Dog Days For Jenny Simpson

A morale booster at home is helping Jenny Simpson cope with the pandemic. (VICTOR SAILER/PHOTO RUN)

THE FIFTH IN A SERIES of event-focus articles on the U.S. women’s 1500, an event on a hot streak and one in which we expect to see fierce-fierce racing when the competitive trek toward the Tokyo Olympics resumes.

WITH WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN a high-gear leadup to a run at a repeat on the Olympic podium currently shifted to neutral as for every miler, Jenny Simpson is riding puppy love through the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. Her new special ingredient as she stays safe and sane at her Colorado home, sheltering in place with husband Jason and her sister-in-law Annie is hardly a secret. It’s Truman.

Truman is a 5-month-old maybe-Jack Russell pup the Simpson’s adopted through Mother Gaia Animal Rescue around the beginning of April, and he’s famous. The New York Times ran a feature on the irresistibly cute canine in April and his Instagram account, thehairytrumanshow, has more than 2100 followers.

“He’s super cute and he’s super nice,” Simpson told viewers on a Drake Relays Instagram stream during what would have been the baton festival’s showtime week. “Except every—I don’t know—once a week he wakes up with a little flame in his eye, just a little devil about once a week. But other than that he’s really good.” And better than that for the Simpson household’s morale.

Says Simpson, “The whole reason we set up the Instagram was just to give something fun and happy for people to see every day. So I post a picture of him every day.”

With competition sadly impossible for the moment, Simpson is on record with a creative suggestion: “My fantasy commemoration would be if we could have the Drake Bulldog and Truman have a socially-distanced race on the track.”

The field for Simpson’s fantasy race, Spike (l) and Truman (r). (Truman photo via Jenny Simpson)

Indoors in February Simpson got her own racing year off to a start with a pair of wins at longer distances—first an 8:51.49 in the Camel City Invitational 3000 and next, 6 days later in Boston, a 14:58.67 indoor 5000 PR in just her third outing at the distance since ’13.

“Great question,” the former steeplechase star says when asked if a step up in racing distance is on the cards. “My heart and head are still 100% with the 1500. I have always worked hard to be good at a range of events. However, the past few years required intense focus on very specific 1500-meter work as the competition only gets tougher in that event. But it’s not good to lose those 5K skills and maybe during the past few years I’ve let that ability slip a little. So I used the time from Doha to the February race at BU to sharpen them up again.”

By Doha, of course, Simpson means the World Championships last fall, where her 8th-place finish saw her off the 1500 podium for just the second time in the last 5 Worlds (see sidebar). At the ’11 edition of the global championships, don’t forget, she won gold.

Simpson achieved plenty to be proud of in Qatar, though, and now in world-class season No. 14 she knows to keep all years in proper perspective. Simpson’s 3:58.42 Doha clocking—in her 10th WC/OG appearance—was her fastest 1500 since ’16, the year in which she won bronze in Rio. (Continued below)

“I have had so many seasons over the years that looked so different from one to the other,” she says. “I’ve also had years that went perfectly to plan and others that went way off the rails and still ended with some magic. Highs and lows are part of the deal. What I have learned over the years and what 2019 again confirmed is that I have the best team in the world for getting Jenny Simpson to a WC final.

“My husband, my coaches [Colorado’s Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs], and the support staff I lean on at CU and the U.S. Olympic Training Center are incredible. We can face and conquer any challenge and we have impeccable timing. At 33 years old we got to the WC final and ran close to a lifetime best. I trust my team, as I lean on them a lot over the next year, will help me be ready at the right moments every year; especially 2021.”

Simpson is emphatic about that. “I go into every season and every championship as if it was a new beginning,” she says. “I don’t drag in baggage from the past as I also don’t prop myself up with accomplishments of old. Each year is its own mountain to climb.

“2019, in so many ways, was a very challenging mountain with new and treacherous terrain. I didn’t medal and if that was the only measurement of success I would have left feeling disappointed. But I left feeling great about the collection of three races I ran (tactically and on time); 3:58 in the final knowing I have a team and work ethic I’m proud of. I’m not giving up on medals, not by a long shot and yet, the medals are precious because they are so hard to win.”

With open questions about ’20 meets the persistent reality, though, Simpson says, “I feel like I’m circling in a kind of holding pattern in regard to training. There’s too much uncertainty to set my sights on a near-future race and I don’t want to be toast next year from overtraining. So I’m taking this time to enjoy my time running, hit the trails, and let a few other projects into my life that I would never have the margin for during a typical racing season.

“I’m also trying to enjoy, as best I can, a break from competition. I haven’t had a full summer of racing without a break since my first World Championships in 2007. It’s been a long stretch with a lot of moments I’m so grateful for. A summer without racing is entirely new to me. I’m trying to appreciate it in some ways and be grateful for a situation I don’t have a lot of control over anyway.”

One Project for which Simpson has time these days—and passion beyond the hours she puts into it—is the Rising New York Road Runners’ Active At Home program. As she explained on her Drake Relays check-in, “There’s so many young kids—especially elementary, middle and high school—who are stuck indoors right now or just not able to go to PE class or go to track club and things like that. No after-school programs, no gathering.” In collaboration with the NYRR, Simpson is addressing that virtually.

“If you are a kid at school, if you know a parent that has a kid at home and they need some stuff to do, they can go on to and I lead basically PE class inside your living room. So kids can come and it’s totally free. You just log on, you click on the links and you can do a physical education class with me in my living room.”

Who among us would bet against a Truman appearance? Or against Simpson’s being in the thick of it when the Olympic chase resumes in earnest?