Amber Henry, a senior at Weber State University, competed in the USA Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, over the weekend, finishing in sixth place in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. The field included the top professional and collegiate athletes in the country. Henry qualified for the championships after running a time of 9:43.39 at the NCAA Championships in June, in which she placed third.
Henry said she felt confident that she would run well and that she didn’t let the big stage get her nervous.
“I was excited to race again, I wasn’t scared or anything,” Henry said. “Some of the other runners hadn’t been racing as much as me, so I felt I had slight advantage. I am on top of my game and was excited and happy to be there. I had nothing to be nervous about and knew exactly what I was capable of.”
Henry ran in the first heat of the semifinal round on Thursday, with the top four automatically qualifying for the finals to take place on Saturday. Henry entered the race having run the fourth-fastest time by an American competing at the championships. She led from the start of the race, wanting to avoid anything that would hurt her chances of qualifying for the final.
“I just wanted to get out really quick and put some distance between me and the other runners,” Henry said. “In the steeplechase, no qualifying place is guaranteed. I just wanted to stay away from any trouble possible or getting tripped.”
Henry led until the final two laps, where she was passed by 2012 Olympian Bridget Franek, who trains with Oregon Track Club Elite, and two other runners. She closed the race with a final lap of 75 seconds, finishing with a time of 9:58.20, and placing second behind Franek, which qualified her for the final.
Temperatures read 91 degrees as the starters pistol went off on Saturday afternoon and the 14 women battled to finish in the top three and qualify for the World Championships team. Nicole Bush, who trains with Furman Elite, controlled the race from the start to finish, winning with a time of 9.54.41 and beating the nearest competitor by two seconds. Henry finished with a time of 10:00.80 in sixth place, the highest finish of a WSU runner since Lindsey Anderson placed third in 2007.
“It was kind of frustrating, because at some points I was unable to accelerate because either people were in front of me or near the end of the race my legs felt heavy,” she said. “But I just kept running my hardest and finished hard. I am not disappointed, though; I gave all that I had. Even though I always want to place higher, I was able to gain more experience and it gives me more motivation.”
Women’s head coach Paul Pilkington said he was happy with the way Henry performed and knows she ran the best she could.
“It was a good race for her; it was against professionals who didn’t run NCAAs two weeks before,” he said. “The track was around 100 degrees when she ran, so that made it even more difficult. We didn’t want her to go out too fast and just put her in a situation to be top three with a few laps to go. She was the top collegiate. I couldn’t be more pleased. . . . Amber had such an outstanding season, one of the best in Weber history.”
The race concluded Henry’s outstanding year of becoming a two-time All-American, winning four Big Sky individual titles, leading the Wildcats back to the NCAA cross-country championships for the second-straight year, and becoming the second-fastest woman in WSU history in the steeplechase. She is now setting her sights on the cross-country season and what lies ahead, but will first take some time off and enjoy her summer.
“It’s time for rest and recovery,” Henry said. “I will probably go camping and just have some time to myself. Coach said, if I felt good, that I could start running after my week off. I am excited for the fall and what I can accomplish. I want to help the younger girls out and show them what it means to run for Weber. I want to be an All-American again, and I know that I can place in the top 15 at nationals.”