Sept. 14, 2010
By Larry Watts
Midway through their sophomore year, University of Iowa twins Amanda and Lauren Hardesty decided it was time to put their best foot forward, even though the two Hawkeye runners only had one good foot between them.
"We just finally decided it was time to get serious about running," Lauren says. "We weren't necessarily making the right decisions."
"It really wasn't something we talked about; we just happened to make a change at the same time," adds Amanda. "We were growing up, learning what was important and what wasn't. It all came down to developing a sense of who you are."
Instead of going out at night or simply staying up late, the Hardesty sisters made sure they were getting the right amount of rest. And they made better decisions about their diets.
"I wasn't making running my priority and that was showing in my racing and practices," Lauren says. "I came to Iowa with a lot of confidence. I knew I wasn't going to be the best right away, but I was having a hard time adjusting because the training was a lot different. I was having a hard time being away from home and got homesick a lot. I wasn't fully committed or focused and was wondering why I started to run."
The Valparaiso, Ind. twins, who are now seniors, arrived in Iowa City with impressive resumes. They were each four-time all-state honorees in cross country and two-time all-state selections in track. Amanda was fifth in the state cross country meet as both a junior and senior. Lauren was fifth in the state as a sophomore and seventh as a junior in cross country while also winning the state 1,600 championship as a junior.
Amanda, a breach baby, is one minute older because their mother needed a C-section. "It was all her fault," Lauren says with a laugh. "But I'm half an inch taller (5-foot-7) and I've got bigger feet."
And those feet have become an issue in their running careers. Both twins are affected by plantar fasciitis. Lauren has it in both feet and Amanda has it in her left foot, which caused her to skip the indoor track season of her freshman year.
"It's one of those things we have learned to deal with," says Amanda. "I'm not saying it's not painful. It's really terrible after all that pounding in races and workouts, but every athlete has something they have learned to deal with."
The twins figured they would probably be running at one of the schools in Indiana until former high school teammate Rachael Marchand put them in contact with Iowa head coach Layne Anderson. Marchand was an All-American runner for the Hawkeyes and would be entering her senior season when the Hardestys arrived.
"Rachael was a big influence in getting us to visit here," Amanda says. "We had never been to the state of Iowa until we came here on our visit. We weren't really close friends in high school because a senior doesn't really mix in with freshmen. But it's a lot different in college."
"After visiting, we thought how easy coach Anderson was to work with and we really liked the way he treated his athletes. We were very much at ease with him," says Lauren. "There were hardly any freshmen on the team so Rachael took us under her wing. We would work out together and go to dinner together. She spent a lot of time at our dorm and would even drive us back home."
Although the Hawkeyes qualified for the nationals in cross country in each of their first two seasons, neither Hardesty made a significant impact. In fact, Lauren wasn't even entered in the national lineup for her sophomore season.
"I was having a hard time adjusting because the training was a lot different," she says. "We came from a high mileage program, where we did double workouts with lots of rest. Coach Anderson's method is continuous training but not as high mileage."
According to each sister, even though they made lifestyle changes midway through their sophomore year, it took until the fall cross country season to start seeing some results. Lauren had an extra hurdle to clear when she suffered a back injury midway through the spring and had to be sidelined from track.
"My back just locked up on me and I couldn't run," she says. "I was doing physical therapy without any running through the first month of the summer and it just went away."
Along with the changes the twins were making in their daily decisions, the Iowa cross country team was also going through a big change entering their junior season. The front runners in the past two seasons were all gone, so the philosophy was to hit their opponents with a pack attack. At the Big Ten meet, where Iowa placed sixth, the first Hawkeye finished the 6K run in 26th and the next four were within nine seconds. Lauren was 31st and Amanda was 33rd.
"I felt much better about myself going into my junior year," says Amanda, who opened the season by running the fourth-best 3K time (10:21) in Iowa history at the Hawkeye Invitational. "That season just reinforced everything I had been doing and gave me more motivation to keep at it. I'm sure every runner in college will say they don't like getting up at 7 a.m. to go run or that they enjoy running in a parking garage when it's minus-20 degrees (wind chill). It's just something you have to do."
On the oval, Amanda continued to produce personal bests. Indoors, she clocked 4:48.69 in the mile and 9:30.71 in the 3,000. On the outdoor track, she ran the 1,500 in 4:27.52 and was seventh in the Big Ten in the 5,000 with a time of 16:37.01, eighth-best in Iowa history.
Lauren's real breakout came on the track, where she took fourth in the Big Ten indoor mile with a time of 4:41.97, third-best in Hawkeye history. Then she came back in the spring to take eighth in the 1,500 at the Big Ten meet and followed it up with a national-qualifying time of 4:21.67 (seventh-best in the Iowa record book) during the NCAA regional meet. Unfortunately, she ran nearly five seconds slower and didn't make it out of her heat in the nationals.
"I didn't do very well at the nationals, but just to be there (Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.) was such a leap forward from where I had been the previous year," she says. "It was such a cool experience to be there with all those great runners. If you had asked me sophomore year I would never have thought I would be there. It's hard to stay motivated if you don't see results, but I cut 20 seconds off my best mile time during the indoor season and another 20 seconds off my best 1,500 time outdoors.
"I got to race five times during the last few weeks of the season and I learned so much from facing the best in the country. Hopefully, I'll be better prepared this year if I get that far."
Lauren's senior season has already kicked into high gear. She won the Hawkeye Invitational with a time of 10:21, the identical time Amanda posted last year. The twins now share the fourth spot for 3K bests in the Iowa record book.
After graduation in the spring, the 21-year-old twins plan to head back to Indiana to further their education. Lauren, an international global studies major, intends to take undergraduate courses so she can pursue a career in elementary education. A sociology major, Amanda is looking into graduate programs to prepare her for a career in elementary education counseling.
"It's definitely hard to explain what it's like being a twin because I don't know life any other way," says Lauren. "We have been through everything together and it's always good to know you have someone to talk to who has been going through the same things."
"Sometimes I tend to forget I have this built in friend and teammate to talk to," says Amanda. "We have gone through all the same things together throughout our life and now we've been doing it on this college journey.
"Our father has a favorite quote, 'You can't teach desire,' and we have taken that to heart. It's really cool because your coach can tell you all he wants about preparation, eating and sleeping, but it's still a matter of what you want to do and how much you want it. At the end of the day, will your effort make you better or worse?"