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When she crossed the finish line at the Millrose Games in New York on Saturday, Elle Purrier said she was thrilled, though not necessarily surprised by the prestigious Wanamaker Mile win. But she was shocked to see her time after breaking the tape—4:16.85, an American record and the second-fastest women’s indoor mile in history.
“Before the race I hadn’t even thought about what the American record was,” Purrier said during a phone interview with Women’s Running on Wednesday. “I was just trying to go for the win, so off of a fast pace, everything just fell together in the right way.”
The previous record (4:20.5) was held by Mary Slaney for 37 years. And the only woman who’s run faster is Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia, who set the world record, 4:13.31, in 2016.
“I’ve had a few days to decompress, but I’m still super excited and feeling a little more confident in my training and everything,” Purrier said. “I’m looking forward to the races this weekend.”
The U.S. indoor championships begin on Friday in Albuquerque and Purrier said she’s competing in the 3,000 meters on Friday and the 1500 meters on Saturday—two of the most hotly contested races on the schedule. She’ll face Olympian Shelby Houlihan in both distances, who is the American record holder for the outdoor 1500 meters (3:54.99) and 5,000 meters (14:34.45), as well as Colleen Quigley, the 2019 U.S. indoor mile champion and Olympic steeplechaser.
The U.S. championships were slated to serve as a qualifier for the world championships, but the world meet has been delayed for a year due to the spread of the coronavirus—it was supposed to be held in Nanjing, China. For Purrier, it’s just another opportunity to gain experience against the women she’ll face in June at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials.
“I get excited when I get the opportunity to race really talented, fast people because I know that ultimately that will help me run faster—but I’m not putting too much pressure on myself,” she said. “I know that I’ll do the best that I can. It motivates me. The whole point of track is you want to win.”
And while the record-setting performance at the Millrose Games may have seemed to come out of nowhere, those who have followed Purrier’s young career (she turns 25 next week), know that she’s been chipping away gradually since she was a kid growing up on a dairy farm in Vermont, which she credits for her fortitude. Milking cows at 5 a.m. and throwing hay bales all summer has made her stronger in a variety of ways.
“A lot of the lessons I learned on the farm along with the physical aspects of it have helped me become a better athlete,” she said. “It shaped me to be who I am now. From an early age, I learned what hard work was.”
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She ran low mileage at the University of New Hampshire and Mark Coogan, the coach of her training group New Balance Boston, hasn’t ramped the volume or intensity up too fast or too soon, either. The patient approach is working. This summer, Purrier clocked 4:16.2 at the Fifth Avenue Mile, placing second to Jenny Simpson’s 4:16.1. She followed that up in Doha, competing in the 5,000 meters at the world outdoor championships, where she finished 11th in 14:58.17.
In 2020, Purrier and her training partners have been running mostly base miles at an altitude camp in Flagstaff, Arizona. She didn’t taper for Millrose, keeping the entire focus of her schedule geared toward making the Olympic team this summer.
“I have been in a good position to bump up my training and consistently run a little bit higher mileage and do harder workouts,” Purrier said. “Every year helps me get a little bit stronger, so I can build off of that.”
The U.S. indoor championships will be broadcast on NBCSN from 9:30–11 p.m. (Eastern) on Friday and on NBC from 4-6 p.m. (Eastern) on Saturday.