U.S. sprinter Gabby Thomas is no stranger to juggling a busy schedule: Monday through Friday, the Harvard grad, known for her NCAA 200m record, goes to the track to train for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic trials this June. (Though she had been an Olympic hopeful last year, the Games were postponed before trials could take place.) Some days are speed, some are endurance. She typically trains for two hours each day, and twice a week she adds in lifting on top of her usual workout. Thomas has been getting indoor meets in, too — and hitting personal-best times. And when she's not running? The 24-year-old is getting her master's in public health from the University of Texas to pursue epidemiology after her track career.
Her trick to balancing her day-to-day is all about focus and self-care. "It really helps to make sure that you're able to compartmentalize your life well and take care of yourself," Gabby tells Bustle. "When I take time for myself, it allows me, when I'm ready to go back to work, to really appreciate what I'm doing and to be focused and actually be attentive and enjoy what I'm doing, just because I had that time to myself."
And when she feels overwhelmed, she turns to her mom. "She recently told me, 'Make time for yourself, and say no to things that you can't put on your plate,'" she says. "And I really value that advice. I was scared to say no to certain things, because I'm like, 'No, I need to do everything.' But it was really valuable advice."
On Feb. 21, Thomas will compete at the American Track League Indoor Series finale, presented by online glasses retainer Zenni and media company World's Greatest and airing live on ESPN and ESPN2. Below, she shares how her training group motivates her, her trick to staying mentally tough, and how she gets in the zone.
What has it been like training for the Olympics in a pandemic... again.
We have to stay on our toes [and be] ready for anything to happen. We don't have that same stability, that same consistency that we had last year. We've gotten to a point now where we're able to normalize training a little bit, but for a while, we were jumping around. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were struggling to find a track. We had to be ready for unexpected changes at any time, whether that be a change in location, change in ability to meet, or change in training — because there might be a COVID outbreak.
Also mentally, it's a little bit more tough just because we don't know what's going to happen in terms of meets or the Olympics, so that mental toughness, that mental focus is really key now.
And how do you find that focus when there's so much uncertainty right now?
You just have to tap into your motivation and your discipline. It's uncertain for everyone across any industry. Everyone's dealing with similar struggles. So for us, it's about staying motivated. We have the support of each other. I have an amazing training group of Black women. The track community has been very supportive in helping us go to these American Track League meets. Having the support of people around us is really helpful.
Tell me more about your training group — was there a particular time someone really inspired you?
There was a very discouraging workout one time. It was long endurance — which I wasn't used to since my training had been very much speed-oriented. And I was struggling and I was down. I just remember my training partner, Ashley Spencer, coming over and saying, "You got this. You are that girl. You are going to dominate this workout." And she pulled me up and then we finished. And it was tough, I barely made it, but just knowing that I can rely on my training group to get me through it and push me when I need to be pushed [inspired me].
You have a meet coming up on Sunday. How will you get pumped up?
I'm a big Kanye West fan, so I will blast him as I go into a track meet. I do some meditation, which isn't super pump-up, but it gets me ready to compete and go into a meet laser focused. They're both very different ends of the spectrum but are equally necessary.
Zenni is outfitting athletes in the Indoor Series with sunglasses and blue light glasses this weekend. Since so many of us are increasing our screen time these days, how do you take care of your digital wellness?
Blue light glasses are a must for anyone who has never tried them. Also, sometimes I'll try projecting with my screen to my TV instead. And sometimes you just need to close the laptop, take a few minutes, live in the moment, live in your real life, and then get back to work.
Speaking of taking time for yourself, what are your go-to methods of self-care?
Every day I just close my laptop, unplug my phone, and just take some time to myself. Whether that's meditating, doing my skin care routine, or just watching Netflix, that's my me time.
Are you watching anything good right now?
I typically rewatch Friends over and over again. It's my favorite go-to, but I watch a bunch of Grey's Anatomy, The Good Doctor, The Bachelor — I'm hooked this season.
What have you learned about self-care in the last year?
Training your mind to be relaxed. And also taking that mental relaxation and letting it permeate through your body as well, because your body knows when you're stressed. Especially as an athlete, it's very important to not carry that stress in your body. So, massaging yourself, rolling out, that kind of stuff is super important too because it's all related.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.