Road To The Olympic Games

Q&A

Sasha Gollish on running at 36, loving the gym, working on PhD

At 36, Canada's Sasha Gollish entered Saturday's World Half Marathon Championships in the best shape of her life. "I've basically dedicated the last three-and-a-half years of my life to running," says the 2017 university cross-country champion and 2015 Pan Am bronze medallist.

'I think there's still more to come,' she says ahead of World Half Marathon Championships

Canada’s Sasha Gollish planned to give it her all in Saturday’s World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia, Spain. “When it gets hard out there, who cares, just go,” she says. “The only person who’s going to judge me if I go as hard as I can and hit the wall, as they say, is me." She was the top Canadian female, placing 30th in a time of one hour 11 minutes 52 seconds. (Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images/File)

While preparing for her first-ever race in Spain, veteran Canadian runner Sasha Gollish took a break to relive her experience from the recent Canadian university track and field championships in Windsor, Ont.

"I was looking at some pictures from the 3,000 [metres] and the 1,500 and I'm like, 'I think I'm the fittest I've been in my life,' and I think I've said that every year since 2013," the 36-year-old, who is working on her PhD in engineering education at the University of Toronto, said in a phone interview last week. "I think there's still more to come."

The 2017 U Sports cross-country champion entered Saturday's World Half Marathon Championships in València fully recovered from a left ankle sprain suffered in Windsor, where Gollish finished second in the 3,000 and fifth in the 1,500. She also won a bronze medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games and a national cross-country championship the next year.

On Saturday, Gollish led all Canadian women with a season-best time of one hour 11 minutes 52 seconds, less than 50 seconds off her personal best of 1:11:05 achieved at Indianapolis, Ind., in November 2016.

CBC Sports spoke with Gollish about her goals for this past weekend, which races remain on her bucket list and how much of her sustained success is attributed to strength training.

CBC Sports: Describe how your mindset and outlook is different for the World Half Marathon Championships from previous competitions?

Sasha Gollish: I've basically dedicated the last three-and-a-half years of my life to running. It's always for fun but the dedication has been very different this time. Before, I would give up a workout and go to a social [event]. Now, running is a priority in my life and I'm very fortunate that those around me are supportive of that. My priority is very much focused on getting my runs and workouts in.

CBC Sports: You have said winning the half-marathon at the 2013 Maccabi Games was one of your career highlights. What made it memorable?

SG: I've never seen the crowds as deep as they were in Tel Aviv that day. It was 10 [rows] the entire race. There were people out celebrating not just the fact we were running but celebrating this Jewish culture.

I think there were 10,000 runners and it felt like 42C with the humidex at 9:30 p.m. I remember feeling one-third of the pack went passed me in the first [kilometre] and [thinking] I would see them all at 6 [km]. I saw all of them before that. … I remember at 4 a.m. texting people asking if they had the stomach ache from hell. We were all dehydrated.

CBC Sports: On Feb. 17, you tweeted, "Life's better with a goal." Whether it's a timed goal or otherwise, what is the goal for Saturday, besides winning?

SG: To give it my all. I know everybody says that but a lot of people make that compromise. When it gets hard out there, who cares, just go. The only person who's going to judge me if I go as hard as I can and hit the wall, as they say, is me. If there are external people judging me, they can do that. They're not my inner circle.

I put a lot of time in and dedication getting ready for [this event]. I kind of sacrificed what I could do at [the] U Sports [track and field championships on March 11] training for this.

CBC Sports: In your ideal race, what does "give it your all" mean for you?

SG: It's those moments where … your head says you can't do this and your heart says no, I can, and [is] fighting with your heart and believing in the training you've done.

It's not going out so hard [at the start of the race] that you know you can't sustain that pace. You have to be smart about it but you also, in a sense, need to turn your brain off and not look at the paces. You have to go by feel, by what's going on internally, and also by feel with what's going on in the race.

CBC Sports: In a recent study published in Sports Medicine, it concluded that strength training is "likely to provide benefits to the performance" of runners. How much of your sustained success is attributed to strength training?

SG: I absolutely love the gym. I crave going to it and pretty much do a circuit or weight-training session every single day.

There are some things you can isolate and focus on in a very cognitive way that you can't do when you're out running. As a long-distance runner, I went out and bought a bike at a bike show on a whim. I think it's important that you're not just devoted to one thing. I think there are a lot of benefits from training in different ways.

CBC Sports: What track races and competitions remain on your bucket list?

SG: Oh, man, there's a lot. I've never run a 10,000 on a track and I don't think I've run a 10K on the road in 15 years, so they're on the bucket list. Marathons, I really want to go race in Doha [Qatar] and I'd like to race in Tokyo. Berlin is on the bucket list. Chicago, maybe. Boston's cool, but I don't really need to run up [the legendary] Heartbreak Hill. I'll go watch other people do it. It looks heartbreaking [laughs].

About the Author

Doug Harrison

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

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