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How Elle St. Pierre became 'Vermont's best runner'

Elle Purrier St. Pierre celebrates uafter winning the women's 1500-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Monday, June 21, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Chris Carlson/AP
Elle St. Pierre celebrated after winning the women's 1500-meter run at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore.

When the summer Olympics kick off at the end of July, a Vermont runner will represent the United States in Paris.

Elle St. Pierre of Montgomery secured her spot on Team USA last week after winning the 5000-meter finals at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in track and field in Oregon, setting an Olympic trials record in the process. On Sunday she qualified for a second event, the 1500-meter, by running a personal best.

"It was amazing," said Scott Douglas, a contributing writer to Runner's World magazine. The North Yarmouth, Maine resident co-authored a running guide, Personal Best Running, with St. Pierre's coach Mark Coogan.

Douglas joined Vermont Edition to share what he's learned about St. Pierre's training regimen, running style and Olympic prospects.

Though St. Pierre qualified in two distances, she will focus only on the 1,500-meter in Paris. She is considered a serious contender for a medal.

Her third-place finish in the time trials final should not be considered bad news for her Olympics prospects, Douglas said. For one, she led the field for most of the race before dropping back at the end. "Because of the way that she ran the race, she led the first eight women to personal best," Douglas said. "She made the race."

Inspiring those around her to do their best is something of a St. Pierre hallmark. Douglas said her teammates on her Boston-based New Balance running team perform better when St. Pierre is around.

Author Scott Douglas wrote a book on running strategies with Mark Coogan, the coach for Olympics-bound runner Elle Purrier St. Pierre.
Courtesy Human Kinetics
Author Scott Douglas wrote a book on running strategies with Mark Coogan, the coach for Olympics-bound runner Elle Purrier St. Pierre.

When she was on maternity leave in 2023, "they still ran okay, but they weren't as impressive as they were before she was on maternity leave," Douglas said. Her return "really elevated the team," he said.

St. Pierre gave birth to her son in March 2023. One year later, in March 2024, she won the 3,000-meter championship at the World Athletics Indoor Championship in Glasgow, Scotland. While it's not particularly rare for an elite woman athlete to return to competition after having a child, it is rare to see the level of success that St. Pierre has exhibited since returning to competition.

"She's just been on fire. It's the best year of her life, in terms of running, since coming back from maternity leave," Douglas said.

Her success in the past year speaks to her coach Mark Coogan's underlying philosophy: "if you're happy in the rest of your life, then you're setting yourself up to be the best runner you can be," as Douglas put it. "She listened to her body so she didn't experience some of the problems that sometimes elite women runners have in trying to come back too quickly from pregnancy," Douglas said.

St. Pierre grew up on a dairy farm in Franklin County, and she maintains an exceptionally close relationship with her family and community. She splits her time between Vermont and Boston, rather than permanently relocating to the city, in order to maintain her work-life balance.

Coogan places a high value on making sure his athletes have a positive environment to return to outside of practice, and keeping their stress levels at a minimum.

Young runners in Vermont hoping to follow in St. Pierre's footsteps — literally — could learn a lot from her current training as well as her past. In high school, she balanced a number of different physical activities, from playing basketball to working on her family's dairy farm. Douglas believes that broad-based athletic background has contributed to her success.

He also urged young runners — particularly women — to take note of St. Pierre's conditioning. "If you look at Elle and everyone else on their team, they look strong, they look healthy, they look fit. They don't look like people who starve themselves to try to run a tenth of a second faster."

In all, Douglas said, St. Pierre is a great role model for being a "strong, healthy person," on the track and off.

Broadcast live on Monday, July 1, 2024, at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.