Photo Credit: Jane Barlow, The Scotsman

© Copyright – 2015 – Athletics Illustrated

Lennie Waite is a British athlete who specialises in the 3,000m steeplechase event. She trains in Austin, Texas, but is originally from Paisley, Scotland, which is located 20 kilometres west of Glasgow.

Twice she competed in the Commonwealth Games. In the Delhi 2010 Games she finished sixth and during the 2014 games that took place in Glasgow, she finished in 10th position. She has also competed in the European Championships.

On the 22nd of July, the 29-year-old athlete ran her event four seconds faster than the IAAF standard to compete in the 2015 IAAF World Track and Field Championships and 2016 Rio Olympic Games. She did not make the team for Worlds, as athletes in most events must achieve the standard two times during the qualifying period. She appealed the decision and at the start of this interview was still waiting for the outcome.

Personal bests

800m – 2:08.58
1500m – 4:15.33
Mile (1609m) – 4:35.42
3,000m steeplechase – 9:40.39

Christopher Kelsall: At what age did you start running seriously?

Lennie Waite: I started running seriously my third year at Rice University. I originally went to Rice to play soccer, but switched to running after two years of playing soccer. I ran track after my soccer season during my freshman and sophomore years, but it wasn’t until my third year at Rice that I had a summer of base training under my belt and an acceptable level of fitness to try and tackle a cross country season. It took me a full year to wrap my head around longer runs and distance-focussed workouts.

CK: What positions did you play?

LW: I played outside midfield or forward, depending on our formation

CK: Was it a difficult decision to leave a lifetime of soccer for running?

LW: No. I think having the excitement of joining the Rice track and field team overpowered any type of regret I may have had about leaving the soccer team. The track coach at Rice, Jim Bevan, was so welcoming and immediately I felt like I had made the right decision. He was optimistic about my running future from the first time he saw me race and his positivity and encouragement made me feel like I had made the right decision.

CK: Did you play other sports as a youth?

LW: Yeah, I played all types of sports. I remember playing soccer with my Dad when I was living in Switzerland. He bought me a pair of soccer boots when I was probably three or four and we used to play in a field near our house. I also started skiing from a really young age–both snow skiing and water skiing. My Mum and I used to go for runs around the village where we lived in Switzerland and I always viewed it as a treat!

In terms of organised sport, I did join a pretty intense gymnastics program when I was living in Switzerland. I moved to America when I was seven and I started participating in a lot of sports. I played soccer, basketball, volleyball, and I ran a lot with my family. I even did tennis, golf, and swimming at one point! I focussed on soccer and track once I got to high school, and I struggled to decide which sport to pursue in college. I chose soccer, but then switched to track and cross country.

CK: Are your parents competitive runners?

LW: Neither of them are competitive runners but they are both very sporty. My Dad played professional Rugby. He played for Northamptonshire in England and then he played for the USA when he moved to Houston in the mid ‘70s. After his rugby career, my Dad ran 10 marathons. My Mum has always enjoyed running, way before it was popular for women to run. She used to save her bus money and run to school. She has also run four marathons. Both of my parents are still incredibly fit and I find it very motivating!

CK: This year you have improved in the 3,000-metre steeplechase from just under 10-minutes to 9:40.39, which is under the IAAF qualification criteria to make the World Championships in Beijing. What led to this improvement?

LW: A combination of factors has allowed me to really excel this year. First, I have a lot less stress in my day-to-day life. For a large part of my post-collegiate running career, I was organising my training and racing program around my PhD. I finished my PhD in the summer of 2012, and moved to Teddington (Southwest London) to focus on running in the buildup to the 2014 Commonwealth Games. In hindsight, this move was not good for my running. I thrived in running because it wasn’t the centre of my identity. It had always been supplementary to other important aspects of my life. However, by moving across the globe, changing coaches, and focussing my efforts on running, I lost several elements that had allowed me to progress and fall in love with running. The new coaching didn’t work for me, and I was far away from my friends and family. I switched back to my university coach and we worked long distance to prepare me for the Commonwealth Games. I felt a lot of pressure to make the team since I had focussed so much energy on running, and this took a lot of the fun out of running. I am really someone who needs to enjoy running to race well.

I moved to Austin last August and took a mini-retirement from running after the Commonwealth Games. However, it wasn’t long before I was intrigued by Austin’s elite running community. I started running with Rogue Athletic Club and I fell back in love with running. The group is so fun and the workouts are effortless–it reminds me of running in college! I show up, chat with my friends, endure a little pain, and then chat and smile some more with my friends. The group component is a necessary element for me and just makes training feel effortless. Rogue also has a great support structure, which makes running more sustainable.

CK: There seems to be a solid group of women in the club that run well over distances such as 1500m, 3,000m and 5,000m, that is probably difficult to find anywhere else.

LW: Yes, it is really hard to find a group like Rouge elsewhere. First, I have two other steeplechasers to train with. This is really beneficial when we do workouts over hurdles because it mimics the uncomfortable, crowded, feeling you have hurdling in a race. Also, I have girls to push me in the longer workouts and people to chase in the faster workouts. A lot of times, coaches don’t individualized groups. However, Steve Sisson, the Rogue Coach, is great at separating us when we need something slightly different. For example, if the other girls are racing or our training schedules don’t quite line up, Steve will get a guy to help pace me. I don’t think I had to do a hard workout solo this year when I was in Austin, and that has allowed me to enjoy the training a lot more.

Also, the people on the team have jobs, which I like. We train early, and then people go to work and get on with ‘normal’ life. The group is efficient and there is a good balance between running and work.

CK: For your base training, what did the weekly schedule look like?

I’ve included an example week below. Summer is my racing season, so the fall and winter is when I do most of my base training. I try to run 75-80 miles a week when I am not in racing season.

Monday, October 20th

AM: 8 miles + Ancillary (this usually consists of a mixture of core exercises on the Swiss ball, planks, squats, box jumps, lunges, a series of light arm weights, calf raises)

PM: 4 miles

Tuesday, October 21st

AM: Session 2x10x200 In/Out alternating 35sec/55sec

Wednesday, October 22nd

Medium long run of 12 miles

Hurdle drills

Thursday, October 23rd

AM: 6 miles easy

+4-6 x 100 meter hill efforts (Walk down) + Ancillary

PM: 4 miles easy

Friday, October 24th

AM: Session

4x2K reps at 10K pace +10-12 seconds

Rest is 90 sec

PM: 4 miles easy

Saturday, October 25th

Long run of 16 miles

Sunday, October 26th

6-8 miles easy

CK: It appears by what you are saying; you are a competitive athlete, but also a social runner. What is your favourite run?

LW: I’m social in the way that I train, but I am very competitive on race-day. On Wednesdays, I normally do a mid-week long run. This past year, I met my sister every Wednesday morning to run and we just chatted about life. It’s nice to be able to run with her and catch up on what we have both been up to for the week.

CK: What is your PhD in?

LW: My PhD is in Industrial/Organizational Psychology.

CK: Are you of an observational mind, an analytical-strategic thinker?

LW: I think my tendency is to be analytical, but this doesn’t play to my favor in running. I have spent a lot of time learning how to relax and run. A runner’s mind can be their greatest asset or their greatest weakness. For me, overthinking things causes a dip in my performance. I run best when I just go with the flow and run with my heart and my legs.

CK: I assume that having a PhD in Psychology, you must have developed coping mechanisms or a coping strategy to allow yourself to train or compete without thinking too much? If so, what would that look like?

LW: Yeah, my PhD knowledge has helped me a lot with my running. I am very aware of how my mentality can help and hurt me in races. It is impossible to be your own psychologist, so I still reach out for help when I feel like there is a mental barrier I can’t overcome. For me, key words that remind me to relax and enjoy the process of running help a lot. I practice these keywords in workouts when they start getting hard. If I can stay calm when the pain starts setting in a race, then I know I’ll be able to get everything out of my body and produce results that I am proud of.

CK: You have represented Great Britain twice in the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and 2014, as well as in the European Championships. Why do you think the people at UK Athletics are being sticklers for the two performance criteria, when no one else is going in this event?

LW: I wish I knew the answer to this question! It is hard to know what goes on in the minds of the selection committee. My guess is that Britain wants to have star performances at major champs, not just bodies on the start line.

CK: Are you a potential star?

LW: I think anyone who can step to the starting line at the IAAF World Champs is a potential star. I think the stories behind the athlete’s getting to the starting line can make them stars. IAAF standards are not easy to achieve, and just getting the standard is a unique achievement. Everyone’s journey to the starting line of a World Champs or Olympics is slightly different, but each is inspiring in its own way. I feel like my journey and progression is inspiring and could motivate young people to get involved in athletics. Specifically, there is a dearth of female steeplechasers in Britain and my hope is to serve as a role model and inspire young people to try steeplechasing. I also believe I can run a lot faster this year, and the World Champs would be a great stepping stone towards the Rio Olympics.

CK: Do you have an appeal process in place to allow you to state your case?

LW: Yes, I had to submit my appeal within 24 hours of British Athletics announcing the team. My appeal is currently in review and I find out my fate tomorrow.

Ed. note: British Athletics stuck to their guns and did not select Waite upon her appeal. Britain will have no female 3,000m steeplechasers competing at the 2015 IAAF Beijing World Championships.

CK: What are your goals for this fall?

LW: This fall I will focus on building mileage and preparing for the summer. Everything is geared towards Rio.