PORTLAND — The center of the United States track and field world was in Alexa Efraimson’s backyard this weekend.
So it was a no-brainer that the 19-year-old from Camas would run in the USATF Indoor Championships in Portland.
In a field containing 10 of the nation’s top middle-distance runners, Efraimson finished sixth in the 1,500 meters Saturday.
Her time of 4 minutes, 13.44 seconds wasn’t her fastest of this indoor season. But after the race, Efraimson did what she does best – move forward.
She talked about the lessons she learned running against elite completion on this year’s indoor circuit. But her voice rose in excitement when talking about the upcoming outdoor season and her hopes of competing in the IAAF Junior World Championships this summer in Poland.
Every stage needs a spotlight. And as she sets the stage for this year’s outdoor season, Efraimson has spent this winter under some bright lights indeed.
In the past month, she has clocked indoor personal bests in the 1,500 and mile at high-profile events in Boston and New York.
“I’m really humbled to be here amongst these girls,” Efraimson said. “Being able to race against them just gives me more confidence each time I step on the track.”
Efraimson, who runs professionally for Nike and attends the University of Portland, spent the fall and winter doing what she called a “heavy training block.”
That work has shown in her times over the past month. She opened her season Jan. 30 by winning the mile at the UW Invitational, then ran an indoor personal best of 4:12.06 in the 1,500 in Boston on Feb. 14.
The following weekend, she ran a personal best of 4:28.91 in the Wanamaker Mile at the Milrose Games in New York.
Saturday, Efraimson stayed near the back of a tight pack as it circled the banked 200-meter oval inside the Oregon Convention Center.
She stayed within a second of the lead heading into the final 400 meters, but the leaders pulled away over the last two laps. Brenda Martinez, who was third in the 2013 World Championships, won in 4:08.37.
“I think I should have been more aggressive over the last 600 meters, but it is what it is,” Efraimson said. “I’ll just learn from here.”
An indoor race can be quite different from competition on an outdoor track, Efraimson said.
“It’s a lot more physical, I would say,” she said. “Maybe not this race, but a lot of races can be really physical just because we’re all so tight together. You’ve just got to make sure you keep your ground.”
Efraimson has high hopes for this spring and summer. Her highlight last year came in the Prefontaine Classic, where she ran 4:03.39 to set an American junior record.
Racing against the world’s top junior runners (under 20) offers a unique challenge for Efraimson. That’s why the Junior World Championships in July hold an allure different from racing against professionals.
“Going to Juniors would be a really good opportunity for me to run up front, whereas I don’t do a lot of that in the pro sector,” she said.
As the track seasons turn, Efraimson is still in the spring of her professional career. But if she has her way, this summer will be blazing.
Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, email@example.com or on Twitter @col_mrice.