BOSTON (25-Jan) -- It is no secret that Olympic and world championships medalist Jenny Simpson isn't a big fan of the indoor oval. Since 2013 she's run a grand total of four indoor races, all of them at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix which will be held here tomorrow for the 24th time at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center at Roxbury Community College. It's the opening event of the 2019 IAAF World Indoor Tour.
PHOTO: Jenny Simpson on Boylston Street in Boston's Back Bay ahead of the 2019 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
Even more unusual is for Simpson to compete in an indoor 5000-meters, the event she will contest here tomorrow. The last --and only-- time she competed in that discipline was nearly ten years ago when, as Jenny Barringer, she was in her final season at the University of Colorado, the year she won the NCAA and USATF titles in the 3000m steeplechase, and finished a surprising fourth in the IAAF World Championships. This will be her only indoor race of 2019.
"My first five laps will be my opener, and the last five laps will be my closer," Simpson joked at today's press conference, eliciting hearty laughs from the media. "I'm just throwing in a couple in the middle for fun."
Simpson, 32, the 2016 Olympic 1500m bronze medalist who represents New Balance, is a superb middle distance runner with a 3:57.22 1500-meter career best and blinding homestretch speed. But she trains like a distance runner under University of Colorado coaches Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs, building a huge aerobic base every winter in Boulder, Colo., before honing her speed for the outdoor track season. She is nearly as accomplished at 3000m and 5000m as she is at the mile, boasting career bests of 8:29.58 and 14:56.26. She even won the USA 5000m title in 2013 just to give herself a different kind of challenge. That year she was assured of her 1500m world championships starting position as the reigning champion from 2011 and skipped that discipline at the USATF Championships.
Here in Boston, Simpson was both hopeful and vague about tomorrow's race. She wanted to test her fitness, but did not have a time goal. She wanted to race well, but it will not be a must-win race. She enjoys the distance, but she's not moving up from the 1500m, at least not yet.
"I'm not going to base the future of my career off one switch (in distance) in January," Simpson explained. "The 1500 is my love and the thing that I think I'm best at. But, running the 5-K here was just an opportunity to run a different event. It's been five years since I've run a 5-K at all, indoors or outdoors. That's a long time for me, somebody who in college came to the University of Colorado wanting to be a great 5-K runner. So, it's been this really circuitous route to finally get to the 5-K once in a while in my career."
Back in 2009, racing at the Husky Classic at the University of Washington on February 14, Simpson clocked a solo 15:01.70, a mark fast enough to be a USA collegiate record at time, but disallowed because it was set on a 307-meter, oversized track. She raced two more 5000's later that year, clocking 15:07.64 at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational at Stanford University and 15:05.25 at the DN Galan Meeting in Stockholm.
"This just seemed like a great opportunity to do it," Simpson said of Saturday's race.
The 200m track at "The Reggie" is perfect for distance running, with gentle banking and a soft surface. The USA records for 3000m (8:33.25, Shalane Flanagan, 2007), two-mile (9:18.35, Simpson, 2015) and 5000m (14:47.62, Flanagan, 2009 ) have all been set on that track. Simpson was clear that she was not here to challenge Flanagan's record.
"The only indoor 5-K I've ever run in my career, I believe, was a week or two weeks after Shalane Flanagan ran the American record of 14:48 here at the Reggie Lewis Center," Simpson said. "That's ten years ago." She continued: "I don't know what kind of fitness I can get to by January 26th, but I think an American record run would be more realistic a little later in the indoor season with a rust-buster and a real on-ramp to that attempt. But, you know, I haven't run a 5-K in five years, so I'm just going to stick my nose in it and see what happens tomorrow."
The 5000m here will be a five-woman race. Simpson will be joined on the track by USA 10-K road running champion Steph Bruce, two-time Olympian Kim Conley, 2018 USA Club Cross Country champion Katie Mackey, and 2017 European Indoor Championships 1500m silver medalist Konstanze Klosterhalfen of Germany. Klosterhalfen, who is just 21, has been training in Portland, Ore., under the Nike Oregon Project, and ran a very solid 1000m/mile double at the University of Washington Indoor Preview meeting nearly two weeks ago, clocking 2:43.07 and 4:29.06. She is likely to be Simpson's toughest competitor here.
"I don't know where I am at the moment, but my coach says I'm ready," Klosterhalfen told reporters here today.
With her last indoor 5000m race being ten years ago, Simpson took a moment to reflect on that decade. Taking up a popular meme from social media, she was asked what she would advice she would give her 22 year-old self, the so-called ten year challenge.
"I wouldn't tell myself anything," she said, turning serious. "I think figuring it out along the way is the joy, and the journey is really the reward. I feel as good, or better, at 32 than I did at 22."