BURNABY — It’s become her final classroom session before each meet, a time when a newly discovered ritual reinforces the reason she races.
“On my computer, 20 minutes before we leave the hotel, I watch myself run,” begins Addy Townsend, the Simon Fraser Clan junior middle distance star. “I look at myself, where I was in that race, and I try to visualize.”
In the evolution of every great runner, there comes a stage where it becomes less about the pure-guts mentality of the task at hand, and more about the tenets of maturity like tactical understanding, patience and self belief.
Three seasons into a collegiate career under the tutelage of her own mother, former Canadian Olympian Brit Townsend, that is precisely the place the willowy-tall, 20-year-old former Dr. Charles Best Secondary grad finds herself this weekend.
Ranked in NCAA D-2’s top six nationally in both the 1,500m and 800m, Townsend will tackle the daunting double this weekend as Western Oregon University’s McArthur Field plays host to the 2018 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Track and Field Championships.
“Sometimes, I’ll watch two races,” Townsend continues, stressing that while one choice will reinforce the notion that she can fashion a great finish as part of the lead pack, the other will place her in a decidedly different position.
“I’ll also find one where I am at the back,” she adds. “It’s good for your self-belief. I do that just to put into my head the thought that wherever you are, anything is possible.”
FROM BABY STEPS TO GIANT STRIDES
Addy Townsend, who was born in 1997, has been a presence around the track at Simon Fraser’s Terry Fox Field since even before she can remember.
“It started when she was one,” laughs mom Brit of the long line of 800m and 1,500m runners that Addy watched and would later begin to hold in her consciousness. “She saw them develop and that is something that has helped her.”
At age 6 or 7, Clan runners like Newfoundlander Julia Howard, and Bowen Island’s Rebecca Johnstone were likely to her, larger than life.
Yet gradually she began to formulate what it was her mom did for a living and who these incredibly dedicated ladies were who showed up day after day for training.
“Jessica was the one that I really first remember, and not from photos,” confirms Townsend who was still just 10 when former Argyle Secondary grad Jessica Smith arrived atop Burnaby Mountain in the fall of 2007 to carve a path which would lead her to the London Olympics.
“It was Jess, then it was Helen (Crofts) and then Lindsey (Butterworth),” she continues of the Clan’s decorated trio of middle-distance standouts. “I was finally old enough to actually watch them race and understand how much work they put in.”
Townsend, in fact, has trained heavily with Butterworth, the Handsworth grad who is five years her senior.
“I used to watch their huge races with my mom talking to them at the start line,” she adds. “Now, that’s me. When I was really young, my mom said I would train with (Butterworth). Now, there doesn’t feel like an age gap. In training I get to work beside her and I am so lucky.”
TURNING A SPRAIN INTO FUTURE GAIN
Part of learning to be a racer is accepting the fact that sometimes things happen that are out of your control.
Last November, during the final training session before the Clan left for the NCAA Cross-Country championships, Townsend suffered an ankle sprain on the team’s Como Lake course which was severe enough that she was wearing a fitted boot and toting crutches as a spectator when race-day morning came a few days later in Evansville, Ind.
The lingering effect of the injury carried through into the indoor track and field season, one which Townsend eventually elected to skip, taking an injury redshirt which in fact extends her eligibility window in the winter-sport semester by another year.
Yet coming off the inactivity, Townsend was not expecting to get off to a quick start in her outdoor season. That, of course, is exactly what happened.
“I was really nervous, but it turned out to be the best opener that I have ever had,” Townsend says of clocking a 2:08.55 to win the 800m at the Sacramento State Hornets Invitational on March 17.
Boxed in the entire race, Townsend broke free with 70 metres to go an edged second-place Louise Shanahan by a 1/10th of a second, no doubt providing her with some pre-race lap-top viewing inspiration.
One month later, on April 13 in San Diego, Townsend built on that season-opening performance with a personal-best 2:06.82 at the UCSD Triton Invitational, a time which qualified her to make a return to the NCAA D2 national championships.
The time was good enough for fourth in the race, just behind Alaska Anchorage junior Danielle McCormick, a fellow GNAC rival who clocked 2:06.17.
The story, however, doesn’t end there.
Less than a week after her San Diego performance, Townsend set another personal best, this time with a 4:22.26 in the 1500m at Azusa Pacific’s Bryan Clay Invitational.
“That’s the latest I’ve ever raced,” said Townsend. “We played cards all day long and relaxed and the race didn’t start until 9:30 (p.m.).”
The event was a huge PB for Townsend, some four seconds under her previous best. That, and the fact that she kept her chief GNAC rival, Alaska Anchorage’s Caroline Kurgat (4:21.18) within grasp, actually helped shape her agenda at this weekend’s GNAC championships.
“I thought to myself ‘Maybe the 1500m is an event I should keep on my radar,’” she said.
The task of running both the 800m and 1,500m at nationals is simply not practical, and Townsend will not sacrifice optimal performance in one to simply line up at the starting lines of both.
And thus the sprained ankle at Como Lake which ended her cross-country season in the 11th hour, led to the red-shirting of her indoor track season, and ultimately bolted her out to the best start of her outdoor career, has put her in the position at this week’s GNAC to decide which event she will run at nationals.
“GNACs are a good chance for me to try both,” she says. “I will see where the effort takes me and then I’ll make my decision.”
Townsend will also compete as part of the Clan’s 4x400m relay team this weekend.
WHEREVER YOU ARE…ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE
Rare is the only way to describe the experience that Addy Townsend has gleaned from three-years on the hill.
She’s been coached by her mom, been a teammate with her older sister Dana, a distance specialist and redshirt senior, and had a chance to glean additional training with some of the former Clan athletes she watched through her early teens.
Ask her mom about what she sees these days in Addy’s development, and Brit Townsend answers in the most honest way possible, as if she were talking about any other athlete on her team.
“She, to me, is running with more confidence,” the coach begins. “She is running with some vision. She is not just asking herself what can she do today, but how she can plan for the next competition as well.”
At some point this weekend, Addy Townsend will no doubt gather herself in front of that laptop computer screen for some more pre-race motivation.
When it’s pointed out to her that a great piece of viewing would be her finishing kick over the final 100 metres to beat McCormick and capture last season’s GNAC outdoor 800m championship crown, she lets out a wishful groan.
“I wish I had that one (on video), but another one (I watch) is the Oxy meet,” says Townsend, referencing her performance in the 800m at the Occidental College-hosted meet last May in Los Angeles.
“I was dead last in that race, but then in the last lap I picked off almost everyone and I almost won,” she says of finishing second in a then-personal best time of 2:07.99.
It’s like she says: “…wherever you are, anything is possible.”
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