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Running Longer After Getting Stronger: How Rachel Schneider Made the Olympic Team

Moving up from her first love, the 1500 meters, Rachel Schneider will compete in the 5,000 meters at the 2021 Olympics.

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When it became clear that the Olympics would be delayed for a year, Rachel Schneider took the opportunity to see if she could push another boundary: the volume of her training. Typically she’d peak around 90 miles per week in a base phase, but she jumped to 16 straight weeks averaging more than 100 miles per week in the spring of 2020.

The good news was she loved it. Schneider explored trails around Flagstaff, Arizona, that she’d otherwise never have the chance to run.  And she built a monster aerobic base. The bad news? She was injured during the summer, nursing an achilles issue that led to mostly cross-training for a few weeks. 

RELATED: How to Stay Healthy While Running Monster Mileage

Regardless, that strength came through when racing opportunities popped up again. She debuted at the 10,000 meters in December, finishing in 31:09.79, not only getting the Olympic Trials qualifying time, but also the Olympic standard (31:25). Most recently, in May, she set a personal best in the 5,000 meters (14:52.04) and has decided to enter both races at the Olympic Trials, where she made the 2021 Tokyo Olympics by placing third in the 5,000.

“But long story short, it’s been a lot of very intentional training geared specifically toward the 5K and 10K throughout the last couple of years, even if it didn’t mean racing those events that often,” Schneider says.

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Schneider also came into the 2021 Trials with far more experience than she had in 2016. She competed in the 2019 world championships in the 5,000 meters and took away some key lessons—especially in qualifying for the team, lining up for the U.S. championships after being sick days before the race. 

“I remember getting out there and saying, ‘All right, best-case scenario is that I make this team. It’s possible, but it’s also possible I might feel terrible and finish dead last,’” she says, “‘but I’m just as loved no matter what my result is and the people that are in this with me, they’re in it with me no matter what.’”

It was practice in letting go of anything outside of her control, she says.

“I really want to practice that because I think so many people are going to be trying to force a result or force an outcome,” Schneider says. “I want to run really free and bring out my best on that day.”

You can watch the preliminary round of the Tokyo Olympics 5,000 meters at 6 a.m. Eastern on Friday, July 30 and the final at 8:40 a.m. Eastern on Monday, August 2.

Age: 30

Hometown: Flagstaff, Arizona

Event/PR: 5,000 meters (14:52.04) 

Training tip: Big performances are the result of happiness. For Schneider, running can’t be everything, all the time. She’s discovered that the more joy she finds in life outside of training and competing, the better she races on the track.

“The most important thing in my peak performance is just being happy outside of running. I don’t know if that’s super cliché, but I’m a way better runner when I’m just happy,” she says. “Through the pandemic and what’s considered a high-stress time when an Olympic Games is on the line, I just try to kind of keep things in perspective and find joy in the process of all of this. Let go of the things you can’t control and just show up the best that you can on the day.”

Favorite workout: Schneider has proven she has range, moving up to the 10,000-meter distance with success. But somewhere deep down, she still loves the 1500 meters. Give her a high-volume workout filled with 300-meter repeats or a combination of 200s and 400s. Think: 20 x 200 meters or four sets of 6 x 400 meters.

“This is where I still think I’m middle distance at heart—my bread-and-butter is still 200s and 400s. I get so excited when I have short track stuff,” she says. 

The worst part of race day: Sitting in bed all day, resting the legs, and waiting to head to the track for late-day races is the worst for many athletes, including Schneider.

The best part of race day: The opportunity to race against the best.

“I love, love the feeling of your body just taking over, your mind shutting off, and the joy of competing,” Schneider says. “Getting to line up with a bunch of women who bring out the best in you is such a cool part of the sport.”

RELATED: How ‘Perception of Effort’ Can Make or Break a Race

Defining success: Schneider knows that life goes on if she doesn’t perform the way she wants.

“I hope I can walk away knowing I gave it my best. There’s no failure in that,” she says.

Last words to herself on the starting line: She doesn’t have anything particular she sticks to at race time, but usually remembers something her coach and fiancé, Mike Smith, has said to her before she heads to the start line.

Sage advice: “The thing I always come back to is just being the best I can be and not taking the opportunities for granted.”

RELATED: Sara Hall and the Olympic Trials: “I Don’t Want the Weight of the Day to Steal the Joy”

Pandemic pastimes: An avid reader, Schneider goes through about three books a month. In addition, during the pandemic she got into MasterClasses, enjoying the Anna Wintour session on leadership, RuPaul’s class on authenticity, and Ron Finley’s gardening.

Schneider also started online graduate school classes to earn a master’s in clinical mental health counseling. 

“Down the road you do your practicums and internship in person, but I can do all the academic courses online and have it kind of complement being a professional runner and prioritizing my training and recovering schedule,” Schneider says. “It’s been a nice little addition.”

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 Tokyo Olympics. You can find all of our coverage here.