THE THIRD IN A SERIES of event-focus articles on the U.S. women’s 1500, an event on a hot streak and one in which we expect to see fierce-fierce racing when the competitive trek toward the Tokyo Olympics resumes.
CALL IT A LONG, loooong weekend. Or “there’s no place like home.” It’s the story of miler Elle Purrier’s spring at her family’s dairy farm in northern Vermont. Not at all what she bargained for after knocking what for 38 years had been Mary Slaney’s indoor mile American Record down to 4:16.85 at the Millrose Games. The time was just 0.14 off Slaney’s absolute AR.
In what started as the Tokyo Olympic year, Purrier and coach Mark Coogan planned a buildup to the all-important Trials in June as any elite runner would. COVID-19, of course, changed everything.
“Yeah, I’ve been here quite a few weeks since March,” says the ’18 New Hampshire grad. “Here” is the region just south of the Canadian border where her family—as well as the family of fiancé Jamie St. Pierre—operate dairy farms. “I came home for like the weekend. Then we decided we weren’t going to practice together so I’ve basically just been here since. It’s been pretty nice, honestly, just to be able to see my family and be at the barn and everything. I’m able to get outside and not feel cooped up like I’m sure a lot of people do in the city.
“Training by myself is definitely challenging and a little bit lonely. But I think I’ve made the most of it.”
At the moment, uncertainty is a prevailing feature for Coogan’s New Balance Boston Elite group. “We’re basically just kind of anticipating there maybe being a smaller season this fall,” she says. “So we’re actually doing training right now that I already did this past fall. We’re kind of just doing base stuff, just like to keep in shape, but not doing any workouts on the track and just doing more general tempo runs and strength stuff.”
On the farm the 25-year-old Purrier keeps moving even in the hours when she isn’t training. “I help with chores at least once a day lately,” she says. “So I’ve been milking and obviously you have to feed the cows every day and scrape and, I don’t know, there’s always little jobs to do around outside. We built some fence the other day ’cause they’re getting ready to put the cows back out. Luckily it’s been a pretty warm spring so I feel like we’ve been able to get some of the spring jobs done a little bit earlier.
“And last year, this time I was all the way out in Flagstaff [training at altitude]. It’s kind of crazy ’cause I haven’t been around, April is always a pretty busy month for me. So I’ve missed all of these things going on on the farm like every year since I’ve gone to college. So it’s been kinda nice.” Though stressful at the same time for farmers.
“It’s really hard to think about right now,” Purrier says. “There’ve been a lot of challenges in the last few years for dairy farmers. The prices are just awful and they were starting to get better in January and February. And then everything hit with the coronavirus, they’re just really going to get hit even harder. They’re predicting really low prices.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about and talking about a lot lately, but it’s not the first time either. So farmers know how to handle it. It’s just like it’s getting worse. So you know, if you can get through this, then I think you can get through anything. But luckily my farm is relatively small so we don’t have a lot of debts. So just kind of holding on and waiting it out. But it’s been really nice to spend time with my dad and the cows. You know, it’s kind of therapeutic when you don’t think about how much you’re not getting paid to work there? But, you know, it is what it is.”
Even in tough times, Purrier, her family and St. Pierre are helping others as she revealed on Instagram the first week in May: “FREE MILK (until supplies last)!!! Tomorrow from 12pm-3pm Pleasant Valley Farms and other sponsors welcome community members to drive up and get free milk… 4000 gallons will be split up between the two locations.
“We ask that people please respect CDC social distancing protocols by staying in your cars while milk is placed in your trunk.”
“We are all in this together!!! Vermont Dairy cares. I’ll see you there.” (Continued below)
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FREE MILK (until supplies last)!!! Tomorrow from 12pm-3pm Pleasant Valley Farms and other sponsors welcome community members to drive up and get free milk at either location of 138 Federal Street St. Albans VT or 88 Seymour Street Middlebury VT (Bourdeau Brothers). 4000 gallons will be split up between the two locations. 🐮 We ask that people please respect CDC social distancing protocols by staying in your cars while milk is placed in your trunk. 😷 We are all in this together!!! Vermont Dairy cares❤️. I’ll see you there. Link in story for more information. #vermont #dairy #vermontdairy
Coach Coogan—a marathon Olympian in ’96 who put up world-class times in the mile through the long road race—has praised Purrier for her no-drama work ethic and toughness. She sends the respect back to the mentor who coached her on to the World Championships team in the 5000 last year and to a 14:58.17 PR in the Doha final, in which she placed 11th.
“Everything’s been going so well,” Purrier says. “I’ve only been with him for almost 2 years now, but I think from the start I liked Mark’s coaching philosophy—just in that he really believes in his athletes and I think having that extra level of confidence from him gives me more confidence. So I think that that’s been a huge benefit to my training and racing. But he’s just super-chill. He’ll give me what to do, but he knows that I’m going to get my work done. So I’m responsible for what I need to do.
“He’s obviously giving me my training, but everything’s kind of the same every week. We have a pretty solid schedule, a weekly schedule. So that’s really nice. Right now, for example, just being here, I know what to do even if like he didn’t text me other than on a workout day. But I feel really fortunate at how laid back but also really supportive he is. He’s always keeping that family vibe on the team. So that’s really nice.”
Coogan’s group also has a literal family component in that Purrier training mate Katrina Coogan is the coach’s daughter.
Though she may be an American Record holder and past NCAA Indoor champion in the mile, as Purrier thinks about the 1500 and next year’s Olympic Trials, she has to keep the 5000 in mind, as well. Racing to a sub-15:00 PR in her first World Championships final in October of all months—that has to make her think long and hard.
“Well, I really wanted to break 15:00 for a while, so that was amazing,” she says. “But just going to Doha, I never thought I would go there and so I never would have imagined that. But it was pretty special to be a part of a world championship race and then to also do well. You know, making the final was difficult.
“I was the last person to make the final and then after that I was like, ‘You know, what do I have to lose?’ So I just gave it everything I had and I really just thought about the pace that I needed to run. Obviously I wasn’t in the front pack and I knew that I wasn’t really there yet. I can work to be there, but I just kinda thought about the pace that I knew I could run. So I tried to sit on that and then luckily there were other girls around me, so that helped to get that PR.”
While a 1500/5000 Olympic Trials double looks doable next year, Purrier won’t contemplate that unless she opts for the 1500, misses out on a team spot and grabs for the 5K ring as backup.
“With so much time [until June of ’21], there’s not a lot of pressure to choose that yet,” she says. “We’ll just see how my training goes this year, and how I’m racing next spring and everything.”
Lest you wonder where her heart lies, Purrier admits, “I definitely have more fun with the 1500 and the mile. That’s what I would prefer to do, but I kind of just do what Mark tells me to do. So, you know…” Rather than finish the sentence, Purrier breaks into a chuckle. Ask her again in a year.