Saturday, May 24, 2014

Surrounded by Success and Failing: Shanghai Diamond League Meet

Going into Shanghai:

                I was really ecstatic about getting into the Shanghai Diamond League meet earlier this year.  What an opportunity to race against some of the best steeple women while getting to see Asia for the first time!  I knew it would be a tough meet to perform well with travel being so long and the time change being so drastic.  I have a hard time racing a three days after getting to Europe, and that’s only a 7 hour difference.  But since it is a non-world championship year, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to practice running well under difficult circumstances.

                As the meet approached, I was not as enthused.  Everything has been a bit off for me since moving to Seattle.  I love the training, the coaching, and the team, but my body has not clicked.  My hips ache almost every time I run, which makes it hard to enjoy running on a daily basis, even if I’m in good company.  My workouts have not been going well, and I knew it would be difficult to be on my ‘A’ game at Shanghai. 

At Shanghai: 

                I left Seattle at noon on Wednesday, and took a direct 12 hour flight into Shanghai.  I landed on Thursday at 7:00 their time.  I love Diamond League meets because I do not have to be stressed out about any logistics once I land.  Once I got through customs, I was led by meet workers to customs.  Once I passed through customs, I was led by other meet workers to a car.  From the car, I was driven through the city to the hotel, which is attached to the stadium.  The driver showed me where to check in with more meet workers who prepared me for check in with the hotel.  I was discombobulated with the huge time change, but managed to get to my room, run on a treadmill with a Chinese soap opera playing on my personal tv, eat a mixed Asian/Western dinner, and get a massage.
                                                                                             Stadium and hotel

                The next day I ran through the neighborhood by the stadium.  I had a difficult time comprehending the amount of smog in the air.  I couldn’t really tell the difference between clouds and smog; the sky looked like a puffy gray blanket.  When I breathed in, it was usually a mixture of air pollution, car exhaust, and cigarette smoke.  There were high rises and swarms of people everywhere. 
                                               High rises in the neighborhood around the stadium

                Later in the day I decided to go exploring.  I took the subway to downtown Shanghai.  The subway was clean, air-conditioned, and easy to use (especially since all the signs were translated into English).  In the downtown area, I explored People’s Park, a quiet, relaxing green space, and People’s Square, a small concrete area with statues celebrating the common worker.  I went to a contemporary art museum, and looked around a couple department stores. 
                                                                       People's Park
View from People's Square.  I thought the giant George Clooney posture was an interesting sight next to the sculptures celebrating Communist values.
                                                        Artwork from Modern Art Museum
                                                                     Artwork from Modern Art Museum

                The rest of the weekend involved a lot of down time at the hotel, interrupted by eating with the other athletes.  The meet did a good job of trying to provide food everyone would enjoy, a difficult task when feeding people from around the world.  Breakfast involved pastries, congee, omelets, and a buffet of hot food ranging from sausages (which looked like little white hot dogs) to pancakes.  Lunch and dinner always involved a salad bar, lots of fresh fruit, a pasta bar, and a buffet of Chinese food and a take on Western food.  I usually stuck with fried rice, steamed asparagus, salad, and some type of Chinese-prepared protein. 

                The race was a huge disappointment.  I did not feel great warming up, and I performed even worse.   Granted, the conditions were not optimal.  We raced at 8:45 pm, long after I started getting sleep in the evenings.  Meet officials rounded us up half an hour early, but didn’t give us any room to continue warming up, or any hurdles to use once inside the holding room in the stadium.  A Chinese runner who entered the race with a 10:12 PR tried to get in the mix of the African pack, and ended up getting in my way a couple times over a water jump and barriers.  But, even with these less-than-ideal circumstances, I was very embarrassed by the time I ran.

Returning home:

                I’m trying to get a few things figured out with my body and mind, and I’m trying to decide if I will race at Pre.  I’ve been accepted into the field, but I don’t want to run if I’m going to be too far off my PR. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Runner Wisdom: Clerc Simpson

Because I am surrounded by so many knowledgeable and inspirational people, I decided I would start interviewing some of them in order to share their experiences. 

The first person I interviewed is Clerc Simpson.  Clerc ran Division I at Lamar University, a small liberal arts school in Beaumont Texas.  She ran well, and she continued to run post-collegiately under Juli Benson (Air Force Academy).  However, when Clerc and her college sweetheart, Ewan, decided to get married, Clerc had to find a job with a more stable income in order for Scottish Ewan to stay in the country.  Clerc took a Guru position with Brooks.  She is so friendly, organized, and passionate, she quickly rose through the ranks to be a Brooks sales rep in Minnesota (where I got to know her).  Clerc started running more seriously again, in spite of crazy, chaotic hours, and long days on the road.  Being a sales rep at Brooks is the type of job no one leaves.  Especially in the past few years as Brooks shoes have been taking over market share, and now are the best brand seller in specialty running shoe stores.

This past summer, Clerc had to make a tough decision.  She was offered the sales rep job for Brooks in Louisiana, her dream job since she grew up in, and her family still lives in, Louisiana.  However, she also knew she had unfinished business with elite running.  In the end, Clerc left Brooks, and their offer of her dream job, in order to see what she has left on the track.  She and Ewan moved to Colorado Springs in October, and, in spite of a couple injuries, Clerc is already killing it on the track.  And she has much more to do.

How did you know you wanted to return to professional running?
After moving to Minnesota for Brooks in 2011, I was blessed with getting to know so many wonderful ladies that inspired me and reminded me why I loved to train and compete: YOU- JAMIE CHEEVER, Elizabeth, Heather and Gabe. I started training again for “fun” on top of working a lot and began to feel the joy again in racing and training. I was grateful for PRS. I was grateful to race and I was grateful to run. I started to run better than I ever had with a perspective shift.
We all know things are smooth sailing when we are running well, so I waited until I had a bad race to see if this is truly something I want to do full time. I had that race and to be honest, it made me want this more. It was then that I knew and I made a phone call to Juli and asked her if she would coach me. She said yes and we moved back in October.

You were making a good salary as a Brooks sales rep. Why was it worth it to you to give up a secure financial situation for the financial insecurity of professional running.
I was once heard, that-  “If only” are the saddest two words in the English language. I want to live my life so that I don’t have to say these words. Running is a metaphor for life in so many ways and it is like my dad always says, “You don’t take money with you when you go. What you leave behind is the difference you make in other’s lives.” I hope to inspire young Louisiana kids to know that we can be successful distance runners as well and on a larger scope that it is never too late to follow your own arrow.
Leaving my career as a sales rep with Brooks was not an easy decision and one that I would have only done for the sake of this path. I really did love my job and the company. Lucky for me, I still get to wear that bright yellow singlet on the track.
How is your transition going so far this year? (From working full to part-time, moving, having Juli around)
The transition has went well so far this year with the move from Minnesota to Colorado Springs. Going from a challenging full time job to a part time job took some transitional time. I thrive on being very busy, but I am putting all of that extra energy into doing all the “little things.” Minnesota winters made me tougher and I now I have a whole new sense of what cold truly means, but this southern girl will take the more mild Colorado winters any day. I also enjoy the challenge of altitude and the awareness it imposes upon your senses.
Indoor season was my first season back. It went well overall and I was able to run a PB in the 3k and anytime you have run faster than you ever have before, it is only right to be thankful.
My coach, Juli Benson, is a rockstar- enough said. She is a coach, mentor, friend, and confidant all rolled in one. I feel blessed every day that I get to work with her. To top it off I have two great teammates, Violah Lagat and Chelsea Reilly, and I get to train at the Air Force Academy. The AFA cadets make us feel part of their team and training with them has a great way of putting life in perspective.
The trails in Colorado are to die for. It is impossible to have a bad day when you look up at the front range and Pike’s Peak in all its glory and majesty.
What are your goals for this year? You running career?
My ultimate goal is to line up in 2016 with a legitimate shot at making a US Olympic team. As for this year, my goal is to continue to improve at every aspect of this lifestyle and focus on the big picture. More specifically, I want to make a US final this summer and hopefully that will lead to some personal bests across the board. At the end of the day, I want to walk away knowing that I saw how good I could be and whatever that means, that is what I’ll take. J

What wisdom do you have to share with younger runners?
When I was 22 and moved to Colorado the first time around to train and pursue this opportunity, I made the critical mistake of not celebrating the PRs and successes as they were happening. I chose instead to focus on how fast EVERYONE ELSE was running and because of this I was not able to be happy with my own improvements and path. I was never able to appreciate running faster than ever before, because all I could see was that it was not the Olympic A standard or not as fast as other women.
My biggest advice would be to enjoy successes along the way. Enjoy every PR no matter how small it may seem. I think we get caught up in these huge lofty goals that we set for ourselves. We forget that there is a beautiful journey along the way that we get to experience. This journey allows us to become the best version of ourselves both on and off the track.

College PRs:
800- 2:11
1500/Mile- 4:23/4:41
3k - 9:32
5k- 17:15
1500/mile: 4:18/4:38
3k- 9:12
5k- 16:07