Amy-Eloise Neale’s stellar collegiate running career came to an end June 9 with yet another All-American effort.
But the Glacier Peak High School graduate’s running days are far from over.
Neale’s five years with the University of Washington track and cross country teams concluded with a fifth-place finish in the women’s 5,000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Now the seven-time All-American is planning to take her distance-running abilities to the professional level.
“That’s the goal,” Neale said about turning pro. “It’s just where and who I do that with that’s still being decided.”
Neale is one of the greatest distance runners ever produced by Snohomish County. She had a legendary high school career at Glacier Peak from 2009-13, winning three state cross country championships and seven state track titles.
However, she needed to experience the lows at Washington before reaching the heights. She spent nearly two years away from competition as she was sidelined by injuries to her shin and femur. She sat out the entire 2013-14 school year, and there were times when she wondered whether she’d ever get back to the elite level.
But once she recovered she became one of the nation’s top distance runners, highlighted by finishing second at the NCAA Cross Country Championships last November. Her seven All-American accolades include four first-team honors (two in cross country and two in outdoor track) and three second-team honors (two in indoor track and one in outdoor track).
“Honestly, it wasn’t perfect,” Neale said, reflecting on her college career. “I think very few people’s are. It was a learning curve coming to college and adapting to the training. I learned a lot in terms of what pieces contribute to success and how I need to communicate with my coaches and all those things. I learned how to listen to my body. I think the fact that my college career wasn’t perfect prepared me a little more for the future as I try to run professionally. I think if I hadn’t had those bad seasons I wouldn’t have learned the things I have now.”
Though she earned one last first-team All-American honor with her fifth-place finish in the 5,000, Neale had hoped to finish higher. The 5,000 final, because of bad weather conditions, was a slow and tactical race. Neale was part of a large lead pack with two laps remaining when she got boxed in just as the pace picked up. By the time she freed herself she was in 10th place, and though she passed several runners on the last lap she had too much ground to make up on the leaders.
“Everyone in that final was hoping to win, that’s what we all dream about, taking that victory lap around Hayward Field,” Neale said. “But there were some really good women in that race, and honestly I was just happy I was cool and calm under pressure. I gave everything I had on that day, unfortunately it wasn’t enough to come away with the win, but I definitely gained some experience.”
Staying cool and calm was a challenge, considering Neale’s final few weeks came during a tumultuous period for the UW program. Greg Metcalf, the longtime coach of the Husky track and cross country teams, and the university mutually agreed to part ways in mid-May. Allegations later surfaced about Metcalf mistreating athletes, particularly the team’s distance runners.
“It definitely had a certain level of stress, it obviously wasn’t an ideal way to spend my last three weeks at UW,” said Neale, who declined to comment on the allegations beyond saying she was thankful to all her coaches at Washington. “But really I just tried to focus on the things I could control. Those things included going forward with my training, which had already been outlined, and working with the coaches who remained here. And then there was supporting my teammates who will be continuing here, they’re the ones who are truly impacted by the situation.”
With her college career over, Neale is now in the process of finding a professional team to run with.
“The plan is a little up in the air,” said Neale, who just returned from a trip to the east coast where she met with potential suitors. “I’m currently talking to different coaches and talking to different companies. I haven’t really made any decisions yet, but they should become pretty clear in the next week or so.”
Regardless of what transpires Neale, who runs internationally for Great Britain, will be racing in the British Athletics Championships, which take place June 30-July 1 in Birmingham, England. Neale competed in the 1,500 at the British Championships in 2016, placing 12th.
And though she’s off to the pro ranks, she’ll always cherish her time running for Washington.
“The main thing is that I considered my time here a blessing,” Neale said. “I’ve been very lucky to have a lot of support here, I don’t think I’m where I am today without all the teammates and coaches who contributed. I really appreciate that, and I think I’m very lucky to call myself a Husky.”