When I called Sasha Gollish for this interview, she was out wandering, exploring Victoria after racing the night before. The University of Toronto runner had just PB’d with a 4:09.22 at the Harry Jerome Track Classic on June 8 and 2:02.90 in the 800m at Victoria International Track Classic on June 10.
While undeniably extraordinarily talented, what really shone when talking to Sasha was her down-to-earth personality, clear from her enthusiasm to share her love of running, her candid description of hard work and gratitude to all the people that have supported her on her athletic (and academic–she’s completing her PhD) journey.
Canadian Running: I’m sure the past few months have been a whirlwind. What has the ride been like for you mentally?
Sasha Gollish: My mental game has always been my weakest link, but it’s something that I’ve really been working on. I try to do race simulations during practice. This doesn’t mean I race workouts, but I go in and treat it like it means something. It’s really about being present in what you’re doing and bringing your focus to the moment you’re in.
Before races, I rely on the same warm-up and same food to keep my nerves tamed and just try and trust the process, trust my training. One of my friends pointed out to me that on the Harry Jerome start line, I was the only one flashing a big smile. It doesn’t mean I’m not taking the race seriously, but I think it’s just a reflection of the fact that I’m so grateful and so happy to be running and training again.
CR: At Harry Jerome, you finished in front of several notable Canadian pros, including Kate Van Buskirk and Sheila Reid. What was that like?
SG: [Laughs] To be honest, I don’t really remember. I just remember thinking to myself, ‘stick to your race plan.’ I think that if you focus on how good other people are, you discredit yourself. You just have to think, ‘hey, we’re all great athletes,’ and do what you can to get yourself in the mix.
I have this awesome picture of me with my arm around Carise [Thompson] at the end of the race and I think that was the takeaway that is the most important to me, the friends that I’ve made and opportunities that I’ve had thanks to running.
CR: The selection date for the Pan Am Games team is fast approaching. If you’re selected, will you run?
SG: It would be incredible to compete in my own backyard and I would love to represent my country in my own hometown surrounded by my friends. It’s an emotional ride for me when people assume I have it locked down though; there are incredibly talented women in the 1,500m who have time to run fast times. Nothing is locked down yet.
CR: You’ve frequently served as a pace bunny for Toronto area high school cross-country races, what is that experience like?
SG: I supported myself through school as an alpine ski coach, so I love being able to play a role in athletics for younger people again. I wear the bunny ears and tail and a shirt that says “fast and female.” When I did it last year, in the Grade 7 and 8 girls race, the lead girl went out so fast, I thought she was going to catch me! I think kids are a good reminder that we can still have fun and love running, or whatever sport it is that we do.
CR: You’re currently completing your Ph.D, how’s that going?
SG: I’m completing my Ph.D in engineering education. I have one year of eligibility left, but still three or four years of school to go. But, there’s running beyond just your varsity years. I took some time in between my masters and coming back, tried some other sports and stayed active. If I could give any advice to runners finishing up school, it would be that you don’t have to give up running while exploring the job market and other interests. There’s a wealth of opportunities out there and if you truly love running, you’ll always find your way back to it. Rachel Hannah is a fantastic example of someone who manages that balance. She works full-time as a dietician and I would say she trains full time, too. But she loves what she does and you can tell that when you talk to her.
CR: Do you have a running hero?
SG: I grew up in the era of Paula Radcliffe, so she’s a hero for me. But, what I’d really say are my inspiration are my teammates. I’ve watched them go through challenges and breakthroughs and always making it out the other side. They’re really my inspiration for rededicating myself to training hard.