Alan Bjerga, NMPF: The Olympics are underway, and dairy’s own Elle Purrier St. Pierre is going for the gold in Tokyo. After winning the women’s 1,500 meters at the U.S. Olympic qualifiers and making it through last night’s first round, she’s gearing up for the semi-finals … and then, the finals. To help cheer Elle on, we’re repeating this Dairy Defined from March, where we talked to Elle about her training for the Olympics on a dairy farm and how rural Vermont’s helped her prepare for the Games. Go Elle! Thank you for joining us today, Elle.
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: So, what exactly do your days look like?
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: Well, we pretty much set a week schedule for training, so I do the same things every day of the week, but it’s different every day. But in general I run about 80 miles a week. And so most of the days are just bulk mileage days. And two days a week, I do a harder track session where I do intervals or a harder workout. After that I also do a strength training program, with weights and stuff. And then in the afternoons, I go out for a run again. So I’m usually running twice a day, but just a combination of those things
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Growing up on a dairy farm, you’re no stranger to getting up early in the morning and getting done what needs to be done.
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: Definitely not. No.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Are there times when somebody’s like, Hey, could you help us out with just a little bit with this cow? Come on, you won’t slip, you won’t pull a muscle.
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: Definitely. I feel like I always get guilted into it because I want to help. And my dad’s really good about not asking me, but he’ll just always say he’s got, he’s got it. And I’m like, no, I can tell you definitely need a little help around here. My sister is about to have another baby. So really the last couple of weeks that I’ve been home, I’ve had to help quite a bit, because I’m picking up her slack. I really do enjoy helping a lot when I’m home. It really brings me a lot of happiness. It just definitely a different training schedule when I’m helping here. I try to get up a little bit earlier and then get my run in after I’ve been up for a few hours, which is definitely different than when I’m out at training camp.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: How did you get into running competitively?
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: I started running in high school. I was not that interested in it at first and didn’t really take it that serious, but I had some success early on. And so I decided to stick with it and it just progressed from there. I realized that I was good enough to get a scholarship to run in college. I was like, well, that’s pretty good. I think it wasn’t until college that I really built a love for the sport. And so in college I progressed even further. And in my junior year, I think was when I started realizing that maybe I could pursue this even further beyond just college running. So I started talking to the right people and kept doing it and I kept getting better. So that was how it happened.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: So I’m guessing as you’re going in your running career, you’re probably not dealing with a lot of farm kids.
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: I think I didn’t really fully realize until college that growing up on a farm was something different or unique and everybody’s like, wow, you grew up on a farm. It was so strange to them and to me it was just normal. Something I was always very proud of. I was proud to say that I was a farm kid. I think the way that I grew up working really hard on the farm is an asset to my career. It’s a skill that I learned from an early age and it’s just engrained in me. And so I can’t just fake that. That’s something that has helped me so much in my career. And also just the lifestyle aspect of farming is really similar to how people are in the running community. It’s just something you do every day. It’s something that you’re obsessed with that you think a lot about that all of your decisions are based around. It’s what you do. And that’s really similar between the two communities, although they’re completely different activities, similar. It’s just their lifestyle. It’s what they do.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Before the pandemic, you were in Boston where you were training, you were also on the farm. When the pandemic hits you’re back on the farm full-time. Coming back what do you appreciate most?
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: I’m just so happy to be here. I think what I appreciate most is just being around cows. I miss it so much when I’m gone. It’s just so calming to be around the cows. When everything in the world is just going crazy, especially I appreciate it. Everything on the farm is pretty much the same so that’s something I really appreciate. I also really appreciate just having something to do. I think from growing up on a farm, I was always busy. In high school I was always doing something. If I wasn’t doing sports, I was at home helping my dad or doing something around the farm. And so this different career has been an adjustment for me. I’ve had a hard time with so much downtime. It’s just not what I’m used to. And so I think when I’m home, I especially see that that’s important to me to stay busy. And so, yeah, I really appreciate that when I’m home.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Pre-pandemic you’re in Vermont and you’re in Boston and you’re in Vermont and you’re in Boston. And then the pandemic hits and now you’re in Vermont and Vermont and Vermont and Vermont. How did that affect you in your training?
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: Okay. I feel like there is different waves. At first I was just excited to be home and then I was, okay, I’m not just home on vacation, I actually have to work. So it was pretty tough to get out the door and get on the same routine that all my teammates are on when they’re in Boston or wherever there’s a bigger running community. But up here I’m pretty by myself. So it was pretty tough, but I ironed out how to do it up here. I figured out that I needed to get the job done. So I bought a lot of my own equipment and I found new places to run and once I got settled in, I’m so happy that I have this home to come home to and train here. And I do feel very grounded here.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Are you able to get back to Boston a little bit more as we’ve seen pandemic situations seemingly getting a little bit better?
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: I have, but honestly I haven’t stayed there for more than a couple of days. I feel like COVID almost helped me transition into this new way of training. That I’m going to be spending more time at home with my husband instead of having an apartment with roommates in Boston. I think that COVID’s just cut the cord and made that happen. And I’m not that mad about it.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: How do you mentally prepare yourself for come what may?
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: Yeah, it’s been really tough since the Olympics were postponed last year around this time actually. It has been a roller coaster, I’m not going to lie. I kept telling myself that all the work that I’m putting in now is going to help me when I need it. Like it’s going to help me next year if I’m racing in these big races that I was supposed to be doing this year. This work putting it in doesn’t just go away, it helps me get stronger as an athlete. And so I think that was a big part of what helps my motivation training up here by myself. There’s the light at the end of the tunnel now. I’ve had a couple of races since the pandemic. It’s not as big and loud as the races were before. There was nobody in the stands whatsoever, but I’m just excited that these races are starting to come back. And I really do believe that there’s going to be an Olympics this year, so I’m just focused on that and trying to put all my work in right now and hopefully it will pay off.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Tell me a little bit about Team New Balance Boston.
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: Yeah, they’re awesome. I love my teammates. I love my coach. We’re all like really great friends and I think that just furthers our success as a team and as individuals. We all support each other and are cheering for each other, no matter what. Even though we’re in the same races, we’re always just as excited when somebody does well. I’ve gotten to know everybody pretty well on the team and it’s been a lot of fun. I definitely don’t think I would be as good of an athlete if I didn’t have such great friends on my team.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: What motivates you?
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: I think something that motivates me is always wanting to get better. It’s really fun to compare where I’m at now, as opposed to where I was last year at this time or the year before, that’s really rewarding to me. So I think that’s a huge motivation.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: So you were a college nutrition major. Could you talk a little bit about dairy and how that can work into a very high level, very demanding sports style?
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: Yeah, I think it’s a great asset to my training and my career. The first thing I do when I get done running is I chug a glass of milk and I just know everything in there is going to help me do better. It’s got the perfect ratio of carbs and protein, when you add the chocolate, and just so many vitamins and minerals, it’s crazy what a great resource it is for athletes like me.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Well it would seem to be accessible too.
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: Right. It’s simple and yeah, it’s pretty available. I feel like anytime I’m out working out on a track, I can just find the nearest store and there’s milk right there.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: You can see in the athletic community, some pretty skeptical feelings about dairy in terms of its value in the diet.
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: Well, yeah, it gets sometimes maybe a little heated when I have those conversations. So I try to keep calm and even avoid them sometimes. But I think I just would remind people just how healthy dairy products are. They’re so versatile and just filled with so many vitamins and minerals that are not fortified. They’re all natural and so you’re going to be able to digest that better than some drink that’s just completely fortified with these vitamins that they’re trying to mimic. That’s already there in nature from these dairy products. And I think it would be extremely difficult to perform at the level that I am by being a vegan. I think you would need so much help outside of…Look, I just feel you would need your own dietician.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: What’s next?
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: Next week we’re headed back out to Flagstaff, Arizona, which is home-base for us when we’re not in Boston. It’s 7,000 feet there so we get in altitude training. We’ll probably be there for most of April and then try to jump in some races. And my coach said that he thinks we’ll be back there, but the Olympic trials are in June. So we’ll probably mostly be in Flagstaff until then. But yeah, we’ll see how the Olympic trials goes and hopefully I’ll be in Tokyo this summer.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Elle Purrier-St. Pierre has been our guest today on the Dairy Defined podcast. Elle, thank you for your time and we will be following your progress.
Elle Purrier St. Pierre: Thank you so much. It was great to be here.
Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Thanks for listening. Want to sponsor a Dairy Defined Podcast? We have sponsorship packages available that will help you put your message in front of dairy farming’s finest audience. To learn more about sponsoring this podcast, visit www.nmpf.org/dairy-defined-podcast-sponsorship. Thanks again!