Kim Conley is going to the Olympic Trials in the 5,000 meters and she knew she was going to the Olympic Trials in the 5,000 meters a month ago and of course that was kind of a problem. She has been waiting for her June 25 race. The former Montgomery star has many gifts, but patience is not one of them.
"I'm probably my worst at a line in a grocery store," Conley said via phone from Eugene, Ore. "I will jump from line to line to find the quickest line. By the time I am through jumping around, I probably spent more time in line than if I had just picked a spot and waited."
Successful athletes, by nature, are aggressive, drawn to challenges, finding ways to improve; in Conley's case, run faster. Runners, especially distance runners, will look for any edge possible, short of a cross country runner cutting through a forest when no one is looking. It's trial and error, experimental strategy after experimental strategy, and Conley — as good as any at reviewing the options — has found one that works for her.
"I stop drinking coffee or having a caffeinated drink a week before a race," said Conley, 26. "On the day of the race, an hour before I am supposed to run, I have some coffee. It gives me a great boost."
Of course Conley even getting to the point of caffeine distribution as a way to help her make the 2012 USA Track and Field team is a bit mind blowing in itself. It was just four years ago that Conley was sitting on her couch watching the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. She had thought about the Olympics before but it was more like a passing fancy. Oh, wouldn't that be nice, that kind of thing.
It wasn't as if Conley didn't have the skills. Her 16:17.51 in the 5,000 at the 2008 NCAA Track and Field West Regional still stands as a UC Davis record. Her 4:22.17 in the 1,500 ranks second all-time at Davis.
It wasn't as if Conley didn't have the zest. She started running in sixth grade because she told her mom she was bored just standing around during a softball game.
"Nothing I love more than running hard for an extended period of time," Conley tweeted on May 14.
But to think about competing in the Olympics?
"But when I was watching the Olympics (and the 5,000) that year," Conley said, "there were a lot of women in the field I had raced against. I thought to myself, &‘I can do this.'"
That's when her journey began and, as is her custom, Conley caught a glimpse of her future.
"I saw then I could be where I am now," said the 5-foot-3 Conley, who graduated a couple of years ago with a degree in exercise biology from Davis. "I saw myself physically able to do the things I am able to do now. I just had to take my time and develop."
That's where her coach at Davis, Drew Wartenburg, became her most valuable asset. Besides structuring her workouts, Wartenburg became a preacher of sorts, preaching the gospel of patience to Conley. He took her to a UC Davis sports psychologist who told her there are times when "smarter is better than harder."