The name Lisa Uhl probably doesn't mean much to most on the ISU campus.
It wasn't too long ago — 2006-2010, more specifically — she paced around the track wearing cardinal and gold. She set all kinds of school records. She won four Big 12 Championships. She won four national championships.
She went by Lisa Koll then.
Since she left Ames in 2010, the 24-year-old Uhl has been competing professionally, continuing one of the most successful track-and-field careers ever compiled by an ISU grad.
She'll be back to compete on the Lied Recreation Athletic Center track on Saturday, and with the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials just more than four months away, there's still a lot of work ahead of her.
"I don't think it's going to be easy, by any means," Uhl said late last week. "But I think the most important part for me will be staying healthy and consistent now until then."
Uhl has three races left before the U.S. team trials on June 22 in Eugene, Ore.
She said she's focusing her training on qualifying as a member of the 10,000-meter team, but she may try to double and compete in the 5,000-meter race as well.
Her confidence is at the level it was when she became the collegiate record holder in the 10,000-meter event in March of 2010.
Her personal records in both the 10,000 and 5,000 would easily meet the Olympic qualifying times, but she'll need to meet that time again between now and the U.S. team trials. There, she'll also need to finish in the top three to punch her ticket to London for the 2012 Summer Games.
Despite recent injury trouble and a "rough" 2011, when she talked about qualifying for the Olympic team, she used "when," not "if."
"To make the Olympic team this year would be like that tough year, that rough year was totally worth it; it paid off," Uhl said. "I can't even fathom what I'm going to feel like when I make that team, because I won't allow myself to think about it until it actually happens."
'On the injury train'
Things haven't always gone as smoothly as they are now for the native of Fort Dodge on her trek for an appearance in London in late July.
The 2011 year was an injury-plagued year for the slight, slender Uhl, who also struggled with injury during her time at Iowa State. A plantar tear in April, followed by a stress fracture in May, kept her off the track for three months and made for a short racing season.
"I was just on the injury train," Uhl said. "Unfortunately, the three months of the year that I missed were probably the three most important months."
She'd fully recovered and resumed training in August — just before marrying long-time beau Kiel Uhl in September 2011 — with partners Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher, both of whom have already earned their trips to London and will compete for the United States as marathoners.
Uhl said she's "jealous" of her two training partners, but "it's easier to stay focused when you're a part of a group and you're a part of a bunch of people that want the same thing."
"I was super excited to have her join," Flanagan said. "She's been really great to have around just because she's an amazing person and she's a really hard worker."
Uhl, Flanagan and Goucher train at Nike's facility in Beaverton, Ore., just 15 minutes outside of Portland, which is a two-hour drive from Eugene — the self-proclaimed "Track and Field Capital of the World" and host to the 2012 U.S. Olympic team trials.
The powerhouse trio — Goucher is headed to her second Olympic games after a 10th-place run in the 10,000 in 2008; Flanagan, the 2008 bronze medalist in the 10,000, will compete in her third Olympic games this summer — trains together daily.
The runners' different disciplines — Goucher and Flanagan preparing for the marathon, Uhl for the 10,000 — makes their daily workouts different, but Flanagan said she thinks they "all contribute to elevating our expectations and our fitness."
"I feel very fortunate to be a part of this group, because I have, probably, two of the best training partners in the country, if not the world," Flanagan said.
Flanagan raved about Uhl's work ethic and the Olympic veteran said the newcomer is ready to compete on the world's biggest track-and-field stage.
"She's definitely, I would say, one of the favorites for the three spots [on the 10,000 team]," Flanagan said. "I know her training and I know what it takes to make that team, and she's right on path and on target to make that team."
'The kid of the group'
At 24, Uhl is the kid of the group, said coach Jerry Schumacher. Flanagan will be 31 at the time of the Olympic Games; Goucher will be 34.
The coach said the youthful Uhl has re-energized the veteran duo, while feeding off the knowledge and experience they've gained in more than 14 years combined professional experience.
"It's been great for her to have two veteran athletes in the group who she trains with regularly and gains a little perspective on where she wants to go and what she wants to do," Schumacher said. "It's been really good for Lisa, being the kid in the group, to be around that, see that and to be training with them. She's got some really exciting times ahead of her."
Schumacher has coached the distance trio since Goucher's arrival in Portland this fall. Despite the runners' differing backgrounds and disciplines, the expectations working with the athletes don't change.
"We all have similar goals, so that's why there's no need to treat us any differently," Flanagan said. "We all want to make Olympic teams and world teams and perform well on an Olympic stage."
Uhl said working with Schumacher, as with any transition to a new coach, has had some rough spots.
She said she thought the pair approached 2011 too aggressively, which led to her numerous injury troubles. The pair has taken a much more conservative approach to 2012 — a key, she said, to staying healthy through the racing season.
"I think both of us are the same mentality, which is always push, push, push," Uhl said. "We've done a lot better job this year of both of us kind of taking a step back and saying, ‘OK, we don't need to be quite as aggressive.'"
Uhl's top priority leading up to June's trials, she said, will be staying healthy.
To stay healthy, she's scaled back her training by 5 to 10 miles per week, but is still running anywhere from 100 to 105 miles in a given week, including at least one run of more than two hours every 10 days. She's also seeing a massage therapist three times a week and doing more core strength training.
"That's kind of where I made my mistakes last year," Uhl said. "I could see things were falling apart, but I didn't want to take any days off, I wanted to keep pushing, and eventually got to the point where I couldn't even run."
Uhl's coach reiterated her No. 1 key to success at the trials: health.
"Injuries happen. This is a sport where you kind of ride the line and it's not always easy," Schumacher said. "You've got to know when you're tiptoeing over the line a little bit, and that's hard to do.
"As an athlete, you want to be really good, so you're always pushing, and as a coach, you're trying to take that information that you're getting back from the athlete and maybe not pushing them too hard."
The Olympic dream
Despite being one of the favorites in the 10,000-meter event and a fall season that her coach called "fabulous," qualifying for the Olympic team will take more than a healthy pair of legs come June.
"We're probably at a place where women's distance running is the best it's ever been," Schumacher said. "Teams are never easy to make. What does Lisa have to do between now and then? I think she has to keep doing what she's been doing and stay healthy and I think she'll find herself to be very competitive."
The U.S. trials aren't the only race on Uhl's calendar to stay healthy for, though.
She's set to run a 3,000-meter race at the Last Chance NCAA Qualifier — while the meet acts as a final shot at NCAA Championship qualification for collegiate runners, Uhl plans to participate solely for the chance to run in a competitive setting — in Ames in March, a 10,000-meter race at the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford in April and will run at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene in June.
As recently as the end of January, Uhl was winning the 5,000-meter race at the Washington Invitational, beating the rest of the field by more than 30 seconds — a time of 15:29, well within reach of the Olympic "A" standard time for the race, 15:20.
"I wasn't geared up for it at all, I didn't change training at all, so to be able to go out and just run 15:30 by myself without preparing for it, still doing hard workouts and high mileage, is really encouraging for me," Uhl said.
"To know that I feel like I'm in the kind of shape to run the Olympic ‘A' standard right now and I haven't really been doing anything too specific on the track, I feel really good about it."
Following the race in Washington, Uhl said she'd likely run two 3,000-meter races to build up some speed, leading up to the longer-distance races later this spring. The first of the 3,000-meter competitions — the second of which will be her race in Ames next week — was a third-place finish at the FloTrack Husky Classic.
"She's really fit already. I think all she has to do is stay healthy and hungry," Flanagan said. "Lisa's a great competitor, she just has to execute her best race."
Her focus now is to become a better runner with each race.
She called qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team a "childhood dream," and she's confident, if she stays healthy, that she has "as good a shot to make the team as anybody."
2011 was hard, she said. She's addressed her injury concerns and, so far, has stayed injury-free since August — save minor, day-to-day injuries along the way.
Now, in 2012, she's four months away from a dream come true.
"I can't even really think about it actually happening yet because I get too excited," Uhl said. "Last year was a really, really tough year for me; I put so much hard work into what I did. I left, I moved away from my family and moved out to Portland, and then running wasn't going well. It wasn't fun.
"If I make that Olympic team, then all of the celebration you get after that happens."