Katelyn Tuohy On Turning Pro And Signing With Adidas + Reflecting On Her NC State Career

The CITIUS MAG Podcast

December 6, 2023

"It's been really cool over the past few years chasing this dream and finally having it come true. "

My guest for today’s episode is NC State’s Katelyn Tuohy, who has decided to forego the remainder of her NCAA eligibility to turn professional and has signed a contract with adidas, she told CITIUS MAG in an exclusive interview before her announcement on Wednesday afternoon.

Ahead of the Olympic year, Tuohy plans to remain under the guidance of NC State coach Laurie Henes and may split time between Raleigh, North Carolina, and a possible training stint in Flagstaff, Arizona, to train at altitude for the first time in her career.

Last month, Tuohy wrapped up one of the most decorated NCAA careers by a distance runner with four individual NCAA titles; three NCAA cross country team titles; three NCAA records, 11 All-American titles, and five SEC championships.

Despite her long list of credentials, Tuohy is still only 21 years old. In 2022, she became one of the first collegiate cross country runners to sign an NIL deal - also with adidas - and has amassed a sizable fandom that includes over 100,000 followers on Instagram.

At the most recent U.S. championships, she finished 7th in the 5000m, the top collegian in the event. If Tuohy achieves the qualifying standard (14:52.00) and finishes in the top three of the upcoming U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials next June, she could become the youngest woman to make the U.S. Olympic team in the 5000m.

In this episode, we talk all about the decision to turn pro and what she’s looking forward to most. She reflects on her Wolfpack career and opens up a bit about what it’s been like being in the spotlight from a high school star to now.

Katelyn Tuohy turns pro, signs with AdidasKatelyn Tuohy turns pro, signs with Adidas

Joshua Dwight/@joshua_dwight

The following interview has been edited lightly for clarity and space. You can listen to the full interview with Katelyn Tuohy on the CITIUS MAG Podcast – available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your shows. You can also watch it on The CITIUS MAG YouTube channel.

CITIUS MAG: Katelyn, you've got some news. Let the people watching and listening get it directly from you. What's the big news?

KATELYN TUOHY: First off, thanks for having me. I guess it’s some pretty big news: I decided to forgo my eligibility and turn pro, so I'll be running for Adidas. I'm really excited.

CITIUS MAG: What went into this decision and what are you looking forward to most?

KATELYN TUOHY: A lot went into it. The conversation started last year in the spring and was kind of up in the air, like “Should I do cross? Should I not?” And then I was like, “I have to do cross. I love it too much.” I knew all season that this was going to be my last season. It's been a rollercoaster, but I guess my time has come. Coach Henes was like, “I think it's time.” So yeah, I decided to go pro.

Katelyn Tuohy turns pro, signs with AdidasKatelyn Tuohy turns pro, signs with Adidas

Joshua Dwight/@joshua_dwight

CITIUS MAG: I read an article earlier in the season that LetsRun did about the NC State team and how special it was that you went to Coach Henes being like, “I'm not done with these girls.” What made this season so important for you to return?

KATELYN TUOHY: If you ask any professional who's run collegiately, they're like “There's nothing like collegiate cross country.” And it really is true. The team bond, day in, day out, just having so much fun at practice and meets and the travel trips. I definitely wanted one more season just for the memories and the journey. I don't regret it at all, it was a great season. I love the girls on the team. We had a great time and got the three-peat, so I went out on a good note.

CITIUS MAG: You've been in the running spotlight for a long time. Has becoming a professional runner always been the dream? For a while, it was something you were really good at. It opened new doors for you to go to college and be able to do this at a high level. But even when you were running those high school races at the Armory as a kid and seeing the professionals, did you think someday that would be you?

KATELYN TUOHY: It's been a dream of mine for like ten years now, ever since I started running. It’s cool to see one of your dreams come true. I remember one meeting we had in high school where my coach was saying how he'd never coached a professional runner. And then he turned to me and was like, “yet.” So that was the first time I was like, “OK, someone believes that I can make it happen.” It's been really cool over the past few years chasing this dream and finally having it come true.

CITIUS MAG: Let's get into a couple of specifics that people may be wondering. Where will you be training? Are you sticking with Coach Henes? What's the setup as of right now?

KATELYN TUOHY: As of right now, we're still trying to figure a lot of things out. But I'll be staying with Henes. She'll be coaching me. The plan is to go to Flagstaff for some altitude stints to test it out since I've never [trained at altitude] before. I'll go out there and stay with Elly (Henes) and Hannah (Steeleman) probably. It’ll be cool to stay with them – they’ll show me the ropes, take me under their wing. But yeah, the plan is to stay here. It's working. If it's not broke, don't fix it.

CITIUS MAG: Does it feel a little weird that now instead of having to focus on running so many regular season races, you now get to choose what races you do? For you, a lot of this vision is towards the Olympic Trials and hopefully the Olympics. As you take this step to becoming a professional, do you see yourself as a type that is more selective with races? Or do you get a lot out of racing a bunch?

KATELYN TUOHY: I think doing a lot of races and a lot of 1500s is really good for me to work on speed and tactics. But yeah, I'd like to be pretty selective because in college you do have to race a lot and it can be a lot with all the travel and school. So I'm really excited to just set a goal and actually be able to really buy in and train and not have to worry about a bunch of outside stress weighing me down.

CITIUS MAG: Do you see yourself in your first professional season focusing more on the 5K? You also frequently dip into the 1500m. Where are you at with these events in terms of which one you like the best and where you want to put most of your chips?

KATELYN TUOHY: I think I would like to focus on the 5K, but I'll definitely run a few 1500s to help me out with my kick and strategy, which is always fun. It's cool to be in the mix with different types of races but I'll definitely focus on the 5K for outdoor.

CITIUS MAG: People may have been wondering why you weren't at BU this past weekend in the 3000m or 5000m. I'm guessing [being sick] lingered for a little bit and you just didn't feel sharp. Let's dive into those days in Charlottesville. We saw you at the press conference and Coach Henes said awesome things about your fitness all throughout the season. But then you got sick that night? What happened?

KATELYN TUOHY: I started feeling pretty sick the day we left. People on the team had been getting sick here and there and that's why a lot of people didn't run in Boston. We had some stuff going around. I was just trying to convince myself that everything was okay. When I started the race, I was quickly reassessing and making a plan B – we're not trying to win anymore. We're just trying to do the best we can and score the least amount of points possible.

Like I said in the press conference, the team goal was definitely the priority… I feel like I let the team down a little bit, but I guess it didn't matter at the end of the day because we still won in a dramatic fashion. It was almost like a movie, honestly. It's still surreal to me that we were able to pull that off without Kelsey (Chmiel). Amaris (Tyynismaa) hadn't finished a race yet at that point and it was Leah (Stephens) and Grace (Hartman)’s first time running at a national championship. They're both champs, I know they were hurting really bad. It's really cool looking back at it that we were able to pull it off.

CITIUS MAG: In those closing stages, there was a point where you were 11th and then you moved up to sixth and ultimately crossed the finish line in fifth. Was there something that you heard from the crowd that told you where you were in terms of place and positioning? Or was it just instinct like, “alright, this is it”?

KATELYN TUOHY: Around 4K, I had like 20 different people telling me we were winning and I was like, “this is the best but worst news I've ever heard in my life.” I was like, “this is awesome, but this really sucks – I still have seven minutes of running left and I'm in the pain cave.” I came around to 5K and Henes was there going crazy – and she never does that. She's really composed most of the time. I was like, “this is how I know it's really close. I need to rally here.” I don't really remember much of what happened in that last K. I remember I got to the bottom of the hill right before the finish and I was like, “I know I have like 50 people within 10 seconds behind me right now. I need to be at the front of this bubble because every point counts.” That's what was going through my head. Then I finished and found out we won and was just so overwhelmed. It was awesome.

CITIUS MAG: It's obvious that one of your favorite parts about being at NC State is the team and competing with the women around you. How much do you think that in your time at NC State that has been a part of the success that you've had? How big of a component is the team at NC State?

KATELYN TUOHY: It was a huge component for me. I love training with my teammates and we have a ton of fun. I think that's why we've been so successful. It's because we have a great time with each other and it brings out the best in us. It's been awesome seeing our alumni go on and achieve great things… It's just really cool to see everyone still be connected.

CITIUS MAG: Another thing that people might be curious about is how you've handled being in the spotlight for so long. It’s nice to have fans and be supported. But, then there's another side where there's a lot of noise. Has it ever been too much and how have you managed it?

KATELYN TUOHY: High school was quite a bit. My parents and I are still a little scarred from the attention I got because it just happened really fast. I was so young and it was the start of running social media. It felt like I was in the spotlight a lot, so it was really hard. Honestly, COVID was really good for me because I could just take a step back and breathe. Then coming [to NC State] was great because I felt like I didn't have to do anything I didn't want to do. I was shielded with my circle of the team. Being [at NC State] alleviated a lot of that pressure. But there was a hot moment there when it was really hard in high school.

CITIUS MAG: Do you have any sort of advice out there for kids who are signing NIL deals in high school? What would you say to those kids who are coming up who want to be track stars and eventually pursue this professionally?

KATELYN TUOHY: Lean on your people in your circle. I think that's what helped me the most. Talking to my parents and my friends whenever it got too stressful and just backing off a little bit. It’s crazy nowadays, the high school NILs and the YouTube channels and everything. It's really cool to see, actually. But I think it could put people under a microscope and add a lot of pressure. It's something you have to balance. 

CITIUS MAG: You've talked before about how Coach Henes’ approach is not just about getting the best out of you as an athlete, but also caring for you as a person. How has she been in that corner when it's not about the workout but more of a friend-to-friend conversation?

KATELYN TUOHY: I think that's been great for me. Whenever we have one-on-ones, you sit down and she’s like, “So how are you doing? Forget about the running.” She cares about school and is always asking me about my family and stuff like that. It’s refreshing to have someone care for you as more than an athlete.

CITIUS MAG: How much of a student of the sport do you think you’ve developed into at NC State? Because it's not just about the time on the clock and the result. You seem to take different things and then apply them each time around.

KATELYN TUOHY: My time here has been very formative for me because in high school I used to just go to the front and hammer. Then coming to [NC State], something we tried to work on was a long-term approach. Because when you get to USAs, or hopefully making Worlds teams or Olympic teams, you need to have different tools in your toolboxes. Like Coach Geiger always says. Sometimes a prelim will go out really slow and you need to kick or someone will make a surge in the middle. It's been good for me to try to race with different tactics, to learn what works for me and to give myself confidence for these big meets where different things happen.

CITIUS MAG: Are you in the mindset of already thinking about next year but at the same time having a long-term vision? It would be nice to make an Olympic team next summer, but knowing how your progression has been going, 2028 could also be a really good shot.

KATELYN TUOHY: I definitely have set some long-term goals that I keep in the back of my head as well as some shorter-term ones with this year being an Olympic year and wanting to do well at the Trials. I think it's good to set long-term goals so that you're not hyper-focused on what's happening right now in the present time. If something pops up like an injury, it's like, “OK, I have plans to run well in 2028. I can't do anything stupid now that's going to affect that.” Trying to balance both has been good for me.

Chris Chavez

Chris Chavez launched CITIUS MAG in 2016 as a passion project while working full-time for Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and grew his humble blog into a multi-pronged media company. He completed all six World Marathon Majors and is an aspiring sub-five-minute miler.

Related Episodes

NC State Coach Laurie Henes After Winning The NCAA Cross Country Championships On Fostering And Creating A Successful Team Culture, Atmosphere

November 24, 2021

View Episode

Elly Henes On Taking Big Risks To Belong And Race Among The Best Runners In America

April 3, 2023

View Episode

Charles Hicks Turns Pro, Joins Nike Bowerman Track Club

June 30, 2023

View Episode

BYU Coach Diljeet Taylor's Dedication To Her Runners' Whole Lives

May 9, 2023

View Episode