September 19 2018
Several NCAA Division 1 teams have the potential to unseat University of New Mexico during the 2018 cross-country season.
When Jenny Simpson stood behind the starting line at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa last Friday, she was pretty sure that she was minutes away from breaking an American record. The Iowa native and New Balance athlete has earned Olympic and World Championship medals throughout her career as a middle-distance and steeplechase runner and is responsible for setting multiple course and American records in the last decade. Bracing herself against wind that only intensified the evening chill, Simpson felt well-prepared to score a new PR. The only threat standing in her way was the weather.
“I had been focusing on being able to get to a fitness level where I knew I could achieve that time on the track,” Simpson told Women’s Running of her race preparation. “I’m used to dealing with different kinds of conditions. But as the day approached and it looked like it was going to be windy, that’s the one condition that can have a big impact on pace.”
The Drake Relays marked Simpson’s second return to the track this year, the first of which resulted in her 3000-meter win at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in February. In previous years, Simpson has added numerous performances on large national and international stages to her resume, including the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. Other career highlights include setting the former American record for the 3000m steeplechase in 2009 and the American record for the indoor 2-mile at the 2015 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix (the latter still holds with a time of 9:18.35).
“This year, I am fitter earlier than I have been in the past. I’m usually really conservative at the beginning of the season,” Simpson said, citing the lack of Olympic or World Championship events as the reason behind her change in strategy. “It’s exciting for me, because so many years into my pro career there are still new ways to do this and new challenges to face. This is a year to risk it a little, to go out and see how fit I can get and how long I can hang on.”
With her fitness levels set and a strategy created in coordination with her coach and pacer Shalaya Kipp in place, Simpson was prepared to test the weather and allow the expectant crowd to cheer her to a new outdoor 2-mile American record, which was most recently set at 9:20.25 by Shannon Rowbury in 2014. “I was stubborn; I wanted to stick with trying to run the pace,” Simpson said. “We had all agreed that Shalaya would head out, and based on her ability to stick with the pace, I would know whether it was realistic for me to continue. It was really up to me to make the decision whether I could stay on pace.”
Once on the track, Simpson settled in behind Kipp, determined to make a run for the win. “Shalaya was a champ, nearly perfect through every lap,” Simpson said. “Because she’s a close friend and teammate of mine, I was able to have her in on the conversations, which was a fortunate luxury.”
When Simpson crossed the finish line in 9:16.78, she became not only the American record holder for both the indoor and outdoor 2-mile track events—she also became the eighth fastest female to conquer the distance. “It was a fun, really joyful start to the season,” Simpson said of the race, which also featured fellow New Balance teammates Brenda Martinez and Stephanie Garcia. “I felt a sense of this amazing female team headed out to the Drake Stadium to try to get this 2-mile record. I’m so lucky to have these amazing women around me who were all rooting for me.”
With one American record down this year, Simpson seems ready to tackle the rest of the season and is already eyeing a new PR in the 3000m (her current PR is 8:29.58). Her first chance at that goal will come this Friday, May 4, as she tackles the distance at the IAAF Diamond League in Doha, Qatar. Knowing Simpson’s decade-plus history on the track, it’s not so much a question of if she’ll reach that PR, but when.