The biggest hills in northwest Indiana are made of sand. For a runner, the trails through Indiana Dunes State Park are some of the best training routes one can tackle. For Anna Weber, these trails were one of the keys to her success.
Anna began running for her Michigan City cross country team Aug. 1, 1999, when she was a sixth-grader. Since that first day, she has been running with different teams and at races throughout the state.
And on Oct. 4, Anna competed in the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota. From a girl just running to make the basketball team, to a sixth-place overall female finish with a U.S Olympic Trials time, the region runner is on her way from small hometown star to professional athlete.
Anna, now 27 and living in both Bloomington and Indianapolis, began running when her coach told the team whoever ran cross country would make the basketball team.
“Turns out, I was pretty good at running,” she said.
Anna ran cross country and preferred the mile and two-mile races during track season.
“I loved running in high school,” she said. “(I) felt like I belonged and had a group of people who did the same quirky thing every Tuesday and Saturday.”
Anna was recruited by Marquette University, where she spent five years on both running teams.
“I really loved the team,” she said of her future teammates, one of which was Cassie Peller of Chesterton. “The team was small, which was what I was used to, and the team had a lot of success. They had won nationals the last six years before.”
Though she enjoyed running in college, she said she liked the high school dynamic more.
“High school was more simple,” she said. “We spent every weekend at New Prairie, the most beautiful course in the world, and we just had one goal: to compete.”
In college, life got in the way. Injuries, including stress fractures and tendonitis, followed Anna throughout her college career and a degree in chemistry led to taking tests in the hotel before championship meets.
She graduated in 2011 and went directly into earning a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry at Indiana University Bloomington.
It was during her years in Bloomington she decided to try and accomplish a goal that had been in the back of her mind: The B standard qualifying time for the U.S Olympic Trials in the marathon distance, 26.2 miles, is 2:43.00.
Living the dream
“It has been a dream I’ve had since senior year of high school,” she said. “It has always been in the back of my head.”
Anna planned on racing her first marathon quickly after graduating from Marquette, but recovering from the last five years took her awhile.
While obtaining her Ph.D., Anna figured she would have plenty of time to start training for the trial cut. She completed two road marathons, finishing in 2:50 at the Chicago Marathon in October 2013 and then in 2:47 at the Pittsburgh Marathon in May of 2014.
“I was a few minutes off,” she said. “I knew that if I’m going to do this then I need to go all in. Getting my Ph.D. and training was just too hard.”
Taking a risk and ignoring several negative viewpoints from others, Anna decided to take a leave of absence from her grad work starting in August 2014 through Janurary 2015.
“On paper, it was a very risky move,” she said, looking at a four-minute drop. “But, I knew I would do it. I knew I had the capability.”
Without grad school taking up her time, Anna has spent the last three months doing everything she could to help her running and make her body ready for the October marathon.
She bounced between the house in Indy she shares with boyfriend Dave Santelik, and her apartment in Bloomington, where she goes when she needs a strong hill workout.
Her old high school running coach Tim Bumber agreed to help her, and introduced several changes in her training program.
While preparing for the marathon, Anna did one hill workout, long run, and tempo run per week, while maintaing between 85 and 100 miles a week.
Her relationships with a sports massage therapist, sport psychologist and sport nutritionist, along with dutiful yoga and foam rolling resulted in only taking two days off between the months of July and September for a small calf issue.
“Everything I did was geared to keeping my body healthy,” she said.
The finish line
Crossing the finish line in Minnesota in five minutes under the B standard and less than one minute from the A qualifying standard for the U.S Olympic Trials shows her hard work paid off.
The Twin Cities Marathon is curvy and slightly hilly, a perfect course for Anna, whose strength is in hills and more difficult routes.
She went into the race planning on running the first 20 miles at a 6:10 pace. By the 5k she was a hair under that, and by the half-way point she knew it was going to be her day.
“I tucked into a pack and kept going,” she said. “At the half I knew without a doubt my ticket was punched. I just couldn’t get hurt or fall off a cliff for the next 13.”
The time, which was the 23rd fastest time run this year, qualified her to run at the trials on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.
Until then, Anna will keep up with her training, tweaking it for speed.
“I hope to be in the top 20,” she said, which will call for a low 2:30 time she expects. “I just want to gain as much experience as possible.”
Her time introduced the possibility of becoming a sponsored professional runner, an opportunity she plans on pursuing 100 percent.
From now until the trials, Anna has one goal: It will be 26.2 miles of running with the miles trained in her Indiana hometowns pushing her forward.