Rachel Schneider opens up about her rise in the professional ranks, breakout indoor season
Rachel Schneider is having a very strong 2017 indoor campaign. The Flagstaff-based Under Armour middle distance runner has set personal bests in both of her races so far and also recently got her first tattoo. I drove over to her house to sit at her kitchen table, eat some dark chocolate and talk to her about races that haunt her, proving herself, #Goals and what her Harry Potter patronus would be. All of this took place with her Australian Shepherd Khaleesi watching over us from a seat at the end of the table like a very furry human being.
If you’re not familiar with Rachel’s background, here are three quick bullet points to catch you up to speed:
- She’s originally from Maine and went to high school in New Hampshire (Shout out New England).
Rachel Schneider: Yes. My hometown is always a point of confusion for a lot of people because I was born and grew up in Maine but went to high school in New Hampshire, so all of my race results and times are from NH.
- Ran collegiately at Georgetown from 2009-2014
Jeanne Mack: What was your decision to go to Georgetown like?
Rachel Schneider: In high school my team didn’t have our own track, so I half-joked with my parents that as long as a school had a track, I’d consider them. I wound up at Georgetown, which is probably the one college to not have its own track. [My parents] will never let me live it down, but I just fell in love with Georgetown after I visited. Coach Milt [the head women’s cross country coach Chris Miltenburg, who has since left Georgetown for Stanford] had such a great energy, was so passionate, and had this amazing and ambitious vision for the team. I immediately trusted him and wanted to be a part of what he and the team were creating. And the team was just awesome! They were all so good at running, but also had such a fun, down-to-earth side and really cared about each other.
JM: And the transition appears to have gone well since you were a nine-time All-American and Big East conference champ. You were even All-American as a freshman and made World Juniors that year too, right?
RS: Yep, that’s right. Jordan Hasay and I were the two to qualify to Worlds that year in the 1500. I ran pretty terribly, but it was a good experience overall. People had no idea who I was. I even got drug tested because people were confused by my presence there. They thought Jordan Hasay, sure of course, makes sense. But, Rachel Schneider? It was hilarious. I got second to last, had a terrible and completely unimpressive race. Then I had to go take a drug test. A few weeks later, Jordan and I were the two to qualify for Junior Worlds in the 1500. I didn’t have a great race at World Juniors, but it was an awesome experience overall and just amazing to get to wear the Team USA uniform. Freshman year really opened up my eyes to where running could take me and made me hungry to compete against the best.
- Continues to run professionally for Under Armour and is coached by Mike Smith, who coached her at Georgetown once Miltenberg left.
JM: What about going pro? When did that come up on your radar? What was the process like?
RS: It kind of happened gradually. Going into college, I didn’t know what a fifth year was or really understood how the professional running world worked. I thought I’d do four years of college and then go straight into Physical Therapy school with running taking a background role. But during my senior year at Georgetown I just knew I wasn’t going to be ready to be done with running competitively and I really wanted to take a fifth year, and fortunately Mike was supportive of that. So we decided to redshirt my outdoor season of my senior year. I still competed and that’s actually when I had a real breakout race. I ran 4:10 unattached at the Stanford Payton Jordan meet. I’d spent the day binge-watching Game of Thrones, so now people always tell me to watch Game of Thrones before big races. It was a six second PR and honestly such a surprise. I was aiming to get the standard for USAs, which was 4:13.5, but was just hoping to be right under that. So when I crossed the line and looked up, it was a pretty big shock to break it by a few seconds.
JM: That’s awesome.
RS: Yeah, we were excited!
JM: So that was unattached. But then you came back for your fifth year at Georgetown.
RS: Yeah. It didn’t go quite as well as we’d hoped. After running 4:10 while redshirting, which I think would have been the second fastest time run in the NCAA that year, we had big goals for my final year. I loved working with Mike and being on the team, but I kind of overtrained that year and underestimated the importance of recovery. I made it to the 1500 final at NCAAs that year, but had hoped to do much better than ninth place. I was pretty physically and mentally burnt out and tired at that point. But I still didn’t want to be done with running. My heart was still 100% in it. I think some people wrote me off and I had zero sponsorship offers coming in, but Mike really believed in me, that I could take it to the next level. Before getting into post-collegiate running, though, we took a good chunk of time off to mentally and physically reset. I didn’t worry about running for over two months that summer. I only ran if I wanted to. I hiked. I surfed. I did a triathlon. But I had no set workouts, no training plan.
JM: You came back to Georgetown again in the Fall even though you were done collegiately.
RS: That’s right. I wanted to keep working with Mike and be a part of the team in some small, indirect way. I was juggling running with grad school and three part time jobs, but while some people thought I was crazy for not getting a “real job” or applying to PT schools, I still had so much energy and excitement and positivity for running. [Editor’s note: if you know Rachel, this is not surprising]. I was tutoring, working at a running store, dog-sitting, and babysitting. It still wasn’t quite enough to make ends meet so I took out a loan–my first little loan. I never questioned whether what I was doing made sense. I just knew I’d have regrets if I didn’t try and see how good I could be. I did a lot of training on my own, but overlapped with the team a bit which was really nice. I started running fast times again, finished 3rd in the mile at USA Indoors, and partnered with Total Sports Agency and got sponsored by Under Armour that winter. It was extremely humbling and gratifying to be supported and have others believe in what we were doing and where we could go. That spring I placed 5th at USA Outdoors and missed making the team for Worlds by .01 seconds. It was heartbreaking. 0.01 seconds. In the 1500. That number and race still haunt me a bit, but they also motivate me more than anything. That first year post- collegiate taught us a lot.
JM: Did you struggle with the decision of finding a training group or team versus just staying with your college coach Mike Smith? Is it difficult being an individual instead of part of a group? Do you work out on your own mostly?
RS: I just knew I really wanted to stay with Mike after college. I trust him 100% and it seemed like the most natural and right decision. I also wanted to finish the graduate program I had started during my fifth year, so it just made sense to go back to Georgetown. So, no, I guess I didn’t really even want to consider looking around much at teams or training groups. And yeah, sometimes it’s hard not to have a team or constant training partners – I think I really struggled with that last year while living in DC and doing most of my training alone leading up to the Olympic Trials. But now I live full-time in Flagstaff and I freaking love the running community here. There are so many phenomenal runners in Flag, who are so encouraging and inclusive that I feel like I sort of have a team here. There are so many people to run with here, whether it’s for easy runs or workouts. Stephen Haas, Jarred Cornfield and Tim Cummings have all been willing to jump in and pace workouts for me the past few months which has been a huge help.
JM: I know you never really go down to sea level for workouts. What’s the reasoning there?
RS: Well. Maybe we should call Mike to answer that. (Laughs) But seriously, we’ve been able to do everything we needed to do at altitude so far. I think we’ll go down a bit in the future at some points to sharpen up. But it’s also really good mental training to get in the groove of working out up here and staying mentally tough when it physically gets hard. [Elevation of about 7,000.]
JM: So you’re coming off two fresh mile PRs. What else is on the horizon for you?
RS: Well the next immediate thing is USA Indoors, which is in about two weeks. Other than that, we haven’t decided too much about specific outdoor races yet. Possibly the first Stanford meet. I might open up with a 5K and run an 800 at some point, but will definitely be focusing on the 1500.
JM: Oh wow. That’s kind of new, huh? When is the last time you’ve raced 5k on the track?
RS: It’s been awhile, for sure. Probably two years, I’d have to go back and check. It was painful. But I’m excited to try out the 5K again, it should be much better than the last time I raced one. We’ve come a long ways with strength and mechanics since the last time we raced one.
JM: What about specific goals for this year?
RS: PRs. I’ve already hit mile PRs and kind of the 800 too–in practice. But the 1500, the 5k, the 3k. I want to lower those PRs. Would love to make the World team in the 1500 – that’s the big goal. Hopefully I’ll be on the right side of the 0.01 this time.
JM: Do you feel like Flagstaff is an essential piece of the puzzle in terms of your training and hitting those goals?
RS: I love Flag. It’s so great. I came out and trained in Flagstaff over the summer going into my fifth year and for a few months in the Fall of 2015.I fell in love with it both times I was here, but I kept going back to DC. I didn’t live here permanently then and it was hard, you know, kind of choosing between assimilating and investing myself into the Flag community versus being with my coach and having him be able to actually see my workouts during racing season. So when Mike moved out here this Fall to be the Director and coach at NAU, I was pretty ecstatic. My heart broke for the Georgetown, because I know what that’s like, having a coach you love leave. Fortunately, they’re an extremely resilient team and had incredible coaches step up. Regardless of Mike moving to Flag though, I would have come out here during the Fall. But it’s so nice to not have to travel back and forth and split the year living in different places. While Mike and I were good at communicating long-distance, it’s a huge help having him at practices. It’s also so nice getting to settle into a place and take part in the community. I’ve joined Team Run Flagstaff and just started volunteering at Big Brothers Big Sisters. I’m really happy here.
JM: Ok. Just a couple more questions here. One- What would your patronus be?
RS: Oh man! That’s a great question! [Shout out Nicole Bush for coming up with it.] I guess hmm, I’d have to say–maybe Khaleesi, can I say that?
JM: Wait. So to clarify, you mean Khaleesi, your dog, or the character from G.O.T. or Australian Shepherds in general?
RS: Hm. I think Khaleesi my dog. But we can also say Australian Shepherds, or all three.
JM: That makes sense. And last one–you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but I’m curious what you thought about about Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank’s comment about President Trump that “to have such a pro-business president is something that is a real asset for the country.”
RS: Let’s just say that I agree with Steph Curry’s response to that quote.
And after that long and rambling conversation, we talked a little bit about music, how Rachel was a huge fan of “Dark Blue” by Jack’s Mannequin back in high school and how she still wants to get to a music festival at some point. Then I snagged a handful more of the dark chocolate that Rachel continued to beseech me to take and said goodbye to her, Khaleesi, and her temporary roommate Thomas Awad.