IT HAS BEEN a year since Karissa Schweizer went from being the top collegiate women’s distance runner—6 NCAA titles for Missouri—to being an aspiring pro in Nike’s Bowerman TC. The struggle to adapt to the professional life is real. “I’m kind of the salad person,” she confesses. “I haven’t moved up to other meals. They cook pretty extravagant meals, so I’m just kind of learning right now.”
It’s not just the meal planning rotation at altitude camp that has been a challenge for the 23-year-old Iowa native. There’s the running itself. Being surrounded by many of America’s top runners means that workout days can be daunting she explains: “At times it can make it really hard because you have to take a step back. There are a few workouts that I haven’t been able to finish. I’m not used to that. Afterwards Jerry [Schumacher] will come up and he’s like, ‘You know, you’re running with someone who can run this in the mile and this in the 5K.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, OK, you’re right.’ And then you’re back to being, ‘Wow. I’m training with girls that are at this level.’ It’s pretty awesome.”
Still, the tougher workouts meant that Schweizer has had to rethink her recovery days. “I’m learning to take those easy days really easy,” she explains. “Listening to my body because I’ve dug myself into a hole a couple times and that’s definitely not where you want to be.” She adds, “We kind of have this unspoken rule: we’re not trying to beat each other into the ground; we’re just trying to help each other in any way that we can to get through the workout.”
In addition to the NCAA crowns, Schweizer already had serious credentials on the clock when she moved west to join the group that calls itself the Bowerman Babes. She had been under 15:20 for 5000 four times in her Mizzou uniform. She had cranked an 8:41.60 for 3000 indoors. Her range was notable, from 4:10.68 for 1500 to 32:00.55 in her first 10K.
Schweizer has only raced four times this outdoor season, but the results have been promising: 1500s of 4:12.10 and 4:08.51, an outdoor PR 8:42.15 at Prefontaine and a PR 15:01.63 to win the Sunset Tour. Of that 5000, the fastest U.S. clocking of the year, she says, “Before the meet we actually weren’t sure if I was going to run the 15 or the 5K, but at the end of the day it was just kind of whatever one I really wanted to do. And I’ve always really enjoyed the 5K. I thought it’d be fun to do a little dress rehearsal before USAs. We didn’t go out there and pace it to break 15. It was paced at what we thought it might be like at USA, and then we practiced cutting it down.”
With international vets Courtney Frerichs and Shelby Houlihan helping with the early pace work, the race looked like a Bowerman track workout. “It’s nice having a pacer there, but also having a pacer that you’re comfortable running behind,” Schweizer says. “Just running behind Shelby is really easy for me. Everything clicks and it just feels really natural.”
Coming so close to breaking 15:00 gave Schweizer mixed feelings. “Honestly, I was coming down the last 100 or so and I thought it said like 14:50-something, when it was actually in the 14:40s. Oh my gosh, I feel like if I had known, but who knows… In different circumstances, we definitely could have set up that race and I think a lot of the girls could have gone faster too. But for where the season’s at right now, there was no point to try to set it up to be this blazing fast race. It was a really good practice and it was a good takeaway to see where I’m at right now.” She adds, “There will be a time when I can get a better shot at it.”
Talking with T&FN just after hearing about Sifan Hassan’s breaking the mile World Record (“It was crazy!”), Schweizer relates that being trained by Schumacher means a light racing schedule that is aimed at the big meets. “We’ve been watching all these Diamond League races and we’re all like, ‘I want to be in that.’ It’s definitely really hard, but we know there’s a plan and you’re going to peak at a certain time and you can’t race every race.”
It’s a big change from the NCAA scene. Schweizer is running fewer than half the races that she used to. “There’s a big learning curve,” she says. “I knew there wasn’t going to be a lot of races. You can tell yourself all of that, but it’s a lot harder when you’re in it. It’s hard to watch the college races too, like the SECs and Nationals. They get to race all of the time. But we know we’re training at a high level and this is going to allow us to have maybe only one or two really good races, but those are going to be pretty special.”
Now, she is fired up about competing in the 5000 at the USATF meet, her first since she’s been with Schumacher’s program for a full cycle: “I’m excited about it being in my hometown.” The Drake track is just 4M from West Des Moines’ Dowling Catholic High, where Schweizer garnered plenty of All-State honors but only one State title—the 3000 as a frosh—during her prep years.
Now? “The goal for the year is to get on the Worlds team. And if not, I still would like to go out and run some fast times,” she says. “I feel like my fitness is higher than it ever has been. I’d like to see what I can do.”