Sage Hurta (ChemBioEngr’21) is the NCAA women’s indoor track champion in the mile. The self-described perfectionist reveals how embracing failure and a short-term memory are propelling her success.
How did you get started running?
My parents were part of a local cross-country running team. As soon as I was able to, I wanted to start competing as well. Once I got into middle school, I joined the high school team.
You won New York’s state cross-country title the first time as a 7th grader?
Kind of crazy. I was in a small school group, so it wasn’t quite as competitive as with the big schools. I just had a really good race that day.
What were your biggest challenges when transitioning to a Division-1 program?
It was a jump in intensity. I remember one of my first weeks, I was so exhausted. I thought: ’How am I going to do four years of this?’ But you get used to it pretty quickly. Running is a lot more fun — and you see more gains and fitness —when you’re all pushing each other.
How have your roles on the cross-country and track teams changed?
Freshman year, I was pretty timid. I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, especially when I was gunning for one of the top spots. But you build those relationships, and it becomes a lot more comfortable. I can be myself and lead through example.
You were dealing with injuries in 2020. What did you do for rehab?
With bone injuries, unfortunately, it’s mostly rest. I focused on strengthening and stability because I was having the same injury again and again. I needed to fix some things with my foot and hip strength. I had to become more conscious in my training and learn to stop pushing when I’m tired.
Once sports shut down due to the pandemic, how long did you go between official practices?
We didn’t get going until the end of August, so six months. Even from August to January, we had false starts and breaks where we couldn’t meet as a team.
What did you do to train when you couldn’t be with your team?
I do everything [my coaches] say... and then five percent more. I always think about those big race opportunities that I’m building towards. Unfortunately, my past injuries coincide with times that we’ve been [training] on our own because I’ll do more than I should. I have a hard time pulling back.
You had months away from the team, you were rehabbing, and then the 2021 in-door season started. Two months later [in March] you were the National Champion in the mile. How did that happen?
My most recent injury was in November . When I opened the season at Arkansas in January, I’d only been running for seven weeks. I would go into workouts and think, “I don’t know if I can do that. I haven’t run that fast in a year and a half.” But, by the time February rolled around, I felt more comfortable and started gaining momentum.
With a prolonged off-season, how did you keep tabs on rivals?
The track community, the distance side especially, is super connected. There aren’t huge surprises. People who were good in 2019 are generally still good.
What is something you’ve learned from Coach Mark Wetmore and Coach Heather Burroughs?
I tend to be a perfectionist, and it can hold me back sometimes. I’m learning not to fear failure. If you’re afraid of failure, you’re more likely to hold yourself back and it’s harder to recover from a disappointing race. The thing they always say is to have short-term memory, whether you have a good day or bad day.
Do your study habits inform your approach to running?
I’m super meticulous. I like to check all the boxes with my schoolwork. I’m not someone who’s ever going to cut a corner. I have this saying,“In order to be ahead, you have to get ahead.” And I’m that way in my training. You have to be disciplined.
What’s the plan for after graduation?
I am planning on running professionally right out of school. There’s this period between the NCAA meet and the Olympic trials when I have to get everything in order with an agent. I hope to run for as long as possible. As of now, I want to be a doctor in the long term.
If you’re away from school and training, what are you doing?
Whenever I’m home over break, I go crazy baking cakes and croissants. My favorite thing to do is tackle a big baking project or read and hang out with my dogs.
Interview condensed and edited for clarity.
Photo by Watt Beazley