Canadian Olympian Sheila Reid stands near the start line at Hayward Field, nervously awaiting her return to competitive running following a year-long injury absence.
On a cool, rainy and windy May night in Eugene, Ore., she remains in her warm-up outfit as the public address announcer rhymes off the recent accomplishments of Reid and her 14 competitors in the women's 1,500 metres.
"He was announcing stuff I had done in college," the 2011 NCAA champion in the 1,500 and 5,000 said over the phone last week. "I thought, 'Geez, I really wish I had gone to the [Rio] Olympics last year because I'm going to need some new stats.'"
While the Toronto-born Reid didn't threaten her personal-best time of four minutes 2.96 seconds, crossing the finish line first in 4:10.40 at the Oregon Twilight Meet on May 5 is something she can work off.
Next up for the 27-year-old is the USATF Middle Distance Classic on Thursday at 10:25 p.m. ET in Los Angeles, where Reid will attempt to run sub- 4:07.50 to meet the qualifying standard for worlds this August in London, England.
"I raced mostly against top [U.S.] collegians [at Oregon Twilight]. Where I'm at in my training, this is what I needed," said Reid, who graduated from Villanova University near Philadelphia in 2012 before moving to the Oregon Track Club two years later. "The most important thing is my race instincts are still intact and I think that's the part you worry about most when you're away from the track."
'It's the mental side that can eat away at you. ... The comeback was ... the hardest thing, mentally, that I've ever had to do.' — Canadian middle and long-distance runner Sheila Reid on returning to racing
A stress reaction in Reid's right tibia — a large bone in the lower part of the leg that works with the fibula to stabilize the ankle — forced her to stop running a year ago and later withdraw from Olympic consideration.
A planned return to running last September was nixed by a sore calf, but Reid was cleared after a MRI exam in October and began running on an AlterG anti-gravity treadmill that allows athletes to run at reduced body weight while maintaining a normal gait pattern.
Reid spent November and December running at a low percentage of body weight and by January was training on land. She found it demoralizing that her strength and speed hadn't returned in March, though she soon "found" her fitness at a training camp.
"I definitely wasn't thinking world championships a couple of months ago," said Reid. "I contemplated quitting the sport. It's the mental side that can eat away at you. I thought maybe I was only allotted a certain number of years to work my body hard and that was it for me. The comeback was … the hardest thing, mentally, that I've ever had to do."
Support from her parents, family and coach served as an inspiration to Reid, who was also comforted by the fact no one rushed the 2010 and 2011 NCAA cross-country champion's return to the track.
Others from the outside, including two people from Athletics Canada and former athletes, assured Reid that talent doesn't go away.
"As much as I love my parents for being supportive, it almost doesn't carry as much weight as someone who has no reason to say it other than to believe it to be true," she said. "The great thing about our sport is it's a very strong community. I'm glad that I pressed through a rough patch."
Reid on mission to stay healthy
Shortly after competing on the Hayward Field track at the Prefontaine Classic last May, Reid's strained calf led to bursitis before doctors eventually diagnosed her with a stress reaction.
"I had already reached the point where I had done more damage than there should have been," Reid, who finished 28th in the 5,000 at the 2012 London Olympics, told CBC Sports last July. In 2013, Reid also battled patellar tendinitis in the same knee.
Her mission now is to never get injured again. The training buildup to the Oregon Twilight event is the most aware Reid has ever been of her body. During her weekly runs of 30-45 miles in January and February that gradually increased to her "sweet spot" of 70-75 miles the past two months, Reid was mindful of running even on each side of her body.
She made a late switch from the 3,000 to the 1,500 at Oregon Twilight to test herself against better competition and didn't get off the start line well as it took Reid more than half the 3 ¾-lap race to get to "where I needed to be," sitting amongst the top-five runners.
Around the final turn, Reid passed Oregon freshman Katie Rainsberger and Amy-Eloise Neale, a junior from the University of Washington who entered the race ranked eighth in the NCAA, en route to victory.
"Getting the win was all that was important to me," said Reid, noting her body responded well in the days after the race. "Having to kick, especially around a curve on the track, is the hardest you're going to work your legs. Sprinting at my top speed for the last 100, 120 metres is a good test of the calf.
"Knowing I can still finish strong and maintain a good pace was the test I wanted. I'm not quite as sharp and fit as I was at this time last year but I'm healthy and all of my endurance prep has been good."