Interview: Carrie Tollefson
By Rachel Landry

Photo: Victah@Photo Run
Carrie Tollefson on her way to a second-place finish in the 4k race at the 2002 USA Winter Cross Country Championships.
(Photo: New York Road Runners)

Carrie Tollefson Links:
Team USA Minnesota Bio
Former Villanova stars prepare to run for glory in Ireland (3/14/02)
A Brief Chat with Carrie Tollefson (2/13/02)

Carrie Tollefson, 25, showed the world what she was made of March 24 when she placed 11th in the women's 4k at the World Cross Country Championships in Dublin, Ireland. A five-time NCAA champion for Villanova, Tollefson secured her spot on the World team by placing second to Regina Jacobs at the USA Winter Cross Country Championships in Vancouver, Washington. A native of Minnesota, Tollefson recently moved back to her home state and now trains with Team USA Minnesota.

Fast-Women: First of all, congratulations on your performance at Worlds. How did you feel going into the race?
Carrie Tollefson: Thanks, going into it I guess we were relaxed. It was fun and new for all of us, only Mary Jayne (Harrelson) was experienced. We had the camaraderie of a team. It was fun to compete against the rest of the world wearing the red, white and blue. I was not nervous; the pressure was for the team and not the individual. I wanted to run well for the team. It was nice to have all seven of us there. To have Regina (Jacobs) there would have been exciting. I enjoyed getting to know the other ladies and she is one I would love to sit down with and talk to about her experiences. With her there, we might have placed higher or won, but we are excited for next year.

Were you satisfied with your performance?
I was really excited. I guess being second at nationals I wanted to lead our team, but Suzy was great. It was my first year there, and I wanted to be in the top 20 so 11th is great!

Was it a surprise to you that you made the team?
At Nationals, I was focused on making the team. Making the team made me feel like I won. It was a big steppingstone for me. I'm 25 and I'm expected to be in the top, and it's finally started to happen!

You've improved your times since you left college, what do you think has helped you do so?
I've just been training hard, not that I didn't in college. In college I ran to win, I didn't run to run fast times. Even at Nationals I ran to win, not to run 15:30. I think getting in there and getting the experience has helped.

How many miles a week do you usually run?
Ninety miles a week is the highest I run. I run about 65-80 miles a week during a normal week. But on off weeks it's about 85-90. It's a fun job, I love what I do.

How did you decide that you wanted to continue running at an elite level?
Just having the opportunity to run for adidas, they pay for me to run, I couldn't pass it up. We have the chance to say that we're the best in the world. Not many people can say that at any job.

How does it feel to be called an elite runner? Did you ever think that you would get to this level?
I guess this year it's a different feeling for me. Its fun because I'm competing to win in a couple of years. It's neat to be called that, it makes me want to be better. Hearing people say positive things about me is a real confidence booster.

How many races do you normally run in a month?
Last year I didn't run that many. This year I want to run more. I try to run 2-3 times a month, but that is pushing it. I realize with the amount of training I do, I can't do it that much. Every time I get on a plane recently I have been getting a cold!

What made you decide to train with Team USA Minnesota? What has the experience been like?
It's great. I moved back home, my older sister had a baby and my other sister got married. I loved Villanova - the girls and the coaches, but it was time for a change. Minnesota is so supportive of us. Dennis Barker (her coach) has been great. (Villanova coach Marcus) O'Sullivan and him have both been great.

How do they help you with your living situation?
Actually, there are three of us who train together and live in a house that [the program] has provided for us and we pay rent. It's a really nice house, a lot nicer then we'd normally be able to live in without their help! It's like a college atmosphere. We meet our coach a few times a week, but we're older now so we can go out and do our runs on our own.

How was your transition from collegiate to elite runner?
My transition was tough at times. I was living in Philadelphia and I loved it there and I had a great coach, Marcus O'Sullivan, and training partners but I wasn't where I wanted to be in life. I guess I was searching for something and so when I had the offer to move to Minnesota, I went for it with an open mind and it seemed to work. As a runner, I had to be patient last year. Marcus had upped my mileage and we were doing some different types of training. I knew things were going to pay off, but it was just something that wasn't going to happen overnight. When I needed to PR I did. I set new PRs in every event last year and I hope to do that again this year.

What type of mileage did you do in college, compared to what you do now?
In college, my coaches Gina Procaccio and Marcus, kept me on the low end. The Villanova girls have always succeeded at low mileage, high intensity training so I was around 60-65 my fifth year. On my weekly mileage, they probably added 5-10 miles a year and tacked on 1-2 miles longer on each long run. My longest long run in college was 13 miles and I think I did that twice, so they tried to keep us on the lower end. I think that is why adding new miles now is helping me become the kind of runner I want to be. I had room to grow and they didn't overtrain me, which has kept me healthy and not burnt out from extra mileage.

Do you and your teammates get along well? Is it like a college team?
My teammates get along really well. We are not only training partners but really good friends too. It is a lot like college, but then there are times where it is totally different. We live together and practice together but we are older now and we have separate lives as well.

How did you end up being sponsored by adidas? What kind of support do they provide?
I guess it is sort of like being recruited. I was approached by some shoe companies and so I decided to get an agent. His name is Mark Wetmore and he took things into his hands and helped me sign the best deal for me. I love being with adidas. Not only do they have great shoes and gear but the staff and other athletes that are sponsored by them seem almost like a second family. Everyone is so supportive. Adidas basically sponsors me to advertise and represent their company. I have a contract with them where they pay me, pay for my travel and other expenses and in return I perform the best I can and give them exposure at the same time. They allow me to run full-time and with that help, I can set my goals high and try to achieve them.

Is that the Mark Wetmore of Colorado fame?
My agent is Mark Wetmore with Global Athletics. He is a different guy then the Mark Wetmore from Colorado. Crazy though that they have the same exact name.

What goals do you have for the future? Are there any new events you would like to try?
My goals for the future are pretty high. I am one who sets things high and if I don't reach them...Well if I know I tried my best then I can't be too disappointed. I want to make the Olympic team in the 5k in 2004. I would love to set an American Record in the 5k as well. Placing in the top 5 outdoors this year in the 5k is a short-term one along with PRing in every event. I would like to break 4:10 in the 1,500 and that is one that I think will only indicate faster times in the longer races.

Are there any new events? I think [you're asking if] I'm going to try the steeple? I would love to. It isn't something I have really thought too much about but I always say that I didn't play basketball for nothing. I think I could have a lot of fun in the event and yes, that is something to look into.

Which do you like more? Track or cross country?
I would say I love cross country but it is nice to have accurate times too so I really can't say which one I like more. When I was in high school I loved cross. There is something about having people from all events out in one race fighting for the win and fighting for your team. But on the track, it is fun to hear times and splits. I don't know, I think I just love to run in general!

What is your favorite event?
It is kind of funny since I most likely won't compete at this other then tune-up races, but I love the mile and the 1,500. For some reason, there is something about getting through that third lap and then being able to bring it home. It just fires me up. I love the 3,000 as well but the 5k is still so new to me that I can't say that is my favorite yet. I do enjoy it though!

How old were you when you started running?
I was 12. I ran on the high school cross team because one of my sisters was on the team. She was graduating so I thought it would be fun to be on a team with her. My parents never pushed me to run, but I think early on they saw that I might have some talent. I played basketball in the winters all through high school and loved it, but I knew I had to give it up after I started college.

What has been the best moment of your running career?
In college, I would have to say winning [the 1997 NCAA Cross Country Championship] and then winning the (3,000/5,000) double in outdoor track. Now, I guess [I'd say it was] when I finished second in cross this year. I will never forget finishing. There stood Deena Drossin, Jen Rhines, and Amy Rudolph, three of my role models and friends, at the finish line waiting to say, 'Great race.' At that moment, I knew I would never forget it. I had the feeling of how badly I wanted to be like them. I want to win, and this year at cross, I had that fire again - the one you have when you know you are fit and you know you are ready to run fast. I have the fire back and I hope I can start achieving some of those goals!

What has been the worst?
The worst part of my career was after 1997 when they told me I had the tumor in my heel and that I may not run again. I guess that was a big turning point in my life. I learned a lot that year and I think that sort of made me grow up and take things into my own hands. I had to ask myself a lot that year and I like to think that injuries aren't always a bad thing now. Sometimes it is a time for you to reflect on what is important to you and what you are going to do about it.

How was your Olympic Trials experience in 2000? Were you disappointed that you didn't make the team?
I have to say I was more disappointed with myself that year, not necessarily my finish. It was my fifth year at Villanova and I wasn't myself. I just didn't have the fire I was talking about before. I was just running, not running with my whole heart, and I got my butt kicked. I think that might have been one of the best things that ever happened to me. I realized then and there how hard this sport is and how much training of both the mind and body you need. Talent alone doesn't get you where you need to be. So yes, I was disappointed after that year but it was great being there. I hope my second time around is much better!

How do you stay healthy, both mentally and physically?
I have to say I stay healthy because I really love what I do. I am not obsessed with it and I won't allow myself to become that way. I do what my coach says, I listen to my body, and I run with it. This is a God-given talent, one I would never give up for anything in the world. I have seen the world, met some of my best friends in this sport, and get to stay fit for a living. Why would I do anything to jeopardize that? That is why I have never dabbled with eating disorders or overtraining. It is inevitable that they will either get in the way of training by causing illness or injury or worst case, they could end your career.

What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day is run, eat, shower, sleep, run, eat, shower and sleep. No, I am kidding, but I live a pretty routine life. I base everything around my workouts and usually I shop or work occasionally at a local running store called Run N Fun in St. Paul. I love spending time with family and friends, so hanging out with them usually happens as much as my schedule allows it.

When do you see yourself going into broadcast journalism?
I would love to do it now but I just don't have the time to really get into it. I have interned at two stations in Philadelphia, Comcast Sports Net and Fox, and I loved it. I think in the near future I will try and get some small projects, but right now, I have enough on my plate. I am just trying to hang with the best and that is hard enough the way it is.

What do you like to do besides running?
Like I said, family and friends are really important to me. I love shopping, cooking, dancing, which Katie McGregor (another Team USA Minnesota athlete) and I do as much as we can, and traveling. We usually cook big meals and that is always a highlight of my day.

Do you have any advice for someone who would like to make the transition from college runner to elite runner?
I would encourage anyone who wants to do it to go for it. It is a career that won't last forever but it is one that is so unique and so exciting. If this is your passion and running is what makes you tick, then tie up those shoes and get out the door. If not, then find something that does make you tick and go after that. Life is too short. Find what really makes you happy, and go with it.

Rachel Landry is a senior journalism major at Texas A&M. She has written for several newspapers and is a fan of women's running.

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