Would it shock you to hear that the highest pedigreed distance runner in the NCAA Class of 2018 does her easy runs at eight-minute-plus pace?
Truth be told, it’s hard to get a good GPS signal in the lush wooded forests of Portland, Oregon—where University of Missouri’s six-time national champion Karissa Schweizer has made her home with the Bowerman Track Club—so she’s not totally sure about her exact pace. But, the first-year pro admits she’s had to settle into a slower rhythm on easy days to sync up with her highly accomplished teammates in coach Jerry Schumacher’s notoriously tough workouts.
That’s especially true at altitude; When we reached her for this story, Schweizer was finishing up a two-month stint in Park City, Utah before heading to Des Moines, Iowa this weekend to contend for a world team spot in the 5k at the USATF Outdoor Championships.
After placing third last year and recording the top time in the U.S. this season, 15:01.63, Schweizer has a solid shot at the podium. Plus, she’s feeling a lot fresher than usual.
“This year, the whole training cycle is gearing up for this point and you’re just getting antsy. I’m so ready to race,” she says. “Last year, I was so exhausted that [USAs] was the last thing on my mind, like, ‘Let’s just get through this race.’ There was a lot of stress, considering it was a signing year and it was right after NCAAs, where I actually got sick, so that was a struggle.”
It’s safe to say that Des Moines is going to see an entirely different Schweizer on Sunday.
At this time last year, the Iowa native had raced 21 times and was already done for the season, whereas in 2019, she’s raced seven times total, with a scant five track races. In those, she’s set three personal bests, including 8:42.15 for 3k and 15:01.63 for 5k.
“I’m a person who likes to race; I want to be in every race and I get FOMO when I see other races,” she says. “It’s hard to negotiate with Jerry, like, ‘maybe I should race this,’ but I know if I designed my own schedule, I’d be burnt out by now. Trusting the process is easy, in a way, because you see so many people succeed.”
The self-styled “Bowerman Babes” are basically the New York Yankees of track and field. Seven women from the training group qualified for the Olympic Games in 2016: Shalane Flanagan (marathon), Amy Cragg (marathon), Emily Infeld (10k), Betsy Saina of Kenya (10k), Shelby Houlihan (5k), Courtney Frerichs (steeplechase) and Colleen Quigley (steeplechase). Since then, the group has added fellow Olympians Marielle Hall (10k) and Kate Grace (800) as well as a slew of the nation’s top post-collegiate athletes, including Schweizer herself.
There’s a lot to live up to.
“Coming to a team this big with this many women who are at such a high level is kind of scary,” Schweizer says.
During her first stint at altitude last year in Colorado Springs, Schweizer took the ‘go hard or go home’ approach, running “longer and faster than I should have and paying for it the rest of camp.” Learning balance is a work in progress, especially given the temptation to keep up with all the stellar runners around her. Sometimes she can’t finish workouts, which was and continues to be a foreign concept.
“It’s hard, especially at altitude, because you don’t know how you’re going to feel that day,” she says. “We’re normally running on pretty tired legs, always trying to hit higher mileage, so you don’t go into workouts feeling amazing…. [Jerry] designs workouts as really tough, and if you don’t finish, you still have a respectable workout. He gives us ranges, too. I’m used to being able to complete the range, but sometimes I can’t do the full thing.
“You just have to trust the plan—when it comes time to taper and when it comes time to race, you’ll feel good.”
The Bowerman Track Club is almost getting to a point where they have too many successful athletes. Save for extraneous circumstances, only the top three podium finishers at USAs can advance to the World Championships or the Olympic Games. In Schweizer’s 5k final on Sunday night, she’ll be accompanied by four other women in the BTC kit: Houlihan and Elise Cranny, who will be doubling back from the 1500m; Hall, who has already made the world team in the 10k; and fellow first-year Vanessa Fraser.
Schweizer says the in-house competition for Team USA roster spots isn’t an issue just yet.
“I don’t think we have quite enough [athletes] yet where [the competitiveness] comes out,” she says. “We still have a good number where everyone has their own event, 1500m, 5k, steeple, marathon, 10k, even the 800m, so we’re all training together but we all have our different specialties. Some people are doubling back. We’re not necessarily putting five people on the line and expecting everyone to go get top three.”
This weekend in Des Moines—not even 15 minutes down the road from her hometown of Urbandale, Iowa—her plan is certainly to get top three. But she also knows that, ultimately, 2019 is the test run for the Olympic year, Tokyo 2020.
“There’s lots of little things that remind me I’m still new,” she says of the past calendar year. “It’s good, it shows me that later down the road I’ll be a lot tougher and more seasoned athlete. I’m still figuring things out. It’s a trial and error year, whereas next year is going to be evaluating this year and putting things in place so that we don’t make any mistakes.”