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Carrie Verdon learns she belongs

Carrie Verdon makes her marathon debut at the 2021 Chicago Marathon. (Photo © Mike Scott)

By Alison Wade

Over the past 13 months, Carrie Verdon’s running has taken off. She has rewritten her personal bests, become a fixture at the front of high-level races, and developed confidence that she belongs there. She qualified for the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in the 5,000m and the 10,000m, finished fifth at the USATF 10 Mile Championships, took seventh in her debut at the Chicago Marathon, and recently finished second at the USATF National Club Cross Country Championships.

Verdon’s breakthrough race came early in December 2020, when she ran 32:09.82 for 10,000m and finished a close second in the “B” heat at The Track Meet, held in Southern California. Despite having to do a lot of the pacesetting herself, Verdon took one minute, 41 seconds off her personal best, which had stood for more than six years, since her sophomore year of college. It was her first Olympic Trials qualifier and validation that her hard work was paying off after years of ups and downs.

“After that race, I was just like, ‘Yeah, we’re doing this,’” Verdon told Fast Women last week. “I was having so much fun with it, I was fit, and I was just really excited about running. I think from then on, I had a mindset shift and a lot of good races followed that.”

Verdon, now 27, took up running as a ninth grader, and had success from the start, finishing 11th at the California state cross-country meet before going on to win state titles her junior and senior years. She finished 19th at the 2010 Foot Locker (now Eastbay) Cross Country Championships her junior year, one spot ahead of future Olympian Colleen Quigley.

Verdon went to the University of Colorado, where she initially had some strong performances, including qualifying to represent the U.S. at the World U20 Cross Country Championships in 2013 in Poland. She led the U.S. team with a 20th-place finish. But Verdon struggled off and on with injuries after her sophomore year. Though she still had some solid races, she didn’t progress in the way she had hoped. “I still had a great time at CU, and I loved running in the NCAA, but I would be lying if I said I achieved what I wanted to,” she said.

When she graduated from CU in 2017, Verdon felt like she was running for other people and wanted to find out who she was without the sport, so she decided to step away from it. For more than a year, she rarely ran. It took a while, but eventually she missed it.

When she decided to return to competitive running, Verdon connected with TEAM Boulder coach Lee Troop. Since joining the team, she has been able to string together several years of healthy training, which she says is a big factor in her recent success. She attributes her streak to the training Troop prescribes, that she does a lot more of her training on soft surfaces now, and that she’s fueling her body better than she did in college.

“I don’t know if I have had anorexia, but I definitely had disordered eating in college,” Verdon said. Troop broached the topic in one of his initial conversations with Verdon, and that’s when it clicked for her that the most important thing was to be healthy, so she could train, compete, and continue to do everything she loves.

Verdon has also worked on building her confidence. When she began racing post-collegiately, she found herself intimidated by her competition and racing against some of her idols. “I would kind of tell myself, ‘Oh I don’t belong here. I’m not sponsored by anyone. All these women are sponsored. They’re so fast,’” she said. “You can go down a rabbit hole of not thinking you’re good enough. But in 2020, I just kind of pushed that mindset aside and I started to tell myself, ‘I belong.’ I would stand on the start lines and look at all the women next to me and think, ‘These women are really fast, and I am too. I belong right here.’ Since embracing that mindset, that has helped me to feel like I belong and to stick my nose in the front of races. The results just followed.”

During the school year, Verdon works full-time as a first-grade teacher. When the country shut down due to Covid in 2020, she taught online. It was helpful from a training perspective, because no one minded if she finished her runs just minutes before class began. But from a teaching perspective, it was a major challenge. Since returning to in-person teaching, she has managed to stay healthy, and she thinks that the current practice of wearing masks in the classroom due to Covid has also helped her fend off some of the other non-Covid types of illnesses young children tend to carry.

Verdon squeezes in her 85–105 miles per week around her work. Sometimes that means meeting her teammates and Troop for early morning workouts, but other times of year they’ll work out in the afternoon, depending on weather and daylight. She often does her workouts with the men on the team. And she has another secret weapon as far as training partners go: her dog, Scout, who does most of Verdon’s easy runs with her.

In addition to her 10,000m improvement, Verdon lowered her 5,000m best by 41 seconds in 2021, to 15:18.56, and she ran a 1:10:11 half marathon, a personal best by three minutes. At the Olympic Trials, she advanced to the 5,000m final and finished 10th in the final. Doubling back in hot conditions five days later, Verdon hoped to crack the top 10 again in the 10,000m, but she finished 27th. She was part of Tracksmith’s amateur support program through the Olympic Trials, but she remains unsponsored.

Verdon was eager to try out the marathon, and she loved both training for and racing the 2021 Chicago Marathon. “There were days when I was completely exhausted and there were days when I was only running when it was dark outside, once in the morning and once at night after work, but it was a great experience,” Verdon said. The hot temperatures on race day weren’t conducive to fast times, but she crossed the line seventh, in 2:31:51. “Even though that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, it was so much fun, so I will definitely be doing another marathon next year,” she said.

Verdon’s students were impressed, too. She wrote on Instagram after the race, “I was brought to tears this morning when I walked into school and all the first graders were clapping and saying, ‘Miss Carrie, we are so proud of you! We can’t believe you got seventh!’”

Though Verdon loved the marathon, she plans to continue running shorter races as well, and hopes to further lower her personal bests at all distances. “I love cross country, I love track, I love road racing, and so I think I’m going to try to do it all if I can,” she said. Her next race will be Saturday’s USATF Cross Country Championships in San Diego.

Verdon also loves hiking, climbing, and camping, but she doesn’t plan to combine her passions and try mountain, ultra, or trail racing any time soon. She enjoys adventuring so much that she and Troop have had to come to a compromise about how it fits into her training. “He understands that being out in nature and going on hikes and going climbing and camping, or whatever I like to do, is really good for my mental health, and it just makes me an all-around happy person,” Verdon said. “And he knows that when I show up to training and I’m having a good time and I’m happy, I’m going to be the best runner I can be. So there’s a little bit of push and pull where I’m like, ‘Is it okay if I do this?’ And he’s like, ‘How about you do that next weekend when you don’t have a really big race?’ I think our relationship is really nice in the sense that he understands what I need as a human being.”

After we spoke last week, it became apparent just how destructive the Boulder County fires were, and that Verdon will be facing another major challenge as a teacher. Verdon shared the third photo in this post on Instagram the day after the fires began and wrote, “This is the neighborhood surrounding my school. Our building is intact but the fields are burned. Many of our students’ and teachers’ homes are gone. School is meant to resume on Wednesday…”

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