- Summer of Hayward
- THE LAP COUNT
- ABOUT US
This is Jenny Simpson’s second time on the show. Her last appearance in November 2019 is one of my all-time favorite episodes. Now she’s back and she’s repping a new sponsor. Last week, she signed a new deal with PUMA and announced that she will be shifting much of her focus to the roads.
She won three World Championship medals (2011, 2013 and 2017) and an Olympic bronze medal (2016) in her track career at 1500m. One of the most astonishing stats is that she broke four minutes for the 1500m in 2009 and 2019, which is an impressive decade-long stretch as one of America’s shining middle-distance stars.
We discuss all of the big changes and also discuss some of the hardships from the past two years with injuries and also being displaced from her home due to the Colorado wildfires last December. Jenny is always one of the most thoughtful people to chat with. I’m sure we could’ve kept going for hours. Stay tuned because she should be announcing her next race soon.
I’ve transcribed a few parts of the interview below, which have been edited lightly for clarity.
CITIUS MAG: The big news is you’ve signed a professional contract with Puma. You’re shifting a lot of your focus over to the roads. You spent the past decade with New Balance and won four global championship medals on the track. How did we get to this point to make this big change?
Jenny Simpson: That would take a lot more than the time we have to go through the whole spiel. It’s been a lot. Basically, I had this incredible storied stretch on the track that I’m so proud of. It’s so precious to me. Not that this was in the plan or in the works at all. Sometimes life is full of surprises. If I was going to make a brand switch, doing it at the time when I’m making an event switch and a different focus/mission within the sport, the timing in that way ended up serendipitous. It’s two big changes and I had envisioned at some point when I’d say goodbye to the track, I’d want some time on the roads. It feels like that time is now. I didn’t want to wait so long that I wouldn’t have really great years of running left to give to the roads. Then the brand switch came as a surprise to me too but having that extra energy and having both things transition at the same time has brought a lot to what I’m trying to do over the next few years so I’m excited about it.
CITIUS MAG: What’s the most exciting part about trying these new distances? You just won the Army 10-Miler in D.C. in 54:15. It’s a good start to the road career.
Jenny Simpson: It’s not an impressive start. My standards are high. I know what that race is in a certain context for me. I also know that the whole world doesn’t know the whole context of what we’re dealing with or what we’re doing but it was a really good start for me to put myself back out there. It’s been a long stretch of me not racing and battling through a lot of personal and physical challenges to get to this point. But I have a really incredibly wonderful and loyal crew between my coaches and my husband and my other training partners around me. Then I also have this new crew with a lot of excitement and energy about what I could do going into the future. It’s a good way to start something that feels equally like the sky is the limit and the door is open to see what’s possible. It’s also a little bit scary because I could not have chosen within our sport more untested waters
CITIUS MAG: The door isn’t totally shut on the track though, right?
Jenny Simpson: Yeah. That’s something that’s been difficult to navigate in part of the conversations. I do want to be open and honest that the mission is going to be on the roads. That’s the emphasis. But to be a great runner, spiking up and getting on the track will always be part of who I am and what I do very well. This does not mean that there will not be a 5K or 10K on the track happening. I just want to be clear that running some wild best 5K on the track is not what I’m focused on.
CITIUS MAG: We’re speaking just days after Emily Sisson broke the American record in the marathon. It seems like you’re not rushing to get that far in distance just yet. You’re entering road racing when it’s maybe at its most competitive on the U.S. scene. There are a lot of younger competitors but that never stopped you on the track from asserting yourself. What do you make of the new challenge of going up against these women on the roads?
Jenny Simpson: It’s a mixed bag. I have such a wide breadth of time in the sport so I have these different reference points. I think about when Ryan Hall went to the marathon and people said, ‘This is so crazy. He’s going into it so young. What a mistake!’ or ‘What an exciting thing that he’s going to concentrate all of this young talent into the marathon!’ Now, it’s not even a question when someone comes out of college and then quickly goes to the marathon…The most exciting thing is that athletes, more so than not, don’t have to stick to a certain script. That’s the most exciting thing.
That’s not just for me, that can be for everyone. One of the things that PUMA is doing in affording someone like me and the other athletes that they’re choosing to support is that they’re deviating from the kind of perfect model or script that’s been written by other athletes and successfully done by other athletes. You can be a little bit more creative inside those boundaries and creep outside of them. Me wanting to go from 1500m to potentially the marathon – but not absolutely – that’s something that they’re willing to sign up for and see how it turns out.
CITIUS MAG: You’ve mentioned Sara Hall and Sara Vaughn. Those are people that you raced often on the track. They’re taking very well to the marathon but it also wasn’t perfect right away. They weren’t hitting home runs every time out. They had their ups and downs. Are you ready to experience some downs after a long period of success?
Jenny Simpson: 2022 for me has been a pretty downer year so we’re in it. We’re in the downs and pushing through. You’re totally right. That’s why I’m reluctant or hesitant to push out into the world and say that everything I’m doing is to get to the marathon right away. Part of the reason I don’t say that is because I have a lot of respect for how high of a mountain that is and how hard it is + the amount of work you need to do. Listen, I’m 36. I’m starting this with a lot of great years of running ahead of me. But, I’m not 26. I do think I have this window of time to have another great push into something really hard. Does that translate into me having enough time? Is my body right? Is my mind right? Is it suited for this next task? We just don’t have the answers to that.
The interesting and mysterious and kind of terrifying thing about the marathon is that you don’t know until you deviate from what you know, what’s familiar and what’s comfortable to try it. I’m veering in that direction. I’m going to see how the training goes, what my coaches see and what we discover and learn as I start to do longer workouts. Of course, the dream would be to have a great marathon career at the tail end of my career. But, I’m just not so naive to think that’s a given because I was great at a four-minute race.
CITIUS MAG: I just had this conversation with Evan Jager just a few weeks ago about the remarkable comeback he had this year. One thing I brought up was how he would’ve described envisioning the end of his career. If he and I had chatted in 2016, it would’ve been a different answer than now. It would’ve been like: Winning a gold medal at the Olympics and walking off into the sunset. We want to always script it so that the greats walk away with a storybook ending. In a very similar situation, if we would’ve chatted in 2016 or 2017 – coming off one of those medals – you maybe would’ve had a different way of envisioning the end of your career. What does that look like now as you try to map it out and how much has it changed from what that answer would’ve been in 2016?
Jenny Simpson: This is why you’re very good at what you do. That scratches at something that I think is very important. You get to a certain point in your career where you think, ‘I can do anything. I’m at the top of my game.’ You should think that. You should have that confidence when you have the success to back it up and walk into that situation. It doesn’t occur to you that there’s a limited time to be a superhero. You think, ‘I have come to this point and this is now who I am.’ I feel like I fully embraced and lived that feeling and didn’t worry about what might be ahead. I’m glad because I think that’s a good mentality to have when you’re running really well.
There are times when I think of that stretch between 2013 and 2017. There was just magic happening. It was never easy but it kept paying off. That’s a gift. You can work this hard and it doesn’t always pay off once – much less year after year after year. That was a really magical time for me. When you’re in that time, you imagine that storybook ending. For me, at the time, I was thinking that if I can make the Games in 2020 that would be my fourth Olympic Games. I’m going to come run 2021 in Eugene. We’ll have a World Championships in the United States and after that I can do whatever I want because that’s 12 or 13 years of making every team, being in the 1500m, doing it all, making four Olympic teams. Especially in 2019, I felt like we were about to be there. Even in the first few months of 2020, I was racing well. I felt really strong and my body felt good. I felt like I was right there. Sooo close to that point of ‘Now I’ve done it all and I can envision something different in the future.’ For me and the rest of the world, the world got pulled out from under us.
As my idea of how those years would unfold so dramatically changed, I started to embrace this saying just for myself that it would always be a surprise ending. I was never going to be able to control exactly how I kept going. It was not the storybook ending to my track career that I imagined. But more recently, even after the whole surprise ending revelation, I decided I can make this a surprise middle. It doesn’t have to be the end. I do think I was beginning to accumulate an amount of fatigue with what was required of me on the track. It’s just like anything – any working environment, when you’ve done the same thing over and over again and you’ve done it at a high level and given your life to it, it’s not that I lost any motivation or inspiration. In the last few months, changing things up has been reinvigorating. It’s given me energy and it’s just a new scene. Making the switch from my primary mental focus being on the track to putting on road racing flats, going on the road more often, having this new sea of runners that I have to take on and beat and measure myself against + a different training regimen – I don’t have to do 14 x 400m in March. I’m even looking forward to just that small difference. To pile on top of that, having a whole new crew of people rooting for me at PUMA. I just think it’s good to have a new scene and I’m getting a whole lot of new scenes this day.
CITIUS MAG: I love that magical stretch that you brought up. I want to line up those five Jenny Simpsons on the same starting line: Jenny from 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Tell me who wins that 1500m race?
Jenny Simpson: There’s no doubt in my mind. This is an easy question. It’s definitely the 2015 woman. First of all, I really believe I was in the shape of my life but it’s too tempting to just think that we never got to see me and my absolute peak best because my shoe came off in the final. I’ve watched that race since then…
You can never know what could’ve been but I have allowed myself to just know and believe that was me at my very best. It’s funny because I watched that race and when we come around with a little bit over 800m to go, (Genzebe) Dibaba moves to the outside and she goes straight to the front. I didn’t hesitate. I went straight with her. It was making that move that (Abeba) Aregawi stepped on my shoe that made it come off. In that moment and being that woman that says, ‘I don’t care how dominant Dibaba is. I’m going right with her and I’m going to be on her shoulder.’ That’s somebody that’s ready for the fight. When I’m ready for a fight, I’m pretty hard to beat. I love looking at that and thinking we’ll never know but I am proud of the woman that went after it.
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