The Washington Post

In D.C., Simpson finds new challenge, distance


Jenny Simpson is one of the most accomplish­ed American middle-distance runners of the past decade. She is an Olympic medalist, with a bronze from the 2016 Games. She took first at the 2011 world championsh­ips in the 1,500 meters.

But on Sunday, Simpson faces a new challenge and a new distance, when she competes in the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in Washington.

Simpson, known for her consistenc­y, didn’t qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which sparked a change inside of her. Suddenly Simpson — a fan favorite who didn’t think of leaving the track before the coronaviru­s pandemic began — said the idea of running the 1,500 meters was “anathema” to her.

While she credits her marriage, Christian faith and coaches as the positive vibes that keep her going, Simpson said the influx of support after failing to qualify felt like an additional gift to her.

“I can’t express how significan­t it has felt in the last few months, just the idea that all of this is going to amount to something greater than just one person pounding the roads for a decade,” Simpson said.

Marcus Allen-hille, her physiother­apist in Boulder, Colo., said Simpson’s focus on the preparatio­n itself makes her an unusual case study. It’s also the key to understand­ing why she wanted to make such a drastic pivot at age 35, more than a decade into her profession­al career.

“She just doesn’t see things as ‘fixed on a goal’ and ‘fixated on a particular point in time,’ ” AllenHille said. “Each moment, for her, it’s just part of that aspiration.

“She incorporat­es the road itself as part of the process.”

According to Simpson and her coaches, her mind-set can oscillate between irrational confidence and acute self-awareness. Just this past year, Simpson said she watched the U.S. Open and thought she “could probably be really good” at tennis if she started at a young age. She then laughed and clarified that she has never played in her life.

“So I don't think that I would ever hold myself back initially from thinking that I could do this 10 mile,” Simpson said.

Since deciding in mid-august to race the 10-miler, Simpson has trained in Boulder and hasn’t changed much from her middledist­ance preparatio­n. In the days that lead up to the race, the nerves still lurk. She has never run this hard for 50 minutes — ever. She will learn whether she’s any good at it at the same time everyone else does.

“What I’m able to do at 10 miles in the context of my career is irrelevant,” Simpson said. “How well can I bounce back after disappoint­ment, what I can keep pouring into my craft after something went wrong — those are the things that I’m going to measure the past few months by.”

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