It’s sort of a full-circle moment for Chanelle Price, an 800-meter runner who first showed her potential at 17 years old, while racing at the prestigious 2008 Prefontaine Classic. Now she’s back in Eugene, Oregon, to find out if she can make good on her final career goal—qualifying for the 2021 Olympic team.
It’s not exactly the path Price anticipated taking back to Tracktown USA. As a teen from Easton, Pennsylvania, 12 years ago, she fearlessly took on 10-time world champion Maria Mutola for two laps around Hayward Field. Ultimately Price faded to sixth that day, but it was a thrilling start for a young woman who went on to win the 2014 world championship title and set a personal best of 1:59.10 in 2015.
Price has always seemed on the cusp of that chance to compete at the Olympics, but in 2017 she started facing a series of devastating setbacks, any one of which could have resulted in early retirement: A fracture in her foot, a pulmonary embolism that caused blood clots in her lungs, and even a recurrence of mononucleosis that prematurely ended a competitive season.
But when Altis, her former training group in Phoenix, announced last year that it would stop coaching middle-distance runners, Price decided it was time to take a chance. She contacted Mark Rowland at the Oregon Track Club Elite to find out if he would consider coaching her. Not long after an initial phone call, she made plans to move to Eugene.
Now Price is making a comeback amid a pandemic, but she’s welcoming the bonus time to settle into her new program and home. She spoke with Women’s Running by phone on Friday about how she’s adjusting to it all.
Women’s Running: How did the opportunity to join the Oregon Track Club come about and what drew you to it?
Chanelle Price: I had been in Phoenix for three years and just had a lot of problems—some was really out of my control. Toward the end of the 2019 season, it was announced that the group I was with, Altis, was going to be going to be focusing more on the sprints and hurdles, so I knew that my time in Phoenix was up. I could either move to Easton and maybe commute to train with Ajee’ [Wilson] and Charlene [Lipsey] in Philadelphia a few times a week. Or I had known about OTC for years and there was an interest there. I knew that [OTC coach] Mark [Rowland] had success with so many different athletes from so many different countries and events. I wondered if he would be interested in coaching me, so I just took that leap of faith and reached out. He got back to me right away and it happened that quickly. I was like, “Okay, let’s do it!”
I knew that my parents would always allow me to come home, but I wanted to be able to say that I at least tried before going home. It happened very quickly. Mark doesn’t say “yes” to a lot of people.
WR: What have the major differences been in your training so far? What’s the group like?
CP: I immediately became close with my primary training partner, Sabrina Southerland. We didn’t know each other, but when she found out I was joining the group, we talked and she picked me up at the Eugene airport when I arrived. Ever since that day, we’ve been super close. We live together and we’ve hit it off really well. We’re pretty similar in that we’re primarily 800-meter runners. Our 400 isn’t that great and our 1500 isn’t that great, so our training is very similar. It’s helped me adjust—the training is different and it’s tough.
WR: How so?
CP: When I arrived I sat down with Mark and he expressed to me that he wanted to explore my aerobic side and strengthen that area. That’s a side that I haven’t focused on in the past. The longer stuff has been hard, but I’m getting better. So that’s a positive. Sabrina and I struggle together in that area. He also hasn’t ignored my strength, which is the speed and track work. I’m just excited to see what the aerobic side does for me in the 800. I’m just trusting him. This delay [due to the pandemic] is a blessing in disguise because I needed the first year to get used to this kind of training.
I told myself to buy into it. If I was going to move, trust it. If not, it’s not worth it.
WR: How much longer are your longer efforts?
CP: All fall, Mark really wanted me to build my base. He didn’t care how slow I ran the mileage, he just really wanted me to get the mileage in. He said, “If you have to walk, just walk. Just start getting that base in.” So my fall weeks were a lot more mileage than I’ve ever done—and it’s still not that much—but probably close to 40 miles a week. I was used to more like 20–25. He did it gradually, but once that base was done, then we started adding in the mile repeats or the three-mile tempos and 70-minute runs—just those longer efforts so he could figure out what my paces. We’ve had to experiment. It’s taken a lot of communication, so that’s why I think having this year is a blessing because next year we’ll know. He hasn’t been too concerned with how fast I’m doing anything, just getting it in. It’s been tough but good.
WR: How do you like Eugene?
CP: Eugene is cool. I’d been here countless times to compete, obviously, but I never thought it would be somewhere I’d live. It’s tiny and everyone kind of knows who you are. It’s weird, but they just love running here. You could be running on a trail and somebody will cheer for you. The first day I landed here, a random lady offered to give me a ride. She said, “Oh, are you Chanelle Price? Do you need a ride?” They really know who you are—that would never happen anywhere else in this country.
I think that stepping on that new Hayward Field, knowing that it’s home now, that’s going to be amazing to hear that crowd go wild when they announce, “Chanelle Price from Oregon Track Club.” I’m really excited to race here—the fans really support hometown athletes.
WR: That racing opportunity will also follow a lot of health issues you’ve lived through.
CP: Yes. In January 2017 they found blood clots in my lungs. I had passed out at practice. They ran some tests and that’s what they found. My coach at the time in Phoenix, his wife actually experienced the same thing. She was a 1500-meter runner for the United Kingdom. He was familiar with this and knew how to bring me back gradually. The clots don’t just dissolve right away. It takes three to six months. I was still having trouble breathing in the months following my hospitalization. He knew what to look for and I was really thankful for that. He brought me back from that relatively quickly. But April 2017 I ran two minutes [in the 800 meters] at Mt. Sac.
I came back really fast, but then I started not feeling well again. It took us a while to figure out what was wrong, but I had reactivated mono. Apparently I had it in the past and it can reactivate—they say stress can bring that on. That took me out of U.S. championships that year. I just called it a season and rested all summer.
I returned in the fall, but in October 2017, I rolled my foot on a rock and got a Jones fracture [a break in the base and middle part of the fifth metatarsal of the foot]. I let that heal naturally [without surgery] and didn’t run until January 2018. Then in February 2018, it popped again. Like 99 percent of the time you should get surgery for a Jones fracture, but I wasn’t told that the first time. So I went ahead and had surgery in February 2018. That took me out all of 2018. And then in 2019, I really struggled with my foot. It was giving me a lot of problems—it took a while to be able to put on spikes and get going. Last year around this time I ran 2:03 [for 800 meters] and decided I didn’t need to go to U.S. championships in 2:03 shape. I went to Europe instead to pace some of the Diamond League races. It was a lot of fun getting back into that setting even if I wasn’t finishing the races.
Then I moved to Eugene. It’s been very little racing that past two years. I’m just excited to be healthy again.
WR: I’m sure you are. How were you able to get that foot healthy again?
CP: There was a lot of scar tissue built up in there that I probably should have been getting worked out more aggressively. I had to have a therapist really get in there to get the scar tissue out. Then I worked with the therapist to get that strength back—a lot of balancing and mobility and band work. Then it was just managing the pain. They told me it was something I just needed to get used to. There’s not a lot of support in spikes, so I felt like I just needed to get over the hump. Finally this year I started to feel better.
WR: Have doctors told you why you suffered from the blood clots in your lungs? Are you genetically predisposed?
CP: It runs in my family. I’ve had so many family members who’ve had it. For the rest of my life I’ll be on blood thinner because I don’t want it to happen again.
WR: How have you kept your desire to want to continue to compete as a pro runner? Comebacks are daunting. How were you able to keep the faith?
CP: I’ve had my moments. I’m the type of person who allows myself to feel what I feel. I think that’s important. I was frustrated or sad or angry, I would process those emotions for a few days and allow myself to wallow in self pity. But I do have a strong faith and I’m usually able to pull myself out of slumps through prayer and through my circle of support. Trust me, I wanted to walk about so many times, but I just think I would have so much regret if I did that. I wouldn’t be able to live with that. When I walk away I want to be able to say I got the most out of my talent; I got the most out of my gift. I think that’s what kept me going—I want to walk away on my terms, not because of my health or injury. That’s what kept me going. I do think there’s unfinished business. Hopefully I’m right. We’ll see.
WR: How have you learned to trust your body again?
CP: That’s been tough. You have to give yourself some grace. Every elite runner knows what it’s like to “feel like yourself.” It’s taken me a while to feel like Chanelle again, and that can be frustrating as you’re trying to get there. I take it one day at a time and try as hard as I can not to compare where I was. It’s a different training, it’s a different coach, it’s a different environment, so I can’t expect myself to be where I was in January 2014 leading into a win at indoor world championships. It’s completely different circumstances and it’s unrealistic to hold yourself to those standards. I’ve had to mature mentally and keep putting the effort in.
If you trust your training and trust your coach and buy into it, eventually you will start feeling like yourself again. You have to give it time and I think that’s what frustrates most runners.
WR: It sounds like you’ve coped with the COVID-19 pandemic pretty well, given how big a wrench it’s thrown into everybody’s careers.
CP: When I found out the 2020 Olympic Trials and the Olympics weren’t happening this year, I was pretty bummed. I haven’t raced in a while and I want to get back out there. I allowed myself to process those emotions and thought this may be good for me. I need a little bit more time under Coach Rowland to truly see the best of myself out there. I started to look at it as a positive.
It’s hard to wake up every day to train because we want to race. It’s hard with no goal in sight, but every time I’m able to train healthy I’m grateful. We’re all itching to race. That’s why the Return to the Dual [virtual meet against Atlanta Track Club] was so cool. The competitive juices were still flowing knowing that somebody across the country was running at the same time. If we can do more creative things like that, it’s better than nothing.
In terms of adjusting to what’s happened because of COVID, here in Oregon we were very fortunate because tracks and trails were still open. I live with my training partner, so we could still train together. Coach Rowland really kept things rolling for her and I. We’ve trained as if we were having a season. For me he wanted to see if I could get my body into sub-two shape because it’s been so long. We’re fortunate because not a lot of athletes around the world could keep the ball rolling like that.
WR: What are some of the lessons you think benefit you as an athlete and person because of all the adversity you’ve faced in your career?
CP: When I find myself falling into a slump, I say, “You know what, Chanelle? Two years ago you would have loved to be able to just go for a run. Last year you would have loved to put on spikes and train. Stop complaining and get your butt out there.”
I remind myself of everything I’ve been through and I try to be more grateful for the times I’m able to train and be healthy. It was hard. It was a battle the past few years.
Also when I’m coming around that final turn at Hayward in the 800-meter final, being able to dig deep, because there was a lot of digging deep these past few years just to stay positive and not fall into extremely dark thoughts or walk away from the sport. That took a lot of fight. That’s going to show on the track as well. These past three years have made me tougher as a woman and as an athlete. When Coach Rowland tells me a workout and I think, “Are you kidding me?” The mental toughness I’ve had to develop, I bring into training. I am tougher because of what I went through.
WR: We’re not sure how things are going to develop, but if you are looking at your goals right now, what are they? How has the competitive landscape in your event changed in the time you were away from competition?
CP: Now I’m one of the oldest. All the babies are taking over. I’m only 29, but the younger women are dominating and that’s cool to see. With Ajee’ and Raevyn [Rogers], they’ve set the standard high. They are the two to beat. That third spot is wide open and it makes me excited just talking about it. That is definitely the goal, to get one of those top three spots at the Olympic Trials. Coach has made it very clear that he doesn’t really care what happens before that. He trains us for the Olympic Trials. I’ve developed that mindset, although I used to be the type of runner who wanted to run fast early in the season, but as long as I’m ready in June, that’s what matters.
We’re less than a year out and I’m completely trusting Coach Rowland. I’m older now, so I know what works for me and he allows me to have input into the training, but for the most part I am buying into his program. I want to be on that Olympic team. It’s probably my last attempt at the Olympics. I’m not old, but I’ve been running quite a while now and I’m getting tired. You never know, but it’s probably my last chance. I really, really, really want to be on that team.