If everything goes her way, Karissa Schweizer is in for 50 fast laps around the track at the Tokyo Olympics, over the course of nine predictably hot days. Much of her success at her first Games, where she’s competing in the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, hinges on developing a short memory and treating herself kindly between races.
Schweizer, 25, had a dress rehearsal at the Olympic Trials in June, where two rounds of the 5,000 meters and the 10,000-meter final resulted in two second-place finishes, despite record-setting heat in Eugene, Oregon, during the meet. The 10,000 meters was moved from its slot in the late afternoon on June 26 to the morning to avoid the worst of the high temperatures, but it still reached 90 degrees by the finish.
The weather in Tokyo figures to be a factor again, but Schweizer—who grew up in Urbandale, Iowa, and competed for the University of Missouri—isn’t afraid of humidity. And she’s left the Bowerman Track Club’s high-altitude training camp in Park City, Utah, to spend a few days adjusting to the elements in Hawaii, where the BTC’s Olympic-bound athletes are based before taking off for Tokyo.
“You don’t really feel it too much when you’re walking around, but once you start running, you’re just sweating so much more than you’re used to,” Schweizer said during a phone interview with Women’s Running on Thursday. “It just reminds me of home. I like it.”
In the 5,000 meters, Schweizer (14:26.34) lines up for the first round on July 30, and if she qualifies, the second round is on August 2 (the first five in each heat and the next five fastest times go on to the final). She believes it will take a sub-15 minute race in the first 5K to advance. The heavy hitters include Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, if she decides to race (she’s entered in the 1500, 5,000, and 10,000 meters and hasn’t confirmed which she will contest), she’ll set the pace (her best is 14:22.12) along with Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia (14:13.32), and Kenya’s Hellen Obiri (14:18.37).
“You can’t take any round for granted,” Schweizer said. “We have to be on our A-game even for the first round.”
Then Schweizer’s focus will turn to the 10,000 meters on August 7, where she’ll compete against some of the same athletes, including Hassan (29:06.82) and Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia, who set a world record in June, 29:01.03. Schweizer comes in with a personal best of 30:47.99, fairly evenly matched with U.S. Olympic Trials champion Emily Sisson (30:49.57).
Aside from the temperatures, Olympic athletes are also contending with many COVID-19 safety measures upon arrival, including rigorous testing and contact tracing. Because Japanese officials have banned spectators, they’ll also race without the in-person support of friends and family members. They will be confined to the Olympic Village for the most part, except for when they’re training or racing.
It’s an unusual Games for certain, but Schweizer is treating it like any other competition and recovery is top-of-mind. Although she and her teammate Elise Cranny, who is also competing in the Olympic 5,000 meters, are trying not to let their Hawaiian surroundings lull them into a false vacation-mode, they are doing what they can to stay race sharp, while also feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
Schweizer shared some of her strategies for mental and physical recovery, whether it’s after a big competition like the Olympic Trials or between the rounds she’ll face at the Tokyo Games.
Take a Beat After Big Races
The five-day turnaround between the 5,000 meter final and lining up for the 10,000 meters at the Trials meant that Schweizer and Cranny couldn’t properly celebrate qualifying for their first Olympics (especially given that their coach, Jerry Schumacher, sent them back to Park City between the events). But Schweizer refused to let the moment completely pass.
“I just took a day to relax a little bit,” Schweizer said. “I think it’s really important just to give yourself a day or night to soak in an accomplishment, in order to mentally regain focus for the next race.”
After placing second in the 10,000 meters, Schweizer didn’t have a doubt in her mind that she’d double in Tokyo “I figured if I can make that [10,000 meter] team, I deserved to be on that team,” she said. And although she wanted to spend the remainder of the day with her family, her body had other plans.
“I was so excited that it was a morning race because I thought I’d have all this time to be with my family and friends, but I crashed very hard,” Schweizer said. “I think it’s just like that when you race a 10K in the heat—it’s hard to recover.”
She and the rest of the Bowerman Olympic qualifiers headed back to the Utah mountains quickly, where Schweizer said she spent days taking naps and using the Normatec air compression boots, which massage the legs and promote blood flow.
Do What You Like, Not What Everybody Else Does
After exerting yourself in extreme heat, the last thing most of us want to do is eat anything. Schweizer is no different, even after the workouts they’re doing in Hawaii. She knows that getting some fuel down after those hard efforts is important for keeping her recovery times short and efficient, though, so she eats whatever she finds appealing in the moment—it doesn’t matter if it’s “healthy” or not.
“It’s super crucial to get some food in you, so I usually start with a smoothie,” Schweizer said. “Then I’ll work my way to solid food. I love all breakfast food no matter what time of day it is, so I can normally eat eggs and toast or even pancakes. At that point, any kind of fuel is good, even if it’s not the healthiest—a muffin or a donut, or whatever you’re craving. Just get it in your system.”
And although you’ll see many athletes plunging themselves into ice baths in an attempt to reduce inflammation in their legs, Schweizer isn’t a fan. She draws herself an epsom salt bath instead and enjoys the soak.
“It’s way more relaxing and soothing,” she said. “And I also get an immediate flush [massage] on the legs after each race just to try to get all that junk out as fast as possible.”
Know Who You Need
After the Trials and before the team resumed structured workouts, Schweizer was back at altitude camp feeling a little low. She knew her family wouldn’t be able to attend the Olympics and she was disappointed she didn’t get to spend more time with them in Eugene. After she mentioned it, her mom and sister showed up in Park City with the family dog. It was just what Schweizer needed to get motivated for the Games.
“You know, when a mom hears something like that, she comes as soon as possible,” Schweizer said, “It was the mental reset I needed. I was still training, but having my people there in my corner helped me relax a little.”
Get All the Shuteye You Can
The stopover in Hawaii is serving not only as a location to get acclimated to the weather, but also to start living in the Japan time zone (yes, even though they’re 19 hours apart). Schweizer and Cranny have gradually gone to bed later each night and resisted setting an alarm, which hopefully will allow a smoother transition in Tokyo, where some of their races take place late at night.
“We have been crushing the sleep cycle,” Schweizer said, laughing. “When we got here to Hawaii we slept from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. and a couple days later we slept 11 hours.”
To get into rest mode, Schweizer drinks some tea and settles into bed to unwind. Sleep is something she’s had to work on—she’s never been great at it and up until this past year, she barely ever took naps.
“It’s been really key this year because of all the mileage and hard workouts I’ve done,” she said.
In Tokyo, Schweizer is presumably going to spend a lot of time in her room at the Olympic Village, given the COVID-19 restrictions. She’s already holed up mostly in her hotel room in Hawaii, but she knows it’s not quite the same—for starters the beds in Tokyo are made out of cardboard.
“It’s a much better set-up here than it will be in Tokyo,” she said. “I’m going to need to find a lot of things to fill my time for sure—I’m going to bring cards, have lots of books downloaded, and then probably lots of Netflix.”
Don’t Think About What You Could Lose, But What You Could Gain
Before the Olympic Trials, Schweizer was putting a lot of pressure on herself to make the Olympic team. It was an all-or-nothing proposition for a long time in her mind. And it hindered her ability to perform, she realized after her tune-up 5,000-meter race at the Portland Track Festival, where she came in fourth in 15:00.44.
“I didn’t have the race I wanted and I think that was such a good reset for me because it made me realize, this is not where I want to be,” she said. “It was the little kick in the butt that I needed to regain the excitement of racing again. I had just been automatically thinking about everything I could lose rather than what I could gain—I want to race like I have nothing to lose.”
Have a Little Amnesia
When Schweizer lines up for any of her races in Tokyo, she won’t remember the last one. She tricks herself into believing that they never happened. That mindset helped her make the Olympics in two events, she said, because she didn’t let herself off the hook when the going got tough in the 10,000 meters. She didn’t want to give herself the “out” of having already made the Games in the 5,000 meters.
“I can’t have any thoughts about saving any energy for the next round or for the 10K,” she said. “And in the 10K, I can’t think about having the 5K in my legs. You can’t worry about the past or the future. You can’t think about the double.”