Julie-Anne Staehli has been having an incredible year. Despite lockdowns, travel restrictions and fewer opportunities for competition, the 27-year-old from Lucknow, Ont. has been steadily knocking down her personal bests, grinding her way toward Olympic qualification and beyond. Her 14:57.50 finish in the 5,000m last month in Portland, Ore. makes her the third-fastest woman in Canada at the distance currently, placing her 17th in the overall world rankings.
Staehli’s trajectory over the last two years has been a testament to the hard work and dedication required to be competitive at high-level sport. From her personal best in 2019 of 15:47, she returned to the 5,000m a year and a half later to shave 15 seconds off that time, running a 15:32.46 in Texas in Feb. 2021. She lowered her PB even further in Kansas city on May 1, running 15:24.66 for second place, putting her only 15 seconds away from the Olympic standard. From there, Staehli laboured her way not only to the Olympic qualification, but to her first sub-15 finish. Just eight days later, she smashed her PB by 22 seconds, crossing the finish line well under the Olympic standard of 15:10 in an incredible 15:02.34. The following week, she lowered that time again to 15:01.85, only to destroy that time again a week later, finally breaking the 15-minute barrier in 14:57.50.
In a very turbulent and unpredictable year, Staehli says she capitalized on the time she had to train consistently. “Without races, you’re not periodizing as much,” she explains. “so throughout summer 2020 I had nothing else to do but get in some good mileage and do a few time trials. It was an uninterrupted block of training for the majority of the time.”
While many of us struggled with motivation throughout the pandemic, Staehli found running to be the one constant in her life when everything else was uncertain. “The idea of just being able to get out for a run every day was something that I looked forward to, because I knew that I was fortunate enough to get outside and just get exercise,” she says. “I saw it from more of an overall health perspective rather than just performance.”
Looking at her progress over the month of May, it almost appears as if she planned it that way to keep us all in suspense, but Staehli says it just worked out that way. She didn’t weight any race more heavily than another, but simply went into each one with the goal of pushing herself and seeing what she could do. “Once you get the hang of 12-and-a-half laps, it becomes more routine, and each race I felt better,” she explains.
When asked what she thinks the key to her success has been, Staehli says it’s simply doing the right things, over and over again. She adds that mindset is important, too, and you have to believe in yourself and in your training in order to accomplish your goal, whatever it may be.
“When you put in the work and you see what you can do, it gives you that confidence,” she says. “Once I got into the races, I wasn’t scared. Instead of being anxious, I was just excited to have the chance to show what I could do.”
As the Olympics approach, Staehli has a few more races left in the season. Next up are the Canadian Olympic trials in Montreal from June 24-27, where she will be racing in the 1,500m, followed by the Montreal Classic on June 29, where she’ll be running in the 3,000m.