After An Extra-Long Layoff, Mia Cochran Is Ready To Return

Caught in the middle of a Pennsylvania winter, just about any distance runner would gladly trade a 10-miler through ankle-deep snow and negative wind chills for some therapeutic (and warm) cross-training in a swimming pool.

Not Mia Cochran, at least not in the winter of 2020. Relegated to only rehabilitative swims for what seemed to her like an eternity, the now Moon Area junior was comfortable racking up yardage with friends and former teammates on her club swim team, but she couldn't wait to get back to clicking off miles on roads, trails and tracks.

"It was pretty hard for me because all I want to do is just go, go, go and keep training," she said of being forced to stop running only weeks after winning the 2019 PIAA Class AAA XC title. "After (Foot Locker) regionals, it was kind of hard to stop because I wanted to do indoor. I just wanted to race again, but I knew I had to take off. It was kind of a blessing again to get (2020) track cancelled because if I went through track season, I don't know how it would have been and how well I would have gotten through that.

"At that point, I was swimming right after I got done with regionals and I started just running a tiny little bit (at the end of February). Those couple months of swimming were all taking it easy. I wasn't doing anything else besides swimming, making sure I wasn't doing any more harm to my hip."

The aforementioned right hip had made its presence known to Cochran for a large portion of 2019. It wasn't until after she got a PIAA gold medal in Hershey and then a spot in the Foot Locker National Championship that the pain in her right leg said, "Enough is enough."

"It was super, super hard (to stop running) even though after I finished that race, I could barely walk on stage," Cochran said of the pain she felt on the last day in November in Van Cortlandt Park. "I was planning on going (to San Diego). I tried to run one day, and I couldn't make it 100 yards without my hip feeling so bad.

"I really, really wanted to go, but it was just so hard to make that decision not to. I knew it was for the better because I am getting better right now. Sometimes I do regret not going, but then again I couldn't run more than 100 yards at that time."

For Cochran, 2019 started off with a third in a loaded AAA field at Red, White & Blue. That proved to be the only blemish on her 2019 XC season in meets contested in the Keystone state.

Cochran followed up two weeks later with a 19-second triumph at the PIAA Foundation Invitational in a battle of WPIAL standouts in a preview of the PIAA final. A win by almost 2 minutes in the Midwestern Athletic Conference meet kicked off a late-season run that included a 45-second win at California University in the WPIAL race and then her sub-18:00 run at Hershey and an 18-second margin over District 7 rival Emily Carter of Bethel Park in the state AAA championship.

Cochran received the MRI results on her ailing hip - a stress injury to her upper hamstring and ischium - just nine days after claiming the coveted tenth and final regional qualifying spot for the Foot Locker National Championship at historic Balboa Park. In the next two days, her trip to San Diego was a thing of the past and she started physical therapy to get her back to 100 percent.

"It was nice going back to the swim team, everyone is so friendly over there," Cochran said. "It's nice to fall back on swimming, but then again I still wanted to be running."

Cochran said the combination of winter weather and "my hip just was not having it" made biking - whether outside or on a stationary version indoors - not an option when she was not allowed to run.

Above: Highlights from the girls' AAA race at the 2019 PIAA State Championships

Fabulous freshman season

Cochran burst onto the high school running scene in the fall of 2018 with a tenth place finish in the combined boys and girls freshmen race at Red, White & Blue. Her sub-19:00 clocking was more than 2 minutes ahead of the next ninth-grade girl.

"I would say that was a surprise," Moon Area cross country coach Tim Hrivnak said of Cochran's

performance in the 2018 RWB. "That was a huge coming out party for her. At that point, I think she gained a lot of confidence and from that point forward had the ability to really feel like our No. 1 on the girls varsity team and to go out and continue to prove that she belonged and her name belonged in the conversation."

An eighth overall as the first freshman at Foundation was followed by her first MAC title, a third at Tri-States and a fifth in the WPIAL final. Cochran wrapped up the 2018 XC season with a seventh-place finish in the PIAA AAA race, finishing 40 seconds behind fellow 9th-grader Jenna Mulhern of West Chester Henderson.

Her first high school track season was highlighted by strong 1,600-3,200 doubles within a week's time at the TSTCA champs and Butler Invitational. At WPIALs, she concentrated on the metric mile, finishing second in the district final before running a PR 5:05.68 for 10th in a PIAA AAA title race loaded with freshmen, sophomores and juniors.

Her progress on the clock might have been greater had it not been for the first signs of what would shut down her sophomore XC season a meet shy of a run for a national championship.

"(During my freshman) track season at states, I was dealing with it, but I really didn't know what it was," Cochran said of the first signs of hip pain. "I just knew that I couldn't run without it hurting super bad. The week before (2019 track) states, I barely ran like I did before (2019 Foot Locker) Regionals. I barely ran because it was so unbearably hard to run.

"I went through summer training last year with it being fine after I took a couple weeks off. Going through the season it was pretty much fine until the end of the season. It got worse until I took time off again. It just gets worse when I put too much pressure on it, but I know how to stop myself now."

Without a doubt, one of the reasons for Cochran's success early in her high school career is a

tremendous work ethic and willingness to put in the miles.

"It goes back to the old adage you perform how you practice," Hrivnak said. "If you saw her practice, you would see the exact same Mia. She practices with an intensity and a focus that I've not seen as a coach. She has this ability, it's like a switch. She just turns it on, and she's all business at that point."

Interview Above: Cochran after winning the PIAA Class AAA XC state title

Back to racing ... in the spotlight

Cochran's PIAA title, the first ever for a Moon Area XC runner, catapulted her into the recruiting spotlight. Heading into her junior year, she is open to "any big running school" from coast to coast, looking for the best fit for her.

"I have a few on my list, with some big ones far away from Pennsylvania," she said of her early favorites in the recruiting game. Having already been contacted by top-flight programs, she's hoping that the recruiting experience returns to a pre-coronavirus norm well in advance of when she is looking to take some of her official visits.

The NCAA put a Division I recruiting dead period in place because of the global pandemic, and it originally was set to expire on April 15. It has now been extended five times, with the current end date being September 30 for when college coaches may not have face-to-face contact with potential recruits and cannot watch them compete.

"That kind of sucks for everyone who is going into senior year with not being able to (have official on-campus visits)," she said of the NCAA recruiting changes that were put in place in March. "I would love to be able to talk to (coaches) and go actually see campuses before I would want to (make a commitment). That's really exciting."

Earlier this week, Cochran claimed the top girls' spot in the Pennsylvania MileSplit 50 Preseason Rankings. The rankings cover all PIAA classes and independent schools in the state.

The 15-year-old junior - she'll turn 16 in September - is extremely anxious to start racing again but also cautious on how quickly she will push the training and racing envelope. Cochran said her training is back to about 40 miles per week, with hopes of adding a few more MPWs before racing begins for the fall.

"My hip has been doing OK right now so hopefully it will be OK if I ramp up a tiny bit more until we go into the season," she said, noting that she wants to "save her legs for the bigger meets." "Right now, I know I could do it all over again and I hope I can. (Qualifying for San Diego) was a really, really big moment that got me more prepared for this season. Knowing what I can do going into the season, I'm super excited to race and hopefully we get some big meets in. I really hope that I will be able to run with some big-name competitors."