World steeplechase silver medallist Courtney Frerichs runs with a fearlessness which has allowed the rising US endurance runner to flourish on the international stage. But that approach to racing hasn’t always been there.
In it to win it
“The biggest challenge I’ve faced is to overcome the mental barrier of running without fear in major races.
“My first major international event came when I surprisingly qualified for the 2012 World U20 Championships in Barcelona. I went into the event with the mind-set that I got lucky to make the team and I didn’t belong competing against such high calibre athletes. I came within a second of my PR and finished eighth in my heat (failing to advance to the final) but competing in Barcelona gave me the deep desire to represent my country on the international stage in the future.
“That opportunity came about again at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but I ran with fear. I was new to the senior international stage and it is hard not to put the top girls who have performed at the top level for a long time on a pedestal. I felt I handled the prelims well and I qualified for the final, but when I saw the pace we were running at, I got scared. I had never been in such a quick race.
“I left the Rio Olympics (where she finished 11th in the final in 9:22.87) knowing I had achieved a childhood dream, but I had a strong desire to accomplish so much more. If I was to deliver my ambitions, I knew needed to put myself in a position to challenge in races.
“Over the past year I had to learn to be fearless and this is where my coaches – Jerry Schumacher and Pascal Dobert – my team-mates and my husband have been so supportive.
“I’m quick to admit that in races I am often too calculated and my coaches have worked hard on me not looking at the watch during training and just trusting my instincts.
“I felt like over the course of the 2017 season I was running with less fear and that I was making progress. At the IAAF World Championships in London I was pleased that I had my mum, dad and sister watching as well as my husband and his mum and dad. Ruth Haynes, one of my best friends whom I had run with at the University of Mexico, was also in London.
“In the final I was yo-yoing from about a mile into the race but then at two kilometres I glanced at the clock and I saw that the time was 6:03 and I thought, ‘Oh my God, what have I got myself into?’
“It was that moment when I changed my mind-set and thought, ‘I can easily break 9:10 today’. When I hit the bell, I became really confident I could win a medal (and Frerichs delivered by taking silver and smashing her PB by more than 15 seconds to record 9:03.77).
“Winning a medal in London has given me so much confidence. Moving forward, I’m really excited for the future because I now know I have a new mentality of giving myself a chance to win and to succeed in races.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF