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Colleen Quigley is one of the three women who have dominated the 3,000-meter steeplechase for the past five years, alongside Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs. This time, her lead-up to the 2021 Olympic Trials, which begin on June 18 in Eugene, Oregon, has been packed with big life changes and transitions.
At the beginning of the year, Quigley announced she was leaving Nike and the Bowerman Track Club, the group she’d trained with since the beginning of her career, under coach Jerry Schumacher. She’s now on her own, sponsored by Lululemon, and coached by her former Florida State coach, Josh Seitz. Come fall, she’s looking to live full-time with her longtime partner, Kevin Conroy, who resides in Los Angeles. But for now, home base is still Portland, Oregon, with altitude training stints in Flagstaff, Arizona.
All that change while preparing to make an Olympic team was a risk she was willing to take to meet her long-term professional goals, though she acknowledges that it hasn’t been easy.
“It’s been a lot of adjustments and a lot of these things are going to be for the better, but it’s still hard to make those changes,” Quigley says. “I’m not going to try and skirt away from the fact that mental health matters and change is hard on us mentally, which ends up being a physical drain, too.”
She comes into the Trials with the third-fastest qualifying time (9:11.41), behind Coburn (9:02.35) and Frerichs (9:09.75), though she has not raced the steeplechase since July 2019.
While training for the Trials, Quigley says she’s also been dealing with plantar fasciitis, but she remains optimistic that she’ll land on the podium at Hayward Field to qualify for her second Olympics in Tokyo.
“I’m just going to keep grinding at altitude, keep getting ready, and wait [to race] until the Trials,” she says.
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Event: 3,000-meter steeplechase
Training tip: The schedule shouldn’t overrule how your body is feeling. Quigley tries to avoid being stubborn—we all want to check that box, but what if that easy run isn’t the best thing?
“It sounds cheesy but I’m really trying to be smarter and listen to my body,” she says. “If it’s a four-mile shakeout run that I’m slogging through and feeling like absolute garbage, is that really making me better or am I just doing that out of stubbornness and because other people are also running that mileage today? In reality a 40-minute swim is probably going to be better for me overall and help me recover. Be honest with yourself and how the work is really affecting you.”
Favorite workout: Since connecting with her new (old) coach, Seitz, she’s enjoyed moving her tempo efforts off the track and onto soft-surface trails or dirt roads. Usually the runs are up to nine miles at 5:20 to 5:25 pace, and it feels better without quite as many turns.
The worst part of race day: When the race takes place in the evening, Quigley has a hard time staying relaxed all day.
“You’re trying to think about it but not think about it,” she says. “Trying to figure out what to eat…the lead-up all day is so hard.”
The best part of race day: As soon as she hears “runners to your mark,” all that dread melts away.
“You take three jog steps and you’re on the line, everything just clears out of your head and you’re like, ‘OK, here we go,’” Quigley says. “And then if it’s a good day, the minute you cross the finish line you’re like, ‘Oh my God, that was amazing, it didn’t hurt at all, it was perfect.”
Trials success (aside from the obvious goal of making Team USA): One day, Quigley dreams of making it to the start line without having experienced an injury or feeling like she just barely got to the race in one piece. And she’d like to move up from third place, too—since 2015, the team has essentially been Coburn, Frerichs, and Quigley, in that order, for most major championships.
“We just keep making the team in the same gosh-darn order and that is not the order I’d like it to be,” she says, laughing. “One of these freaking days I’m going to be able to get on the starting line feeling like a million bucks and I did everything that I could possibly do to prepare for this, and it’s a smooth ride coming up to the race…I’m still waiting for that day, but maybe then I’d have a good chance of winning a title.”
Last words to herself on the starting line: Lately Quigley has been listening to a playlist from her sister-in-law-to-be called “Affirmations for the Grown Ass Woman.” One of the songs is called “No Is Bae.”
“It’s incredible,” she says. “She talks about saying no and how it’s OK to say no, and I love that.”
Sage advice: Quigley confided in Alexi Pappas, the U.S.-based Olympian who represents Greece and recently released her book, Bravey, when she was contemplating leaving Nike and the Bowerman Track Club. Quigley was afraid to make such big changes during an Olympic year, with so much on the line.
“Alexi said, ‘Sometimes change has to happen just before you’re ready for it, and the opportunity to make that change will present itself just before you’re ready,’” Quigley says. “You don’t get to choose when opportunities present themselves, so I really took that to heart and was like, ‘You’re right, if I don’t take this right now, it might not be an option later.’”
Pandemic pastimes: She read more books, including Bravey, which she recommends.
“She talks about post-Olympics depression and the mental health struggles that she went through,” Quigley says. “I’ve known Alexi for years now and didn’t know a lot of stuff that was in that book, so she really opens up and gets really deep about her life.”
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series leading up to the 2021 U.S.A. Track & Field Olympic Trials, highlighting many of the top athletes contending for the U.S. Olympic team. You can find all of our coverage here.