I totally believe in good habits. One good workout or one good day of healthy eating does not make you a healthy person or an elite athlete. It’s day in and day out, week after week and month after month of good healthy practices before you really start seeing major changes in your life. Sometimes you’ll see an athlete have a breakout season and wonder what it was that helped him/her excel. While it looks like it happened all of a sudden, its usually in reaction to a lot of work over a much longer period of time that finally culminated in a big performance
Asa part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Colleen Quigley.
The reigning U.S. women’s indoor mile champion, St. Louis native Colleen Quigley is gearing up for her second trip to the Olympic Games on behalf of Team USA. Colleen earned nine NCAA All-America honors while running collegiate track at Florida State University and eventually landed a spot on the Team USA Track & Field team for the 3000-meter steeplechase where she later competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Colleen is part of the elite Nike Bowerman Track Club and runs the steeplechase event. She is an early favorite for the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Sure! I wrote a lot about “my story” on my website, which you can read about here: www.colleenquigley.org/my-story-full. In short, I grew up dancing and playing soccer and never ever imagined going to the Olympics! I modeled before I decided to run track in college. I am super close with my family and they have been my biggest supporters along the way.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.
When I was modeling in high school, I thought I would pursue that after graduation, but then the opportunity to run in the NCAA presented itself, so I took the full-ride scholarship to get a free education while competing in track and cross country. At the end of my career at FSU everyone kept asking me if I was going to go to the Olympics. Eventually I just kind of said, “okay! Why not?” I had 3 amazing coaches at FSU: Karen Harvey, Josh Seitz, and Terry Long who inspired and pushed me every day.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My dad coached me in high school and really taught me how to work hard AND have fun with the sport. Looking back, I’m so grateful that he never allowed me to stress out too much about running and always found a way to keep it fun and light. I think that really helped with my longevity in the sport. In college, Coach Harvey was the one who spotted me as a future steeplechaser and convinced me to try the event. Coach Long taught me how to hurdle since I had never jumped over a hurdle in my life before getting to FSU! He was a huge part in my success. Then Coach Seitz took over when Coach Harvey left my senior year and helped me to win an NCAA national title.I know I couldn’t have achieved that without all four of those people and I know that if I hadn’t won NCAAs that I wouldn’t have been able to sign the professional contract that I did coming out of school.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I’ve made a ton of mistakes, mostly around injuries, but none of them are very funny or interesting. Just places where I essentially didn’t listen to my body and back off when I should have. There have been plenty of times when I gritted through pain that I should have let be a warning sign of a bigger problem. I’m super tough, but sometimes that toughness can be my Achilles heel. I’ve learned to trust myself and my body more and instead of overdoing it, trust that I can back off when I need to and I’ll still be able to perform.
What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?
I tell high schoolers these days to do LESS. With social media, they have access to SO much information about what other people are doing, what other high school runners are doing, what the pros are doing, what the collegiate athletes are doing, etc. It takes away from what their coach is telling them to focus on and can be a big distraction. A high school athlete should not be trying to do the workouts or mileage I’m doing now as a pro because it wouldn’t be right for their developing bodies. I would say: listen to your coach, follow the plan, and HAVE FUN with the sport.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I have a hashtag on Instagram called #FastBraidFriday that is all about how doing something as simple as braiding your hair that can help make you feel more confident, powerful, and FAST when you’re doing a hard workout or race. I braid up my hair almost every day before running and it has become a part of my routine. When my hair is braided I know it’s game time and I’m ready to work hard. I love seeing what others have accomplished with their fast braids in. This movement has created a community around girls and women who use their hair for motivation, and it has been so cool to see how those who post support each other.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
I used to not give really any credence to my mental health or working on my mental game. If I ever had a bad workout or race, I would blame it on how I physically felt. The truth is that so much of my success rides on my mental strength and being able to push through pain and discomfort in my races. So in the past year, I started working with a mental coach to develop my own special recipe for success. For me, getting in the right headspace to compete means getting connected to my WHY. A few components of that special recipe are: getting connected with my family (phone calls with my parents/siblings or getting to have dinner with them the night before the race reminds me these people love me no matter what I achieve on the track), getting connected with my fans and followers (these are the people who get me psyched up to go the extra mile),and doing some meditation (sitting quietly and finding my stillness and peace before the race). These are all part of my recipe so that I can go into the race feeling calm, confident and excited to compete and test myself.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?
I do like to meditate in the morning, but I dont have any breathing techniques while I run.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
I think my “recipe” above kind of answers this question too. Sometimes I use a mantra like “I am strong. I am powerful. I can do this,” that I repeat during a really tough workout.
How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?
The workouts come from my coach and I think the best thing I can do there is fully trust him and try to complete each workout to the best of my ability. Then it is up to me to recover as much as possible afterwards to prepare for the next workout. My favorite recovery products are from Hyperice. I signed a sponsorship deal with Hyperice this year right after they bought Normatec, another one of my favorite recovery products. The Hypervolt (percussion massage gun) and the Normatec (compression recovery sleeves) as well as the Vyper (vibrating foam roller) go with me wherever I travel to train and race. My nutrition sponsor is Vital Proteins and I’m an avid believer in the benefits of collagen for anyone who is in an impact sport. Collagen is so key for joint health for your tendons, ligaments, cartilage, bone, and muscle.Vital Proteins has so many products that I can fit in throughout my daily routine with everything from coffee creamer first thing in the morning, to a recover powder after my run, to matcha powder for an afternoon pick-me-up, and even sleep powder with melatonin before bed. I found out about the secret weapon of collagen about a year ago and have been an avid user of the supplement ever since. Lastly, I use CBD to help me relax after workouts and to help me sleep well at night. I have a partnership with Terra Vita CBD and love their topical products like Max Relief cooling gel with CBD as well as their CBD Bath Salts to help my muscles recover after tough workouts.to matcha powder for an afternoon pick-me-up, and even sleep powder with melatonin before bed.I found out about the secret weapon of collagen about a year ago and have been an avid user of the supplement ever since. Lastly, I use CBD to help me relax after workouts and to help me sleep well at night. I have a partnership with Terra Vita CBD and love their topical products like Max Relief cooling gel with CBD as well as their CBD Bath Salts to help my muscles recover after tough workouts.to matcha powder for an afternoon pick-me-up, and even sleep powder with melatonin before bed. I found out about the secret weapon of collagen about a year ago and have been an avid user of the supplement ever since. Lastly, I use CBD to help me relax after workouts and to help me sleep well at night.I have a partnership with Terra Vita CBD and love their topical products like Max Relief cooling gel with CBD as well as their CBD Bath Salts to help my muscles recover after tough workouts.I have a partnership with Terra Vita CBD and love their topical products like Max Relief cooling gel with CBD as well as their CBD Bath Salts to help my muscles recover after tough workouts.I have a partnership with Terra Vita CBD and love their topical products like Max Relief cooling gel with CBD as well as their CBD Bath Salts to help my muscles recover after tough workouts.I have a partnership with Terra Vita CBD and love their topical products like Max Relief cooling gel with CBD as well as their CBD Bath Salts to help my muscles recover after tough workouts.I have a partnership with Terra Vita CBD and love their topical products like Max Relief cooling gel with CBD as well as their CBD Bath Salts to help my muscles recover after tough workouts.
These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?
I totally believe in good habits. One good workout or one good day of healthy eating does not make you a healthy person or an elite athlete. It’s day in and day out, week after week and month after month of good healthy practices before you really start seeing major changes in your life. Sometimes you’ll see an athlete have a breakout season and wonder what it was that helped him/her excel. While it looks like it happened all of a sudden, its usually in reaction to a lot of work over a much longer period of time that finally culminated in a big performance.
Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
One tool I use is something I call a “habit tracker.” I wrote about my bullet journal on my website and have a section about the habit tracker tool: www.colleenquigley.org/journaling. It’s a great way to put your thoughts on paper and really hold yourself accountable.
As a high-performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?
Flow is something I’ve talked to my mental coach about a lot. Trying to figure out what I can do to get myself into my flow state is how we came up with my special “recipe” I outlined above. When I can get into that flow state, I am happy, at ease, excited for the challenge, and curious to see what I can accomplish instead of feeling tense, stressed, and pressured to perform. Remembering that no matter what happens on the track, I am still a valuable and whole human being is an important part of getting into the flow state for me. If I feel like my whole life and self-worth depends on that performance, I’ll be too stressed and tense to get into my flow state and will ultimately not perform at my maximum potential.
Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.
I usually use a meditation app like Headspace or Calm because I have a hard time getting myself to meditate in complete silence. I like to have someone guiding me through it to help me to stay in the meditation and not let my mind drift as much.
Many of us are limited by our self-talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?
I try to recognize that I am in fact in charge of every thought that goes through my head. Anything I think about is something I’m telling myself and I have complete control of those messages. When I catch myself in a negative self-talk loop, I try to simply replace the “I can’t” with “I’m going to try.” Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones is a choice, but it’s harder than it sounds and takes lots of practice before you get good at it. Just like I practice running, I practice my mental game too.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I realized pretty early on in my professional career that I wasn’t going to be happy as a runner who just goes to practices, Since going pro I’ve tried my best to use my story as a means of inspiration or motivation for young girls and women to go after their big scary goals that they may even be too shy to admit at first. My #FastBraidFriday movement has been a big part of this, using braids as a way to create community and lift females up. I’ve worked with an organization called Girls on the Run that is all about getting young girls excited about being active and moving their bodies. It’s not so much competitive as it is about learning that sweating is fun and being part of a team is fun. The organization has branches all over the country and I’ve been the honorary race chair for the GOTR in St.Louis (my hometown) and have been involved with the GOTR in Portland (where I live now).
This summer it became clear to me that thinking I’m not a racist or treating all people equally actually isn’t enough to actively fight racism, so I decided to be more outspoken on my social media channels about anti-racism. It has sparked some interesting conversations and inspired me to be a part of the #ShareTheMic movement where I invited a Black athlete, Chiaka Ogbogu, to takeover my Instagram page for the day to share her story with my followers and help spotlight her and amplify her voice. It was such a great experience for me and hopefully for my followers (who presumably are mainly white like me) and I hope to continue to do the #ShareTheMic on a regular basis.
Basically, I don’t want to end my running career and have it be all about any medals or records I may have earned. To me, that’s not enough and definitely won’t be a lasting impact. I want to share the whole me with my fans, not just the runner part of me but all of the rest too. Not everyone is going to necessarily like that, but I think most people appreciate getting to know a multifaceted human being instead of a robot.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
There’s this thing that you have to do as a hurdler where no matter what happened on the last hurdle you have to put it behind you and focus on the one ahead of you. In my race there’s a hurdle every 100m so if you spend any energy thinking about how you messed up the last one you won’t let yourself set up for the next one properly and won’t be able to focus on clearing the one in front of you efficiently. So it’s whatever happened in the past is the past and you have to focus on the challenge ahead. I love that lesson for life too and think it’s so appropriate for any of life’s “hurdles.”
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Lately my boyfriend and I have gotten really into tennis! We love watching it and even playing it (I’m horrible, but we’ve had a couple lessons and my boyfriend is getting pretty good!). We love following Naomi Osaka because she always seems so cool, calm, collected, and in control when she’s on the court. She honestly seems like someone you could just sit down for a meal with and have a normal conversation. I also have loved seeing how she is using her platform to bring awareness to social justice issues in a way that I haven’t seen any other tennis player do.