Better Together: The Success of Shelby Houlihan and Karissa Schweizer

"We just keep feeding off each other."

Sometimes when Shelby Houlihan and Karissa Schweizer go out for an easy run together, it turns into a tempo run by accident. They talk about American records they want to set and Olympic medals they want to win. Before they even realize it, their pace has turned into something…not easy.

“We hype each other up in these conversations,” Schweizer says, as Houlihan adds, “We’re good with each other like that. We just keep feeding off each other. We just look at each other like, ‘Yeah, I think we can do this.’”

RELATED: Teamwork Results in an American Record for Karissa Schweizer

Houlihan, 27, a 2016 Olympian, is the American record holder in the 5,000 meters (14:23.92) and the 1500 meters (3:54.99). Schweizer, 24, is the American record holder in the indoor 3,000 meters (8:25.70). Both Iowa natives, together they’re training partners with the Bowerman Track Club, and they egg each other on to excellence.

The partnership between the two, who are also fierce competitors on race day, is what Houlihan describes as a game changer for her career. “Karissa has the same mentality as me, just like, ‘Let’s just go die today.’ Every workout, we just want to go to the red line and push ourselves to meet our potential,” Houlihan says. “I feel like that’s been really refreshing to have someone that’s willing to do that with me. I know I can’t fall off in a workout because she’s right next to me.”

RELATED: You Don’t Know Shelby Houlihan

Just a year into her pro career, Schweizer has already made her first U.S. team, competing in the 5,000 meters at the 2019 world championships, where she placed ninth in 14:45.18. She appreciates that she and Houlihan can work together without allowing their individual ambition to become destructive.

“I feel like it would be really easy to just be kind of catty or super competitive at practice, but I never feel that way,” she says. “And when it comes to race day, we’re going to give it our all. We’re going to compete against each other. It’s a very good culture that we’ve built, and it’s led to so much of the success that we’ve recently had.”

So when those easy runs turn too fast, it’s because these two have big plans for 2021. First, the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in June, then if all goes well, on to the Tokyo Games, where Houlihan wants to compete in the 1500 meters and Schweizer in the 5,000 meters.

“Best-case scenario is that both of us can come back with a gold medal,” Houlihan says. “Fingers crossed.”

Schweizer nods her head in agreement. “That would be amazing. That’s ideal.”

This profile was first published in the Winter 2021 print issue of Women’s Running as part of “Women Who Lead: Power Women of 2021” which celebrates 25 women who are reshaping the running industry for the better. You can see the full list of honorees here.