Photo credit: Michael Dawson
Middle-distance runner Katherine Camp is currently basking in the glow of the best form of her life. Steve Landells chats to the Christchurch-based athlete about her recent resurgence and her hopes for the forthcoming 2019 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships.
Feeling down in the dumps after suffering a second stress fracture in four months, it is fair to say Katherine Camp does not look back fondly on the second half of 2017.
Yet out of the ashes of adversity, the 27-year-old has picked herself up. She has put in place some new strategies to help avoid injury. She has adopted a more endurance-rich training programme and is reaping the rewards.
In January she chipped 0.07 from her two-and-a-half-year-old 800m PB with a 2:02.63 clocking in Wellington and followed it up with uplifting two-lap victories in Canberra and Auckland.
Meanwhile, to add further gloss to her recent record, Katherine has also shown a new-found versatility by claiming the scalps of New Zealand internationals Camille Buscomb and Angie Petty en route to setting a 1500m PB of 4:15.14 at Porritt Classic.
“I’ve put in place a lot of changes in terms of my recovery and I really think it has been those little things which have made the difference,” explains Katherine, who can now look forward confidently to the future.
Born and raised on a dairy farm in the Waikato, Katherine began her athletics journey as a sprinter securing the 2009 New Zealand Secondary Schools 400m title before later winning an athletics scholarship to the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.
Initially featuring as a 400m hurdler in the US, it was during her stint in the Midwest where she stepped up in distance to the 800m and quickly adapted to her new-found event.
Later living in Wales for a period she made a significant breakthrough in 2016 – setting an 800m PB in Dublin of 2:02.70 before enjoying an eye-catching 2017 domestic campaign which included a victory at the Capital Classic over 2016 Rio Olympian Angie Petty.
Two months later the positions were reversed at the New Zealand Championships in Hamilton but Katherine, who also picked up bronze in the 1500m, was more than satisfied.
“I was really happy with that season,” she recalls. “It was very encouraging.”
During the heart of that season, Katherine also made the permanent move back to New Zealand from the UK and it was recommended she link up with Maria Hassan – Athletics NZ’s Distance Programme Coach.
Moving down to Christchurch to connect with her coach felt like the right decision from the outset.
“Maria has been great and she was the one who first helped me find a job,” explains Katherine, who works part-time as a massage therapist.
“We work well together she fully understands the developmental side and that athletics is a long process. She knows I need more of an endurance base and she also understands that every athlete is an individual and puts together a programme to suit each athlete.”
However, it was during the European summer of 2017 when the 1.75m tall University of Canterbury AC athlete started to encounter problems.
After finishing in intense pain following a disappointing sixth place in 2:06.47 in Sollentuna, Sweden an MRI scan revealed she had a stress fracture in the right foot.
She abandoned attempts to complete the European campaign and returned home to only then suffer a stress fracture to the left foot in November of that year.
“I was gutted because I was going well in training and hoping to qualify for the Commonwealth Games,” she explains. “It was really frustrating and mentally hard.
“I took six to eight weeks complete rest and focused on coaching (she coaches a training group at Rangi Ruru Girls Schools) and my work. I had a lot of support from Maria. We went through the goals of what we wanted to achieve and we both still believed I could qualify for Commonwealth Games and Olympics. That was very motivating.”
To help avoid any future injury mishaps, Katherine also overhauled her approach to what she terms the “little things.” She became far more vigilant and disciplined around stretching. She now undergoes more regular massage therapy and has loosened her attitude to her nutritional intake.
“In the past I got too caught up about eating everything right, but now I don’t get as stressed,” she explains. “I try to adopt a more balance nutritional programme. I have a real sweet tooth, so I don’t feel too guilty if I eat some Whittaker’s dark almond chocolate!”
Out of shape following the stress fractures and consequently well below her best during a the 2018 domestic season, Katherine, under Maria’s guidance, adopted a fresh approach to training last winter, which included a greater emphasis on endurance.
Running up to 90 minutes during long runs last winter she also tried her hand competitively at cross country and enjoyed some success on the road – posting a handy 10km personal best of 35:14 in Christchurch and placing a solid sixth at the National Road Running Champs over the same distance in Hamilton.
“I honestly think building my endurance has been the biggest factor in my improvement and why I have performed so well this season,” she explains. “This has transitioned into improved strength and speed.”
The first evidence of Katherine’s improved form came in Wellington following her PB in January.
The performance came as a surprise to Katherine but following further success in Canberra - when she defeated Australia’s Commonwealth Games athletes; Keely Small and Georgia Griffith - and victory over the metric mile in Hamilton has further elevated her status.
“It was definitely a huge confidence booster for me,” explains Katherine of victory at the Porritt Classic. “I learned a lot about myself in terms of how to race. Everything is starting to click not just in terms of my athletics but I also feel a lot more settled in my work and living down in Christchurch.”
Which brings us to the forthcoming Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships to be staged from March 8-10 at the brand new facility at Nga Puna Wai.
Competing on her adopted new track and with family and friends watching is going to be “exciting” but what does she hope to achieve in her specialist event?
“I’m hoping this year will be my year,” explains the 2015 senior 800m bronze medallist and 2017 800m silver medallist. “Angie (Petty) is a tough competitor but I’m hoping it will be a good race either way.”
Also likely to compete in the 1500m – although the 800m remains her priority – the 2019 nationals could provide some rich pickings but she also has her gaze fixed on achieving the qualification mark of 2:00.60 for the 2019 World Championships in Doha.
“I’m pretty confident I can do it,” she says. “I’m running very consistently so on the back of this you tend to drop your PB suddenly. I’m just waiting for that drop.”
Longer term goals are the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham but whatever happens Katherine will sure to appreciate every moment.
“I’ve had a varied career has a sprinter and as a 400m hurdler before later developing as a 800m runner,” she says. “To be finally putting it together is a great feeling.”