Caught a little off guard, Gabriela DeBues-Stafford needs a few seconds to find a word to describe a 2019 running season that featured eight Canadian records and 11 personal-best times.
Memorable? Inspiring? Impressive? Breathtaking?
"Satisfying," the Toronto native said before setting Canadian indoor marks in the 1,500 metres and women's mile on Saturday at the 113th Millrose Games in New York City.
"It was satisfying to start training in a new group, be totally out of my depth at first — not being in control to hang with the leaders of a race — and slowly be able to [handle] the pace, workouts and the training.
"It's neat to be able to go back to those stages and have increased fitness, learn more tactically and strategically about racing. To feel capable of handling the challenges and undergo the growth is satisfying."
The 24-year-old DeBues-Stafford crossed the finish line fourth in four minutes 19.73 seconds in Saturday's Wanamaker women's mile, lowering by more than five seconds her 4:24.80 Canadian record set on Jan. 26, 2019 at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston.
In the same race Saturday, DeBues-Stafford reached 1,500 metres in 4:00.80 to take down Nicole Sifuentes' 4:07.61 national time.
Pointing finger at Athletics Canada
On Sunday, DeBues-Stafford made more headlines when she joined a chorus of criticism aimed at Athletics Canada in the wake of a Globe and Mail report that detailed sexual abuse allegations against former University of Guelph coach David Scott-Thomas by former student-athlete Megan Brown.
"Your leadership KNEW about the abuse," DeBues-Stafford said of Athletics Canada in a Twitter post. "AC not only allowed Dave to continue coaching but put Dave in positions of power where Megan would be forced to interact w (sic) him.
"You have failed to protect women in athletics. AGAIN. You have lost our trust. … I demand that you be better. … You can start by showing an ounce of humanity. You can start with a proper apology."
A week before the Millrose Games, DeBues-Stafford raced an indoor 800 for the first time in five years, posting a 2020 Canadian-leading and indoor PB of 2:00.96 at the Scottish Masters Championships. The University of Toronto graduate fell just shy of Melissa Bishop-Nriagu's 2:00.19 Canadian mark, set Feb. 20, 2016 in Glasgow.
Flourishing in world-class program
"Fitness-wise, I'm feeling good," DeBues-Stafford said. "[I] just came off a good training block [running at altitude] in South Africa so I'm excited to see what the rest of the indoor season holds."
DeBues-Stafford, who will run the 1,500 at the Muller Indoor Grand Prix this Saturday in Glasgow, has thrived under the guidance of coach Andy Young since joining his world-class program in the summer of 2018 and training with British record-holder Laura Muir and Jemma Reekie, who clocked 4:17.88 at the Millrose Games to smash the British indoor mile record.
After moving to Glasgow last year with husband Rowan, DeBues-Stafford began rewriting the track record books in the 1,500, mile and 5,000, and has either set or broken her own Canadian record 10 times in her past 20 races.
DeBues-Stafford's 2019 Canadian records
- Jan. 4, Glasgow, 5,000 metres — 14:57.45
- Jan. 26, Boston, mile — 4:24.80
- July 20, London, 1,500 — 4:00.26
- Aug. 29, Zurich, 1,500 — 3:59.59
- Oct. 5, Doha, 1,500 — 3:56.12
- July 12, Monaco, mile — 4:17.87
- May 30, Stockholm, 5,000 — 14:51.59
- Sept. 6, Brussels, 5,000 — 14:44.12
Still, there is plenty of room for growth, with DeBues-Stafford focused on being a better race tactician leading up to the Tokyo Olympics in July.
"It's about racing a lot, executing a plan and afterwards reflecting, learning and applying the corrections to your mistakes for the next race," she said.
DeBues-Stafford described her third-place finish in the 1,500 at the 2019 Diamond League final in Zurich as a strongly executed tactical race.
I was racing so much in 2019 and ... I was able to apply the corrections to my mistakes quickly which was an invaluable experience. — Canadian runner Gabriela DeBues-Stafford
Running on the inside rail, she started well, kept up with several pace changes, remained focused and passed opponents in the final 300 metres to become the first Canadian woman to run under four minutes in the event.
'I'm more experienced racing at this level'
"The 1,500 is very tactical and you get jostled," said DeBues-Stafford, who failed to advance to the semifinals in her 2016 Olympic debut. "I didn't let myself get bumped or let anybody by me. Sometimes I can get intimidated by certain people if they're really aggressive but I was able to hold my space.
WATCH | DeBues-Stafford 1st Canadian woman to run 1,500m in under 4 minutes:
"And I beat [outdoor 1,500 world-record holder Genzebe] Dibaba [of Ethiopia] so that was a big confidence boost. Afterwards, I thought I could do something big at worlds."
Five weeks later, after DeBues and Young dissected video of all her 2019 races, she trimmed nearly four seconds off her Canadian record in the 1,500, clocking 3:56.12 to place sixth in the women's final at Doha, Qatar. Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands won in a championship record 3:51.95.
"There were a few mistakes but that was a perfect [women's 1,500] race," said DeBues-Stafford, who then returned to Toronto for two weeks to visit family and friends. "I was racing so much in 2019 and had so many opportunities to learn that I was able to apply the corrections to my mistakes quickly which was an invaluable experience. I'm more experienced racing at this [elite senior] level."
WATCH | DeBues-Stafford shaves nearly 4 seconds off her personal best: