The 1,500-meter world champion shares her thoughts heading into the Olympic Trials.
(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
NOTE: After finishing second at the Prefontaine Classic 1500m on June 1, world 1500m champion Jenny Simpson and her husband Jason sat down for an exclusive interview with Race Results Weekly at a Starbucks in Eugene. Over a bowl of oatmeal, Simpson talked about her successes from last season, how much she loves training in Colorado, how she plans to get ready for the Olympic Trials, and who might win a head to head race between Jenny and Jason. This interview was edited for clarity and slightly condensed –Ed.
Race Results Weekly: Give us an assessment of your race from last night, your outdoor opener where Alice Schmidt sprinted away from you in the last 100 meters and you finished second.
Jenny Simpson: This was my first 1500 meters of the year, so I just came out and really wanted to race the field, just see how it unfolded, and react to how it unfolded. Overall, I’m really pleased with it, and showed a lot of strength at the end (but), I waited too long and I couldn’t catch her. “In a way, I think that it is better practice for three weeks from now, or four weeks from now. If you win them all you don’t learn as much.
RRW: Do you feel extra pressure to always be at your best now that you’re the world champion?
Jenny: There’s no denying that there’s extra pressure, even if it’s just for the demands on your time. More people want to talk to you and give weight to your opinion. So, there’s certainly an element of that (which) wasn’t there a year ago. But, as far as everyday when I go to the track to train, I feel really fortunate that I’m in a situation where I really get to focus on myself, and workout with training partners who aren’t gearing up for the women’s 1500 meters at the Olympics. And so, I really get to focus on me 90% of the time for what I need to do. So, I don’t feel like I need to carry that burden every single day.
RRW: You seem to have the perfect training situation, living in Monument, Colo., near Colorado Springs, with access to both the Olympic Training Center and the Air Force Academy where you coach Julie Benson works.
Jenny: That’s one of the reasons I decided to stay so close to home through the early part of the summer. It IS ideal. I live in a place where there are trails, and multiple tracks. Even on the Academy, there are multiple tracks and places to run. I can’t imagine waking up in the morning in a better place to train and gain fitness. So, I’m trying to make every single step I take in the right direction.
RRW: How do you split your time between the Olympic Training Center and the Academy?
Jenny: I use both places multiple times a week. I’m a regular in both places. I use the training center primarily for their clinic and medical services. So, when you’re in college and you’re done with your run and you hit the training room, you either do rehab or get your ankle looked at because it feels weird or something, that’s how I use the Olympic Training Center. So, even if I’m not hurt, I’m down there every single week just for routine maintenance, just to chat with my regular trainer about what’s coming up in the week. So, I’m down there at least once a week and, usually two or three times a week. At the Academy, that’s where I go for practice.
RRW: Where do you do most of your mileage?
Jenny: The mileage is split between the runs I do near my house that I like and the Academy.
RRW: There’s a place to run miles in the Academy?
Jenny: The Academy is seven exits on the highway. It’s huge! It’s enormous. I can do a long run easily and never leave the Academy. You can easily run 14 or 16 miles on the Academy, and not be out-and-back and out-and-back.
RRW: What do you have planned for the next few weeks in advance of the Trials?
Jenny: Something I’ve learned as an athlete is this period of time leading up to the Trials, you’re still growing you’re still getting stronger, still sharpening-up. That’s one of the harder transitions, because at this point when you’re in college you’re racing NCAA’s next weekend; you’re ready to go, you’re ready to race. So, the whole calendar shifts by about a month or two. So, I still feel like I’m getting strong and sharper. So, in order to do that I’m going to New York, run the 800 (she finished last in 2:05.79), then I’m going to be home for two weeks, put my head down, I won’t be reading any running websites, just focus on myself and try to get back to Eugene in the best physical and mental confidence possible.
RRW: How do you manage having to peak for the Trials, then peak again for the Olympics?
Jenny: It’s an Olympic year, and everybody’s going to be ready to run fast. I’m going to have to be in my best shape at the Trials, and you can’t save anything to get into better shape later on in the year. So, I definitely want to arrive healthy and in great shape, but at the same time you can only do what you can do. I’m going to come to the Trials, go through the rounds, and be the best Jenny Simpson I can be in every round of the meet.
RRW: Jason, what role do you play in Jenny’s training?
Jason: I try to be very respectful of the other people Jenny has surrounded herself with. So, her coach is her coach, her agent is her agent, New Balance supports her in the way that they do. So, I more or less play the emotional support, a little bit of tough love every once in a while.
Jenny: First, he’s an incredible gatekeeper. He knows how much I can take at one time. I think he really helps me filter out information and make decisions. Jason, as my husband, is kind of a safe place in my life where I can be one hundred percent myself. Sometimes it’s difficult for him to be on a run with me when I’m really struggling (they run 20 to 30 miles per week together).
RRW: Jason, do you think you help Jenny smooth out the highs and the lows of competition?
Jason: I think I probably had the same good job, high five after a 3:59 performance or a 4:06. It’s probably easier for someone in my role to have the big picture.
Jenny: You just have to have boundaries. You have to know I’m willing to do these things, but at a certain level when it comes to actually executing my job, I have the final say. Period. Every time.
RRW: What’s your favorite New Balance training shoe?
Jenny: I love the 890. It comes in like 20 colors. I am a spoiled brat. I often wear my shoes to match my outfit. I rotate about five at a time. I have a ton of shoes, but I still have such a hard time retiring a pair of shoes.
RRW: Do you keep and maybe display your running memorabilia? Do you feel an attachment to old uniforms, spikes, bib numbers and the like.
Jenny: I have a really funny relationship with things I value in running. I feel like I’ve kept a lot of stuff; every single pair of spikes I’ve raced in in my life I think I still have. But, I like keep them all in duffel bags in the attic. They’re not taken care of, they’re not displayed anywhere. Even like race bibs, anything that’s sentimental and important to me, I hate parting with it, I hate giving it away, I don’t throw it away. But, I can’t tell you how many duffel bags have been thrown up into storage.
RRW: In a way, do you draw some energy from all of that stuff?
Jenny: (Laughs) It’s my Kryptonite. It’s fun to open up a bag and see a uniform I wore.
RRW: What did you do with the spikes you wore when you won the world championships?
Jenny: That’s one of the few things that’s actually out. I came home from Europe and I took those shoes. I have a room downstairs, it’s kind of like my recovery room and there’s a daybed I have for guests. I took the shoes, and I tied them together, and I put them on the bedpost and I haven’t moved them. I don’t know. I walk past the room and I see them hanging there, and I just feel really good about it.
RRW: What about your gold medal?
Jenny: The medal sits in my nightstand with my book and Aleve, all the random stuff you have in your nightstand. I don’t really know what I’m going to do with it yet. When I came home, I told Jason I didn’t want to do anything with it yet. Anyone who wants to see it I wanted to be able to take it. So, right now it’s kind of in the nightstand.
RRW: How supportive has New Balance been of your career, especially given that you’ve missed so much time with an injury?
Jenny: I mean this with every iota of my being: I think that New Balance is a place that has, and will continue to, save me at moments from being disillusioned about the sport. I am not saying that track and field worse, or unique, or is different from other industries, but there are times when you sit back and think how can this sport, how can these people, how can this organization be so cool. There are young, really talented people who have one shot, and it’s tough seeing people get in the way of that, to see people who don’t support that, or whatever the case may be. There are moments when I feel like, ‘why don’t we all just get along?’ New Balance has been such an incredible force in the midst of all of that. They’ve been unconditionally supportive of my career. In a way, looking back, it makes me so appreciative that I went through the experience of having that year of injury, so now I know they’re genuinely excited for me to get back on the track injury-free as making the world finals.
RRW: That really seems like a distant memory…
Jenny: It really does. I’ll give you a good example. When I got injured I had to make the phone call to John Evans (at New Balance) and tell him I was hurt. And, this was me trying to be diplomatic and trying to to be the best I can. You know, I just signed with this company. I told him I will do as many trips and appearances. I want to work! I want to go do stuff, any high school thing, anything New Balance needs me at I’ll be there. And John told me –he’s a funny guy– ‘Shut up; you’re crazy. You’re staying home, going to the training center every day and get healthy. And they didn’t call me. They said, ‘We’re not going to call you, not that we don’t like you, but we want you to get healthy. Stay there and get healthy.’ And that was a little bit hard for me. I was just like, man, are they just kind of throwing up their hands up saying, thanks a lot, this is it.
RRW: But you won the world title in their shoes…
Jenny: In the same way, I win the world championships, everyone’s ecstatic and excited. I get home, and I told John and Josh (Rowe) I will do whatever you guys need… and they said go home and get recovered. We just want you to be as best as you can be in the indoor season and then in the outdoor season. So, whether it was being hurt or winning the world championships, they said go home, be the best you can be, and that’s the best PR for us.
RRW: In a head to head mile race between the two of you, who wins?
Jenny: That’s definitely going to be a fun race one of these years.
Jason: That’s yet to happen, but…
Jenny: He can definitely run more relaxed on my threshold runs with me. It would be really fascinating to see. I had this argument earlier. We actually both raced Fifth Avenue Mile, and he ran a lot faster than me (4:14.4 to 4:22.3). But, I still think it should be side by side. It would be even better in an 800, don’t you think? He thinks that that he can easily break two minutes in the field house at the Air Force Academy. Three laps to the 800. It’s over 7000 feet! I do not believe that for a second. That’s really good.
Jason: I could.
Jenny: He talks a big game. He says he can do it, but I don’t know.
RRW: Are you a fussy eater?
Jenny: No, I really am not. There’s only two things I don’t like: oatmeal raisin cookies, because health food and desserts don’t go together, and chicken noodle soup because it makes me feel nauseous, I think because I was fed it when I was sick as a kid. Those are the only two things that I know of.