Former Canadian Olympian Brit Townsend Guiding Her Daughter Toward Elite Realm Of Distance Running, Including Recent Personal Bests in 800 and 1,500
By Mary Albl of DyeStat
Brit Townsend still remembers the words written from her youngest daughter, Addy. It was a Mother’s Day card Addy wrote to her mom when she was in high school.
“She said a bunch of things, but said, ‘Hopefully I will make the Olympics one day in soccer or track,’" Brit Townsend said. “It’s always been in the back of her mind, but until you believe it, it's not attainable.”
That belief has been a journey for the Townsends.
Brit, an Olympian herself, competing in the 1984 Games in the 1,500 meters, is the head cross country and track coach at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, an NCAA Division 2 school. Addy, a mid-distance runner, is set to graduate from SFU soon, and is finally at a point in her life where those words she wrote as a teen have become realistic.
“At first, I was afraid to actually say it,” Townsend said of her goals. “I think saying it only makes you want to achieve it even more. Believing in yourself, that's in a sense, bravery. Sports is about being brave, right?”
After years of setbacks, Townsend is running with a courageous sense of purpose and finding success. On April 17 at the SFU Spring Series Meet, Townsend made a huge breakthrough, clocking a personal-best 2:03.47 in the 800 meters.
“She’s had a lot of ups and downs to be honest,” Brit Townsend said. “It was really gratifying to see sort of all those years of struggle and hard work pay off with just a big breakthrough.”
With SFU cancelling the outdoor track and field season this spring due to the pandemic, Townsend is competing unattached. She’s currently in the United States with Brit and training partner Lindsey Butterworth (SFU NCAA Academic Advisor/Volunteer Coach) to get some high-quality races in. This past weekend at the Oregon Relays, she won the Women’s College 1,500 meters in another personal-best 4:15.78. She’s set to compete at the Oregon State University High Performance Meet this Friday and Saturday in Corvallis.
"It's pretty exciting for me, because collegiate is done, but it’s a nice atmosphere for me to race against those girls (other college athletes) in Oregon, and just compete and see where I'm at, and just be around people,” Townsend said. “It will be fun.”
Running was always present, but never at the forefront for Townsend growing up in Western Canada. Brit did a good job of keeping the pressure off, only encouraging her two daughters to be active, as Townsend competed in field hockey, gymnastics, basketball and a lot of soccer, picking up track and field along the way.
As a high schooler at Dr. Charles Best Secondary School in Coquitlam, Townsend posted solid times in the 800 (2:10.65) and 1,500 (4:38.29) and also had success in cross country.
"Everyone on the (soccer) field always said you're so fast, you look like a gazelle running out there," Townsend said. "I thought, maybe track is the best spot for me."
Townsend, who battled anemia during high school, didn't truly discover her love for the sport until after her final year of high school when she chose to focus solely on soccer.
"I got to close out my career in soccer and then the door kind of opened again for track,” she said. “I missed the feeling of the individual side of it, and I really thought I’m going to go further in track. It was so good my mom didn’t push me and let me make the decision by myself.”
A different collegiate experience
Townsend isn't shy talking about her collegiate experience, or rather lack thereof. She followed in the footsteps of her mom and older sister, Dana, to SFU, a place she calls a second home. From the start of her freshman year, Townsend endured struggles while adjusting. Things didn’t start clicking until her second year when she finished fourth at Division 2 Indoor Nationals in the 800, clocking a then-personal-best time of 2:08.38.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, finally a breakthrough,’” Townsend said. “I started thinking I can do well. And then the next couple years, unfortunately, I just got unlucky.”
Unluck is putting it lightly. While dealing with chronically low iron and asthma, she encountered additional roadblocks with a few ankle sprains, and missed the 2019 Indoor Nationals due to a case of mononucleosis that wiped her out for a majority of that season.
“It’s just bad luck after bad luck, the next year indoor, 2020, I thought this is my year,” Towsend said. “I thought, I’m so ready.”
The indoor 2020 season saw Towndsend string together consistently good races, as she claimed her fourth Greater Northeast Athletic Conference 800 title and won the mile. She headed into the NCAA Division 2 Indoor Championships in March as a favorite to win hardware with the second-fastest 800 time nationally (2:07.74) and the third-fastest in the mile (4:40.4).
But like thousands of athletes, she rode the high of heading into an NCAA Championship with the thought of becoming a national champion, only to have that suddenly vanish.
“There’s so much buildup in the collegiate year and you want to make your mark,” she said. “I wanted to win a title (NCAA), I thought I could have had a couple.”
Known for her excited personality mixed with a dash of impatience, as her mom puts, the halt to her collegiate season was an opportunity for a physically and mentally healthy Townsend to continue to train and get better.
“With the setbacks, I saw an opportunity of, ‘I finally have this whole time to put my head down and train,’ With no races it was almost good for me in a sense as I got to have just that training block I needed and have that evidence of that amazing training,” Townsend said.
Brit, as a former world-class racer herself, and Canadian record-holder in seven different events, brought a forward-thinking and competitive edge to pandemic training for Townsend and a handful of other athletes.
“Where I saw a lot of people stopping and taking a break, we actually kept going,” Brit Towsend said. “I pushed a lot. I tell my athletes we have to go through this; what we are in control of is making ourselves better today than we were yesterday, and I tell them that all the time.”
progression has also been propelled by the daily presence of Butterworth, who is coached by Brit. A former SFU mid-distance runner herself, graduating in 2015, Butterworth advanced to the semifinals of the 2019 World Championships and is chasing a spot on the Canadian Olympic team this summer. Brit said the two have helped push one another during these unprecedented times, and Butterworth’s mature racing mentality has been a positive influence on transitioning Addy to the next phase of her career.
“Knowing that she's so successful and such a great athlete has been so helpful mentally,” Townsend said. “But also she’s just such a consistent person, where she's not completely ever satisfied. She runs well, but there's always more there. It’s nice to have someone who is so humble and she’s been such a great friend to me.”
With a solid block of training, which included a few trips overseas to get in some races, the performance by her daughter wasn’t a surprise to Brit.
“I have always told my athletes, use your training as evidence and if that evidence is good, it will come out in your performances,” Brit Townsend said. “She looked like I thought she could run. I knew that was there, the ability was there, she was definitely prepared. I think now, having this happen to her has totally shifted her thinking to much more of a high-performance athlete.”
Townsend, who was able to don her SFU jersey for her breakthrough 800 race April 17, racing at Terry Fox Field with family and teammates on hand, said she’s unearthed purpose and knows the possibilities now as a racer.
It was a huge confidence booster,” Townsend said of her time. “I think it's all about trusting the process and and being brave in those moments.”
Now, it’s a continued focus on the day-to-day training and continuing to trust her coach and mom, a relationship the two have been building on, the good days and bad.
“She’s got so much knowledge and I think it's going to be really exciting to travel and use each other as motivation,” Townsend said. “I always say I want to make her proud. I’m pretty lucky because sometimes you finish a race and it doesn’t go well and you don't have that support necessarily. Luckily when I do well or when I do poorly there’s always someone there supporting you that knows the feeling. I think it's really interesting all her successes and also struggles it makes it more real. Sometimes you don't hear I was so mentally off that day, or I just wanted to stop, we are all human, it makes it a little easier to correlate to.”
Brit said her daughter is taking the right steps as she’s made a leap from her shortened collegiate career to racing unattached and in higher quality races.
“She’s young, she turned 23 in December, she has a very efficient and beautiful running style and she's got really good speed, which is always an asset,” Brit Towsend said. “I think she's definitely opened some eyes and I think she's knocking on the door. This year or next year, she will hopefully move into that top tier of our middle distance of our country.”
For now, Toensend and her mom are enjoying the process, including a possible mother-daughter Olympic moment.
“I think it would be absolutely amazing for her to guide me and for us to experience that together,” Townsend said. “She always says to focus on the process and not the outcome, and I think that’s a good thing to focus on, because each step now is leading toward a bigger goal.”
The Covid-19 Pandemic has altered almost everything that goes on in our normal life.
The Achilles Track Society has launched a plan for the 2021 Vancouver Sun Harry Jerome Track Classic that will fit into current public health regulations with limited number of athletes and minimal officials spread over 3 sites.
On June 12th weekend the 37th edition of Canada’s longest standing track and field meet will focus on preparing our athletes for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, the Rashpal Dhillon Track & Field Oval at the University of British Columbia and the Hillside Stadium in Kamloops.
Meet organizer, Nigel Hole is asking any athlete who may have an interest in competing register their interest by completing this online form. Please recognize that registering on this online form does not guarantee participation.
ONLINE FORM LINK: https://forms.gle/nfQeTYmuxktGWgyH7
The public health regulations are sure to change by June 2021 and organizers are aiming to provide opportunities to athletes aiming to achieve qualification for the Tokyo Olympics. The final event list inclusion will change as we move forward in these challenging times.
If you are accepted to participate that information will be available on our website near the event dates www.harryjerome.com