Fiona O'Keeffe is a professional distance runner with Puma. She is part of a new group based in North Carolina and coached by Amy and Alistair Cragg. Fiona has been running since joining her middle school track team and began taking the sport more seriously while at Davis Senior High School in California. She loves not only competing, but also the act of running itself and the opportunities for self-improvement the sport brings. After graduating from Stanford with a degree in Earth Systems in the spring of 2020, she spent a semester with the New Mexico Lobos before turning pro. Fiona is a 5K/10K specialist with current PR's of 15:31 and 32:12. She recently placed 20th in the Olympic Trials 10,000.
How does it feel for running and racing to finally be back to normalcy?
It's so great for running and racing to be getting back to normal! Considering the situation a year ago, the response in terms of how quickly vaccines were developed and distributed is super impressive.
What was one of the things you missed during the year of Covid restrictions?
I missed the excitement and community of a big track meet/race. It's just an energy that can't be replaced, and having it absent made me appreciate it so much more
What was one of the biggest training hurdles during that period and how did you deal with it?
Well, I put myself through this, but I basically moved across the country and uprooted my life twice in one year, going from California to New Mexico to North Carolina. The stress of moving and changing coaching systems multiple times was a bit much, but I tried to stay focused on my long-term goals and learn to be more adaptable. It's all for the best and I've had great support along the way!
What was your experience like in this year's Olympic Trials?
This was my first time at the Trials, so it was great to just compete in Eugene and experience the atmosphere of the meet. It's so amazing to watch people going after their dreams, regardless of outcome, with such heart. Coming into the Trials, I had a pretty short build-up as a result of a foot injury that was diagnosed mid-March. I didn't know exactly where my fitness was, so the goal was just to go compete the best I could. The 10K was a really deep field which was exciting. Overall, I was satisfied with my effort, but I definitely have bigger dreams for the future!
What was the most special moment you took away from the Olympic Trials?
It's hard to pick one moment, but probably seeing a couple of my former teammates, Elise Cranny and Grant Fisher, qualify in the distance events for Tokyo. I've seen them working for this for years and they're both amazing people as well! Both are big inspirations to me.
What lesson did you learn at the Olympic Trials that you will take with you for future competitions?
It was only my third 10K ever, so I'm learning more about the distance each time! Specifically, I'd say that I can hurt for a lot longer than I might think.
If you could change one thing about the sport, what would it be?
I wish I could wave a magic wand and create an anti-doping system that athletes and fans of the sport alike can fully trust. We need this for the integrity of our sport, and the way that the current model has created such confusion around recent cases is hugely problematic.
When it comes to running, what would you say is your biggest strength and weakness?
I'd say that my biggest strength is probably my aerobic "engine" which is helpful for a distance runner! Biggest weakness might be that I can become attached to a certain goal/outcome and overly rigid in my approach.
What's the weirdest or funniest thing that ever happened to you while running?
Lots of little mishaps! I've been pooped on by a bird, stung by a bee, run into a pole head-first, embarrassing! Slipped on ice, run through mud so deep I looked like I was wearing snowshoes, and of course I have the usual unfortunate bathroom stories. This sounds bad when I list it all out at once, but I swear most runs are pretty uneventful!
What's your biggest pet peeve?
I'm generally pretty laid-back, but loud noises when I'm trying to fall asleep are the worst. Earplugs are my friend.
What's your biggest fear?
Not living a meaningful/fulfilled life....that, and that snakes that can swim. Aren't snakes on land enough?
In your free time when you’re not running, what hobbies do you enjoy?
I like reading, writing, spending time outside, and hanging out with friends. It's been an adjustment having so much time after being busy 24/7 as a student-athlete!
What's it like being a part of the Puma team?
It's exciting to be a part of something new! I'm stoked to see where we go from here as we add more athletes on the men's and women's sides. Puma has been very supportive of our group which has been great!
Who would you say is the funniest teammate?
Oh, that's a tough one. I'm going to give a shoutout to Emmanuel (Manu) Roudolff. He's a French marathoner who joined us earlier in the year. We all shared a house at altitude for a few weeks, and we learned that Manu's command of the English language includes a sharp wit and some sassy comments.
Who is someone you look up to in the sport?
There are so many people I admire in the running world! I'm grateful to have trained with tough and talented people at Stanford and New Mexico, but I would probably give you about 10 names here if I tried to narrow it down! Among others, Amy Cragg is certainly someone I look up to. She had such a long and consistent career built on years of hard work. Having her as a coach and role model is awesome.
Who is one of your favorite athletes to train with?
Taylor Werner and I have been doing tons of training together. We complement each other well, as I'm more on the strength side of things, and she's speedy! She has big goals but a fun-loving attitude, and we've had some great chats on the run also.
What's next for you?
We're doing some road races this summer. The USATF 6K Championships in July is the first one on the calendar!
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