Athlete Feature 47 - Pippa Woolven - USA Athletics Scholarships

Athlete Feature 47 – Pippa Woolven

Pippa Woolven

*Image – Michael Scott.

In our latest foray state side, we chatted to FSU Seminole and England Commonwealth chaser, Pippa Woolven. After leaving Birmingham mid-degree for Tallahassee the Wycombe athlete is looking ahead to bigger things.

tbUSA: Why did you opt for Florida State and why mid-way through your degree at Birmingham? What are you studying at FSU?

PW: FSU was the only American University I ever really considered – mainly because it was somewhere I knew and trusted and my coach at Birmingham, Bud Baldaro, had great things to say about it. I initially intended on going after I’d finished my degree in Birmingham but in 2013 I got injured (pelvis was out of line from years of playing hockey) and had to take quite a bit of time off. I knew I wasn’t going to get fit in time to achieve the sort of PBs they would have wanted in order to offer me a place as a graduate scholar the next summer, so I asked if they would take me that same year (2014) as a transfer student instead. They said yes, so I seized the opportunity because I couldn’t guarantee I’d ever get the chance again and it was something I had always wanted to do.

I’m studying Social Science because it was the area that my modules from my Birmingham were transferable in. This means I’ll hopefully be able to come away with a separate degree from FSU after just two years of being here (much to the relief of my Dad who was slightly horrified by me jetting off to America midway through my degree at home I think)… I still fully intend to return to Birmingham to finish up there in 2016 too so hopefully I’ll end up with two degrees – handy!

 tbUSA: How much of an influence did Hannah Walker moving with you, and the progress of Birmingham athletes Hannah England and Luke Gunn at FSU have in your decision?

PW: Hannah England and Luke Gunn played a huge part in my decision to come to FSU. They were incredibly helpful about sharing their knowledge and advice about the set-up so I had an idea of what to expect. It was also reassuring to be going with another Brit from Birmingham (Hannah Walker) and it definitely took the initial edge off the dive into the unknown.

tbUSA: (If applicable) Did you have any reservations from transferring from a renowned red-brick university in the UK to Florida State?

PW: I was initially quite apprehensive about the move as I absolutely loved life in Birmingham and would have been very happy there for another year. However, I knew it was the right progression for me from a running perspective and I think I would have been mad not to have seized the opportunity while it was there.

tbUSA: How much of an influence was Karen Harvey? Can you put your finger on what makes her so successful as a collegiate coach?

PW: Coach Harvey was the first American University coach to approach me about a potential scholarship and I was excited about her previous experience coaching one of my steeplechase idols, Barbara Parker. As an accomplished runner herself, she understands what it takes to make it to the top and I find her very motivational at times. She is able to use her experience with coaching athletes from previous years and apply what worked for them into our program which I think we all benefit from.

FSU TracktbUSA: You had excellent XC pedigree in the UK, but how did you find the transition from the mud of Parliament Hill to the flat, golf course at Notre Dame and Terre Haute?

PW: XC in the UK is certainly very different. Growing up in the Chiltern Hills meant most races at home involved a steady slog up several hills (mountains in the eyes of any American) and plenty of mud – a slight contrast to the manicured fairways and fast, flat courses round the States. I loved those things about British Cross Country and until the NCAAs in Terra Haute it felt like a different sport all together but I still find American XC equally challenging and enjoyable for different reasons.

tbUSA: You entered the 2013 XC season polled 2nd, so was it a bit of disappointment to then finish back in 8th? Was there any reason for that?

PW: Coming 8th at the NCAA’s in 2013 was a pretty poor result for the team and I was hugely disappointed by my own performance too. We were all in great physical shape going into the race but a few of us had never experienced an NCAAs before and I think that played a large part in our performance. I think experience counts for a lot at major championships and it was honestly like nothing else I have ever taken part in before; it made the Nationals at Parliament Hill seem like the school sports day in comparison! I think we all learned the hard way, that if you don’t get a fast start and secure a good position near the front of the pack it is almost impossible to move through the sea of people ahead. Many of us had a very similar experience but we all learned a massive amount so hopefully next year we can do a little better.

tbUSA: Do you see the XC on a team level rather than individual?

PW: The team aspect is one thing I love about American XC. I find it adds an extra level of motivation and I love striving to do my best for the other girls as well as for myself. It takes some of the pressure away from individual performance and it feels brilliant to be able to contribute towards such a successful team.

tbUSA: Indoors saw you PB over 3000m and 5000m, but was it primarily a segue between XC and Outdoors? What sort of emphasis does FSU put on the indoor season?

PW: I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into my first indoor season but after a few dreadful mile races, I really found myself getting it and my first ever 5k at the ACCs was one of my favorite races ever. I think FSU take indoor pretty seriously and the goal of winning our ACC conference is always a great thing to focus on and strive for.

tbUSA:  You turned your attentions to the chase outdoors, which you had previously picked up a GB vest at the World Juniors in 2012. You comfortably progressed to Nationals but just missed out on the final. How did that go?

PW: I adore the steeple and had a great time working with Coach Long and Colleen Quigley (my team mate/steeple idol!) at FSU throughout the season. I felt absolutely great at regionals and was confident that everyone had helped me get into great shape going into Oregon. I’ve always loved the pressure of big competitions and it usually brings out the best in me but this time around I just felt like a different athlete and struggled through the race from start to finish. I missed out on the final by 0.1 of a second and was completely gutted but definitely didn’t feel I deserved to be in it after my performance in the heats. I was under quite a lot of stress in the lead up to the race (mainly from some controversy surrounding my decision to compete in the Commonwealth Games) and I think I was pretty emotionally drained by the time I reached Oregon so perhaps that played a part in my poor performance. I learned a massive amount from it though and it was another great experience.

tbUSA:  Your season culminated in perhaps the most perfect way with selection for Glasgow 2014, finishing 8th with a big PB? Was this expected?Pippa Woolven

PW: The Commonwealth Games was the experience of a lifetime and truly was the perfect way to end a very long season. After taking some rest time after the NCAAs I wasn’t really sure what to expect from myself performance-wise. I tried to emphasize just enjoying myself rather than stressing over times/positions too much but training in the lead up to the race was going great so I guess I knew a fast time was in there somewhere. The amazing home crowd really helped me rise to the occasion and the whole experience was just so inspiring

tbUSA: That time would have put you 4th on the descending order list last year, so this year are the attentions firmly hooked on making that National final outdoors, or helping the team over the XC.

PW: Ah that’s nice to know. Yes absolutely. Without trying to sounds over-ambitious, I’d love to be running sub 9.40 next year and will definitely do my best to be chasing down a medal at the NCAA’s. Helping the team over XC is a definite priority right now and I can’t wait try and redeem myself at Terre Haute this year!


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