When American middle distance runner Amy Yoder Begley talks about preparing for the Olympics, she knows what she is talking about. In 2008 she qualified for the Beijing Olympics in the 10,000 meters by crushing the last 800 meters. However, her performance at the Games left her unsatisfied. And, given her aspirations for London, in an ideal world she would be well into her preparations for the Olympic trials on June 22, 2012.
But this is not an ideal world. To say that 2012 is not going according to plan would be an understatement. Amy is recovering from a nagging lower leg injury and dealing with a number of off the track distractions. And with just over 60 days until the Olympic Trials, the training window is shrinking.
For the 2009 and 2010 USA 10,000 meter outdoor champion, “2012 is starting to feel much like 2008 all over again.”
When I caught up with her last week, she was in transit between her home in Portland, Oregon and Eugene where she trains.
According to Amy, “I have been spending a good bit of time helping my husband Andrew the past few weeks. He is recovering from surgery to repair a damaged meniscus. And I am also trying to figure out what’s going on with my dog. He has been sick since the beginning of the year.”
Right on cue, Amy’s phone beeps and it is her veterinarian calling to give her an update, or a lack of one. And this lack of answers is similar to what Amy is dealing with in her own injury.
“I am trying to recover from an ongoing problem in my lower leg. I think it might be a nerve issue, but so far no one has been able to diagnose what is causing it. When I go in for an MRI, I am probably the only athlete hoping it is a bone problem. At least I know how to deal with that.”
But for Amy, adversity means working harder and focusing on the things she can control. And in many respects, overcoming adversity has been a common theme throughout her running career.
Part of Amy’s ability to overcome obstacles comes from a strong work ethic and her ability to compartmentalize what is happening around her. “I always have a goal I am working towards. And as a distance runner, I am often competing three seasons per year: cross country, indoor, and outdoor. There is always something in front of me to keep me focused.”
In spite of being a two-time NCAA champion and a 16-time All American at the University of Arkansas, Amy found it difficult to join the ranks of elite female distance runners. With the benefit of hindsight, one of the reasons was likely a misdiagnosed health condition. In 1999 Amy was told that she was lactose intolerant but unfortunately that was incorrect. The reality was that she has Celiac disease, a condition that prevents her body from properly processing gluten, a protein found in wheat and a number of other grains. Thankfully in 2006 she eliminated gluten and began the process of healing.
And as mentioned above, 2008 was the start of great things for Amy. She qualified for the Olympic Games and went on to have the best year her career in 2009.
“For many athletes, the year after the Olympics is a black hole that is usually a bad year or one with a major injury. The year after the Olympics wasn’t a letdown for me, it was about redeeming myself.”
And she redeemed herself in a big way. “In every race I ran in 2009, I set a new PR or I won.”
Unfortunately for Amy, the good fortune did not last. She underwent Achilles surgeries in both 2010 and in 2011. In fact, the 2011 surgery was timed to give her an opportunity to rehab prior to the preparation for the Olympics.
“We have nationals and worlds, and the Olympics every four years where the world pays attention to track and field.”
For many athletes the Olympics is their singular focus. Here is a tweet from sprinter Lolo Jones to that point:
However for Amy, there are a lot of important milestones and goals for her to focus on. “If I don’t make London this year, I will be disappointed but not devastated.”
“This year my mantra is: It is what it is.”
Amy is still hoping and preparing for a shot at the Olympics, but her primary focus is on getting healthy. “I want to find my way back to how I felt in 2009, as I felt like I could do no wrong that year. But I need to look at the big picture. I want to run a 14:50 5K and a 31 minute 10K. I want to run all the major road races, and to do that, I need to get well.”
Best of luck Amy!
You can follow Amy Yoder Begley on Twitter, and check out The Gluten-Free Edge, a book Amy contributed to.