As Hanna Green was busy compiling a comprehensive running resume at Greater Latrobe, any thoughts of what she might do “professionally” focused squarely on a future career as an interior designer and not as a runner.
Today, however, one of Pennsylvania’s most consistent performers this decade at 400 meters will display her rapidly evolving skills as a middle distance runner in a city known worldwide for its design marvels.
“I hadn’t really thought about running professionally,” the 24-year-old said in turning back the clock in advance of today’s Diamond League meet in Paris. “When I was little, I was never like I want to be a professional athlete. It seemed like such a crazy thing to do.
“When (agents) approached me at the end of my junior year (at Virginia Tech), it kind of put the idea in my head, ‘That could be kind of fun. It would be interesting to see what I could do.'”
It hasn’t taken long for Green to show others what she’s capable of doing on the track. In less than two seasons as a pro running out of Eugene for the Oregon Track Club Elite, Green has joined the select company of sub-2:00 800 runners in moving to No. 20 all-time in the U.S. and No. 5 in the world for 2019.
“I definitely liked the 400 better in high school,” said Green, who finished on the podium in both the indoor and outdoor state 400 finals in 2013. “I think I just didn’t really know how to run an 800, but a 400 – pretty self-explanatory. You just go out there and sprint as fast as you can for a lap, whereas the 800 can be a little more confusing.
“Going into college, one of the reasons I think I was recruited was because I could run a fast 400, but the coach knew I could also run cross country. He figured I could be good at the 800 if I could do both of those. I knew going into college I would be running the 800, I wasn’t going to be running the 400.”
Green’s accomplishments at Greater Latrobe were a big indication of what she was capable of doing and that it would be happening most likely over an additional lap or more.
A four-time state individual qualifier in cross country as a Wildcat, Green also was fifth in the PIAA Class AAA 400 as a junior after finishing ninth in the 800 and also qualifying in the 400 as a sophomore in 2011. She left Greater Latrobe with PRs of 55.93 in 2012 in the 400 and 2:16.39 as a 10th-grader in the 800.
In her first collegiate outdoor race at Virginia Tech, Green dropped her 400 PR to 54.87 and basically said goodbye to the event that brought her the most recognition as a prep. The focus on the 800 in the collegiate ranks paid almost immediate dividends but not without a price as the six-time All-American recalled of a transition to tougher workouts that did not go well in the beginning.
“When I first got there, I would go on runs with some of the other girls or even in workouts I would be getting dropped immediately and could barely keep up,” Green said of the move to college running and middle distance work. “I think something that helped me improve so quickly was not being the best on the team. I really had to work to keep up with the other girls and just being around people who were better than me. In high school, you were kind of just doing track for fun. In college, you’re doing it like a second major. You are doing it, and you have to do well.”
Improving by (and with) seconds
Despite the difficulty in adjusting to more intense workouts, Green immediately showed her ability to compete on meet day. A 2:09.07 in her college debut indoors cut more than 7 seconds off her lifetime best but was just the beginning in the 2014 season.
She PR’d for second to a junior teammate in the Atlantic Coast Conference indoor 800 final before lowering her best three more times and finishing 13th in the NCAA outdoor championships. A trip the following week to the Portland Track Festival was worth another PR of 2:04.46.
One of the first watershed races for Green came in the 2015 ACC indoor meet on the Hokies’ 200-meter oval in Blacksburg. The then sophomore was matched against Natoya Goule, who was the NCAA champ for LSU in 2013 in 2:00.06 before transferring to Clemson.
“I knew going into it that her PR was way better than mine, but I ended up passing her just before the line,” Green said of her PR and victory over the Jamaican star, who would become one of her biggest college rivals. “That was really exciting for me, just knowing that I could put myself out there and be competitive with some of the top runners.”
Goule would return the favor in the NCAA final, grabbing her second title while Green was fifth for another All-American award. The two met again in the outdoor ACC final, and Green came away with a PR of 2:01.72 in finishing behind Goule.
Just as she had done in high school, Green set a PR in her sophomore finale at VT, running 2:01.17 for third in the NCAA meet. A new rival and nemesis finished ahead of Green at Hayward Field as Raevyn Rogers of the host Ducks cracked 2 minutes to win.
“It definitely drove me,” Green said of the four times she would finish either second or third to Rogers in an NCAA final. “Obviously, being that close to being No. 1, I am going to try as hard as I can to get there. In college, she got me just about every time. That was definitely a driving factor. At the end of the season, I wanted to beat her. I wanted that NCAA title.”
Crediting Ben Thomas in guiding her development as an athlete, Green battled multiple hamstring strains or pulls in 2016 but still managed to win an outdoor title in the ACC, advance to the NCAA meet and compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials.
“That was a tough year for me,” Green said. “I had the time. I was determined to run in the Olympic Trials no matter what. Just being there that year was big for me. It was my first Olympic Trials, and I was really excited to be there (although) I wasn’t in my best shape.”
During the following spring, her final season at VT, Green’s development continued as she moved up to the 1,500/mile with a pair of surprising results. On the heels of a slower-than-anticipated run in the 800, the Hokie senior asked her coach to enter her in the mile at the legendary Penn Relays to see what she could do. The result was a 15-second PR of 4:32.50 that was worthy of the top 50 in the world in 2017.
“That mile was big for me because it was the first time I had really run a super competitive 1,500 or mile,” Green said. “I didn’t really know what to expect. I think something that has been good for me in the 1,500 and mile is that I’m not as familiar with it so I can be kind of oblivious to the times as we go by and I don’t realize how fast we’re going at times. That helped me a lot. I just stuck to that top group, I tried to make a move at the end but didn’t quite have it.”
A rare 800-1,500 double at the ACC final two weeks later provided another big spark for Green as she neared the end of her collegiate career.
“I was kind of worried about that because I didn’t know what would happen and I didn’t want to lose my (800) title,” she said of the 2017 outdoor meet. “I wanted to defend the 800 at least. Just being confident and relaxed through that was a big confidence boost for me. Not stressing out or worrying about it, just doing what I had to do and get through the rounds. I think that’s helped me a lot, even recently just getting through the three rounds in the USA championships.”
Another transition and 2:00.09
Closing out her collegiate career with another runner-up finish to Rogers in an NCAA 800, Green faced the second transition in running – from amateur to pro.
“They were hard in different ways,” she said of the transitions “to the next level” in track. “High school to college was definitely hard. I ran well in high school, but I don’t think I took it as serious as I could have.
“Switching from college to professional running, one of the biggest differences is that you’re more on your own. My coach (Mark Rowland) isn’t at every practice. It’s making sure I do everything (else) myself, which I think I have gotten a lot better at this year. It has made a big difference.”
Her first season as a pro in 2018 did have its peaks and valley, with the loss of training because of a foot injury being the low point. Only weeks after returning to running, Green was entered in the USATF championships in Des Moines, Iowa, with an opportunity to turn her season around.
“First, making the finals was exciting,” she said of a then-PR 2:00.69 that put her in the final eight. “I wasn’t super happy with 7th place (in the final), but I felt like I couldn’t really have asked for more. Just being healthy enough to be there was good enough for me.
“Seeing the time was a little upsetting because if I had just leaned over the line I would have gone sub-2. It also was a driving factor because this year I was absolutely determined to go sub-2.”
Sub 2:00 and Destination Doha
Her 2:00.09 performance put Green just outside the all-time top 50 in the U.S. but provided the spark that has driven her thus far in 2019. Meets in California, China and Canada failed to produce the barrier-breaking time, but the OTC Elite standout knew it was just a matter of time.
“I knew with the training I had been doing that I should be running faster than 2:01,” she said of her early-season times. “At least 1:59, I thought. Going into (the Prefontaine Classic), I knew I had nothing to lose. It was my first Diamond League. They expected me to do decent, but no one expected me to be up toward the front.
“My coach told me I had nothing to lose and to just stick with it. And that’s what I did. I came through the 600 and I saw the clock and it said 1:28. I was like if I don’t run sub-2 here, I don’t know when I’ll ever do it. I just hung on to those other girls and hoped I was going fast enough to be below 2. When I crossed the finish line, I was definitely surprised to see (1:58.75).”
That fourth-place finish set the stage for an equally important effort a month later back in Des Moines for the USATF meet and the opportunity to run with Team USA at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar. After making things look easy in the heats and semifinals, Green stayed patient and worked her way through most of the leaders, chopping her PR down to 1:58.19 and rolling to the No. 2 spot behind American record-holder Ajee Wilson.
“I always thought I could be good, but I didn’t think I’d be that good,” Green said of her progress. “Even now, I don’t know that it ever fully sinks in. I still want to be better no matter where I am.”
Green’s debut for Team USA was originally scheduled for this summer’s Pan Am Games. However, as planned, the former Greater Latrobe standout scratched out of the meet in Lima, Peru, after earning a spot in this year’s World Championships. Her runner-up finish to Wilson stretches her season out to the first week of October for the global champs, along with the U.S. vs. Europe meet Sept. 9-10 in Minsk, Belarus.
“It was really cool when I first got it,” Green said of her Team USA apparel. “It’s just awesome to know I will get to represent the United States and have that USA on my chest. It’s still hard for me to believe that I’m one of the top U.S. runners in the 800.”
When Green steps to the line today in the City of Light for her second Diamond League race, there will be some familiar faces lined up beside her. Collegiate rivals Rogers and Goule also are in the 11-runner field, along with Keystone state great Chanelle Price.
“I’ve gotten more comfortable with it after these past few races, but I wouldn’t say I’m fully comfortable with it,” Green said of racing against the best in the world. “It’s hard running against people like that because you are all so close timewise or ability-wise that it’s going to be a large pack for the majority of the race and you don’t really know if it’s going to open up or if you’re going to be able to squeeze through on the inside.
“I think I got kind of lucky (at USATF) because I was panicking a little bit. From the 500 to the 600, I was like I need to move but there wasn’t anywhere to go. I knew some of the girls ahead of me would slow down a little bit and I was hoping I would make it through when the time came. It’s definitely tough running with girls like that, but I think I’m slowly getting more comfortable and I hope by the time I get to worlds, it will be just a normal race.”