TORONTO — Lucia Stafford says the key to her early-season track and field success is simple. She's happy. Life is good.
The 24-year-old from Toronto crushed the Canadian indoor record in the 1,000 metres last week and is aiming for another solid result at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on Saturday in Boston.
"I think (happiness) is really important . . . I'm happy in my running life and happy outside of my running life. I'm someone who definitely needs balance in other areas in my life that offer fulfilment," Stafford said.
"I'm in a music program right now and I make sure I prioritize going for walks or seeing friends and doing all that stuff that makes me happy, so that when I go to the track, I’m focused and fulfilled, instead of kind of like always thinking about track, like that's been a big thing for me," she added.
Stafford enrolled in a singer/songwriter program at Seneca College this past fall, and in an Instgram post, she plays guitar and sings a song she wrote called "Lonely."
On the track, she's picking up where she left off last season. She ran two minutes 33.75 seconds to win the Boston University Terrier Classic last weekend. Her time was a four-second Canadian record and the ninth fastest in history.
Regina Jacobs, who was later suspended for doping, is the only North American to have ever run faster.
Stafford's older sister, Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, holds seven Canadian track records, indoor and outdoor, ranging from the 1,500 to the 5,000 metres.
She was fifth in the 1,500 at the Tokyo Olympics and fourth in the 3,000 at the 2022 world track and field championships.
Stafford had followed DeBues-Stafford to Portland to join the star-studded Bowerman Track Club in Portland in the fall of 2022. But DeBues-Stafford left the club last March and moved to Victoria, citing stress around the doping ban of her Portland training partner Shelby Houlihan and Houlihan's continued presence around the team.
Stafford left as well, moving back to Toronto to work with Terry Radchenko, head coach at the University of Guelph. Radchenko had been Stafford's coach since she was 12, including while the two were at the University of Toronto.
"He really knows what makes me fit and what makes me excited at practice, and I think doing training that makes you excited, that is a positive feedback loop because you work harder," Stafford said. "You're more excited about the workouts and then you show up with more adrenalin and you just work harder, and it ends up leading towards faster results."
She doesn't regret the few months spent in Portland.
"It was appealing in that it was such a prestigious group and had so much talent there, but also, I lived in Toronto my whole life and I've never really made a big risky decision like that," she said. "I'm glad I did it, I learned a lot from it. And now I think I'm more inclined to take risks like that.
"It's important to sometimes make a mistake. That way later on, I can be like, you know what? I tried, and I learned, and now I know that what I'm doing is right for me. I love the training I do with my current coach. So it was like gathering information and figuring out what's going to be the best situation."
Stafford has a couple of goals in mind for her mile race on Saturday. It's bound to be a cagey, tactical race, meaning the times could be slower. So, she'd love to run a great tactical race.
She'd like to dip under her personal best time of 4:24 — and recent results show that's a possibility. She'd like to run under the world championship standard of 4:22 (World Athletics is allowing athletes to use mile times to qualify for the 1,500 metres at the worlds this summer in Budapest).
"That would be really nice if I got that out of the way early," Stafford said. "And then obviously the ultimate goal is getting a Canadian record, which my sister currently holds (4:19.73), so that would be really hard. But you've got to dream big and if that happens, that's great. But yeah, I've got some layers of goals in there to make sure I leave happy."
Outdoors, Stafford hopes to break both the four-minute mark for the 1,500 and the two-minute barrier for the 800. Her 27-year-old sister is the first and only Canadian woman to ever break two minutes in the 800, four minutes in the 1,500 and 15 minutes in the 5,000.
"And then yeah, looking at the world championships (in August), I would really love to be in that final. If things keep going this way, I think it's more than possible," Stafford said.
Stafford was 13th in the 1,500 semifinals of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, missing the last spot for the final by just four-tenths of a second.
She has also found success on the road this season. Her 15:20 clocking in Hamilton in November was the second-fastest 5K by a Canadian after the late Emilie Mondor (2004).
DeBues-Stafford, meanwhile, hasn't raced yet this season as she continues her careful recovery from the injury — a stress reaction in her sacrum — that forced her to shut down last season in June, knocking her out of the world championships in Eugene, Ore.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press