On a warm morning in early August, Heather MacLean laces up her sneakers and does what she usually does: She goes for a jog. Her time at the Tokyo Olympics is passing after she failed to qualify for the women’s 1,500 meter final, and when she started jogging she found herself confronted with that tough reality – all her toes.
“My legs have never felt heavier in my life,” she says.
For many athletes, competing in the Olympics is a dream, the product of years of hard work. But there isn’t much of a roadmap for what will happen next, in the days and weeks after the Olympics. MacLean has heard others describe a type of accident after the Olympics.
“But I don’t think there’s any way for me to prepare for actually experiencing it,” she said in an interview this week.
On Saturday, MacLean will be playing in Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games, the prestigious indoor meeting held annually at The Armory in Washington Heights. There is also a women’s track and field field Elle Purrier St. Pierre, who set a national record for the event in 2020, and Athing Mu, the reigning Olympic champion in the 800 meter distance.
This will be MacLean’s first meeting since the Olympics. Mark Coogan, MacLean’s coach with Team New Balance Boston, advised her methodical approach to her comeback contest.
Coogan, a former Olympic marathon runner, says: “Just because I lived a little. “I know there can be a huge disappointment after the Olympics, and I think it’s important to just support: ‘What an incredible year. No one but us thought you were going to be the Olympic team, and now you are an Olympic athlete. And after you deposit, we get it back. ‘”
MacLean, 26 years old, has had a great upsurge. She didn’t start running until her junior year of high school in Peabody, Mass., a suburb of Boston. At the time, she was working at a grocery store with one of her best friends.
“She is my go-to place for work,” says MacLean. “So when she joined the track team, I thought I could join, too, so we could train together to work and train together.”
MacLean quickly reveals himself to be a natural talent who worked hard. After breaking a series of records at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School, she battled trauma and adversity at the University of Massachusetts to become a well-rounded American. But it was not until the last year of high school that she considered the possibility of professional activities.
Armed with a master’s degree and liberated from academic demands, she joined Team New Balance Boston and made steady progress. At the US Olympic track and field competition last June, she made her national team debut when she finished third in the 1,500 meters behind Purrier St. Pierre and Cory McGee.
MacLean was still peaking from that experience when, on the flight home from the pre-Olympic meeting in Monaco, she watched “Weight of gold,” an HBO Sports documentary detailing the mental health challenges some Olympic athletes face: the sacrifices they make, the overwhelming expectations they express within. and the inevitable uncertainties facing them after the Olympics: Now what?
She recalled facing “tremendous pressure” even before she arrived in Tokyo.
“I’m trying to stay in my routine for dear life,” she said, “because I’m obviously super excited and very nervous with everything that’s going on and I want to talk to people. . But at the same time, I want to protect my own energy, and I make sure to let a lot of people in my space. So that’s hard to navigate. “
At the Olympics, she made it through the opening match in 4 minutes and 2.4 seconds, instantly to her best, before finishing 12th in the semifinals.
She had planned to compete in a few more races after returning home, she said, but felt exhausted. She had to remind herself that she didn’t have anything to prove.
“I made the best decision for myself,” she said.
Before officially pulling the plug on her season, though, she made a trip to Cape Cod to run in the Falmouth Road Race with Molly Seidel, who won. women’s marathon bronze medal at the Olympics, and Dana Giordano, a close friend and professional athlete. Seidel entered the race for charity: She will start at the bottom of the field and donate $1 for every runner she passes.
Seidel had assured MacLean that she would be running the seven-mile run, so MacLean was free to meet friends the night before the race. She didn’t feel particularly harsh at the starting line.
“I was sleeping for three hours or whatever, and then they started sprinting,” says MacLean. “And I thought, ‘Why are we going so fast?’ But it’s very fun. ”
Seidel and her crew overcame nearly 5,000 athletes. For MacLean, Falmouth was a fitting way to end an unusual year. She couldn’t understand when she got on another plane. She also has some unresolved wounds that she needs to deal with.
“I haven’t felt loose in a while,” she says. “So I just wanted to be able to go out for a jog to get my body and mind at ease, and it just took a little while for that to happen.”
During a self-imposed hiatus, MacLean moved into a new apartment in the Boston area. She celebrates her birthday. She took long walks and listened to podcasts. She went roller skating. She joined the Peloton craze. She became a regular at Breakfast Club, her favorite diner. (She likes to eat breakfast.) She made coffee running for her brother Shawn. And she was the guest of honor at “Heather MacLean Day,” when the mayor of Peabody gave her a key to the city.
By early December, she is slowly getting back to running. She has spent recent weeks training with her teammates at high altitude in Arizona.
“She looks really nice,” Coogan said.
MacLean learned how Prioritize her mental health, she said, this only helps her as an athlete. She reads books about mindfulness. She does yoga. She does a guided meditation before bed. She tried to separate herself from her phone and limit her time social media. Her friends know about her various habits.
“I think people think I’m sitting in bed with all these crystals around me,” she said. “Which, okay, I have some crystals. But it’s not like that! ”
Now, before her first meeting in a few months, she feels like herself again, she said. She is ready to run.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/29/sports/heather-maclean-millrose.html Heather MacLean is back on track at the Millrose Games