Running News Daily

Running News Daily is edited by Bob Anderson in Mountain View, California USA and team in Thika Kenya, La Piedad Mexico, Bend Oregon and Chandler Arizona.   Send your news items to bob@mybestruns.com  Advertising opportunities available.   Over one million readers and growing.  Train the Kenyan Way in Thika Kenya.  To learn more about MBR publisher Bob Anderson take a look at A Long Run the movie.

Index to Daily Posts · Sign Up For Updates · Run The World Feed

Share

Track legend Jenny Simpson puts her most challenging year behind her as she turns to the roads in 2023

After a year in which her world was turned upside down, the track legend has a new sponsor and new event as she makes her half marathon debut in Houston on Sunday.

As the Marshall Fire approached her house on December 30, 2021, there was a brief moment where Jenny Simpson thought to herself, I can’t believe I’m doing this. The house Simpson shares with her husband Jason was formerly a schoolhouse, built in 1900 and located in Marshall, Colo., 15 minutes southeast of Boulder. And on that day, it was under threat from what would eventually become the most destructive fire in state history.

The fire, spread by wind gusts of over 100 miles per hour, was moving quickly. As thick smoke enveloped their property, choking their lungs and blocking their vision, the Simpsons prepared for the worst. Trying to limit the burn, they watered down the yard with hoses, inadvertently soaking their clothes as the wind blew the spray everywhere. Then, as the flames moved in, Simpson took one last lap around the house, grabbing their laptops, their Jack Russell terrier Truman, and a bag containing her running medals and memorabilia — one she had assembled a month earlier while being interviewed for a documentary and fortunately had yet to unpack.

Simpson, like many of us, had previously had that conversation about the one thing you would grab if your house was burning down. She had always answered with her Bible, handed down to her from her great-grandmother Genevieve Schermerhorn (“Grandma Jenny”), for whom she was named. So, as she grabbed the Bible from her office and dashed out of the house, it hit her: I think I’m grabbing the thing that you get because we might lose everything.

By the time Simpson made it to her car, she no longer knew where Jason was or whether he would make it back to the car — the smoke was so dense, it was difficult to see. He eventually made it and they sped away from their house, not knowing when they would return — or if the house would still be there when they did.

Over the course of two days, Marshall Fire would ultimately burn over 6,000 acres, destroy over 1,000 buildings, and cause over $500 million in property damage, making it the most destructive fire in Colorado history. It was a traumatic event for Simpson and her community.

Though the Simpsons’ home survived the fire, it sustained damage, forcing them to live elsewhere while it was repaired. They bounced around from a hotel to the spare bedroom of some friends from church to, eventually, a sparse apartment near the University of Colorado campus, living out of a backpack with the few things they had managed to grab from their home before the fire hit.

“It’s hard to describe how stressful that time was,” Simpson says.

On top of that, Simpson was working through a sports hernia and stress reaction in her right hip — the most significant injury of her career — and her professional future was less certain than ever. During the 2010s, few athletes were more consistent and dependable than Simpson. From 2007 through 2019, Simpson made all nine World/Olympic teams for the United States, piling up 11 national titles, three World Championship medals, and an Olympic bronze in 2016. That success led to a series of lucrative contracts from her sponsor, New Balance, and, as a highly-ranked athlete, health insurance from USOPC.

But Simpson’s New Balance contract expired at the end of 2021 — just two days after the fire that displaced her from her home. On January 1, she lost her health insurance coverage from USOPC (to qualify for coverage, an athlete had to have medalled at either the 2019 Worlds or 2021 Olympics, finished in the top 12 at the 2021 Olympics, or finished the season ranked in the top 15 in the world in their event; Simpson no longer met any of the criteria). As 2022 began, she still had Jason, and she still had the support of her longtime coaches, Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs. But the other constants in her life suddenly weren’t so constant.

“This last year, I felt more vulnerable than ever,” Simpson says. “The major safety nets in my life have been being a top-performing athlete and being in the tier system and in the USATF system, being a New Balance athlete and knowing I have a future there and my security at home. And my health. All of those things were really wobbly and testy and some of them fell apart in the last year.”

Rebuilding and replacing

One year has passed since the fire that upended Simpson’s world. Some elements of her life have been rebuilt, others replaced. The Simpsons moved back into their house in Marshall on April 1, and after months of work, she says it is 100% back to normal. Her body is also back to full health. That too required months of work.

Simpson had felt pain in her hip area during the fall of 2021 and though she didn’t give it much thought initially, it grew into something that significantly disrupted her training. Even as 2022 began, she remained in denial. After her streak of making teams ended at the 2021 Olympic Trials, Simpson knew she couldn’t afford to miss time if she was to return to her best.

“Pushing through cross training, pushing through the life challenges that we were going through, I definitely made my circumstances a lot worse,” Simpson says. “And I don’t think that’s unusual for runners. That’s kind of in our nature.”

Simpson was determined to avoid surgery, but realized such a path would require a more conservative approach. As winter turned to spring, Simpson, reluctantly, began to back off the intensity to allow her body to heal.

“The toughest thing about having a sports hernia injury and choosing to rehab and go that route and not jump straight into surgery is that it’s just slow,” Simpson says. “And none of us that are athletes, I think in particular runners, want to take anything slow.”

Simpson did not race at all last spring or summer, missing USAs for the first time since 2006 and missing the chance to represent the US at the first World Championships held on American soil. Simpson is now healthy again, but she’s still rebuilding the fitness she lost in 2022.

Another pillar of Simpson’s life — her New Balance contract — had to be replaced rather than rebuilt. Simpson did not want to go into specifics, but says that while New Balance verbally offered her a deal at a reduced level from her previous contract, the two sides ultimately could not reach an agreement. Eventually, Simpson, who had not used an agent since 2014, hired Hawi Keflezighi to negotiate a new deal and announced a sponsorship agreement with Puma in October.

Leaving New Balance behind was painful. Simpson signed with the company coming out of the University of Colorado in 2010, and after 12 years together had envisioned staying with the brand in some fashion for the rest of her life. Seconds after crossing the finish line in 10th in the 2021 Olympic Trials 1500, Simpson looked at the scoreboard and saw that Elle St. Pierre, Cory McGee, and Heather MacLean — all New Balance athletes — had gone 1-2-3 to make the team; Simpson was the first to congratulate them. She figured that, even once her racing days were over, there would still be some sort of role for her at New Balance.

“My whole future in sport and beyond was about how can I take what I’m learning in my career and make that in any possible way benefit the women’s team in the future,” Simpson says. “So seeing that [1-2-3 at the Trials] and knowing there was a strong middle distance future here and how can I continue to pour into that, that’s what I thought my future was.”

A move to the roads and a new beginning

For the first decade of her professional career, Simpson’s running life was fairly straightforward. She was consistently one of the best in the world in her event, meaning she could enter any race she wanted and was always in-demand from her sponsor (two of the reasons she went without an agent for so long). Every year since rejoining Wetmore and Burroughs in 2013 (she was coached by Juli Benson from 2010-12), she would sit down with them and figure out how to be at her best in the biggest race of the year, either the World Championship or Olympic final. More often than not, she succeeded.

But after failing to make the Olympic team in 2021, Simpson began to ponder her athletic mortality. She was nearing her 35th birthday and had a few options if she wanted to stay in the sport.

“The biggest consideration was, do I move up to the 5k, do I try to run a great 10k, or do we do something totally different?” Simpson says.

(LetsRun founder Robert Johnson will be devastated to learn Simpson did not mention the steeplechase, the event in which she won two US titles and set the American record in 2009).

Simpson dipped her toes into Option C by running the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in September 2021 (she finished 2nd in 52:16). Midway through 2022, she had fully committed to the roads.

“It’s always been part of the plan that I would give the roads some good years of my career,” says Simpson. “And I think I just saw those really good years becoming fewer and fewer and I realistically wanted to make the transition before I was so, not just physically tired, but also just emotionally drained and psychologically drained from the intensity of it.”

The last few years, Simpson carved out a niche as a mentor to some of the up-and-coming athletes in the Colorado program. As a volunteer assistant at CU, Simpson was able to watch runners like Dani Jones and Sage Hurta at practice, then aid their transition to the professional ranks by traversing the circuit alongside them as a competitor/friend. With Simpson’s move to the roads, that period of her career is over.

“I think that’s what I’ll miss the most, is feeling like I get to be a little bit of a mother hen for the [Colorado] women that are doing really well and have a future as a pro in the sport,” Simpson says.

Now, Simpson is heading into the unknown. The training, obviously, is different. Though Simpson ran relatively high mileage for a 1500 runner — it was not uncommon for her to hit 80 miles in a week — she is now running 80+ regularly, doubling up to five times per week. During her track career, a long workout for Simpson would consist of 12 or 14 by 400m. Now she’s running 2k and 3k repeats on the track.

“That’s a long way to go for someone like me,” Simpson says. “…You go out on the first lap or two and you think, Are you kidding me? This is it? But it doesn’t stay easy for very long.”

Simpson has also had to educate herself about the road races themselves. When we first spoke for this story in November, Simpson admitted that, outside of the World Marathon Majors, she didn’t know many of the major road races and was still learning about how they stacked up against each other in terms of prestige.

Part of that is due to how the sport is structured. Track is simple: Worlds or the Olympics is the end goal and the rest of the season is built around that. The roads are different — people reach top fitness at different times. For marathoners, it’s fairly intuitive — pick one race to peak for in the spring and one in the fall. But Simpson isn’t a marathoner (yet). For road racers at shorter distances, it’s more choose-your-own-adventure.

Simpson’s plan: sit down with Wetmore and Burroughs, pick a race to gear that year’s training around, and attack it like they would a World Championship or Olympics.

“Even though it’s not to the world a big World Championships, it will be Mark and Heather and Jenny’s World Championships,” Simpson says.

As for the marathon, Simpson would not commit to running one eventually, but did not rule it out either. She watched Jason, after years of grinding, finally qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials at CIM in 2018 and knows how difficult the event is. She has no desire to rush into one.

“It is really freaking hard,” Simpson says. “You don’t know for sure that your body is suited for it just because you’ve been a good runner…What it will take for me to run a marathon? If I have a great half and I feel like my body’s handling that workload really well, we’ll absolutely do a marathon. Because at that point, you’ve gotta find out, right?”

Next stop: Houston

The big question hanging over all this: will Jenny Simpson be any good on the roads? It’s no certainty that prime Simpson, the one who won a record eight Fifth Avenue Miles, would have been a force over 10k and beyond, much less the 36-year-old version coming off the most disruptive injury of her career.

Thirty-six is not necessarily old by distance standards, though. Last year, Keira D’Amato broke the American marathon record at 37 and Sara Hall broke the American half marathon record at 38. Like Simpson, both were for a time milers on the track before moving up — though it took each several years before their big breakthrough.

After down years in 2021 and 2022, logic says Simpson could have a tough go of things. The bar for success, certainly, will have to be recalibrated. At her best on the track, Simpson was one of the top three women in the world in her event. That level of accomplishment is virtually impossible for her on the roads, but could she become one of the best in the US in the 10k, half, or marathon?

Her road debut at Cherry Blossom in 2021 was auspicious (2nd place, 52:16), her appearance at last fall’s USATF 5K champs in New York less so (she was 17th in 16:07, 39 seconds behind winner Weini Kelati) — though Simpson wasn’t fully fit in New York and knew that going in.

2023 will be the real test of whether Simpson has anything left to give on the roads. And for Simpson, 2023 begins in Houston, where she will make her half marathon debut on Sunday. There is a lot riding on the outcome, which is how Simpson likes it. She has yet to pick that one race that she will plan her 2023 season around; Houston will help her make that decision.

“This will kind of chart my course of whether we stick with the half marathon, whether I start dreaming about a marathon, or whether I say maybe it’s better for me to get back on the track, spike up, and do some faster stuff over the next year,” Simpson says.

Simpson says that while her training has gone well, the adjustment to training for the half marathon has been more challenging than she expected.

“When I ran Cherry Blossom and I ran 5:14/mile pace the whole way, the idea of running 5:10’s for a half marathon (67:43 pace) seemed right around the corner,” Simpson says. “Now having gone through a year of injury and a lot of other life challenges, I’m having to adjust what I think my half marathon debut is going to look like.”

Simpson will have Jason with her as a pacer on Sunday and said they will plan to go out faster than her pace at the Army 10-Miler in October, a race she won in 54:16 (71:08 half marathon pace). She says she has a time goal in mind but elected not to share it. Her main hope is that she can finish the race well. During her track career, Simpson was famous for her strength in the final 100 meters, but in her last two road races, she felt as if she was holding on for dear life at the end.

Simpson will step to the line on Sunday with an uncertainty that did not exist during her track career. When Simpson started a 1500-meter race, she came armed with knowledge gleaned from years of experience. She knew exactly what sort of time she could expect her workouts to translate to and how to respond tactically to every race scenario. In the half marathon, she’s starting over.

“That’s one of the trepidations of going into the race in Houston is that I’m so used to having such a clear idea of what I am capable of,” Simpson says. “My race in Houston will be as much of a discovery as the training has been.”

Even Simpson admits she doesn’t know how many more years she’ll continue to race professionally. A few years ago, she had scripted out a storybook ending for herself: a fourth Olympic team in Tokyo and a home World Championships in front of friends and family in Eugene. Make those two teams, she thought, and she would have total freedom to do whatever she wanted afterwards, whether it was continuing to race on the roads, pursuing a coaching career, or starting a family.

That, of course, did not happen. In professional sports, endings rarely go according to plan. But Simpson is embracing the adventure that comes with her new path, wherever it leads.

“The idea I had in mind was kind of cool, but there are some things that we’re now looking forward to that I couldn’t have even imagined,” Simpson says. “And if it turns out that way, it will end even better.”

(01/12/2023) Views: 665 ‚ö°AMP
by Jonathan Gault
Share
Aramco Houston Half Marathon

Aramco Houston Half Marathon

The Chevron Houston Marathon offers participants a unique running experience in America's fourth largest city. The fast, flat, scenic single-loop course has been ranked as the "fastest winter marathon" and "second fastest marathon overall" by Ultimate Guide To Marathons. After 30 years of marathon-only competition, Houston added the half-marathon in 2002, with El Paso Energy as the sponsor. Today the...

more...


Running News Headlines


Copyright 2023 MyBestRuns.com 14,905