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March 2, 2022

Fast Times With Friends

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There was likely no one happier on Sunday to see Elle Purrier St. Pierre close her last lap in 28.8 seconds to clinch the 3000m national title in 8:41.53 than her best friend and training partner, Heather MacLean. That’s because in the 1500m the day prior, things went a little sideways for the Vermonter. Elle led the pack through all but the final 15 meters of the race. But with 200m to go, the small gap back to Heather in fifth was rapidly shrinking and with virtually no runway left, MacLean surprised both Elle and a hard-closing Josette Norris to win her first national title in 4:06.09.

The dynamic of having to balance one’s competitive nature with friendship is a fascinating aspect of professional running that more Ph.D. candidates in sports psychology need to look into. It’s completely different than in college where there are conference titles to chase and where a teammate’s success is your own. Instead, you’re pushing each other in workouts to make each other better, while personally always hoping to be 1% better than your training partners on race day. After all, trying to be the best is part of the job description!

The New Balance Boston training group is an international collection of some of the top middle distance runners in the world. I find they’re one of the easiest groups to cheer for, not because they’re so talented, but because they seem to legitimately all get along — it’s not some put-on for social media. With that said, Elle was certainly the favorite coming into the 1500m. It was obvious in the moments immediately post-race that even Heather was stunned, even if she was presumably elated to have secured her first national title.

Not to make MY newsletter entirely about ME, but in 2017 I had one of the most disappointing races of my career when I failed to make the US 1500 final. But at the same time, my dear friend, training partner and college teammate, Johnny Gregorek, did make it through. From my perspective, this was entirely unfair because up until that point I was supposed to be the faster one in our relationship. Despite my protests, USATF officials did not see this as reasonable grounds to push me through to the next round.

After an evening of pouting, I pieced myself together to keep him company on shakeouts and the warm-up. If I could no longer make the team then the next best person would be the guy who ran all the same steps as me. What followed was probably one of the more confusing emotional experiences of my life. I was simultaneously bursting with joy for Johnny, who went on to make the team for Worlds, while also deeply jealous of his success that I had wanted for myself. But the light at the other end of my self-loathing tunnel was the fact that if my best friend was good enough then maybe, just maybe, one day I could be too.*

Fortunately for the duo of Heather and Elle, their existential crisis was short-lived as redemption came on Sunday for Elle in the 3000. The New Englanders each have a travel companion and the opportunity to stay on the same training schedule leading into the World Championships. And everyone lived happily ever after!**

* I wasn’t.

** Except for me. 😕

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