Track superstars Heather MacLean and Elle Purrier St. Pierre break world record
The friendship between Heather MacLean and Elle Purrier St. Pierre was evident when the relay crossed the four-person women’s indoor medley relay (DMR) at The TRACK at New Balance in Boston last Friday. MacLean, who ran the 1500 meters at the Tokyo Olympics, won the first leg. His teammate Purrier St. Pierre, holder of the American record for the indoor mile and the two mile, dropped anchor. Two-time Olympic medalist Kendall Ellis and rising high school star Roisin Willis took the middle.
The music was loud and the stands were packed with fans overlooking The TRACK as Purrier St. Pierre’s witness rose above the finish line tape. MacLean immediately hugged her. The four women had just smashed the DMR indoor (10:39.91) and outdoor (10:36.50) world records by finishing in 10:33.85, thus christening the brand new multi-sports complex.
They met while competing in college, MacLean racing for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Purrier St. Pierre for the University of New Hampshire. Women tied together to represent small schools among the running powerhouses. It was a natural starting point for a five-year friendship that would sustain them from college to the pro race for New Balance.
After the race, MacLean, 26, and Purrier St. Pierre, 27, spoke to ESPN about making history, what they learned from each other and why they give it to the next generation of female athletes.
How they prepared for a world record attempt
Heather McLean: People talk a lot about competing with a goal, and today our goal was to do it for the DMR team, do it for New Balance, and open The TRACK as best we can. That’s how I mentally prepared myself for this one.
She Purrier Saint-Pierre: There’s nothing quite like crossing the line with your stacked DMR teammates because you know everyone’s so good, and we’re going to do great. We all went in with confidence and thought about what we were capable of doing.
MacLean: Honestly, we were pretty tight-lipped about it. We had a job to do and we wanted to come here and do it. We didn’t want to focus on outside noise.
Purrier Saint-Pierre: I thought about the opportunity that presented itself and took advantage of it. All four of us were able to run the times we needed to run, so we were confident in that. If you get upset thinking about a world record, it will not be to your advantage. It’s just thinking about what you have to do to get there. The track is fast, the spikes are fast and we are fast.
On the newly opened RUNWAY at New Balance
MacLean: It was awesome. It’s our home track, so we’ll be training on it and racing on it all the time. It was wonderful to be able to break it.
Purrier Saint-Pierre: We have been waiting for a long time to be able to race on this track. We talked about how exciting it will be when we finally get to race on the track, and here we are.
How their friendship started
Purrier Saint-Pierre: I remember one specific race, we were still in college and we both competed for smaller schools. Often we were the only ones competing for our schools, UNH and UMass, and our coaches were friends. We hung out a lot during meetings.
MacLean: We were cooling off a meeting. I think it was Alabama…
Purrier Saint-Pierre: Oh yeah.
MacLean: And our coaches were like, “Don’t run out of bounds of the parking lot,” and me and her were like, “Nah, we’re going out of bounds,” and we almost got hit by a car. We were like, “OK, don’t do it again.”
Purrier Saint-Pierre: We were both rebels.
MacLean: It was the first year, I think.
Purrier Saint-Pierre: I feel like we became friends in college and each year we get a little closer.
MacLean: When you get to these high level competitions we are the only ones of our schools there, and knowing you have a friend when you see all these intimidating schools like Stanford and Oregon and stuff, you have someone there who understands what it’s like to be a small public school in the northeast.
MacLean: Part of the reason I joined this New Balance team was because of Her. We are good friends. Most of the time we call each other and talk about things that have nothing to do with the track. I think Elle and I have a similar background where a lot of our lives are outside of sports. We both have this weird job where it’s unheard of in our communities, and we both went to these little schools. It helped us to feel that there is someone who understands you all the time. It’s nice to have someone so close to you — a colleague technically since it’s our job — who understands you. I appreciate that, and I’ve always admired Elle. I’m just lucky to have it every day.
Purrier Saint-Pierre: I have the impression that we are serious girls, that we found each other and that we are really lucky. Now we show everyone what we are made of and we support each other. Our relationship is more than just a lead. Heather was at my wedding. We are there for each other.
On what they learned from each other
MacLean: I learned fearlessness from Elle. I have always admired his fearlessness in the races. She goes after. She gets so serious before the races, and I’m the opposite, where I joke around and laugh and say hello to everyone. This is how I prepare. But when she gets to the start line, she’s ready to go and she’s on it. It’s something I admire about her. She does it in life too. It’s something I’ve tried to do over the years, so I’ve always admired her in that regard.
Purrier Saint-Pierre: Heather has a way of having fun in everything. I feel like she trusts that. I may be embarrassed sometimes, but Heather is always herself, and I feel like that’s something I learned from her. We didn’t have the perfect constitution to become who we are today, but we have fun with it, and we talk about it, and it’s something that Heather does a lot.
MacLean: It’s like “”I had a really shitty day” and “Oh, I had a really shitty day too!” Like, thank goodness someone else didn’t have this most shitty day. incredible.
Purrier Saint-Pierre: … She used to eat sushi before all her shopping.
MacLean: It was a very long time ago.
Purrier Saint-Pierre: But she talks about it, and she has the confidence to say, “Look, this is who we are.
On how they balance running and their personal lives
Purrier Saint-Pierre: It’s our job, so we need to take care of ourselves as best we can, mentally and physically. Just figure out what you need to do and do it. You need to set boundaries and get everything else on track.
MacLean: You have to allow yourself to enjoy other things outside of sport. Because it’s our job, it can be exhausting. We’re not going to do 9 to 5 every day – you have to focus on your sleep, everything you put into your body, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by that. It’s okay to step out of your routine sometimes and say, “If I do this, I’ll be fine. With all sports there is a huge mental component. Focusing on what you need mentally to help you succeed in sports is definitely how I find the balance. It’s not always sports related. It could mean taking it easy when I was supposed to go hard or hanging out with friends I don’t usually see because I’m always traveling or whatever.
Inspire the next generation of female athletes
Purrier Saint-Pierre: It’s one of the best parts of the job: seeing little girls who are interested in the sport and look up to us. It’s gratifying to see these young athletes. I think they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. It’s great to think that I have a role to play in this. I hadn’t realized before how much of an impact this had [on my community in Vermont and beyond].
MacLean: Like She said, that’s the best part. Learn to speak in high school and college, I try to do it as much as possible at home in [Massachusetts]. I hope a young girl can find encouragement and think someone hears her from something I say. When I was younger, all I wanted was to be understood. So many girls feel the same, so I hope to offer a little insight into just how much someone can overcome.