Sarah Cowley Ross @lockerroom
Having run away from New Zealand in search of a breakthrough, distance runner Camille Buscomb is out to prove herself at the world champs and, she hopes, the 2020 Olympics.
Kiwi distance runner Camille Buscomb spent years on the cusp of greater things.
Clearly a talented runner, Buscomb kept falling agonisingly short of breaking through into major track events around the world; events such as the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the 2015 world championships and the 2016 Olympics.
The Cambridge-born athlete knew she had to make a change. So she sought coaching and a training group offshore – a move which has led to her latest personal best performance in the 10,000m, and a place on the start-line at the world athletics championships in Doha in September.
The 28-year-old feels she’s now where she wants to be – running faster and faster towards major championships.
“Right now I just need to keep my head down and make small steps. I’m still learning so much and I feel my best years are ahead of me,” she says.
Buscomb now lives in the English city of Bath with her partner, Cameron French – a New Zealand record holder in the 400m hurdles.
They’re supporting themselves through their massage therapy work, and using race prizemoney and payment for pacing other racers to keep “living the dream”.
While she’s still running in the silver fern, Buscomb remains under the coaching of an Australian - Nic Bideau, at the Melbourne Track Club. Bideau helped guide Cathy Freeman to her famous 2000 Olympic gold medal in the 400m, and had 13 athletes at the Rio Olympics.
Buscomb’s latest success on the track came at the Payton Jordan Invitational meeting at Stanford University in California earlier this month, where she ran a personal best of 31m 33.04s.
She sits third on the New Zealand all-time list in the 10,000m - behind Kim Smith (30m 35.54s) and Nyla Carroll (31m 28.12s) - and she’s determined to one day break Smith’s record.
“One year I’ll have my best year, and if I run 30.30 that will be such a huge achievement for me,” she says.
While she was “so happy” with her time at Stanford, Buscomb admits she felt a tinge of disappointment after crossing the finish-line. She’d just missed out on the qualifying standard of 31m 25s for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Her frustration comes from the fact that there are limited opportunities to run 10,000m in such quality fields.
“I thought the race might have been a bit quicker,” Buscomb says. “Particularly the first 5km, where [world champion 3000m steeplechaser] Emma Coburn was our pacemaker. But unfortunately we just didn’t go with her.”
Buscomb, the 2015 World University Games silver medallist, has her own way of tackling the 10,000m. She divides her race - 25 laps of a 400m track - into blocks of three and recognises the importance of staying on the targeted splits without going out too hard, too early.
“I get very nervous at the start because I want to be in a really good position and I don’t want to run any further than I have to. My mindset is to stay as relaxed as possible for as long as possible,” she says.
At the Stanford University track, Buscomb was able to slot into a position at the front of the pack and settle into her rhythm, ticking off laps. Between laps 10 to 20, she was feeling well connected and in control.
With four laps to go, the pace increased and Buscomb says her legs started to feel heavy; sticking to the lead group became harder.
“The pace picked up and I tried to respond, but my legs just started to feel it. It’s just a matter of holding on and emptying it all to the finish,” she says.
What worked in her favour was having her two training partners, Dutch runner Susan Krumins and Australian Ellie Pashley, in the field. Buscomb says they were all out there working for each other to stay on the pace required to hit the standard. She crossed the finish-line just in third, behind Krumins and another Dutch runner, Sifan Hassan.
“It’s like having side-kicks in the race and you genuinely want each other to do well. It was really cool that we all qualified for the world championships in the same race,” she says.
Buscomb, Krumins and Pashley all compete for the Melbourne Track Club under Bideau, and the trio prepared for that race with a three-week training camp at Flagstaff, Arizona, at 2100m altitude.
It was the first time Buscomb had trained at that height above sea level, and for the first 12 days, she struggled to breathe on every run.
“Everyone kept telling me that after one week I’d get used running that high, but I just felt horrendous. It took me a while to not feel like I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs, particularly when we had a hill session,” she says.
“I just kept telling myself ‘this has got to be helping me run fast’, because if it’s so hard up the hills at this altitude, then it’s going to be so much easier on the flat at sea level.”
After joining Bideau’s large and successful stable in 2016, Buscomb went to the 2017 world championships in London, but struggled – finishing 16th in her heat in the 5000m and 30th in the 10,000m. At last year's Commonwealth Games, she also finished below expectations - 12th in the 5000m final, and 14th in the 10,000m.
Buscomb says she's learned a lot since then.
“I had to work so hard to qualify, so by the time world champs came round, I was tired. I’ve learned I can’t push and push all the time,” she says.
“I need to pace my training, so I don’t get to major races and have done too much. Having Cam reinforce this to me at home, too, has really helped me develop.”
The couple relocated to Bath, so French could train alongside coach James Hillier and other British hurdle specialists.
“We don’t know how long we’re going to be in Bath, but this is our time and we’ve got to make the most of it,” she says.
They’re proud of their Waikato roots, and quick to acknowledge the support they received from their long-term coaches, John Tilden and Criss Strange, before going overseas to further their athletic careers.
One day Buscomb hopes to step up to the marathon distance, but for now she’s firmly focused on her performance at the Doha world championships and then, she hopes, the Tokyo Olympics. She would also like to run the 5000m qualifying standard for Doha in her next race in Spain next month.
Before Doha she will again go high, to St Moritz in Switzerland – training with her friends, clocking up the kilometres and staying together in their very focused bubble. -news room