She’s been through it three times already, but every Olympic year is different. Here’s how Jenny Simpson is approaching her lead-up to the Trials and, hopefully, the Games.
For Jenny Simpson, there actually is no place like home for the holidays—it’s the first time she and her husband, Jason Simpson, have had the opportunity to stay in Boulder, Colorado, to celebrate Christmas and ring in the new year.
Typically, the couple visits her family in Stillwater, Oklahoma, or his in Kansas City, Missouri. But on the eve of an Olympic year, it’s nice to take a deep breath and get ready for what’s ahead, says Simpson, a three-time Olympian and a 1500-meter world champion. They’ll enjoy dinner with friends on New Year’s Eve.
“We usually miss so much and so many holidays in Colorado because of my racing schedule and family obligations,” she says. “So, we’re really looking forward to it.”
Whatever the celebration plans, after the calendar switches to 2020, your sights don’t have to be set on the Tokyo Games to feel inspired to set new goals—runners of all kinds may want to shake up routines and start anew. Simpson, who invites runners to share their resolutions with her on social media as part of the New York Road Runners Resolution 5K (#ResolveToRun), offers some insight into how she hopes to improve in an important year for her running career and shares advice on how to get started.
Loosening her grip. At 33 years old, Simpson is already quite accomplished her career. She’s the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic medal in the 1500 meters (bronze in 2016), she’s the 2011 world champion in the event, and two-time world silver medalist. Simpson isn’t resting on her laurels, but to some extent her success lessens the all-or-nothing pressure.
In order to make Team USA a fourth time, she’ll need to place in the top three in the 1500 meters at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, set for June 19–28 in Eugene, Oregon.
“It makes it a slightly looser grip on the dream because I’ve been fortunate to make it already. I feel grateful already going into the season,” Simpson says. “I do think it’s a misconception, though, that one year builds on another—every year stands on its own for me and I feel like I have to re-earn that right to stand on the starting line really believing I can make the team again.”
Many means to the end. While fans witnessed a rivalry between Simpson and Shannon Rowbury during the past several years, now the anticipation is focused on the competition between Simpson and Shelby Houlihan, who set the 1500-meter American record at the 2019 world championships in 3:54.99 (Rowbury plans to focus on the 5,000 meters). But no matter who’s on the line, Simpson has learned to trust in whatever path leads her to the Trials feeling healthy and confident.
Every time Simpson has made it to the Olympics or world championships, the training has looked different, she says. And she isn’t altogether sure what it will entail in 2020 either—but her track record (pun intended) is a reminder that usually there’s no right answer.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what this year looks like, because as much as I know and as much as I’ve experienced, I know that you can never predict how it’s going to play out. You don’t know what challenges are going to stand in your way,” she says. “I’m ready for the year to be delightfully unpredictable and still end up a success.”
That said, Simpson does enjoy a degree of familiarity, which she can use to her competitive advantage.
“Unlike somebody making it for the first time—who is imagining and wondering what that feeling is like or what it’s going to take—there’s no sense of wondering,” she says. “I know exactly what it takes and I know what I need to do.”
Setting basic 2020 goals. Simpson enjoys making resolutions, though she doesn’t always save them for the first of the year. Any day is a good day to try to make improvements. But on a run recently, Simpson narrowed her focus in 2020 down to two basic things: eat better and sleep well.
“You eat three times a day and you sleep every single night, so I think if you can get those two things really, really right it can have a greater impact just because of the frequency of how often you engage in those activities,” she says. “You can always be more regimented in your diet and your sleep habits, so I’m returning to that as a real emphasis in my life.”
Right now, Simpson claims to have “a really solid seven to 10 meals” she can cook that are healthy and are easy to prepare. Expanding the menu and incorporating a few more healthy foods into her diet is her goal, but sleeping habits might be where she has the most room to improve.
“I’m a real night owl. I’m not a person who loves getting up early and I don’t love running in the morning,” she says. “After years of trying to be a person that I’m not, I’ve kind of accepted that there’s some chemistry in me that prefers the night and I’m never going to change that.”
That said, Simpson is instituting a new “wind-down routine” in 2020, so when it’s time to go to bed, she actually commits to it.
“I am so guilty of saying that I’m getting ready to go to bed and then three hours later I’m still rummaging around the house doing random things that do not need to get done,” she says. “When I say I’m going to bed, I’ll be in bed within an hour.”
Getting through the winter. It seems cruel that the very time we’re motivated to set new goals and dream big is also the time of year it’s coldest and darkest. Simpson tries to remember a few tips her coaches have given her over the years:
1. Always run by noon. That way, when one thing leads to another—and suddenly you’re out of daylight—you don’t have to worry about missing your training.
“When you’re with your family or traveling or somehow out of your routine, always run by noon. This speaks to me as not-a-morning person,” Simpson says. “If you don’t, then you eat lunch, wait a little bit after that, then the sun is going down, then you cut the run shorter, and everything just slips away from you.”
2. Don’t get stuck on the schedule. Life happens and time with the people who are important to you shouldn’t come before any one workout. If your training schedule isn’t meshing well with the rest of your life one day, just do what you can, even if it’s just a 30-minute easy run.
“Family time matters, so if you had planned to do a fartlek or some other run and you can’t because you don’t have time or you feel tired, doing something is better than forcing something your body is just not ready for,” she says. “Give yourself a break.”
3. Let it go. And then after you miss that workout, don’t try to make it up, Simpson says. Move on and don’t think about it again.
“It’s more likely to keep you in shape and away from injury,” she says.
4. Focus on what you want to achieve in running and beyond. While Simpson likes to set multiple goals, she warns against having too many. Pick a few that create a landscape for your life.
“They shouldn’t just be times or places you want to finish—they should reflect who you want to be in the next year,” she says. “They should be character-driven, service-driven, and achievement-driven. They’re all important.”