Getting it done in the UK

I had grand plans to keep a frequent diary of this trip — one that would be coherent. That’s not going to happen; neither the frequency nor the coherence.

I arrived and met up with the rest of Team Endure roughly a week ago. Since then I’ve been doing doing doing doing doing. I’ve had a few breaks of some hours, but it’s never been truly leisurely because I’ve been aware of needing to do do do do do again for the evening performance, starting at around 4:30 and wrapping up around midnight (we have a post-show chat, drink and chew with audience members, typically).

For the first few days I was occupied with squaring away some of our marketing details, such as making sure print materials were getting to the right parties and then getting distributed. I also had a great deal of shopping to do, as well as photocopying forms, media kits, etc. Plus — oh, right — there was learning how to crew the show and rehearsals. I’d seen the show several times. But I’d never crewed it. Yoiks.

Tuesday I was off on my own running around Hammersmith doing doing doing. Then on Wednesday I was able to join the rest of the team and work on the show in earnest. That was good because we opened on Thursday. First we had a morning performance for the Alberta Minister of Culture (who gave the show a boatload of money). Although it was challenging to be ready by 9:30am, it was also a great way to get acclimated to the park and crewing. That show, which was a dress rehearsal of sorts, went very well. Then we had our premiere that evening at 7:00pm, and for that I had family in the audience (my brothers in law — it’s complicated). After that we had three more performances, the last of which was last night.

Some highlights of the past few days:

Mary has dealt with two insane, belligerent elderly people now, one of them drunk. The encounters were back to back, and I got to witness them from a slight distance. I’ll just say that if you want to see grace under pressure (in this case, a stream of verbal abuse, all of it nonsensical), Mary Cavett is your model.

The London Lady Cops are the real deal. They are in your face if you’re a young man misbehaving, such as kicking over trash bins. The Lady Park Police ride around on huge horses and wear helmets, jodhpurs and knee-high leather boots. They are badass.

There are parrots in Ravenscourt Park, where we performed.

We saw Eddie Izzard (also in Ravenscourt, where he used the loo and then bought a popsicle). We invited him (he runs marathons), but he didn’t take us up on it.

Executive Producer Jess Baker saw Kathrine Switzer walking by the theatre, looking at our poster, with husband Roger Robinson in tow. We also invited them. They did not show. Damn, these celebrities.

Endure’s composer, Christine Owman, came into town to see the show — with her parents, who have not seen it and were nice people. I got to hang out with a musical genius for awhile. I also got an autographed copy of her Throwing Knives CD.

The timing of our post-show sips and bites worked out perfectly so that I arrived in the bar just minutes before both the women’s and men’s 10,000m finals. I also got to watch the men’s 3000m steeplechase and the 100m final.

But that was just on television. I got to see the women’s marathon too. Live. On the street. I went alone because others on the team were either too busy or too tired (although Mary headed out a bit after me and ended up talking to a fascinating lady marathoner who is in her 60s).

So I went alone to St. Paul’s/Cheapside area and put up my flag and waited. The women came through about 10 minutes later. I cheered for all of them and was surprised by who I saw in the field, having had no time beforehand to read up on the race participants. I waited as they came through the loop another two times and then ran down to mile 24 to watch them go by one last time.

Watching the marathon was a very moving experience. I don’t know how many times I’ll get to see an Olympic marathon. But it’s not just that. It’s that the marathon has so dominated so many aspects of my life over the past 5 years. But it’s also not just that. The marathon is not only a metaphor used in the show I’m involved with — it’s a thread that’s connected everything I’ve being doing recently: getting over my social anxiety; pursuing  journalism work; expanding my pool of friends; learning to face reality and modify goals in response; appreciating the value of small successes and big failures; taking my own creative work seriously; and embracing other new challenges and adventures — basically, moving toward the things that scare the living daylights out of me. This trip is the culmination and amalgamation of all of those things. So it shouldn’t have surprised me when, walking through St. Paul’s afterwards, having listened to both towers’ pealing bells for several hours, I burst into tears.

“Skinny” Olympians at the Mini 10K: An Open Letter to NYRR

The following was written by my New York Harriers teammate Brigid Duffy and emailed to New York Road Runners (and subsequently posted to the team’s message boards). With her permission I’m sharing it here.

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Dear NYRR:

I was one of the 6,122 finishers who was fortunate enough to be part of the Mini 10k this past Saturday. Over the past several years I have run over 30 races with NYRR, including four NYC Marathons. While all of NYRR’s races are special and honor a multitude of wonderful causes, for me, the Mini always stands out as the most meaningful NYRR event. I’ve always thought of the Mini as less of a competition and more of a communal victory lap, where women of all ages can reflect, together, on how far we’ve come, not only within the running community, but within sports, the military, the workplace, and host of other social arenas. The Mini is the one race in the year when women are the athletes, and the men are on the sidelines cheering us on. It is with this in mind that I feel the need to voice a complaint concerning some of the pre-race announcements on Saturday.

While I was picking up my number and hanging around the baggage area on Saturday, the MC on the podium introduced some of the elite women athletes who would be competing in this year’s Mini. After introducing Edna Kiplagat, Hilda Kibet and a handful of other elite runners, the MC concluded: “They’re skinny, they’re fast, they’re Olympians!” Frankly, I was shocked that the first adjective used to describe the remarkable athletes in attendance was, “skinny.” In one sentence, the MC undermined exactly what makes this event empowering to women.

Women like Edna Kiplagat are remarkable and should be admired not because they are “skinny,” but because they are incredibly determined athletes who hopefully show other women that our bodies are capable of amazing feats. The MC’s comment implies that the chief accomplishment of our elite female runners is their slender frames and small waists. (Who cares about a sub 2:20 marathon if you’re a size zero?!) Moreover, the comment glosses over the fact that there is an extraordinary difference between “skinny” and “fit.” Glorifying our female athletes for their “skinniness” only reinforces the idea that a woman’s purpose, first and foremost, is to be objectified.

Everyday women are confronted with products, advertisements and airbrushed images that contain the same message: You are not skinny enough. Even perfectly healthy and fit women, when bombarded with these messages day after day, can begin to lament that their bodies do not live up to what is truly an impossible and unhealthy ideal. I have always maintained that sporting events, like NYRR’s races, give women the opportunity to value what their bodies can do over how their bodies appear. It is during races when women might start to realize, “I might not be 5’11” and 100 pounds, but I can run a damn good 10k.” Or, “I might not be a size 2, but I’m tough.” But these realizations can only endure if NYRR provides an environment where women feel comfortable in their own skin. Glorifying “skinny” female athletes because they are “skinny” creates a hostile space for all participants involved.

While I still enjoyed the race and the post-race festivities on Saturday, the MC’s comment was a major letdown. What is supposed to be a celebratory and esteem-boosting event for women was tainted by an insensitive and borderline sexist comment. I urge NYRR to be more responsible when it comes to the issue of women and body image within the running community, especially during the pre-race announcements.

– Brigid Duffy

And now for my next disaster…

Four years ago I watched the women’s 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials race on television and, noting that a few of them were over the age of 40, thought maybe. Maybe. About six months later, when I ran a 3:19, I again thought maybe. Maybe. I embarked on the pursuit of a 2:46 marathon time, believing there was some outside chance I could run that fast one day, despite all evidence to the contrary. I went through two coaches, about 9,000 miles, lots of shoes, and bouts of overtraining and injury. I finally gave up in May.

Over the years this pursuit turned into a chronicling of expectations that have gradually lowered over time. Scratch one race, target another one in six months. Hope I come back from injury. Okay, so I wouldn’t run a qualifying time at all. But maybe I could get the first masters award in the 5K race in Houston that weekend. At least I could go interview some professional elites. But I got turned down for a media pass. Okay, so maybe I’ll just interview some of the amateur elite runners I know who will be there. Or at least meet them for dinner. Drinks? Anything? Okay, if not, I’ll just go watch the Trials then.

In the meantime, my partner in running, travel and life was beset by his own injuries and setbacks. A rock placed in his path by some mischievous running valkyrie on a 20 miler resulted in a sprained ankle mid-training cycle, then a compensatory injury in his quad. This was on top of years of injuries. So rather than running the stellar comeback marathon he’d planned, his sights were on just running a halfway decent pace and finishing in one piece.

We got to Houston on Thursday the 12th. Had dinner. Slept. Got up. Had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Went out to buy groceries, $92 worth of food and drink for a long racing weekend. We even bought extra beer to host people with, just in case. Entering our hotel room, I saw the red message light blinking on the room phone. I figured it was hotel management pushing room service or something, but it was a terse message from my sister to call her as soon as possible. I put down the phone and said to Jonathan, “Something terrible has happened. I am about to get some bad news. You need to prepare yourself.”

And I did indeed get bad news, on Friday the 13th. My father had been killed in a car accident near his home on Long Island while we were out buying $92 worth of groceries.

I won’t go into all of that here.

We left immediately to come back east and spend the long weekend closer to home, with family and family friends. On Tuesday afternoon we got back to our house in Yonkers. That evening, in a daze, I watched the Marathon Trials coverage, dutifully recorded for us by Tivo. I looked for my Houston Hopefuls, the runners whom I’d interviewed (or just meant to interview),  the handful of women who had both carried and achieved the dream. I didn’t see them, but that didn’t surprise me because they wouldn’t be in the front of the pack. Then I looked at Jaymee Marty’s blog post about the Trials. Jaymee (whom I had so hoped to meet up with in Houston) finished last, and she ran most of the way with Susan Loken, who had also been hobbled by injuries. Both started the race with Ruth Perkins, who was running with a sacral stress fracture, the same injury I had in 2010. Perkins would drop out early.

Marty, Loken and Perkins

These two women, Loken and Marty, bookended my experience as a Trials wannabe. Susan was the first masters runner whom I followed, as the face of the now-defunct More Marathon, the late-starter masters runner, someone who took up jogging in her thirties to get in shape, who went on to run in the 2004 Trials (at the age of 40) and 2008 Trials and win multiple masters championship titles. Jaymee was the second masters runner I followed and my first Houston Hopefuls interview — the woman who inspired the series, really. I have followed Jaymee’s running career for at least three years and was elated when she qualified for the trials in Chicago in 2010, the third-oldest first time qualifier in history (sorry, Jaymee; that’s not a backhanded compliment, just a fact). Not only did both of these women make the Trials, but they are also both phenomenal runners when they are running well. But now, here they both had been, struggling just to finish.

And, you know, I’m really proud of them both for running and finishing. But at the same time the whole thing — marathoning, the Trials, setting goals — it just seems like such a giant cosmic joke. You can make all the plans you want, but in the end life is going to happen. And just when you thought you’d lowered your expectations as much as you possibly could — “I’ll just race the 5K and watch the Trials…” — you end up having to lower them even more.

Why do we strive? Why do we set goals? Fate laughs at them sometimes, reminds us of how temporary we all are, and renders our grand plans totally trivial. But what else are we to do?

2011: a look back

This year was not about racing, training, injury or mileage. It was about survival, observation, change, trust and taking risks.

I ended 2010 with some resolutions. I didn’t do half bad at sticking to them. With the exception of Facebook.

January

I started the year by attempting to let go of all plans and expectations. Considering how the next few months panned out, that was probably a good call.

The year started with baby steps back into running after 2010 ended with roughly four months of no running at all due to a stress fracture. For weeks and weeks after I started back again, I had adductor pain. Since I was turning into a whale I started working with a nutritionist to try to lose weight. That turned out to be a total waste of money and time.

The depression that had been knocking at my door in the fall managed to knock the door off its hinges and come stomping into my mental foyer wearing muddy boots. It was competing with some projects I did: a podcast on eating disorders in which, perhaps ironically, depression was a hot topic, as well as what would turn out to be my final interview for the Houston Hopefuls project.

The depression won. But at least I was running again.

I also discovered some fateful podcasts.

February

On February 1st I registered for the Chicago Marathon. Because I was still thinking there was an outside chance that I might actually have a hope of eventually running an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier for 2012. Oh, the folly.

I dipped my toe back into racing, mostly to see if my sacrum would crack again. I was slow. But not ridiculously so. My body parts remained intact.

I published my third piece for Running Times. That would also be my last one of the year. I closed my business’ books today and noted that I made a grand total of $450 writing for Running Times and Runner’s World in 2011. I have not enthusiastically sought more work from Rodale since then.

I was picking up from square one of the plan (former) Coach Sandra had given me way back in July.  I got back up to 50 mpw and did some hard workouts. We were working long distance at this point and would fall out of touch soon after. That was actually okay with me. It removed some pressure.

I still kept hold of the Trials dream. But it was slipping away. While February allowed some progress on the running front finally, it was my low point mentally. The running was kind of the only thing that was working as I otherwise held on by my fingernails.

March

In early March the bear got me again. I had a dental crisis. I was in a bad, bad way. But I was taking steps in my non-running life to right my little dingy. It was hard work, involving facing a lot of very unpleasant stuff and giving it the credit it was due. By month’s end, however, I was seeing progress.

A few days later I ran Coogan’s and it was alright, perhaps even pretty good. I started to reacquaint myself with the human race too. Another good call.

Then Sally Meyerhoff died. That really affected me. I paid tribute to her at the tail end of our little podcast. I thought a lot about time’s value and what a crime it is to squander it.

During March the work I was doing on myself started to pay dividends. I emerged from the mud, escaped the clutches of the bear. But I would only get a short reprieve. Life would rear its head again soon enough.

But, still, I was running and running pretty well again at that, despite lots of little setbacks and frustrations. That was worth a lot.

April

I regained fitness, slowly but surely.

We saw one of the most exciting Boston races in years. We also lost another great.

I also decided to not go to Chicago and instead eat the registration fee and go closer to home in Syracuse. Yeah, I still believed. Dream not dead. Yet.

At the tail end of the month my stepmother nearly died of complications from heart surgery. This was an ordeal that went on for weeks and weeks. My running dropped off tremendously in April and May. I took 14 days off in May alone. Something had to go.

May

I ran one of the worst races in my short competitive career, out on Long Island. Some of life’s greatest gifts come in the form of being kicked in the teeth, and this was no exception. During this race I had the epiphany that I needed to have: I wasn’t ever going to run an Olympic Trials qualifying time. Moreover, maybe long distance wasn’t for me at all.

By this time Sandra was no longer coaching me, which was fine since I would have been wasting her time given all the changes and interruptions. I found a 10K training plan online and just followed that for awhile.

I also realized that my cat is a lot better at meditating than I am.

I started a crazy freelance gig that required a three hour commute every day and had wildly unpredictable hours (I was there until 10pm with no prior warning some nights). Nevertheless, I committed to getting up at 5am to do training. I also decided to spend the next few months trying to shed extra weight through aggressive calorie restriction.

June

By June my stepmother was better and out of the hospital. But I was full bore freelancing this crazy gig. Which had me rushing through pre-dawn workouts, and it’s never good to rush a warmup because — you guessed it — I got injured! Fuck. Again! Bad calf pull.

That had me out of the Mini 10K, which I’d really wanted to run. But, okay, whatever. Things were basically on the upswing.

July

This month would represent a turning point in many respects.

My June injury healed up. My running would start to improve in a dramatic way.

On July 4 I committed to training to run the fastest road mile I could (this year): the Fifth Avenue Mile. I finally got smart about my training, keeping the mileage low and cutting workouts from three a week to two (with any races substituting for a workout). I would remain uninjured for the remainder of the year. And I’d get faster. Good job, Julie! You can still learn things through observation.

A few days later an outstanding person from Canada Googled “marathon” and “Brooklyn,” got me in the results, and then invited me to the world premier of her show, which I almost didn’t go to because the words “one woman show” strike fear in my jaded heart. But I followed my instinct and went. And I loved it. Then I somehow managed to trick her into becoming a good friend for the absurdly low entry cost of a sandwich. Then getting to know a real performer put some crazy ideas into my head that would start to take root in the fall.

Then I had more lunch with some far flung blogger friends (and some who are closer to home). That was fun.

Despite all the lunches, I was 15 pounds lighter by month’s end.

August

My nightmarish freelance gig concluded and had a couple of weeks recovery before beginning another that was much, much saner, one that allowed me to sleep past 7am most days. My training was, I dare say, going well.

Then I capped off the month with an exciting hurricane weekend in the Poconos with two runner lady friends.

September

I had a kind of spectacular track workout.

I waxed rhapsodic about social media.

I started taking baby steps, with a small group of strangers, toward realizing a long-festering dream of performing, disguised as an attempt to get over my terror of public speaking. But I really just wanted an excuse to talk about myself and try to be funny.

I had a couple of good tuneup races (in Tuckahoe and in Riverside Park) while keeping my eye on the prize: the run down Fifth Avenue late in the month.

I had the race I’d waited three years for. I broke six minutes. Then the day just got better. It was a happy day. And you know what? I fucking deserved it.

October

I lamented the backward slide of track and field policy. I may have even changed (or at least opened) a mind or two in the process.

I considered that perhaps my running a sub-20 minute 5K is not a patently absurd idea after all.

Also, my recently listless, skinny and perpetually thirsty Zen cat was given a diabetic death sentence.

November

I got up on a stage and told a story. People laughed. Or were horrified. But in more or less the right places.

I also won a big-ass trophy.

December

I nabbed a new 5K PR in Bethpage, Long Island.

And here we are. Next stop: 2012.

What are my goals for this year? They are huge, for one thing. Mightily ambitious. They are the kinds of goals you think about setting for yourself when you read about a woman in her twenties getting hit by a truck.

Some of these goals have to do with running and some not with running.

I am not sharing them ahead of time because that’s never worked out well for me. But also because many of them are more qualitative than quantitative in nature. As such, they are harder to measure — and maybe harder to reach. Many of them are not limited to this year. I’m starting them this year, is all. I’ll see where they go and how long it takes to get there.

I will, however, let you know when I reach them. And I do intend to reach them.

Also, Zen cat is still alive, and once again broad-shouldered, energetic and no longer thirsty. Anything’s possible when you throw enough expensive cat food at the problem.

Happy New Year!

Training: Dec 11 – 17

Now we’re in the home stretch. There’s a month to go before my goal 5K race in Houston over Olympic Marathon Trials weekend. The emphasis now is on (in this order):

  1. Staying uninjured
  2. Making tweaks to training to address weaknesses
  3. Determining what a reasonable goal pace would be

I’ve managed to remain uninjured since July. Since I’m not going to be doing anything radically different in the next four weeks, I don’t see that as being an issue. But I am being careful to warm up properly before speedwork or shorter races and do proper cool down runs. I’ve slacked off on rolling and massage, though. I like to live dangerously.

As for the second point, I will be doing more work that’s specific to race pace, while reducing the amount of pure tempo running in the original Daniels plan. I have a big workout planned for Christmas day — not in terms of length, but in terms of workload. I am hoping to learn some things from it. All of the rest of the workouts are typically a mix of 5K race pace running and tempo running.

For the pacing question, between the next 5K test race — two weeks out from race day — and a session of 1K repeats five days out, I should be able to arrive at a range of paces in which to run on race day.

This training week’s Tuesday session is typical of the weird shit Daniels assigns for late-cycle 5K training. I get what he’s doing: he’s put together a workout that taxes the spectrum of your system and works everything. While I think these are good to do, I have to consider that I have dropped his third workout every week (because I’m old), usually in favor of doing one very speed-focused session and then one like this one, which hits the tempo end of things. Other times, I’ve dropped his plan entirely, going for 1K repeats. These just work for me — I like the immediate feedback they give me, answering the question: how’s it feel to run goal 5K pace now? By doing the same track workout every few weeks I can see if there’s progress because I’m in a venue that removes the many variables introduced by, say, racing 5Ks on different courses.

My recovery run times are dropping too.

I ran a decent race on Saturday, nabbing a small (but psychologically important) PR, breaking 21:00 at last. On New Year’s Day I will again try for a 20:30.

In other news, I tried out a pair of Skechers Go Run shoes. Skechers is courting my running club and they gave out a coupon for free shoes at the Harriers’ holiday party. I ordered a pair and I have to say that they are good shoes. They are very light (maybe ~6 oz each?) and flexible. They are meant to promote a mid-foot strike. I already land on my mid-foot, so they’re comfortable to run in, but I suspect that if you’re a heel striker they might drive you crazy. My one issue with them is that the heel area is very wide, although the rest of the shoe fits very well. I like them enough that I will probably buy some heel inserts to try to fix the problem. I would love to try racing in them, but I’m afraid they’d slip off at the heel if anyone steps on me.

Houston in January: Let’s put the “social” back in “social media”

It’s come to my attention that a lot of people whom I kind of — but don’t really, but would like to — know are going to be descending upon Houston over Olympic Marathon Trials weekend. Since I just got turned down for a media credential, plus I’m only racing the 5K (although I will have my semi-hysterial pre-marathon SO in tow, which means gettng there early to minimize travel stress), I’ll have free time on my hands.

Chances are good that I’ll arrive late Thursday and leave early in the day on Monday. Unless I decide to skulk around outside of the press events, which means I’ll probably be arrested for harrassment and/or loitering and thrown into jail, I should be fairly footloose and fancy free. I can’t get drunk, though. At least not after Friday night.

I would like to meet you if I can. Maybe even assemble in a group to watch the Trials with — I will be cheering for several actual people I sort of know. Or for the full/half marathon, if you’re not running those — after I race the 5K I’ll be out cheering for lots of people in those races too. Or have someone to say “Hi” to at the finish of the 5K — or perhaps even at the start. Dinner, drinks, brunch. Pom-poms. Making fun of Houston. The possibilities are truly endless.

If you’re going to be there and want to try to arrange a meetup or two, please let me know with a comment and/or email. I can’t keep track of who’s going and who’s running what when. I think I need to start building a spreadsheet or something.

A few minutes with Jenny Simpson

Jenny (Barringer) Simpson’s running résumé is so impressive that it’s difficult to choose among the highlights. A 2008 Olympian in the 3000m steeplechase, breaker of numerous collegiate records and one American record, and, most recently, gold medalist in the 1500m at worlds — the first American woman to win gold in that event since Mary Decker-Slaney won it in 1983. Needless to say, I was thrilled to get a chance to sit down with her. Incidentally, Simpson won the Fifth Avenue Mile this year.

When you win a gold medal and walk down the street in the event’s home city, do people recognize you?
That was one of the strangest things. I left the stadium to go to dinner that night. Even on the way to dinner there were people stopping us on the street for pictures. It wasn’t just Koreans, it was people visiting, all kinds of people.

Was that odd for you?
It was very strange. Of course, I’m very flattered and want to be accomodating  and take pictures with people. But it’s just so strange to be walking down the street and having people say, “Oh, my gosh! You won the gold medal. Can we have a picture?” Two or three days later, my husband and I were supposed to meet each other at a train station. We couldn’t find each other and once we finally did find each other we needed some help in order to make our train on time. The security guard was more than happy to accomodate us because he knew that I’d won a gold medal. It’s just so strange to have a security guard working in the train station know who we were.

When you watch a race, everyone’s wearing Nike kits. But you went with New Balance. How come? What did they offer you that someone like Nike didn’t?
I had the beautiful luxury of being in a situation where I had several different companies that I could visit and ultimately choose from. It ended up being a scenario very similar to college. If you’re good in high school and you get five full scholarship offers, at that point you’re deciding what the best fit is for you. I felt like I had full scholarships from all of these places and at the end of the day I was able to decide who was the best fit for who I am and what I want to try to accomplish.

What I found in New Balance was an incredible family. From the moment I met these people I felt that they genuinely wanted to be a part of making my career as great as it could be. I wasn’t necessarily simply a vehicle for their product. They were able to communicate that to me the best. I know that they have a lot of resources, but they keep their team relatively small. All those things were really attractive to me.

They seem to reward loyalty with loyalty. When you look at someone like Khalid Khannouchi, who’s been with them since the mid-nineties — they’ve supported him through eight years of injury. It’s really kind of amazing.
One of the main things I considered when I was looking for a college was how many people went on to compete professionally after going to there. What’s the success, the longevity of their runners? So when it came time to choose a sponsor, I wanted to compare the relative size of the company to the number of people that they sponsor. New Balance is impressive in that they are incredibly loyal to the people they sign. Through the good years and bad years they take ownership of the people they signed and who’ve been with them for years. I just think that’s a really honorable thing to do.

If you run for a shoe company like New Balance, but you can’t quite find a pair of shoes that works for you, will they customize shoes for you?
Absolutely. And with New Balance it’s even easier because their factory is in the US. It’s not like you go get fitted and then they send it out to China. You can walk to the factory in Lawrence, just outside of Boston, and they make your shoes for you there. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to walk to the factory and see the people working on your shoes and on your products. That’s a whole other inspiring side of the company. They’re true to their message in that they employ US workers and keep it US made. That meant a lot to me.

I’m interested in the fact that you moved down in distance. That’s unusual. You were an outstanding steeplechaser and then moved down to the 1500. What drove that decision?
I’ve always wondered if anyone else leaving college has ever moved down. I can’t think of anyone.

Well, there’s you and Anna Pierce.
That’s true. When I was racing in 2009, everyone remembers when I went to Prefontaine and broke four minutes in the 1500. That was really a game changer for me. In that moment we realized that there was a whole other part of middle distance racing that I had an aptitude for. I went on and finished my track and cross country seasons, just as we’d planned to do.

But I always knew in the back of my mind that I had this great ability in the middle distances. So when I no longer had the opportunity to stay in Boulder, I was looking for a coach. I know how to train for a steeplechase and for a 5k. What I really don’t know is the highly specialized skills for the 800 and 1500. I looked for a coach specifically for middle distances and found an incredible match in Juli (Benson) Henner at the Air Force Academy. She’s done exactly that: taken the things I’m already good at and made me so much better.

Do you miss the steeplechase?
I do miss it. I miss it because I was so familiar with it. I miss it because I had a lot of success in it. The 1500 can be a little bit of a crapshoot. You go out and know you have a certain ability, but tactics are so important in that race. A great example is Brussels. I ran 4:03 and that’s a really great time. But I was in back, near last. So it can be really trying in that sense. You can have a great time, but a poor performance. Or you can win, but people will accuse you of racing a slow time. So in that sense you have to hold your own, and just own that you’re good at this event and that you’re going to keep getting better.

The steeple is more consistent as far as running similar times, and the event itself is definitely not as deep as the 1500. So if you’re running around seventh in the world you’re always going to place somewhere between fifth and tenth in the world.at the world championships. It’s a very different dynamic in that sense. More predictable.

All I know is that every time I watch the steeplechase, I’m always afraid for the runners. It looks so hazardous, especially when you go over the water jump.
I know! It is. I used to say that the steeplechase is the NASCAR of track and field because everyone comes to watch the crashes.

Have you raced any road miles?
I’ve never run a road mile. This is my first one. I’m very excited.

How do you think it will differ for you from a tactical standpoint?
Everyone is going to be missing that comfort of knowing exactly where you are every step of the race. When you’re on the track, you know in every moment, “I have 520 meters to go, I have 150 meters to go.” We’re so comfortable running those curves and knowing where we are. So I think it’s going to miss that level of comfort. Given how deep the field is, how good the field is, this year, I think it’s going to turn into a really exciting race.

How will you warm up for this race?
I do the same warmup for every single race and workout. I start with a short run and some dynamic stretches. Then I’ll run really easy for 15 or 20 minutes and then start my drills and my strides. All of that is really standard and set in stone. The one thing that isn’t set in stone is when you put on your spikes. That’s determined by the event. If it’s something like the world championships, where we have to go through a lot of call rooms, I’ll wait until we get into the call rooms to put on my shoes. If it’s a really relaxed race like Rieti, I’ll put on my spikes while I’m still doing my warmup.

Is that a mental transition you’re making as well, when you put on your spikes?
Absolutely. You put on your spikes and everything from that moment on is faster, a little bit more explosive, more intense.

Here’s a fly on the wall question. Those of us who are amateur runners don’t know what happens in a championship race. Beforehand, are you all herded into the same room together? What’s actually happening before we see you all out on the track?
I’m kind of a nerd, probably. But I always thought it would be interesting to write a short story just on that process, going from the warmup area to the track.

We don’t know what happens. We see you come out…
Yeah, it’s kind of a black box thing.

Are you thrown together, or are you given some space?
It depends on the venue. I’ll use the last world championships as an example. We go into the call room around 45 minutes before we go to the start line. At a typical race, that’s usually not long after you would start your warmup. So we have a 50 minute warmup and then we have 45 minutes in these call rooms.

You have to sit around for 45 minutes?
Yeah. We go into the first call room and they have to check everything. They check your bibs on the front and on the back. They have to make sure that all your logos are in compliance. They have to make sure you don’t have anything in your bag that you can pull out that’s noncompliant. Then they check your spikes, they check your uniform. They go through all of this for every single person in the field. They divide all those jobs between call room one and call room two. When you’re in call room two, there’s typically a place for you to do some strides, run around, do some drills. Call room two is where we all put our spikes on.

But while you’re in the first call room, you’re literally sitting in a small room with all the people you’re going to be racing. It’s usually really quiet. It’s kind of tense. By the time you get to call room two people are kind of shaken out again, they’re doing their strides, putting their shoes on. At that point — this what you all see — in our warmups, with our backpacks, we all walk out onto the track. At the point we usually have about five minutes, just enough time to put in one or two strides before we have to take all of our clothes off and step to the line.

Well, you don’t take all of your clothes off.
I should say all of our warmups off.

If you took all of your clothes off it might increase track and field viewership.
[Laughs] That’s true!

I want to ask you about the 2009 race in which you broke the NCAA 5k indoor record*. It was the most bizarre video, because it looked like you were running the race alone. I remember wondering how you kept up that effort while running solo. How do you run like that when there’s no one else around you to push you?
That was such an unusual situation for two reasons. For one, I was racing by myself. The other other funny thing about that video is that no one knows that anything’s going on.

Right! There are guys wandering out on the track. No one knows what’s happening.
Exactly. Something else that was unusual about that race was the track. It was something like 308 meters. A really strange distance. So the splits are in different places all around the track. There’s no way for an athlete by themselves to know the splits for a 5k going around that track. They designate someone to run around the track and give splits. I’d separated myself from the group and so the guy giving splits had to decide, “Do I give splits to the girl that’s winning or to the rest of the group that’s racing?” He made the decision — and I applaud him for this — to give splits to the majority of the group and let me go and do my thing. But at this point I’m at 2k, not even halfway into the race, and I have no information about how I’m running.

The absence of knowing where I was in the race or how fast I was going actually made me run better. It made me run so much better. I think it was a combination of no knowing — the bliss of not knowing — and the fact that I had this little bit of fear. I set out that day wanting to run 15:20. I knew that was going to be difficult to do. So I had this feeling, “If I slow down I don’t know if I’m going to be on pace anymore.” So that drove me to keep picking it up every lap. It was funny, too — my coaches are very calm, collected people. But they started looking more and more frantic each time I came around. And I was thinking, “Oh, my gosh. Is this not going as well as I thought it was?” I felt really under control, really good.

Did they think you were running too fast?
No. They were so excited. They thought, “Man, she looks so good! She’s running every single lap better and better and better.” So I just misinterpreted their reaction. They were all excited about what was going on. So it was for reasons of ignorance that I kept running harder and harder and better and better. When I crossed the line and saw 15:01 I didn’t think that was right. When you’re racing out there by yourself, I think it’s so important — and I said this about the 1500 in Daegu — to focus on yourself and how you feel. People ask me all the time, “What are you thinking about?” I’m thinking about running, what I’m doing, how I’m feeling. If you focus on yourself and forget about the time or the people around you, you’ll get the most out of yourself. That’s how I run solo races.

*I can’t find the video for this race. If anyone out there has a link, please share it!

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