Gentle rain showers fall intermittently on the athletes gathered on the infield of the high school track in Cottonwood, Arizona. Huddling in waterproof jackets, stretching and pulling on the gear they need for the upcoming track session, there is plenty of laughter – a measure of the strong team spirit at work. But one athlete stands out – the one tending to her baby while preparing to run.

Elle Purrier St Pierre has more to handle than her fellow New Balance teammates. Her son, Ivan – just 18 months old – has woken up and is not happy. But Elle seems effortlessly to be able to handle her baby at the same time as getting ready for a session of six sets of 600m hard, a jog recovery and then 200m hard.

The apparent ease with which Elle – a 3,000m gold medallist at the World Indoor Athletics Championship that took place in Glasgow, Scotland just a few months ago – is indicative of her whole approach to sport. And perhaps to life.

Growing up on her parents’ dairy farm in Vermont (and taking an active role in daily milking), Elle did not have a plan to become a professional athlete. “I played basketball, soccer, softball at school,” she explains, “and running was an aspect of all of those.” Elle says that she was naturally competitive and would regularly perform well in races. “I had early success,” says Elle, “and it was fun, you know, to be good at something.”

Elle’s coach – Mark Coogan, now the head coach for the New Balance Boston Elite team – says that when he first saw Elle run, he was so impressed that he tried to recruit her to come to Dartmouth College – a US National Collegiate Athletic Association Division One college – where he was the women’s cross-country head coach. But Elle had other ideas.

“Running led to a college scholarship,” Elle says, “but I was never like: ‘Oh, my God, I want to be professional runner someday.’ I feel like there [are] very few people [who] think that from a young age. But it did kind of just very slowly progress.”

As a junior at the University of New Hampshire, Elle competed in the mile and the 3,000m steeplechase. Following her graduation in 2018, she turned professional and joined the New Balance Boston Elite team.

But life was about more than just running. In 2020, Elle married her high-school boyfriend Jamie St Pierre, also from a dairy-farming background. The pair now work together on the large St Pierre family dairy farm in Richford, Vermont – and Jamie emotionally and practically supports Elle’s regular trips to train with the New Balance team throughout the United States.

Perhaps it’s this solid family background and strong work ethic that helps Elle to concentrate on – and fully commit to – her athletic targets. “One of Elle’s qualities,” says Coogan, “is that she does not get stressed about small issues. She is focused on the big picture and aims to get that right.”

A good example of this is how Elle and her training partners were forced to postpone the Cottonwood track session by 24 hours because of a sudden snowstorm that rolled through the hills of the nearby Coconino National Forest.

Coogan suggests that Elle’s roles both as a mother and as a farmer help her to be a world-class athlete. “Elle is really strong, both physically and mentally,” explains Coogan, “and she is able to maintain balance. So she trains sensibly and races positively.”

Given all the demands that her life places upon her, how does Elle maintain the motivation to train and compete at the highest level?

“I think the changing aspect of [my running career] is definitely a big part of it,” says Elle. “And getting closer to my goals is really motivating.”

Elle admits that she has a few big goals in the back of her mind. But at the same time, the “smaller” aspects of being a runner – day-to-day training, individual sessions – keep her interested in what she is doing. “Knowing that training sessions are the steps that you need to take to get to the bigger goals – and evolving as a person and a runner – has been a big part of learning to love the sport in different ways,” she says.

Elle’s son Ivan is also a source of inspiration, although (like all parents) she experiences moments where she wishes she could be in more than one place at once.

“I think motherhood definitely changes my perspective on running,” Elle explains. “It gives me a different kind of motivation. Now I’m motivated to be able to show my son what I have accomplished. I can’t wait until he’s old enough to understand what I’ve been able to accomplish.”

At the same time, Elle knows that her dedication to the sport means her son has to adapt to her schedule. “You know, there’s always the ‘mom guilt’ aspect too,” she says. “Ivan has adapted to my lifestyle. Like traveling with me out here to Flagstaff and to all the races. I feel kind of guilty in some ways.”

As well as support from Jamie and her wider family, Elle is able to balance motherhood and sport because of the team she has around her. Mark Coogan is clearly more than just a coach, regularly checking on Ivan as Elle and the other athletes warm up, complete the session and cool down. Another of Elle’s teammates, Síofra Cléirigh Büttner, who is not taking part in the session in Cottonwood, keeps Ivan entertained.

In fact, Elle says that all her fellow team members are essential to her success. Emily McKay, Heather MacLean, Lea Mayer, Katrina Coogan, Millie Paladino, Kate Mitchell – and Büttner – are all chasing their own dreams. But it is clear from watching just one session that they are enthusiastic in their support of each other during training, and focused on helping each other in competition. “It is so important for me to have my teammates, showing up to practice to go through the motions with. Having people by your side during hard workouts and long runs.”

Elle also draws motivation from thinking about what her competitors are doing. Having raced the best runners in the world – and in Glasgow, beating them – is a source of energy. Elle is also grateful to her sponsors, wanting to represent them in the best way she can. But ultimately, Elle draws on her intrinsic reasons for running to keep doing what she does. “I’m doing it because I want to be better,” she says, simply.

After the warm-up, as the runners don their spikes and take off their long-sleeved tops, the clouds drift away and the sun comes out. Elle and her teammates start circling the track and they seemingly cover the distance with ease. But at the end of each repetition, the effort is obvious. Despite having driven an hour down from Flagstaff, where the athletes are based for this training camp, Cottonwood is still at 3,461ft (1,055m) above sea level. Nothing comes easy in this sport.

Elle is clear about why she is putting herself – and her young family – through the challenges of being a professional athlete. She wants to win an Olympic medal in Paris this summer.

And there is more. “I feel like just to be happy and healthy running is the ultimate goal as well.”

Watch out for Elle Purrier St Pierre. Mother, farmer and elite athlete. Because she is finding balance. And with that, in all her endeavours, she will be unbeatable.


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