really showed her that training at a high level every day is what will get you to the next level."

Peare certainly made strides as a junior in 2013, including as the 800m leg of UK's All-American Distance Medley Relay team with Oswald and Macumber as bookends. Yet in many ways -- largely because she didn't quite experience the instantaneous success on par with Macumber and Oswald -- Peare didn't seem to rate herself quite at the level of her teammates.

"Cally and Chelsea put our distance program back on the map," Peare said. "Last year, I did not see myself quite on their level, but our DMR opened my eyes. After being at the national meet with them I wanted to prove myself. Having elite teammates like Cally and Chelsea makes you want to train harder, run faster and perform better to rise to their level.

"Cally not having indoor eligibility made it even more important for me to step up for the team this year."

Peare has really grown as a leader in 2014, as she was elected team captain before the season.

Her style as captain seems to be to lead by example. Exhibit A: running fast.

Holiday Turning Point

For all the prodding and convincing the coaching staff did to build Peare's confidence, she still hadn't fully committed to the new running identity her coaches had hoped she would embrace. The give-and-take between coach and runner came to a head last semester.

"Before I went home for winter break this year, Hakon and I had a good heart-to-heart meeting," Peare said. "He told me that I was going to have to decide if I wanted to be an elite runner and my winter training was going to determine what type of runner I'd come back as. All winter I knew that I was going to be focusing on the mile and I had to change my mindset going into every run and workout. Hakon's confidence in my abilities and his constant reminders have helped me turn the corner in my running."

Peare apparently took DeVries' mild ultimatum to heart in training, but she still didn't see immediate results in 2014.

She placed third in a stacked mile race at the home Rod McCravy Memorial with a personal best of 4:44.87, behind fellow All-Americans Megan Patrignelli (Oregon) & Agata Strasa (Florida).

Despite the PR time, Peare very much found herself at crossroads similar to the one she had reached just weeks earlier.

"She pulled me to the side right after the McCravy Meet," Flor4al said. " 'I need to be part of this, these girls are running so fast, what do I need to do to be part of this?' I told her, 'Run fast.' "

Within weeks, Peare started acting on her coach's directive. She didn't just run faster, she ran the two fastest mile times in school history, and the season isn't yet over. If things go to plan Peare will race over a mile two more times, Friday and Saturday.

"Her new name is Ally the Miler because so many times she told me, 'I'm not a miler.' Now she says I am Ally the Miler and I'm comfortable doing it," Floréal said.

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