Hannah England had perhaps five seconds to enjoy the best race of her season.
Shortly after she crossed the finish line in 4:04.05 to win the 1500 meters at the Fanny Blankers-Koen Games in Hengelo on May 27, England discovered that what she thought was a routine cut from being spiked during the race was worse than it seemed.
“When they looked at it, they said, ‘Don’t move it.’ I asked why and they said they could see tendons moving,” England explained. “So they stitched it up and it ended up getting infected.”
England began to sense that her dreams of building upon her silver-medal performance from the 2011 IAAF World Championships in front of a home crowd at the 2012 London Olympics were over.
“To go from dreaming to make an Olympic final to thinking, ‘Am I even going to get there?’ is quite harsh on the flip side,” she said.
England managed to get healthy enough to compete at the Games, but she wound up exiting in the semifinal of the 1500 meters with a ninth-place finish.
But at least she knew what the culprit was.
Simpson Still Confounded
American Jenny Simpson, the woman who held off Hannah England for the gold at those World Championships in Daegu, in 2012 found herself the midst of an erratic outdoor season that had her confounded. She is still at a loss to explain her 12th-place finish in the semifinals in London despite being healthy and having a full season of training under her belt, two things England cannot claim.
“One of the things that was most challenging about this season was that it was hit or miss,” Simpson said. “I would warm up and feel really good and then I would go out there and underperform. I’ve never had a season like that before. I’ve had seasons that were less than I wanted but I’ve never had races where I couldn’t explain why I was on such a rollercoaster.”
Twelve months after both women came here as the talk of the middle-distance running world, Simpson and England find themselves readying for Saturday’s Fifth Avenue Mile Presented by Nissan on the opposite end of the spectrum: In hopes of putting positive ends to trying seasons.
“It definitely makes you appreciate what happened last year,” England said. “Everything leading up to the Olympics was so stressful. Any running that I could do had to be perfect. If I could get on the track, I had to maximize it before I wound up back on the bike or in the pool. Since the Olympics, it has been nice to be able to just relax a bit.”
For England, the biggest challenge aside from healing physically has been coming to grips with having an opportunity lost through no fault of her own.
“Every time I have been injured in the past, it has been my own fault, and if you look at it analytically, you could see it coming as well,” she said. “I worked so hard to make sure that I made no mistakes: So much rehab, so much stretching. Then something like this happens and you start to think, ‘I should have cranked out 120 miles a week without stretching.’”
Simpson’s greatest struggle has been trying to pinpoint exactly why her performances have fallen short of her fitness level.
“I really felt prepared,” Simpson said of this season. “I had a whole season of training and no real interruptions. As the season kind of wore on I feel like it was a rollercoaster reaction. There were times where my body reacted really well and I was really on my game and competitive and there were times where I had really unexplained disappointments. I really struggled this year. Physically and mentally I felt really prepared and then I faced a season with quite a few disappointments.”
Things Have Been Looking Up
Both England and Simpson have found measures of success post-London, however. England, 25, has raced seven times in the last four and a half weeks, with the highlight an 800-meter personal best of 1:59.66 in Linz on August 20. Last weekend, she finished as runner-up in the road mile at the Great North CityGames in Newcastle. Simpson, 26, was fifth at the Diamond League meet in Stockholm on August 17, running 4:04.71, and clocked a season-best 4:04.07 in a runner-up finish in Rovereto, Italy, on September 4. She placed fifth at the Great North CityGames.
Simpson, the defending champion, said that one of the biggest differences she finds coming to Fifth Avenue this year is timing.
“Last year I was really gaining momentum by the time I arrived here,” said Simpson, who has been fighting a bit of a cold lately. “This year has been a longer season and I don’t know that I am gaining momentum. I am probably at the very top and kind of plateauing a little bit. That said, I love traveling and I love racing. I am not homesick. I’m excited to be here and want to win as much this year as I did last year.”
England would also like to see her season end with another podium finish.
“I’ve gone, fifth, fourth, third so I need to finish either second or first,” England said of her last three Fifth Avenue Mile appearances. “I would like to continue my upward projection.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg