* Herndon's Gillian Bushee is top distance runner in Virginia in 2023, and is looking to make her mark nationally
Photo Credit: Mary Ann Magnant/MileSplit
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By Cory Mull - MileSplit
Gillian Bushee has checked off nearly every box from her bucket list in 2023.
She's hit PRs in nearly every event she's run in this year, including a time of 4:49 for the full mile and 10:13 for two miles; she qualified for nationals in cross country in December; and she's become Virginia's top distance runner in 2023, signing with one of the NCAA's top programs, the University of Virginia, over the National Letter of Intent period.
In many ways, she's become one of the top distance runners in the U.S., an exclusive club that maybe only includes 50 or so runners across the U.S.
But is she satisfied yet?
"I still feel like I have a lot to prove," Bushee told MileSplit recently. "It's my senior year, I'm committed. People may not think that I have a lot to prove, but I still feel like I have a lot I want to achieve. It's that mentality. Can I show people what I really have left?"
On Friday and Saturday, she'll get that chance at the RunningLane Track Championships in Huntsville, Alabama. The Herndon High School senior is the second seed in the 3,200m on Friday and the fourth seed in the mile on Saturday.
Six days later, she'll compete at the VHSL Class 6 Championships in Virginia -- where she's a two-time defending 3,200m champion -- and from there she will travel to Philadelphia to finish her season at New Balance Nationals Outdoor.
It's the start of a busy season. But in other ways, it will give Bushee a sense of control over her ambitions.
"That I can be competitive at the national level," she said, "or a top contender."
All those connective points begin at RunningLane.
There will be no better time to go after national-level marks then this weekend at Milton Frank Stadium, because Bushee is among five girls who have run faster than 10:20 for the distance and among seven who have broken 4:50 in the mile.
The Virginia standout, a five-time state champion across the indoor and outdoor seasons, may even have her sights on breaking 10 minutes for 3,200m. A total of 12 girls nationally have broken that mark this year alone.
Bushee ran her best two-mile race indoors, clocking a time of 10:13.97 at New Balance Nationals Indoor. But she accomplished that feat, she said, outside the fast section.
"I guess it depends on the race," she said. "It might be a race where it gets tactical, or I might end up taking the pace in the beginning. It's hard to say. But for this, I think a time will come with going for a win."
The Northern Virginia athlete, who grew up roughly 25 miles west of Washington, D.C., says her training has consisted of hitting 1,600m reps comfortably at 4:50 pace and mixing laps at 75 or faster to mimic the pace of a 10-minute 3,200m.
"I have to lock into 75s and have those fast laps," she said. "Once I start hitting those lap times, I know I can do it."
She added: "Honestly, I feel like my fitness is there. I've been doing well. I might go for a time, but my main focus is to put myself in a position to be aggressive and competitive and go for the win."
She learned a great deal at The Penn Relays in April after slogging through the opening gun and forcing herself to work from behind. Bushee eventually moved up to sixth in 9:44.37.
"That was not my best race," she said. "I learned that I have to be aggressive from the start and focus on myself. I think right as the gun went off, I was already behind. I mentally lost that race."
Fortunately, though, losses can sometimes shape athletes in ways they wouldn't have expected. Bushee knows for sure she's put in the time to get to this point.
"My coach always says, 'Records can always be broken, but championships can't be taken away from you."
An early product of the COVID-lockdown, Bushee didn't get a chance to travel her freshman season and chose against it in 2021. Last year was the first time she ventured outside Virginia for a national-level race, opting for New Balance Nationals Indoor and Outdoor.
Those moments a year ago helped erase doubts and build a stronger foundation, she said.
"Last year traveling to meets, that was new to me," she said. "Now I'm experiencing this new feeling. It was nerve-wracking. I told myself, 'Oh, this is a lot. There are a lot of people watching.'"
Today, Bushee says, those nerves have nearly vacated. "There's a bigger sense of calmness. Once I see the other athletes, I tell myself, 'OK, I've done this. This is familiar to me.'"
Beyond the 3,200m, Bushee will have a second shot for glory on Saturday. Her coach, Chris Geary, has also positioned her with ample work in the 400m, working repeat sub-70s into her regiment. Bushee has set her goal on breaking 4:45.
While hitting new PRs would be icing on the cake, winning will take precedence in a big race.
"My coach always says, 'Records can always be broken, but championships can't be taken away from you,'" Bushee said.
There's no time like the present, especially for an athlete still searching for more to achieve.
Bushee will lock in this weekend and then from there, she says, will let her body do the rest of the talking on the track.
* Bushee in the 3K at The Penn Relays
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