Montgomery’s Elle Purrier Running for Team USA!
September 10, 2019
It’s been a breakout year for the farm girl turned track star.
By SARAH LORGE BUTLER SEP 8, 2019
In the past three months, Elinor Purrier has set PRs in the 800, 1500, and 5,000 meters, she has pushed Jenny Simpson to the limit at the Fifth Avenue Mile in New York, and she has made Team USA heading for the world championships in Doha later this month.
Seems like an odd concern. But when she compares her routine to her former life, maybe she has a point.
Purrier, who goes by Elle and pronounces it “Ellie,” grew up in Montgomery, Vermont, a few miles from the Canadian border, on a dairy farm that’s been in her family since 1904. Every morning throughout high school, she would rise at 5 a.m. to milk the cows and do other chores—throwing hay bales, taking care of pigs, shoveling out the barn.
That’s in her past, at least for now. Purrier runs for New Balance in Boston, about four hours from her family’s farm. When she goes home to Vermont to visit, she sleeps in later.
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“I feel like I’ve grown a little soft since I’m not home getting up for chores,” she said in an interview with Runner’s World. “Even when I do go home, I feel like they expect me to help. I’m like, ‘No, it’s really important for me to sleep. That’s my job now.’”
But Purrier, 24, fears she’s getting a little pampered.
Coming out of high school, she never ran more than 30 miles a week. But she was strong as a horse from the intense physical labor put in each day. She finished her senior cross-country season 17th at Nike Cross Nationals. In the winter, she played basketball before hitting the track in the spring and winning multiple state titles in Vermont’s small-school division.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
From there, she went to the University of New Hampshire (and before she left, her dad made her sell the pet pigs she kept and bred each year, selling the piglets). The coaches at UNH brought her along slowly, adding a little mileage each year. As a junior, she was seventh at the NCAA cross-country championships. Her senior year, she won an NCAA title in the indoor mile.
Mark Coogan, who coaches the New Balance Boston team, had been watching her progress for years. He tried to recruit her to come to Dartmouth College when he was coaching there. No dice. But in 2018, he thought she was the best distance runner coming out of the NCAA.
“[Her coaches], they let her grow, patiently,” Coogan said. “They could have over-raced her, and they didn’t. They let her develop the right way. She’s a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. A different college, they would just pound the crap out of somebody. UNH didn’t do that.”
Since she joined Coogan’s team last spring after NCAAs, she has gradually built her mileage to a consistent 70 per week. She’s done workouts that are longer and harder. And she’s benefited from great training partners, including Katrina Coogan, the coach’s daughter, who ran 15:14 for 5,000 meters this year, and Heather MacLean, who graduated this year from the University of Massachusetts and has lowered her 1500-meter PR from 4:17 to 4:05 in a year.
“Elle doesn’t complain,” Coogan said. “She’s not scared of doing hard work. There’s no drama with her, you know? She’s like, ‘What are we doing today?’ You tell her what we’re doing. And she just does it. There’s not a million questions. She’s not asking, ‘How many capillary beds am I laying down in my legs today? Is my VO2 max moving today?’ It’s more like, ‘I want to get this hard work in and get on with the rest of my day.’ Which is so refreshing.”
In the 5,000 meters at the U.S. outdoor championships, the plan was simple: Stick with the lead group and be ready to kick. With her mile speed, Purrier felt confident she could be there at the end. That’s exactly how it played out: Over the final kilometer, the pace gradually picked up. Through the last 800 meters, she moved up two spots to finish third in 15:17.46 behind Shelby Houlihan (15:15.50) and Karissa Schweizer (15:17.03).
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It’s been a long track season already—Purrier’s first race of the outdoor season was on May 13 and her first round of the 5,000 at worlds is not until October 2. A lot of athletes are running out of gas, sustaining injuries, or slowing down.
Coogan had her take two days off after USAs, followed by a week of easy running, then a week with a tempo run and a fartlek, so she had two full weeks off the track. She didn’t taper for the Fifth Avenue Mile in New York on Sunday and still finished faster than the previous course record, recording a 4:16.2, the same time as Simpson, who got the win by a step. Purrier hopes to make the 5,000-meter final in Doha and run strongly there.
Watch: Purrier finishes second at the 2019 5th Avenue Mile.
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It’s a bit of a dream for a girl from small-town Vermont—she had about 40 kids in her graduating high school class—but she’s trying to take advantage. “It’s pretty cool to be able to travel like I am,” she said. “I try to soak it up sometimes. I’m not going to be a professional runner for the rest of my life, and I know that. I’m going to take these years, however long I do it, to really enjoy it and also use it as an opportunity to see the world.”
Chances are pretty good she’ll end up back on a farm when she finishes running. She’s engaged to her high school sweetheart, Jamie St. Pierre, also a farmer, who gave her a Brown Swiss cow and a ring when he proposed in May. When she’s in Boston, she misses being around animals and in nature at all hours.
She seems similarities between running and farming. Both, she says, are misunderstood. Her parents, as proud as they are, can’t just leave the farm to go cheer her on at her races. The profession is a lifestyle. And it’s a passion. Just like running.
“I think growing up on a farm has completely shaped me to be who I am,” Purrier said, while pointing out that the cliches runners use about farming are true. For instance, “make hay while the sun shines.”
In fact, she is.