An Insider's Look into the Bowerman Track Club with Colleen Quigley
TEMPO recently had the exclusive opportunity to join the women of Bowerman Track Club (the self proclaimed ‘Bowerman Babes’) at an altitude camp in Colorado Springs.
What follows are the thoughts of Bowerman Babe and Olympian Colleen Quigley, as she shares what it takes to become one of the most successful training groups in the world.
Alongside the women of BTC on this camp was renowned photographer David Bracetty. As always, David managed to create an immersive set of images that put the viewer as close to all aspects of camp as possible (without having to do all those miles).
Please enjoy this exclusive look into life with the Bowerman Track Club.
The Bowerman Track Club is different. We are different than we appear from the outside. We are different than a collegiate team or any other pro team out there. We believe we are different in a good way.
I graduated from college in the summer of 2015. I had one year before the next Olympic Trials and I set out to find the best professional training situation for me so that I could have a shot at making that USA team in 2016.
I run a specialty event, the steeplechase, so first on my list was finding a coach that specialized in that event.
Second on my list of demands was a group of women who I could train with so that I didn’t have to go through the professional runner life alone. I know I workout better on the track when I’m pushed by athletes who are better than me. I’m also more likely to get the long boring training runs done if I have a group to meet up with and keep me accountable.
I think pretty much any runner at any level would agree with these statements. It’s obvious, right? Well, there really weren’t that many options for me to meet both of those criteria as a professional steeplechaser.
So I started to reach out to the coaches/groups I could find who did meet my criteria to find out if they were even interested in me in return. The coaches I reached out to were happy to talk to me and graciously allowed me to visit the group in their training habitat. These visits were not very different from the ones I made in 2011 when I was on the search for the right collegiate team for me. I got to meet the coach in person, hear about his coaching and training philosophy, watch practice, run with the team, talk to everyone about the training regimen, pro lifestyle, treatment, city, and social life.
When I visited Portland there was something special about the Bowerman Track Club.
Maybe it was the fact that I spent the weekend in one of my idols, Shalane Flanagan’s, house.
Maybe it was that Coach Schumacher was 100x more friendly, personable, and easy to talk to than I imagined.
Maybe it was the allure of training at the Nike World Headquarters campus every day.
It also could have been the incredible food scene on display in downtown Portland (a welcome respite from the grits and fried chicken of Tallahassee).
Over the next couple of years I have started to put my finger on what makes the BTC so different and so special.
Intention: Something every Bowerman Babe must have.
All of the Bowerman babes have one thing in common.
We all chose the Bowerman Track Club. We did not get recruited.
Coach Schumacher didn’t call us up to ask us to join his group. Sure, Jerry wanted to build out his women’s group, he told me so when we first spoke in the spring of 2015 when there were just two female members: Shalane Flanagan and Emily Infeld.
The women who are training here all had to put themselves on the line and say to Jerry, “Here I am. I’ve done what I’ve done and I want to take that next step and find out if I can be even better. I believe that means training with you and your group… Let me know if you want me, too”. To which Jerry responded with something along the lines of, “Sure, come on over".
Every one of us intentionally sought out this opportunity for ourselves. Although we don’t like to think of that during the 10-mile fartlek, we chose this life and are all willing to dedicate ourselves to it.
That dedication shows through when Jerry ships us off to altitude for a month of breathing in thin air to get fit before the season.
Every day that we leave the house, get our morning run/workout in, do weights, get treatment, cross-train, do a second run, cook and eat nutritious food, and go to bed early, we know that we are getting better.
If the thought ever arises “I don’t feel like it today,” we push it aside and march on with intention.
Every day is not perfect
Some of the Babes enjoy social media more than others, but rarely do we post about the shitty days when we get dropped on a tempo or can’t hit our projected workout times at altitude.
Because that part is not very much fun. But it happens.
Especially in the beginning when you are getting used to Coach Schumacher’s endurance-based program. Especially when you join the group straight out of college. Especially when you’ve never done altitude training before. Especially when you’re trying to “tempo” 20 seconds/mile faster than you ever have before…
Okay, so I’m talking mainly about me at the end there, but you get it.
Not being able to finish a workout or getting dropped is pretty much a requirement of joining the squad.
"Trying to nail Jerry’s seemingly impossible sessions is a daily struggle.
Jerry isn’t one to hold your hand or give you much reassurance after your embarrassment on the track either, but your teammates most definitely will"
When that happens to one of the babes, the other ones remind her that even when you can’t finish a Jerry workout, you’re still doing way better than any workout you’ve ever done before joining the group. Even on your worst day, you are still getting better.
We’ve all had bad sessions and we know how it feels. We also know it won’t last forever and it doesn’t define you as a runner.
Usually by the time brunch is over we’ve put the crappy workout behind us and have resolved to move forward and try again the next time. Because there will be plenty more opportunities. And because pancakes and coffee fix almost anything.
Competitive, yet supportive
Yes, the Babes are very competitive. This competitiveness drives us. In 2016 we qualified 7 out of 8 women to the Olympic Games in Rio.
7 out of 8!
Shalane and Amy qualified in the marathon in February after spending a month training together in Flagstaff, AZ. Shalane had just come off a bone injury in her foot and spent the beginning of that build up in the pool and on the bike. At no point did Amy see that as one less person to beat at the trials. Instead, she supported Shalane through their training camp and the two of them ran the trials together practically every step of the way.
A few months later, the rest of us track girls headed to Park City, UT for our altitude camp. Emily and I had both suffered our own bone injuries that spring and were just getting back into running ourselves. We all spent a month gritting out tough workouts together, taking turns leading reps and alternating good and bad days. While we were still in Park City, Betsy Saina raced in Kenya and qualified for Team Kenya in the 10k.
When it came time to step on the line in Eugene, I felt like I had the power of the entire group behind me. Emily was the first to compete in the 10k. Straight final and she qualified to Rio. Next up it was Courtney and I. In the final turn, Courtney and I passed second place together and powered home to make our first Olympic team. On the last day, Shelby took her turn and patiently stalked her competitors in the 5k before unleashing the beast and punching her ticket.
That was the best summer ever. That’s when I really realized what we had cooking on this team.
Since then we have added two more track studs who also competed in Rio: Kate Grace (800m) and Marielle Hall (5k).
The two were thrown in the mix this fall, right in time for mile repeats on the grass. That’s one way to welcome new teammates!
They both came to the group with a little more experience and maturity not having come straight from college. They have been handling the workload with grace and accepting the ups and downs as they come.
I think we all struggle somewhat with comparison. Comparing yourself to the other women in the group or other women in your event is tempting. For example, Kate and I trained alongside one another all month in Colorado, then literally stood on the starting line next to each other at the Millrose Games and ended up finishing 1-2 by .03 seconds.
Last indoor season, it was the same thing at BU and Indoor USAs with Shelby finishing right ahead of me both weekends after training together all month in Flagstaff. All of us know that we are better together than we ever would be training separately. And that’s the goal, after all, to be better.
Sometimes the competitiveness combined with the weeks on end of living in close quarters and hanging out 24/7 as tensions are building before a big race can all come together in completely the wrong way. Sometimes comments are made that rub people the wrong way or statements are taken in a way they weren’t intended.
We are up to 9 women now and we all have our own distinct personalities that don’t always mesh 100% of the time. That's the truth.
But when it comes down to it, if anyone tries to mess with one of the Babes, they are gonna have to go through the rest of us first.
P.S. have you seen Shelby’s guns?
I guess we are a little like sisters in that respect. If your sister keeps leaving her dirty clothes on the floor, you’re gonna say something to her. At the same time, if your sister is having a bad day, you make her a banana oatmeal bake with just the right amount of chocolate to make her feel better.
I can confidently say this group has brought out the absolute best in me. I’ve done things in workouts and races I never dreamed possible.
Things that would truly never have been possible if it weren’t for Jerry giving us the challenge and if it weren’t for the women accepting that challenge and making the decision to buckle up and just see what happens if we go for it together wholeheartedly.
It’s not always pretty (and we’d rather not share the gory details of the days when it all falls apart), but we are never alone in the struggle and there is something truly special about that.
In closing, I asked the girls on our camp to sum up the group by finishing this sentence.
The Bowerman Babes are...
Shelby Houlihan: Badass
Emily Infeld: Passionate and supportive
Marielle Hall: Resilient
Kate Grace: Fierce
Courtney Frerichs: Dedicated and driven