In celebration of International Women’s Day, we connected with Elle Purrier, the stellar track and field athlete who just last month broke the 37-year-old American indoor mile record, to discuss training, setting goals and women’s empowerment in sports.
When did you realize you loved running and how did you cultivate your passion for the sport?
I didn’t really start taking running seriously until the end of high school. I played basketball through high school, but the first time I decided to go out for the track team was when my basketball assistant coach, who was also the track coach, saw me at basketball tryouts. We were all running a one mile run, and when he saw me beating the other girls really easily, he encouraged me to join the track team. It wasn’t until the end of high school that I considered doing this in college. That’s when I fell in love with running. I was surrounded by so many other women who felt the same way about it and were good at it. It was a great community.
From growing up in a small town in Vermont to breaking the American indoor mile record, did you ever envision that you would be where you are today?
No not at all—I didn’t even know what professional running was until college, and it wasn’t something I envisioned for myself. My career has been a slow progression and this wasn’t anything I saw coming at all!
Were your parent's (or any relatives) runners or athletes, and how did they encourage you in your pursuit of athletics?
I’m the only runner in my family, oddly enough. My older sister played basketball in college. She was a great role model and inspired me to get involved in basketball. My parents always supported us in high school and in sports and anything else we wanted to do.
Outside of the obvious conditioning work you do to keep in shape, what do you feel is the most important part of your workout and race preparations?
Definitely making it a priority to work out in the gym lifting 1-2 days per week, and a focus on core work 3-4 times per week. Sleep and nutrition is a huge resource for me as well, and I think getting rest is most important. I studied nutrition in college and know the power of replenishing my body with the right things. A big part of my training is also recovering through sleep and relaxing.
Did your interest in sports lead you to study nutrition in college?
I think these two interests went hand in hand. I just enjoyed food, and I love to cook! I knew it was important for my health, so it's something I wanted to study.
What have you found helps you develop deeper endurance and speed?
I think just doing hard workouts for years and years. I think that each workout accumulates and each year I get stronger. Even the workouts from last winter and spring are propelling me forward every day.
We've seen what you can do at the end of a race to position yourself to finish strong, what do you believe gives you an edge on the competition?
Competitively, I just wanna win! It’s the drive to keep pushing and cross that finish line.
What struggles have you had to overcome to reach your goals?
Thankfully I’ve never had any traumatic injuries or anything to work through. More and more I am realizing the importance of mental health with racing. It’s hard to put yourself out there in competition and be on the athletic stage; and keeping a handle on the pressure of that is something I’ve had to work on. Building confidence in myself and my abilities is important to help as well.
What impact do you hope to have on women in the sport world?
I hope I can serve as a role model to younger girls who want to accomplish big things. Coming from a small community, I’ve impacted people here. People can relate to me and see that I’m just a normal person, but I have accomplished these big things. I hope to inspire young women to believe that they are capable of big things, too and that they can defy expectations, dig deep, and find strength they didn’t know they had.
Who are a few women in sports you look up to or are inspired by?
All of my teammates! They work so hard and we are always here supporting each other, pushing each other and cheering each other on. There’s so much mutual respect within the sport because we know what it takes to be here. I’ve definitely been inspired by Jenny Simpson’s running career as well. But truly I find inspiration in everyone I meet on this journey!
Breaking a 37-year-old American indoor mile record is such a huge accomplishment! What goals do you have your eyes on next and how do you keep pushing yourself?
I’m just taking this indoor record as a stepping stone. I feel like we weren’t really training to peak at all for this race. This particular race has been a confidence booster for me in moving forward and setting bigger goals. The biggest goal right now is making the U.S. Olympic team for 2020. I’m letting this victory fuel me as a confidence booster to keep believing in my fitness and training and what I’m capable of.
Do you have any advice for young athletes who are pursuing their dreams?
Something my college coach used to talk to me about a lot is just the power of believing in yourself and knowing that everyone is different. Things that might work for you may not work for others, so just focus on what helps you be your best and shut out all the other noise. It’s easy in running (and other sports) to compare yourself with the people around you who are excelling, but too much focusing on others can take away from your own success. We all have our own recipe. In college I was “low mileage” compared to the people I was competing against. I think that with distance running, mileage is a number people can get stuck on or focus too much on how others in the sport are working out—but it's better to just focus on yourself and do what works best for you.
What is your favorite song to run to?
Growing up, my dad always listened to 80s rock…so Van Halen and Loverboy are frequently in my playlist rotation!
You can follow Elle’s #sportfuelslife journey as she aims high for the 2020 Olympics by following her on Instagram.