Going into the USA Track and Field Indoor Championships, Shelby Houlihan’s goal was to make the world team.
To her surprise, she won both the 3,000-meter and the 1,500-meter, earning her two spots on the starting line at the IAAF World Indoor Championships this weekend.
Before the 3,000 meter final at USAs, she said she felt really fit but, back December, she had taken two weeks off for a stress reaction in her tibia, so her confidence wasn’t exactly where she wanted it to be. She cross-trained through the two weeks and her first run back was on January 1st in Colorado Springs during the Bowerman Track Club’s altitude camp at 6,000 feet. The first week back as not pretty.
“I think Jerry [Schumacher] was pretty worried that I wouldn’t be ready,” she says.
But barely a month later on February 3, Houlihan popped a very pretty 8:36 in Boston winning the Bruce Lehane Scarlet and White Invitational 3,000 by four seconds. It was a lovely surprise that gave her a little more confidence going into USAs. (Insert inspirational quote about how having a little more confidence in yourself can help you exceed your own expectations and go do things like win the 3,000–1,500 double in back-to-back years, at 5,000 feet of elevation.)
In the 3,000 meters at USAs, Houlihan took the lead just before the bell lap and emphatically ran away from the field, clocking 9:00.08 to defend her title from the previous year. To celebrate, she had some Valentine’s Day chocolates, blocked the 3,000 meter race out of her mind and hit the reset button.
For the 1,500 meter final, Houlihan said that while the race plan is always to win, she didn’t feel as assured of it as she did before the 3,000 meter final. She knew the competition would be tough but it had not even been 24 hours since she last crossed the finish line. The rest of the plan was to get off the line—which she said “did NOT” happen—and then kick with about 200 to go.
During the race, she tried to stay aware and cover moves but it wasn’t her best tactical effort.
“It was a terrible race for me,” Houlihan says. “I was all over the place wasting energy,”
After spending most of race towards the back she started kicking with 200 to go.
“I was thinking, ‘Well, I’m too far back to win at this point but I’m just going to keep pushing and see how many people I can beat’,” she says.
She was in sixth after the bell. In fifth with 100 to go. Fourth with 50. “How many people” turned out to be all the people.
“I noticed everyone started to come back to me. So I just kept charging to the line. I didn’t expect to win and I was pretty shocked that I did once I crossed the line,” she says.
“I still have no idea how I won.”
Initially it was thought that Houlihan would only run one event at the World Championships. Houlihan said she and Schumacher never actually had the conversation about doubling before the meet. She heard it from a teammate, who heard it from Schumacher but things were cleared up pretty quickly.
“As soon as I stepped off the track after the 1500, he pulled me aside and said I’d do both if I wanted to,” she says.
Obviously she wanted to.
Houlihan is currently in Birmingham, England with the 3,000 meter final on Thursday and the 1,500 meter prelim on Friday. The 1,500 meter final is set for Saturday.
The women’s 3,000 meter will be no easy task. She will face off against two-time defending world champion Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia, the Nike Oregon Project’s Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, young star Konstanze Klosterhalfen of Germany and the fearless Laura Muir of Great Britain.
“Right now, the only focus I have is on the 3K,” she says.
Houlihan looks to make the podium much like Shannon Rowbury was able to with a bronze medal at the 2016 world indoor championships in Portland.
How is Houlihan managing the tight schedule? Like she did at USAs, Houlihan says she’s going to take the World Championships one day at a time.
Once the 3,000 meters is over, she’ll once again reset her mind and then shift her focus onto getting to the final of the 1,500. (Which Houlihan reminds that the prelim takes place on #FrenchBreadFriday – a knock on her teammate Colleen Quigley’s #FrenchBraidFriday) Then, hopefully, she’ll get to shift again to the 1,500 final.
“I think the biggest thing is to not pay too much attention to how I feel each race and just focus on racing well,” she said.
She said her biggest goal for the weekend would be to medal. But, she could walk away satisfied know she raced her best.
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