Colleen is one of the top runners in the United States. She earned nine NCAA All-American honors while running for Florida State University – and won the NCAA Steeplechase in 2015. A year later, she represented the United States at the Olympics in Rio. But, unlike many, the dream of being an Olympian was one she never really had growing up. She explains how her parents helped instill a love of running in her as a teenager, and her career took off after that.
Colleen was on track to go to the Olympics again this year, but injuries derailed her hopes right before the trials. She talks about how injuries have taught her how much running truly means to her, and how mindset is an important tool in overcoming physical setbacks.
Mindset is a big theme of this discussion and Colleen shares how her meditation practice has made her a better runner. I know you’ll find Colleen to be an inspiration, and there’s a lot to take away from her story and her approach.
2:50 – Getting Into Running. Colleen explains how she didn’t run growing up, but started running as a freshman in high school to be in better shape for soccer. “I wanted to stay in shape for soccer, which was going to be in the spring. But then actually when soccer tryouts came around in the spring, I wussied out. I was too nervous to try out for the soccer team as a freshman and track was no cut.”
6:25 – Breaking Into the Sport Late. “I wasn’t winning nationals my senior year of high school or anything. I was only running 30 or 35 miles a week. There were definitely girls who were running 60, 65, 70 miles a week and running much faster than me in high school.”
9:39 – Overtraining in Running. Colleen and Will discuss how some runners “peak” earlier in life. “It’s almost like making sure that you don’t go too hard when you’re younger,” Colleen says. “You need to pull back a little bit. That’s in the coaching too. A coach’s biggest job, I believe, in high school is to hold back the kids more than it is to push them.”
13:48 – Parental Support. Colleen explains how her parents, both high quality runners who had Olympic aspirations, supported her on her path to becoming an Olympian. “I’m kind of surprised, looking back, that I didn’t feel more pressure as a kid to live out my parents’ goals. I never thought about it that way, and I never felt that pressure from them.”
15:57 – Going Pro. “Even when I went to Florida State, I never went there with the dreams of going to the Olympics.” Colleen says. “I was serious about my studies because I thought I was going to become a dietician when I graduated. Becoming a professional runner was not on my mind at all.” Colleen says a second-place finish as a sophomore in the NCAA Steeplechase led her to think about running as a professional career.
17:43 – Dealing with Setbacks. Colleen details her first major injury, which prevented her from competing for a national title in her junior year in college. She says it inspired her to pursue the Olympics and a professional running career. “All of a sudden it got ripped away. I think that was the first time where I thought, ‘I really care about this and I’m devastated that I can’t do it right now.’”
20:20 – Injuries. “Injuries are very tough. Pretty much the worst thing that can happen to an athlete is take away what you love to do most. But you can learn so much about yourself and what your body needs, but you can also learn so much about your mind and what your strengths are, and the power that you didn’t even know that you had until you were challenged to be able to use it.”
22:54 – Missing the Olympics. Colleen got injured shortly before the Olympic trials this year, taking her out of the running for the Tokyo Games. She says she tried everything she could to get on the track. “I think I probably knew a month before [the trials], but I wouldn’t even let myself [believe that]. I thought, ‘If I can get myself to the starting line, I can make the team. I don’t have to be at 100%.’”
25:33 – Meditation. Colleen says meditation is her secret weapon, and says her running performance has improved since she started meditating in 2017. “The whole principle of meditation is being exactly where you are and not thinking about the past and not thinking about the future. It’s so beneficial for running. When you’re in the middle of a workout or race, if you’re thinking about how you felt two laps ago or how you think you’re going to feel on the next lap based on how you feel right now, it’s useless. It’s wasted energy. You create stress for yourself about a scenario that doesn’t even exist.”
31:47 – Meditation Hack. Colleen says she’ll often meditate in her car if it’s difficult to find space for herself at home.
34:17 – Tracking Habits. Colleen explains how she uses her personal journal to track a variety of habits, such as meditation, reading before bed, yoga, rehabbing, writing down daily gratitude, and not drinking alcohol or eating sweets. “I love the journal feature in the WHOOP [app],” she adds. “It makes it easy to [track habits].”
36:18 – Getting on WHOOP. Colleen started using WHOOP at the recommendation of her friend, world champion mountain biker Kate Courtney. Check out Kate’s appearance on the WHOOP Podcast.
39:09 – Sleep Consistency. “The thing that’s been great for [sleep consistency] during COVID is having my dog with me. She wakes up at 6 am. … [My boyfriend and I say] ‘She’s going to be up at 6, we need to go to bed or else we’re not going to get enough sleep and end up in the yellow and the red.’ Waking up and going to bed at the same time every night really does help.”
44:37 – Body Image in Running. “You’re racing in a sports bra and almost like swimsuit bottoms. You’re on display on TV and in person and people can easily judge the way that you look and then make connections between how skinny you look and how well you perform. … It can be kind of toxic. I think it’s something that people have been talking about even more and more and more in the last couple of years, which is really helpful because younger girls who are coming up in the sport need to have that be an open conversation that they can be aware of and feel like they’re not the only ones who might struggle with that.”
46:14 – Weight, Nutrition & Running. “I don’t count calories. I don’t weigh myself regularly. I might weigh myself if I have a really good race, I might check in and weigh myself and see how I’m doing. I never try to achieve a number on the scale in order to tell me if I’m going to run fast or not. I’m more looking at workout times, how I’ve been running, and have been working out and using those as indicators for how well I’m going to race and how fit I am at that time. And that’s really what I recommend for younger athletes who ask me about it.”
48:25 – Influences. Colleen cites Alison Felix and Naomi Osaka as some of her greatest inspirations in the athletics space.
51:28 – What’s Next. She says she’s setting her sights on next year’s Track and Field World Championships and the next two Olympics, in Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028.
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