Q + A WITH SARAH BOWMAN
interview by Dave Milner 07.20.12
Knoxville's Sarah Bowman recently finished 6th in the women's 1500m final at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR.
The former University of Tennessee star's impressive performance in Eugene is all the more impressive when one discovers the rather rocky path she had to the trials. While most of her rivals had "A" standard qualifiers from the previous summer or from early season west coast meets at Stanford or Oxy, Bowman didn't even qualify for the Trials until June 6, just three weeks before the Trials started. She didn't even put on a pair of spikes until June 2nd.
Going into the Trials, she was only ranked 23rd of the 29 runners accepted into the field, and her 2011 season comprised of one very disappointing showing at Drake Relays before being sidelined by injury. So hardly anyone - except a few in her Knoxville inner circle, perhaps - would have picked her to be in contention for a U.S. Olympic team berth with 400m remaining in the Trials final. But this fierce competitor put herself in a position to vie for one of those coveted spots, having moved up to 4th place at the bell.
After a cautious start at the back of the field, staying out of trouble, for the first lap, Bowman moved up to 5th by 700m, and was in 4th, a half-stride behind the eventual top 3, at the bell. However, a 63.4 last lap was no match for the 60-second close by Uceny, Rowbury, and Simpson, and Bowman would be overhauled by Gabriele Anderson and Anna Pierce in the closing stages.
But in a race that stared out at 4:14 pace, she clocked a season's best of 4:08.25. The race was won by pre-race favorite, Morgan Uceny, in 4:04.59, with Shannon Rowbury and 2011 World Champion, Jenny Simpson, placing 2nd and 3rd to earn the other two U.S Olympic team berths.
Bowman's outstanding finish is a testament to her determination, drive and focus. TR caught up with her in Knoxville a few days after her 1500m victory at the Toronto International Games.
TR: First of all, congratulations on a great performance in Eugene. Four weeks prior to the trials you didn’t even have a “B” standard qualifying performance, so to finish as high as you did in the final is truly remarkable. When the New Year rolled around did you ever think that 6th place in the Olympic Trials 1500m was on the cards?
SB: I was in a boot recovering from PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) injections when the new year rolled around, but I was still trying to have confidence that I would have enough time to get in the shape I wanted to be in for the trials.
However, it was my injury in mid-April (plantar fasciitis leading to a partial tear) that left me doubtful of having any possibility of even competing at the trials.
TR: What was the nature of the injury that ruined your 2011 season? Can you provide us with a timeline from when it first occurred towhen you felt you were fully recovered?
SB: My achilles became sore during the indoor season of 2010. This was the year I represented the US on the indoor world team. I continued competing partway through the summer before giving it time to rest. After taking 3 months off, I began running again in late fall. However by the time the spring season rolled around, my achilles was sore again and I was struggling to consistently run. I ended up hanging up my spikes for the 2011 season after a poor showing at Drake Relays. I took another 5 months off but was still not getting relief from my achilles pain. In the fall, with the encouragement of Darren, I went to see a doctor about PRP (platelet rich plasma) injections. I received treatment twice on my left achilles and once on my right achilles (because of limping, I was suffering slight pain in the right achilles as well). Each treatment put me out for another 6 weeks (4 months). Though I started the 2012 year off in a walking boot, I was back to running by the end of January. From there I worked on getting my body used to consistent running. I was starting to come around in training but was stopped short when in April, I strained my plantar fascia. I ended up partially tearing it and in total lost about another month of training. I got back to track workouts in mid-May and was finally able to open up my season on June 2nd at MCDC.
TR: Given your relative lack of a winter aerobic base, did you and your coach, J. J. Clark, approach this season differently? If so, how?
SB:I tried to cross-train quite a bit in order to maintain some type of aerobic base. I think my season was approached very conservatively. We took things day by day and week by week.
TR: You ran well at the Music City Distance Carnival on June 2, clocking 4:13.67 in your first 1500 of the year. What did that race tell you?
SB: For me it was just great to be competing again. It was my first time in spikes in well over a year and I was just thrilled to be on the track again.
TR: You then went to Indianapolis and knocked out two solid races - 4:12.58 (June 6) and 2:05.72 (June 9). Tell us about those races.
SB: Yes, the 4:12 qualifier was an "A" standard for the trials [the standard was 4:12.93] and that really was my goal for the Indiana races. Everyone was running so fast this year that I knew I had to get the "A" standard in order to book a ticket to Eugene. Since I had "stamped my ticket to the trials", I ran the 800m as a hard training effort. I had zero speed work up until that point and just wanted to feel the burn that an 800m would give me.
TR: During the month of June, was there one workout that stands out in your mind that indicated that you could do something special if you made it to the Trials?
SB: To be honest, any time I could get on the track was a blessing because of the short time frame I was working with. I felt that every time I got out there, I was benefiting in some way. The biggest stand out workout was when my coach put me in a workout with Phoebe. The pace was a lot quicker than I thought I could manage. However, I ended up surprising myself.
TR: Despite a lack of races you looked very good in the preliminary heat and semi-final, producing strong last laps to advance with ease. Where you surprised at all at how sharp you were? What was your goal going into the 1500m final.
SB: Yes, actually I was very surprised with myself. I think racing in such a competitive atmosphere helps bring out the best in athletes. I was thrilled to make it out of each round and just excited to be in the finals.
TR: Can you describe what was going through your head as you moved into 4th place at the bell?
SB: I remember thinking "should I really be trying to go after this right now?" but on the other hand... you never know until you try and again, I had absolutely nothing to lose.
TR: You ran in the Olympic Trials in 2008, while still a collegian, and you made the final. Can you describe how this Trials was different, emotionally? Were you more relaxed this year? Just happy to be there?
SB: I have matured a lot as an athlete since then. I was definitely more relaxed this year and mentally just more mature to handle the situation.
TR: I’m assuming you’ll head over to Europe and look to clock some fast times. What’s next for you?
SB: Actually, I didn't have time to plan for much past the trials. I raced in Toronto on the 11th but do not have plans on going to Europe. I would like to possibly do the Falmouth mile and the fifth avenue mile later this season.
TR: You are fortunate to have such a talented crew of middle distance runners to train with in Knoxville. Who are your primary training partners in workouts?
SB: Phoebe (Wright), usually, but this year we only got to do 2 workouts together due to my injuries.
TR: A lot of athletes struggle to adapt to running professionally witout the protective coccoon of a college team, but you have a pretty unique situation in that your coach and training partners haven't changed, with you still training with Phoebe and being coached by J.J, and you were able to land a shoe contract right after college, eliminating much of the stress associated with making that adaptation. What was the biggest, or most challenging, change for you?
SB: The most challenging thing was overcoming injury but I've always had a great support system that believes in me. Half the battle is surrounding yourself with the right people. That support system brings you through the lows and keeps you grounded in the highs. I've been very blessed.
TR: You recently got engaged to (sub-4:00 mile) Darren Brown. Have you guys set a date? How and when did you first meet?
SB: September 2nd. We met at the Minnesota road mile in 2010. We stayed friends until I made a deal with him in the summer that I would visit Austin if he would be my date to my brother's wedding in October. I guess you can say the rest is history. We hit it off great and he moved to Knoxville last March (2011). We got engaged on my birthday, October 15th, 2011.
TR: Do you and Darren run together much?
SB: Yes, I love doing runs with Darren. It helps to have someone who really understands what it takes to run professionally. He has helped with a few workouts and it really helps because he can run the pace so smoothly, makes it feel great for me!
TR: Are you two very competitive? What can you beat him at?
SB: We are competitive but not with each other. There is a time and place to be competitive and it's not in your personal life.
TR: In my research, I discovered that you high jumped 5' 5" in high school! Can you still do that?
SB: Haha, I am going to say "yes," just for my own pride. However, I haven't attempted anything since my high school days!
TR Editor DAVE MILNER is the Assistant Cross-Country and Track & Field Coach at East Tennessee State University, and also the meet director of the Music City Distance Carnival. Born with no 'ups' whatsoever, his only shot at high jumping 5' 5" would necessitate the careful placement of a snake and the element of surprise..