By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.Margot Appleton knows her way around the most famous track & field venue in the United States. As a high school senior, she raced at Hayward Field, where she placed third in the girls’ 5000 meters at the Nike Outdoor Nationals.

Appleton, who’s in her third year at the University of Virginia, is back in Eugene, Ore., this week, and she’s preparing to compete again at Hayward Field. But this race—the women’s 5000m at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships—will bear little resemblance to the one she ran in 2021.

“There was like nobody in the stands,” Appleton recalled, smiling, “and I think it was 9 o’clock in the morning when I was there. So it will be a very different feel this time around. I’m really excited. I know the stadium is cool and the track is great. But I just think the energy and having a lot of people there is going to be really, really cool.”

At the ACC Championships last month in Atlanta, Appleton won the 150m0 and placed third in the 5000, and she could have tried to qualify for both events at NCAAs. But she opted to focus on the 5000, even though she placed third in the 1500m at last year’s NCAA meet in Austin, Texas.

“It was a hard decision,” Appleton said. “I just felt like I was having more fun racing the 5k, I guess, and it gets to be a lot of 1500s when you’re doing it at ACCs, regionals, nationals and then, hopefully, Olympic Trials. So I kind of just wanted to switch things up. I think I’m about equally competitive in each of them. But I am ranked better in the 5k, so I chose that after ACCs after going back and forth all season.

“A lot of people do the double [at NCAAs]. People don’t often win both, but I wanted to just go all in on one. It was even a consideration last year, but I felt like if I did my best in the 15, I didn’t really need the 5k as a backup. And then this year I felt like I wanted to have my best chance to race the best at the 5k, so I didn’t really want to have tired legs from the 15.”

With a solid race at the NCAA East Regional late last month in Lexington, Ky., Appleton qualified for the NCAA Championships. She’s  one of 11 Cavaliers who’ll compete this week in Eugene, along with John Fay (men’s hammer throw), Gary Martin (men’s 1500m), Wes Porter (men’s 1500m), Nate Mountain (men’s 3000m steeplechase), and Yasin Sado (men’s 3000m steeplechase), Shane Cohen (men’s 800m), Will Anthony (men’s 10000m), Jacob Lemmon (men’s discus throw), Janae Profit (women’s shot put) and Celia Rifaterra (women’s high jump).

The NCAA meet began Wednesday at Hayward Field, and Fay, Martin, Porter, Mountain, Sado, Cohen and Anthony all competed. Appleton won’t race until Saturday at 7:25 p.m. Eastern, in the penultimate event of the four-day meet.

“It’s a lot of waiting around,” said Appleton, who flew to Eugene with her teammates on Monday.

Appleton grew up in Mattapoisett, Mass., about 35 miles southeast of Providence, R.I. She attended Portsmouth Abbey, a boarding school in Rhode Island. She knew of UVA’s academic reputation, but she hadn’t given much thought to spending her college years in Charlottesville before her high school track & field coach told her about Vin Lananna.

Lananna oversees the Cavalier track & field and cross country programs, and he’s renowned for his work with distance runners. He recruited Appleton during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Truthfully, I never met Margot [in person],” Lananna recalled. “It was over the telephone. I didn’t have a lot of information about her. She’d run a mile, a 1200, a 3000, an 800, and it wasn’t until her second year that we started to hone in on what really is her best event, and even now we’re exploring.”

In the fall of 2021, her first semester at Virginia, Appleton placed 31st at the ACC Cross Country Championships. That winter, she helped the Wahoos finish seventh in the distance medley relay at the NCAA Indoor Championships. She didn’t excel outdoors as a freshman—Appleton placed 11th in the 5000 at the ACC meet—but she shined in all three seasons as a UVA second-year.

In cross country, Appleton placed 55th overall and helped Virginia finish ninth at the NCAA meet. Indoors, she placed fourth in the mile at NCAAs. Also at that meet, she helped the Hoos to a fourth-place finish in the DMR, in which they ran was then a program-record 10:55.94.

At Lannigan Field in April 2023, she finished the 5000m in 15:36.28, breaking the program record set in 1980 by Margarett Groos, who went on to become an Olympic marathoner. Appleton then won the 1500m at ACCs, and she capped her second outdoor season by taking the bronze in that event at the NCAA meet.

From working with Appleton, Lananna said, he’s learned that she’s “very conscientious about what she does. She is very deliberate and intentional about her training. She really didn’t have the kind of experience that a lot of other women have when they’re in a regular high school. She was at a small boarding school in Rhode Island, and it was during COVID. So as a result, everything for her is new, whether [the event] is a 1500 or a 5000 or 10000 or cross country.

“Whatever it is, Margot has to try them all. Most women when they come into the collegiate ranks, they’re typically kind of leaning in a direction, but she’s been able to figure out what about every event is fun. Every aspect is a little bit different. She’s a good tactician, so as a result she plans out when to move, how to move, what’s the intensity of the move, and I think she makes that fun. With team sports, or sports played with a ball, a lot of people tend to think of those as fun. When you’re a distance runner, it’s not a lot of fun to really put your body through the difficulty of a distance event. But she’s managed to make the strategy kind of a fun exercise.”

Indoors, Appleton holds the program records in the mile (4:29:07) and the 3000m (8:57.53), and she teamed with Anna Workman, Alahna Sabbakhan and Maggie Hock this year to run the distance medley relay in 10:50.58, another UVA record.

Outdoors, she’s run the fastest 5000m (15:18.21) in program history, and she ranks second all-time at UVA in the 1500m behind Michaela Meyer, who won the NCAA title in that event in 2021.

Appleton’s best event? That’s still be to determined. She hopes to compete in the Olympic Trials in Eugene late this month, and she might run the 1500m.

“We’re looking at what’s in her long-term best interest, and if that could work out, that may be the case,” Lananna said. “But until we see what she does this weekend in the high-end 5000, I don’t think we’re ready to make that decision yet.”

Appleton, a cognitive science major, believes the experience she gained in Austin last year will benefit her in Eugene.

“Now I see my [outdoor] season as including NCAAs, and I can work towards that and kind of train through the other meets,” she said, “so I think that helps. And then last year I had the experience from indoor [NCAAs], but I was definitely really nervous.

“Outdoor seems like a bigger meet, kind of a bigger deal. So hopefully just working through those nerves and being able to enjoy myself and race well last year can help me carry that through to this year and maybe temper the nerves a bit so I can enjoy the experience. Hopefully the racing experience as well will help me in the actual race, even though it’s a different event.”

At the ACC meet last month, Appleton’s win in the 1500m helped the UVA women place third, their best finish since 2021. The Virginia men won the ACC title outright for the first time in program history.

“The momentum just built throughout the weekend,” Appleton said. “Every event was scoring and that was really cool to see. For the women’s team, I think, it was cool to see the guys, and then we also had to remember that third place is a big jump for us. I think we have room to score more points, and it was a really good start going into next year. We can set higher goals, and maybe we’ll win next year, too.”

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