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Colleen Quigley Talks New Coach, New Sponsor, and Resisting the Fear of Change

The 2016 Olympic steeplechaser left the Bowerman Track Club and Nike sponsorship to forge a new career path.

When Colleen Quigley announced in February that she had decided to leave the Bowerman Track Club—and had also split with her sponsor, Nike—it took many of her fans by surprise. She had been a member of the BTC for five years, the entirety of her pro career, one of the most successful distance training groups in the world.

But Quigley, a 2016 Olympian in the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a PR of 9:10.27, wasn’t able to come to a new contract agreement with Nike that she felt reflected her value. (“That was the final nail in the coffin for me, when Nike gave me, quite frankly, a humiliating offer at the end of 2020.”) She also wanted more flexibility to pursue other interests outside of training like activism and entrepreneurship, as well as the option to relocate to Los Angeles to live with her long-time partner, Kevin Conroy, which wasn’t allowed if she wanted to continue training with the Bowerman group, she said.

“I felt like I was trying to make it work for me, for my personal life, and the team is just a one-size-fits-all setup,” Quigley said. “I felt like I was living a life that was ‘between’—after college, but before my real life began. I don’t want to live for later. I just want to be living the life I want right now.”

Quigley, 28, announced in her newsletter on Wednesday that she’s signed a new contract with Lululemon, becoming the first U.S. Olympic distance runner to represent the women’s athletic apparel brand. She does not have a shoe sponsor at this time, she said.

On Monday, Quigley spoke with Women’s Running by phone about what attracted her to Lululemon, why she decided to make so many changes in an Olympic year, and how training solo under a new coach is going in the lead-up to the Olympic Trials in June.

Why Lululemon?

Quigley said she worked with agent Wes Felix to find a new sponsorship after she decided not to sign the Nike contract. She had almost signed with another (unnamed) female-centric brand when Lululemon contacted her after she raced in February at the Prickly Pear meet in Phoenix, where she placed third in the 3,000 meters in 8:40.23.

She almost didn’t take the meeting, she said, but decided to talk with them the following Monday.

“They were so professional, there was a lot of diversity, a lot of women, and everything they spoke to was just so me,” Quigley said. “They’re all about diversity and inclusivity and making everyone feel like they can be a part of it…it’s so different from the messaging of medals, records, and win-at-all-costs.”

Related: The COVID Crisis: Pro Athletes Recalculate Their Careers

Quigley was also looking to have a say in product development and finding a partnership that would support other projects she’s interested in starting, like girls running camps, for example. And while her previous contract included reductions in payment if she was unable to compete (even during a pandemic), her new deal with Lululemon guarantees her base pay and additional bonuses for other performances like setting national records, making the Olympic teams, and winning medals.

“If I get injured or get pregnant or have an off year or have a mental health issue and I can’t run for a while—all things that happen to people—I don’t have to worry,” Quigley said.

The financial backing with the ability to relocate was the combination she was looking for.

“I had been asking myself how much it is worth to live away from Kevin and have to go to altitude camp and have a roommate and be in a twin-sized bed for 12 weeks,” Quigley said. “Do I continue to do that for a ton of money? That would have made the decision harder. What would I do for a huge paycheck? That was really the end piece for me. It was not worth it to be making all the sacrifices that I’m making and then not even make good money.”

What shoes will she wear?

Lululemon is an apparel brand, so Quigley can choose what shoes she’ll train and compete in. Although she searched for a sponsorship for shoes-only, none of the major running brands took her up on it, she said.

“I would not like to mention which brand I’ll run in,” she said. “No one is paying me to wear their shoes. I get to wear whatever I want, which has been a blessing and a curse. I was really excited to get out of Nikes and try some other stuff, but I gave myself some plantar fasciitis really quick.”

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How did she choose her new coach?

Josh Seitz, who is also a coach at Portland State, is not really new—he also was Quigley’s coach when she competed at Florida State. She’s consulted with him even when training with the BTC, she said, including in 2019 when she struggled with numerous injuries.

“He was the one to sit down, break down my training, and figure out the trends,” she said. “I felt really confident about him not coming in starting from scratch, trying to catch up, or figure me out. He already knows me. It’s been seamless and easy.”

The biggest adjustment she’s made to her training is doing longer tempo work off the track, on softer surfaces, with fewer turns. She’s learned to back off and resist overtraining, making it a priority to stay healthy instead of hitting predetermined mileage goals.

How does it feel to train solo?

Losing her numerous BTC training partners has been the biggest challenge, Quigley says. After she moves to Los Angeles (scheduled for the fall), she hopes to make more connections with other runners in the area.

In the meantime, when she’s in town, she jumps into some of the Portland State workouts, where she’s a volunteer assistant coach.

“We can kind of work together,” she said. “It’s fun for them and it’s fun for me.”

Related: How First-Year Pro Sinclaire Johnson is Training to Compete in the Big Leagues

Is all this change stressful while training for the Olympic Trials?

Although Quigley believes that all the changes she’s made this year are for the better, it doesn’t make any of them easy, especially during a high-stress period preparing for the Olympic Trials.

“I’m not going to try and skirt away from the fact that mental health matters and change is hard on us,” she said. “It ends up being a physical drain, too. You can’t separate those things.”

Since the beginning of the year Quigley said she’s leaned more than ever on Conroy, her parents, and others on her support team, including her sport psychologist.

“I call him my mental coach and we’re in contact once a week for sure, sometimes more depending on what kind of week I’m having,” she said. “That’s been key, just knowing that he’s in my corner and having somebody who’s not my boyfriend or my coach or my mom or dad—a support person that’s outside of family and friends has been really key.”

Related: 5 Courageous Women Who Are Running Down Mental Health Stigmas

Where will we see her compete next?

Mark your calendars, the first round of the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials is 6:35 p.m. on June 20, in Eugene, Oregon. The top three finishers in the final on June 24, who also have the Olympic standard (9:30), will make the team.

“I’m not planning on racing until the Trials,” Quigley said. “I’m just going to keep grinding up at altitude [in Flagstaff, Arizona], keep getting ready, and wait until the Trials.”