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Elle Purrier St. Pierre has become widely known now as the fast 1500-meter runner who grew up milking cows on her family’s dairy farm. And while she’s most in her element back in Montgomery, Vermont, with her husband, Jamie St. Pierre, and her family, she also spends large stretches of time away to train.
“Going to altitude training consistently two times a year has been a huge part of my success,” Purrier St. Pierre says.
While preparing for the Olympic Trials, Purrier St. Pierre and her New Balance Boston teammates completed several training stints in Flagstaff, Arizona, at 7,000 feet above sea level. Over the years, the camps have proven helpful.
“They tested me to see if I’m a responder to altitude,” she says. “And I am. But also I think staying on a consistent plan and doing what my coach tells me to do has helped.”
She’s had several races that led to her victory at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June. She set a PR of 1:59.99 in the 800 meters and ran 3:58.34 in the 1500 meters at the Golden Games in May, to break four minutes for the first time. At the 2019 world championships she finished the 5,000 meters in 14:58.17.
“Breaking four in the 1500 was definitely one of those big goals I’ve had for a while and honestly, I think it probably would have happened last summer if I was given more opportunities,” Purrier St. Pierre says. “I knew if I kind of did the same things just bumping my training just a little bit more every year that I could have a really good shot at making the team.”
The world championships experience in Doha left Purrier St. Pierre with a sense of how exciting it can be to represent the U.S. in global competition—something that’s given her additional motivation in her lead-up to the Trials.
“I’m remembering how much work it was to get there, but how worth it it was,” she says. “There was a lot to learn there just being around those athletes—a whole new level. It definitely humbles you. Everybody is good, everybody is at the same level if not better than you.”
You can watch the first round of the Olympic 1500 meters at 8:35 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, August 2; the semifinal at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, August 4; and the final at 8:50 a.m. on Friday, August 6.
Hometown: Montgomery, Vermont
Event/PR: 1500 meters (3:58.36)
Training tip: Purrier St. Pierre says she’s been lucky to have the right coaches at the right times throughout her running career. As a pro, she’s trained with Mark Coogan and the New Balance Boston team. From high school to college at the University of New Hampshire (where she was the most decorated student athlete), Purrier St. Pierre has always been conservative with her progression, leaving room to grow into her career.
“Each [coach] I’ve had at the stage of my life was what I needed. Mark has so much confidence in me—I really needed somebody who just didn’t overthink it and told me to just get the job done and believed in me. He’s just really chill. It’s fun to have a coach who’s not really uptight or anything. I am really fortunate.”
Favorite workout: When she’s feeling fit, Purrier St. Pierre enjoys a 400-meter repeat workout: 10-12 x 400 meters.
“It’s a love/hate relationship probably,” she says. “When you’re in really good shape, workouts are fun. You’re just flying for a minute or 65 seconds. And then just doing it over and over again. It makes me feel really fit and really fast.”
The worst part of race day: Coping with the nerves and planning what to eat, especially if it’s an afternoon race.
“A recent race was at 11:43 in the morning and that was just so nice. Honestly, I got up, had breakfast, had a cup of coffee, and went to the track,” Purrier St. Pierre says. “It was just like practice. I didn’t have time to think about things and get all nervous. So that was nice.”
The best part of race day: Aside from crossing the finish line, Purrier St. Pierre likes getting ready.
“Just putting on my uniform and I always try to do my makeup and my hair nice,” she says. “I usually feel pretty good standing on the line; I feel pretty confident.”
Defining success: Purrier St. Pierre has a specific goal in Tokyo.
“I want to medal, I’d say. That’d be excellent. That’d be one of the ultimate goals.”
Last words to herself on the starting line: She’s always giving herself a pep talk before the gun goes off.
“I try to tell myself that I’m ready and that I belong,” she says. “I never remember the race. My 1500 [when she broke four minutes] most recently? I’m like, ‘I don’t even remember that. It didn’t hurt that bad, I don’t think. I mean, it was only four minutes long.”
Sage advice: At the University of New Hampshire, her coach encouraged her to find her own way, without trying to replicate what others were doing.
“I’m competing against all these people and we all have the same end goal, but what it looks like to get there is different for everybody,” she says. “I feel like I had quite a unique upbringing and even my career—I was really low mileage all through college—it took me a long time to get there. What worked for me didn’t necessarily work for other people and vice versa. I still think about that pretty often.”
Pandemic pastimes: When the family business is farming (she helps whenever she can at Jamie’s nearby family farm), you don’t have a lot of spare time. She and her husband were married in September and planning an outdoor, COVID- safe celebration was a project.
“Planning a wedding during COVID was what I did, basically. It was pretty stressful,” she says.
Editor’s Note: This article was 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. It has been edited and updated for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. You can find all of our coverage here.