No Category selected How to Prepare for a Major Race: Canadian Women’s 800m Olympians

    How to Prepare for a Major Race: Canadian Women’s 800m Olympians


    Bishop (Ottawa Lions, second from left) and Smith (British Columbia, second from right) securing their spots for the London Games at the Canadian National Track & Field Championships in Calgary, Alberta.  Photo courtesy of Andre Francois.

    By: Nikki Reiter

    How do you prepare for the race of your life?  It takes the right combination of both mental and physical preparations to get to the starting line in the best possible state on race day.  Instead of consulting a researcher for expertise on this topic, I went right to those who know how to do it best: the elite athlete.  Melissa Bishop (Eganville, Ontario) and Jessica Smith (North Vancouver, British Columbia) are in the midst of the season of a lifetime.  Both have recently joined only two other Canadian women in history by dipping below the two minute barrier for the 800 m and have since qualified for the Olympic Games in London this summer.

    After making some big leaps in their performances this past year, both Bishop and Smith realized that something bigger than new PB’s (personal bests) could possibly happen this outdoor track season.  Although Bishop’s sights were set on London earlier this spring after an eye-opening 2:02.09 indoor performance in Ottawa, Smith explains that after hitting the 2:01 mark multiple times this spring season she was confident that she’d be running fast come June.  After the Prefontaine Classic in Oregon on June 2nd, where Bishop ran the Olympic ‘A’ Qualifying Standard, Smith wasn’t far behind, and explains “I realized after the Prefontaine meet that running under the Olympic A standard was a realistic goal and I ended up running it a week later at the Harry Jerome Track Classic in Burnaby, BC.”

    Heading into the Olympic Trials, there was a new spotlight being shone on women’s 800 m as these two rising stars had been running faster every week.  Attention was being directed to this race as multiple women entered in the event had either the A and/or B standard (including eventual National Champion Lemlem Ogbasilassie and veteran Diane Cummings) and could realistically qualify for the Games if they finished top three, with the qualifying standards.  Bishop and Smith definitely had some pre-race jitters through the qualifying heats and final.  Bishop shared: “My dreams were literally on the line.  There was no outside pressure, just pressure I put on myself that I wanted to do this.  Once I got to the start line I had calmed down, but looking back on it now I can see how easily my nerves could have taken over and perhaps ruined things.”  Knowing how to keep their cool was maintained by following their normal pre-race routines.  For example, Bishop likes to give her mind a break from the upcoming competition by spending time with family and friends.

    Physically, the women had to make sure they were in top shape to secure their top three spot.  The week leading into the Trials, workouts included important intensity sessions to be sharp, and reduced easy mileage to be fresh for racing.  Smith explains that pre-race preparations need to be flexible, “I don’t have a specific routine because each race environment is different and you have to adapt to each situation as they present themselves.”  Smith adds that finding her preferred pre-race meal (pasta) is always a comforting factor.  Leading into the trials, Bishop credits her success to keeping things low-key with family.  “They are not involved in the track scene whatsoever.  This way, my mind wasn’t constantly enthralled with track related topics.  I think it was a smart decision to remove myself from that leading into trials.”

    When asked how they deal with the outcome of a race, good or bad, Smith is level headed. “Competing in track […] is challenging because there are more races that are disappointments than those that you can celebrate, but that is just the nature of sport. [However,] when I race well, the feeling of excitement and success is so gratifying that it makes all the disappointments worth the effort and it is kind of a celebration in itself.”  Both women are willing to take the good with the bad.  Smith says “when I have a bad race usually I try to focus on the specific things that I can improve either by working on it in training or in future races.”  Bishop agrees, indicating that “it’s important in those races to really sit down and see what you can learn from them and not to dwell on them too long. There will be other races.”   Both agree that staying positive isn’t too hard with the encouragement they receive from their massive support networks.

    And finally, when asked about their upcoming participation in the Olympic Games, the women are ready to have the race of their lives.  Smith added, “I am also eager to meet other exceptional athletes from all over the world and take in the atmosphere of the Olympic stadium that will be filled with so much energy and athletically talented individuals.”  Bishop is still stunned at the support she is receiving from her family and friends to pursue her dream, “I’m very excited to get home after my season is done to see all of those supporters and thank them.”

    Watch for these women running the 800 m in London on CTV starting on August 8th.

    Quick Biographies

    Name: Melissa Bishop

    Age: 23

    Current City: Windsor, Ontario

    University Attended: University of Windsor

    Coach: Dennis Fairall

    Club: Ottawa Lions

    Occupation: Athlete

    I run because I enjoy it.


    Name: Jessica Smith

    Age: 22

    Current City: North Vancouver

    University Attended: Simon Fraser University

    Coach: Brit Townsend

    Club: Valley Royals

    Occupation: Athlete, but involved part-time with the following organizations: Friends of Simon Tutoring Project, SFU Track and Field Camps, Strathcona Lions Track and Field Outreach Program

    I run because it’s fun, challenging, and an opportunity to meet great people and travel the world.

    Happy Running!


    Nikki Reiter holds a master’s degree in biomechanics and is a Mizuno Running Brand Ambassador and the Women’s Cross Country Running Head Coach at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus in Kelowna, BC. She is also the Laboratory Coordinator in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at UBC Okanagan where she facilitates undergraduate laboratory learning.