It is hard to imagine that 24 years ago, Alisa Harvey set the VHSL AAA State Meet record for 1600 meters at 4:50 in Newport News while competing for Thomas Jefferson High School (Alexandria). Now at age 41, Harvey is still racing and running a 4:50 mile as the World and American indoor masters record holder in the event. The mother of two will be one of the featured athletes in the college and open divisions at the first annual St. Christopher\'s Mid-Atlantic Track Clash in Richmond, Virginia. MileStat.com\'s Brandon Miles was able to interview one of Virginia\'s greatest female distance runner at any competitive level (high school, college, professional, or masters).
MileStat.com: What do you attribute most to your longevity in the sport today?
Harvey: It is a toss-up between genetics and lifestyle. My parents are both naturally athletic - still relatively lean -in their mid-sixties. My paternal grand-father died at 98, grand-mother 86 (15-children). My maternal grand-father is still living at 89, great-grand-mother died at 98. I have always slept at least 8 hours per night - even in college. No alcohol. No coffee. No tea. No smoking. Never drugs. Those factors combined with my true passion for running.
MileStat.com: What has been the toughest transition from you in running? High school to college? College to elite post-collegiate? Post-collegiate to masters?
Harvey: High school to college was my toughest transition. Being away from home, on my own for the first time (Univ. of Tenn.). New coach. Tough class-work. I gained 15-pounds during my first 3-months in college. My running slowed - my coach was not happy with me. I cost my team the Cross-Country NCAA Div. 1 Championships (Lehigh, PA \'83). Though, things got brighter during my freshmen indoor season. Our 4 x 800m team won the NCAA Champs. During outdoor our 4 x 800m team set the Penn Relays record that still stands today (8:20.22).
MileStat.com: Have you seen a rebirth or more so extra motivation in your running now competing in the masters divisision and seemingly every week fit enough to go after a world and american masters record?
Harvey: I have had a bit of extra motivation in my running since turning 40. As a young elite runner I always looked at the age of 40 as a time to put away athletics and competiton. I kept asking myself why, even though I saw my contemporaries do just that. I got inspired to compete while coaching at George Mason Univ. (2003 - 2005). I trained with my athletes in order to boost their training. I would even pace-set for them during time-trials and races. I looked-up one day and I was 39 running with 19 year olds. I have never really stopped competing (except for my two pregnancies). I\'ve always loved the local road-racing circuit - so transitioning back to the track was easy.
MileStat.com: You still hold the AAA state meet record for 1600 meters outdoors. Many great high school distance runners have come through since then in Virginia, yet 24 years later and the record still stands. How special is it to still know you hold the record and do you ever check the state meet results each year to see if anyone has broken it?
Harvey: I must admit that I am quite impressed that my record still stands. I don\'t believe I ever appreciated how talented I was until I began coaching others. I recall that record was set at Christopher Newport College. It was hot! I ran both the 800 and the 1600. I believe I was second in the 800. My high school coach, Betty Stegall, (Thomas Jefferson) drove me down in her car. She treated me to a nice dinner after the meet. I was the only won from my school to participate. I don\'t check the results to see if my record stands year-to-year. I did watch the amazing performances of Sarah Bowman a couple years back. I was happy to see her go to my alma-mater (Tennessee).
MileStat.com: What was your most memorable high school racing experience?
Harvey: My most memorable high school experience would have to be the summer I graduated and qualified for the U.S. Junior National Team \'83. I had a huge leap onto the National scene from June to August. I went from 2:13 to 2:06 in the 800m and 4:54 (1600m) to 4:17 (1500m).
MileStat.com: What was the experience like competing for the US Junior National team?
Harvey: The U.S. Team competed against the Canadians and Italians that summer. I got my first taste of international competition. I witnessed an American teammate crumble under the stress and refuse to compete - I ran for her in my first 3,000m where I finished second with a fast performance that I can\'t remember. I recall the Canadian coach coming-up to me after the race and admonishing me for staying in the back of the pack for so long.
MileStat.com: You have met a lot of the country and world\'s top track and field athletes over the years competing internationally. Which athlete were you must star struck or excited to meet?
Harvey: Tough question! I have to give you two, one man - one woman. When I lived in California I would see Edwin Moses from time to time. He was always cordial and humble and an outstanding role model. He was a 400m hurdler who won gold in the \'76 and \'84 Olympics and bronze in the \'88 Olympics. Also, Francie Larrieu Smith. I actually shared a coach with her while training for the \'88 Olympic Trials (Dr. Robert Vaughn). Francie was a FIVE-time U.S. Olympian. She would invite me over to her home where I was amazed by her beautiful two great danes. We would see her running with one of them around Dallas, Texas from time to time.
MileStat.com: Are you currently sponsored and how tough is it financially to compete as a professional runner?
Harvey: I am not sponsored financially. I do ocassionally receive equipment from Brooks and I receive a pair of shoes per month from the running store that I work for, Metro Run & Walk. My husband is my unofficial sponsor. His income allows me to work part-time in order to have some quality training time. In addition, I am able to budget in a few out-of-town competitions. It is very costly to be a professional runner. I was fortunate during my elite days to always have decent sponsors. Unfortunately, the problem still exists in this sport where athletes must stop chasing their athletic dreams because of financial struggles. The playing field is not even for sponsorship in Track & Field. Some events are sponsored better than others. Some individuals are sponsored better than others for reasons other than performance.
MileStat.com: Who is your coach currently? At one point, you were training yourself. What were the advantages and disadvantages of being self-coached versus having a coach?
Harvey: I have coached myself since 1999. In the best of circumstances it is better to have a coach who can assess your training and racing, etc., but a poor coach or a coach with a hidden agenda is extremely distructive (been there). At my stage in the game I am best off coaching myself.
MileStat.com: What has been the absolute highlight for you in your career as a professional runner?
Harvey: The 1991 Pan-American Games where I won gold in the 1500m (4:11) and silver in the 800m (1:59.). In the 800m I came from 10th place to second behind the great Cuban, Anna Quirot, on the back stretch. The crowd stood and screamed for Anna. She put it into another gear and held me off for the win. Quirot was a 800/400 World Champion.
MileStat.com: What advice would you go to current Virginia high school distance girls who would like to pursue a career of professional running after college?
Harvey: Have a stable support system in case the running does not go well for you emotionally or financially. Enjoy your running. Keep running fun. Don\'t restrict yourself from foods, races, events that you enjoy doing because others don\'t agree with your choices. I have found through the many years that the most successful female runners are the most independent. Keep your running enjoyable.
MileStat.com: 2007 is 20 years since you finished up your collegiate career and one year away from 25 years since graduating from high school. Did you ever imagine that you would still be competing in the sport at this age and at such a high level?
Harvey: Absolutely not, but what a blast! Many thanks to my parents for the good genes and my husband for the emotional and financial support. I want to send my best to all of my fellow master runners who truly love the sport. Lastly, I hope I can make my daughters proud to have a \"weird\" mom like me.