Simpson is showing signs of the form that helped her win the 1500m world championship in 2011.
Jenny Simpson is the defending world champion in the 1,500 meters and has a bye into the 2013 IAAF World Championships scheduled for later this summer in Moscow. The 26-year-old former University of Colorado star is still the American record-holder for the 3,000-meter steeplechase (based on the 9:12:50 she ran while finishing fifth at the 2009 world championships in Berlin) and one of only five Americans ever to run under 4 minutes for 1500 meters. (Her PR of 3:59.90 was set as a senior at the University of Colorado in 2009.)
After failing to make the Olympic 1,500m final last summer, she moved back to Boulder and reunited with her former college coaches, Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs. It’s paying off so far. She won a deep 1,500m race at the Drake Relays in late April in 4:03.35, then took third in 4:02.30 against an even deeper field at the Rome Golden Gala Diamond League meet on June 6. Simpson entered the 1,500 and the 5,000 meters at the U.S. national championships in Des Moines, Iowa, this week, but opted not to run the 1,500 to compete in the 5,000 meters on Sunday — an event that could be one of the deepest U.S. women’s distance races in recent years, if not ever.
What’s your goal for the U.S. championships in Des Moines?
My whole goal is to enjoy the nationals. Winning a world championship is so special and having a bye is special. I might never again have that luxury. This will be my eighth nationals. It is difficult and stressful and it never gets easier. My biggest goal in Des Moines is to enjoy the experience. This is the only time I can compete without the stress of making the team. The starting line of the national championships is the great equalizer. If you can go and be top three and have an ‘A’ standard, you get to. The events I run, the 1,500, and the steeplechase previously, have different elements of stress. And if you are not in the top three it doesn’t matter if you are No. 1 in the world. You train as hard as you can, be as calm as you can and let it unfold.
Anything can happen. In the 2012 Olympic Trials, I was really boxed in for the 1,500 meters. You just have to stay calm and think, ‘I am going to make it happen.’ I know how to go to the front and string it out, and if it is tactical I think I can finish strong. The speed is coming; I’m getting faster…
How are you feeling heading into nationals?
I feel really good. I feel confident about the training and my racing confidence is back. There is an element of strength and confidence that is back and that I feel good about. There is a bit of excitement and a spark about the season. In Rome, I was initially disappointed. Mark and Heather were at NCAAs and I am so much more grounded when my coaches are there. It is more emotional when you are on your own. I felt the race went out too slow and I had to take a chance with 400 to go. Looking back, I was really happy with it. It was a 4:02-low, my second-fastest ever. I ran smart, made the right moves at the right time. I feel good about that.
But even though I have confidence, I still get really nervous — that is a good message for any athlete. In the call room of almost every major race, I think ‘Why do I do this to myself?’ It is so hard and so scary. If you are a high-schooler, or going to the state meet, or to a championship, you should know that everyone gets really nervous.
How do you handle it?
When I’m warming up, what I think of is that, with your own running, there is no speculation. You know what you put in. I am not guessing about my fitness; I know I am ready for today. When I look across call room, I am only guessing (about the others).
Your husband, Jason, seems to have been a key part of your running success.
He really has. The biggest way that he is a part of my success is that he is just my husband. He doesn’t coach me, or try to be my doctor. He is incredibly supportive. There is a quote from (author) Ken Follett, where the main character says, “The best part of being married is always having someone on your side.” I don’t mean to be mushy, but that is how I feel, that I always have an advocate. Whether it is a little bit of an injury, or I am excited for a race, the ups and downs of my career, he is there to empathize and listen and to problem solve. He doesn’t meddle, and he runs with me a lot. He has come out and done workouts a few times. He is a great training partner; I feel I always have someone on my side and someone looking out for me. It makes my life on the roads really normal. When I’m in the hotel room in Rome, I can have a normal schedule. It keeps my day structured. We have a special setup and it works really well.
How nice is it to be back in Boulder?
Boulder is huge. It is such a special town and special environment. When you train for something this important, it is great to be surrounded by a community like Boulder. Not only the professional athletes here, but people in the grocery store … they understand running and your life, and that motivates me. When I come home Sunday after a long hard run, I’m tired. Then I see hundreds of people running along the Boulder Creek Path, and it is validation that what I am doing is important to someone.