“Sometimes I hate myself.” Sifan Hassan jokes as she dials in from her home of six weeks, Park City, Utah.
The double Olympic champion is in the midst of one her most daring experiments to date.
Hassan’s August consisted of a triple World Championship bid.
Six races, nine days.
Bronze and silver in the 1500m and 5000m respectively, she came within 20 metres of 10,000m gold, dramatically falling as Gudaf Tsegay appeared to nudge her elbow.
While most would take a break, Hassan chose a marathon block. Six weeks, one day separate her final Budapest outing and the starting gun for the 2023 Chicago Marathon.
“I am really curious and I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s not actually six weeks, you could say four weeks because the last weeks you just cut back. Whether four weeks is enough, I don’t know.”Embed from Getty Images
A different approach
In the build-up to Hassan’s debut at the distance at the 2023 London Marathon, Hassan and coach Tim Rowberry eased her into the 26.2 miles.
Little drink preparation, limited marathon specific training, Hassan said her build-up had a major focus on running easy. This time they have chosen a very different tack.
Finding herself with great 1500m speed at the start of the block, Hassan’s temptation was to rip everything:
“I was really getting in shape, it is hard to hold back. The only big thing is maybe not overtraining but the rest is not hard. I can go really hard and deep.
The last two weeks I was really tired. I was tired mentally, I was tired physically. Looking back I was like oh my god, I pushed myself too hard and I’m curious what is going to happen.”
Chicago, for Hassan seems as much testing an hypothesis as an uncompromising pursuit of the title. With the third fastest of all-time next to her in Ruth Chepngetich, can there be a more brutal experiment?
“I’m really excited to learn more rather than just focus on who is going to run and are they going to win or not.”Embed from Getty Images
“Maybe for me to stay in this sport I have to find out what is possible or impossible?
You get the sense throughout the conversation that what Hassan seeks isn’t rivalry, nor is it purely medals. Honours of course motivate her but stepping into the unknown provides a far greater attraction.
Variations on the word curiosity appear 12 times in the 20 minutes or so we hear from her:
“Maybe I’m searching for some very hard or stressful things. I don’t know. Maybe for me to stay in this sport I have to find out what is possible or impossible?
After Tokyo I discovered three distances and three medals. Then I was searching for something that makes me excited. That makes me have doubts myself about what is possible or impossible?”
No modern great has ever attempted dominance in such a variety of events. Few coaches would likely recommend it, nor any manager that sees value in an unbeaten product.
“I didn’t see an athlete comeback from marathon to track so I just want to see what is possible but I didn’t really care about losing or winning or breaking world records. Whether I win or lose it’s good for me to find out.”Embed from Getty Images
Hassan’s performance at Chicago, she is adamant, will not affect her decision about which events she chooses for Paris. That is a debate for next year.
“Whether I do bad or good it doesn’t really make my decision on the Olympics. Chicago does not really do anything.” She says bluntly.
One thing is certain, that choice will be based on more than just what gives her the best chance of medals. Having looked at the schedule, the 10,000m final and marathon race at Paris are just 36 hours apart.
I offer is that the sort of challenge that excites her?
“Yeah, maybe I am crazy enough. I really like challenges but it’s very hard. 10,000 really beats you up. It’s long enough to beat you up, it’s fast enough to beat you up. It’s going to beat my legs up. Maybe everything’s going to be perfect. You know when everything’s perfect I search for something hard or difficult.
So maybe if everything goes perfect and I win everything, let me go to challenge myself. I do it just for no reason, I don’t know why (she laughs). Sometimes I hate myself. Why do I have to suffer! It’s something inside me. I don’t have any way of describing.”
The 1500 and 5000m standing to attention too, athletics needs more like Sifan Hassan.
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Featured image “2023 London Marathon – Sifan Hassan by Katie Chan is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.”