Event: Women’s 4×400 m Relay
Local Club: Ottawa Lions
By Kieran Heffernan
Alicia Brown has always had to balance her training with the rest of her life.
The former Ottawa Lions runner had always been an athlete while at the same time holding a full-time job, but the past year and a half has added injuries, mental health struggles, and scheduling complications into the mix. Not to mention the fact she was planning on retiring after the 2020 Olympics.
A middle-distance runner, Brown will be competing at the Tokyo Games in the 4x400m relay. She’s focused on keeping her mind set on what she initially set out to do at the Games, even if it took an extra year of waiting to get there.
“At the end of the day, I still have a goal,” Brown said. “Whenever I stand on the start line or whenever I’m competing and training, I think about all those around me that have supported me, as well as those that can’t do the things that I do for various different reasons.”
For her, possibly missing the Games because of their postponement wasn’t really an option.
“I wouldn’t have felt quite right if I had chosen to retire … and the goal for the last five years now was to fight for a second Olympics, and so I knew that I needed to give myself the opportunity to at least try,” Brown said.
Brown competed in the 400m and the 4x400m events at the Rio Olympics, placing 4th place with the relay team.
She said the biggest challenge she has faced since March 2020 was the lack of training facilities.
Since 2008, she had been training out of the University of Toronto, but those facilities haven’t opened since the start of the pandemic. It wasn’t until late last fall that she was able to start training at York University’s Toronto Track and Field Centre, where she needed a high performance sport exemption from the City of Toronto. However, she still doesn’t have the structure that she’s used to with her training schedule.
“What allowed me to balance working and training in the past was that I knew exactly what time I was training and where I was training, and I was able to schedule the rest of my life around training,” she said. Now, things are much more unpredictable.
“Every week, (my) coach would submit training times to the Toronto Track and Field Centre, so he would ask for let’s say Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 9am. But all the other athletes that were permitted to use the facility would do the same thing. And so, the Toronto Track and Field Centre would take a look at all the schedules and they would essentially assign training times to different training groups. And that changed on a weekly basis.”
She’s grateful for the flexibility that’s been offered to her at her job doing communications and marketing for U of T’s Hart House fitness centre. She sometimes works extra early or late in order to make time for training during the day.
Injuries are something else Brown has been struggling with since the indoor season, in particular with her tendons.
“My Achilles tendinitis flared up really really bad, and Achilles injuries are really painful. They can be very very finicky to heal, and I genuinely was not sure if I would be able to finish the season,” she said. A number of other athletes on the national team are experiencing similar injuries, Brown said, and their physical therapists were starting to notice.
“We think part of the reason of (the increase in tendon injuries) is because athletes didn’t have access to weight training facilities, and they weren’t carrying the same load on a daily basis,” she said.
In addition to her physical health, Brown also began to struggle more with her mental health while training during the pandemic.
“I’ve had probably smaller bouts but very manageable bouts. But what I experienced over the last year and a half was to a point where I recognized that I needed more support,” she said.
“There were plenty of days where I really struggled. I struggled to put my shoes on, to go outside and train.” On those days, sometimes she would instead practice yoga or meditation, a habit she picked up during the pandemic. Learning to listen to and respect her body was an important lesson these past few months.
“Athlete culture is very much go, go, go, and push, push, push, and grind, and that’s not always healthy, and so this year I learned to take a step back when I needed to.”
After the Olympics, Brown also plans to put that lesson to use.
“What I would like to do differently this year, as opposed to what I did following the Rio Olympics, is just carve out a little bit more time and space for myself,” the 31-year-old said. “My priority post-Olympics is just to take some time away from work, and just recover.”
She hopes she’ll have an opportunity to give back to sport in the future, but isn’t sure in what capacity. One possibility could be as a personal trainer, which she’s been certified to do for the past eight years and would allow her to remain closely involved in athletics.