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Eva’s winding path to cross country glory
Eva Goodisson was for many a surprise winner of the senior women’s race at the recent NZ Cross Country Challenge in Dunedin. Steve Landells chats to the 21-year-old athlete to find out more about her sporting journey.
A global pandemic and a series of injury niggles might not appear the perfect elixir for success, but Eva Goodisson shrugged off those inconveniences to produce the running performance of her life to triumph in the senior women’s race at the NZ Cross Country Challenge in Dunedin.
For many New Zealand athletics aficionados, Goodisson will not have been front of mind as a potential winner. However, earlier this year she hinted at her form with some impressive performances on the US collegiate circuit before the pandemic forced her to head home in March, from which point she has further hinted at her significant progression.
Born in Christchurch but raised in Havelock North in the Hawke’s Bay, Eva’s first sporting passion was swimming.
Highly self-motivated but lacking the results in swimming she felt her hard work justified, at the age of 15 she turned her focus to athletics. The Woodford House student had impressed in school cross country races and it was her school athletics coach, Isobel Taylor, who suggested she target the 3000m at the 2013 New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships.
Switching her focus to running, Eva trained diligently and was rewarded by striking gold in the 3000m junior girls’ final in Hamilton.
“I had no expectations leading into the race but to win it was like, ‘wow, maybe running is an easier option’ because I’d worked so hard at swimming but never won a national medal,” Goodisson explains.
However, her slightly complacent attitude to athletics was to come back and haunt her 12 months later. Opting to ‘not train quite as hard’ she placed seventh in the senior girls’ 3000m final at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Whanganui – in a time 13 seconds slower than she had achieved the previous year.
A strong swimmer and runner, family and friends then encouraged her to try her hand at triathlon. The sport quickly became her primary focus and while not quite able to make the national elite team, Goodisson did compete in the age-group division at the World Triathlon Championships and won gold in the U19 category at the World Aquathon (swimming and running) Championships in Chicago.
Nonetheless, her interest in athletics remained and, using the sport to aid her triathlon development in 2015, she notably claimed 2000m steeplechase gold at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships.
However, the brake was applied on her sporting ambitions the following year after she picked up a stress fracture of the foot which sidelined her for eight months.
In 2017 she moved north to study at the University of Waikato in Hamilton and trained with a triathlon group in Cambridge but later that year her sporting journey was to lurch in a different direction.
“I’d always been interested in getting a US scholarship but I was initially a little scared (to go down the route) because I’d had the injury and I didn’t think my body could handle the running training,” she explains.
“I was initially offered an academic scholarship at the University of California, Davis. It is a good university but, because I knew I had unfinished business on the track, I emailed the coach to ask for an athletics scholarship and he agreed. It was pretty weird how it came about.”
Moving to the US in August 2017, she struggled for a period to adapt. An inflexible coach refused to accept Goodisson could use cycling and swimming as a training aid and her body broke down when running 100km a week.
Twelve months later everything changed following the arrival to the University of California, Davis of an understanding young British coach, Emma Petersen.
“Coach Emma has been absolutely amazing,” explains Goodisson.
“She can relate to other young, female runners in the way a good coach should. She understands the female body and mindset and is very empathetic. One of her key qualities is she also believes in cross training as another form of running fitness. I’ve retained a relationship with my triathlon coach back in New Zealand and maintained cycling and swim work outs, which I’m very grateful for.”
Injury-free, in late 2018 – she had red-shirted her first cross country season – she finished seventh in the 6km Big West Cross Country Championships and was awarded the Big West Freshman of the Year award for finishing as the leading freshman.
In the summer campaign of 2019 she showed more encouraging signs, running a 1500m personal best of 4:28.51 in Santa Barbara.
Earlier this year during the US collegiate indoor season, Goodisson maintained her promising progression. Focusing more on 3000m and 5000m – with the aim a serious crack over the 12-and-a-half distance during the outdoor campaign – she ran 9:26.57 for the 3km and a slick 16:39.05 for the 5000m – a performance which sits fourth on the 2020 New Zealand rankings.
However, her best laid plans were upset following the global pandemic and, following the cancellation of the outdoor season on the US collegiate circuit, she headed back to New Zealand.
After spending a couple of months with the family combining online studying and training, in June she decided to expand her training horizons and headed north to live in Hamilton. For the most part she trained with a triathlon group but also managed to spend some time training with New Zealand distance running star Camille Buscomb, the 2019 World Championship 5000m and 10,000m 12th-place finisher.
“I linked up with Camille and was able to go with her on a couple of runs,” she explains. “It was cool to be able to go running with her.”
Combining four swim sessions and two-to-three bike sessions with four runs a week, the recipe appeared to be working well as she produced a slick 35:20 time in the Athletics NZ Virtual 10km Championships.
“My 10km performance in June as part of the virtual relay team in Hamilton was one of the better performances I’d ever done,” she says.
However, for much of July and August, the 5ft 10in tall athlete was forced to battle injury as knee and foot injuries resurfaced.
During this period, Eva won the Hawkes Bay/Gisborne Cross Country Championships and placed second in the Waikato/BoP Championships and, given a five-week training programme from her US-based athletics to target what was originally the New Zealand Cross Country Championships, she approached the event at Chisholm Links in Dunedin with little expectation.
“To be honest, I didn’t target the win,” she explains. “I was out there for a good race experience. I’d only previously run two races over the 10km distance, I’d found them really hard, so I didn’t want to put any specific pressure on myself.”
Keen to adopt a conservative approach for the first couple of laps, she was locked in a lead group containing both Otago’s Rebekah Greene and Manawatu’s Kara Macdermid at the 4km mark. With Macdermid the first to crack, the race for gold appeared then to be a battle between herself and Greene, the 2019 New Zealand Cross Country bronze medallist.
“It definitely became a tactical race,” Goodisson admits. “We were both starting to fatigue, we shared the work for a while until I reached a point when it was psychologically easier for me to take the lead.”
However, after around 7km Greene opened up a gap on Goodisson and for a period the athlete from Hastings AC accepted she was likely to place second. However, leading into the final 2km she decided to “switch off” and this had a positive effect.
“When I switch off, it allows me to not overthink and once I started to relax I could see I was catching up with her,” she explains. “I managed to pass Rebekah and then focused on digging deep for that final 1500m push.”
Crossing the finish line 40 seconds clear of Greene in gold was a huge breakthrough moment for the 21-year-old.
It certainly validated her long-time commitment to sport.
“It made all the hard work and the sacrifices I’d made by relocating halfway around the world worth it,” she says. “What also made it very special was having a lot of my family there to watch. It was cool to prove to them that all my hard work was paying off.”
Making accurate predictions for the future in a global pandemic is a tricky business but Eva plans to target the domestic triathlon season, which begins in November, as well the summer track season, where the 5000m is the priority.
In the New Year she tentatively plans to return to the US to complete her degree but everything at this stage is open – just like her future sporting plans.
“I’ve always had triathlon as the goal and my aim has been to one day train with the New Zealand High Performance squad and perform as an elite triathlete,” she explains.
“But I’ve always left the door open for running and track. Previously, I didn’t think it was feasible for me with the injuries I’d suffered to be able to compete to a high level. But I’ve proved to myself with the right training and the right coach that I can make it work.”