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St. John's-raised runner Julia Howley knows her chance to book a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics is more of a dream than reality, but that isn't deterring her as she prepares to race the top steeplechase runners in Canada.
Howley, 24, now based in Vancouver, could not have imagined getting the opportunity four months ago.
"Whatever happens happens, but it's definitely encouraging to get the invite and have the opportunity to race," she said.
Howley left St. John's after high school and took her running talents to Burnaby, B.C., and a spot on Simon Fraser University's cross-country team.
Despite its B.C. setting, the university competes in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) against schools in the United States. She enjoyed multiple podium finishes, earned All American honours and was named SFU's female athlete of the year in 2018.
However, she didn't run a single race in 2020.
"I only got the invitation to run two weeks ago," she said over the phone from Vancouver.
"If I could run a personal best and run a race that I'm proud of, I'll walk away from this really happy and armed with experience building into the next few years."
Friday night's race in Montreal is scheduled for about 9:30 p.m. NT.
'It's hard, I'm not going to lie'
Howley graduated in 2019 and is currently working before heading in the fall to the University of Victoria to do a graduate degree in public policy, focusing on environmental policies.
It's a tough balance training to race against the fastest steeplechase runners in the country and working full time.
"It's hard, I'm not going to lie," Howley said.
"Transitioning from a college athlete to a full-time working person, who's just pursuing it for the love of the sport, has a lot of growing pains. I'm still trying to figure it out."
The 3,000-metre steeplechase race is 7.5 laps around a 400-metre track but with four permanent hurdles — one of which lands into water, creating an extra element to the race.
Howley only started competing in the event during her last year of university. In fact, she's competed in one steeplechase race since graduating from SFU, at an event earler this month in Vancouver where she ran a personal best of 9:47:24.
"I grew up doing a lot of different sports, so I'm pretty athletic," she said. "Some runners are just good at running and not that athletic, but I think that's kind of my advantage."
Howley will use this opportunity for the experience as she continues to pursue her running dreams with her sights set on representing Canada at the World Championships, or trying to get another chance to run for a Olympic team spot.