*may/may not be an accurate representation of Phoebe’s Nana
Phoebe has affirmed herself as an advocate for women’s track a field in recent years with a strong voice that is respected in the running community. Her Twitter feed is a trusted source if you’re looking for a giggle, strung out with regular random thoughts and wit. She’s funny, fast, authentic and has had her fair share of ups and downs in the sport, which she openly shares on her awesome personal blog ‘‘Stop Phe’‘
She was actually one of the main inspirations behind starting Belle Lap…
Phoebe was a guest in a podcast I was listening to last year, she was chatting with Jonathan Marcus and Steve Magnus about her journey. Emily Infeld’s comeback story (another athlete I greatly admire) was the topic of conversation. Phoebe expressed how we should be hearing about the adversities and not just seeing the results page, ‘people need to know the stories’.
Missing all the inspiring pieces of the puzzle and just seeing the end result, I strongly agreed that we usually only hear about the end success and rarely the story. I wanted to hear about everyone’s stories, and get to know the women of the distance world on a deeper level. Listening to this podcast helped to create a vision for how I wanted Belle Lap to develop.
Phoebe was a very accomplished 800m runner for Tennessee, she stamped her name as the walk-on that rose the ranks to an NCAA champion (times by five). She is currently coming off a great winter and preparing for the 2016 Olympic Trials with her group ‘The Beasts Track Club’, coach Danny Mackey and support group.
Belle Lap caught up with her to find out about her journey.
Belle Lap: So we know you as a badass runner and an aspiring writer. But what were your interests growing up in TN?
PW: I grew up without any siblings for the first 11 years of my life. My parents were young, struggling, and overworked. They taught me the basics: how to get on the bus, how to brush my teeth, how to tie my shoes, how to feed myself, but other than that I was left up to my own devices–YIKES. I spent a lot of time talking about life with my beanie babies and playing a game I called “roof ball”—I’d volley the ball onto the roof so it would roll back down, and then I’d try to keep it from hitting the ground. “Rufio” got a point if the ball hit the ground. I was shy—probably because I wasn’t used to being around other humans. It was my goal to blend in, pretend to have a normal family, and not be a burden for my mom and dad. I didn’t stand out. I wasn’t super entertaining, I wasn’t super smart, I wasn’t the most athletic. I was, because of the situation, determined and self-reliant—this is what I had going for me. I learned from a young age to entertain myself, encourage myself, take care of myself, and push myself. I spent a lot of time in my own head just observing things and trying to figure out how the world worked, probably because I didn’t have anyone to explain it to me. So if you asked 10-year-old Phoebe what she’d be when she grows up, she’d probably have said, “Research scientist. The kind that holes up in their lab for days on end, coming up with theories, and talking to no one but herself and/or beanie babies.” If you asked my parents what I’d be when I grow up, they’d probably have said, “Stable. Unlike the rest of us. Thank god.”
Photo: Paul Merca
Belle Lap: You went to Tennessee and excelled from walk on chic to NCAA champ, signing out the door with Nike. What was the most challenging part of the college environment for you and how did you over come it?
PW: The most challenging part? Initially—all of it. I floundered my first year in college. I had no time to myself, no confidence in my running, no friends or time to make friends. I was homesick. I was skipping class because I was too tired to go. It was just a disaster. I even looked like a disaster. My everyday uniform consisted of an oversized Tennessee Track and Field T-shirt, running shorts, and no make-up. I would have quit, but I didn’t and I’m not sure why I didn’t—probably because I lacked think-for-yourself skills at the time. Or maybe because I avoid hard conversations and thinking about having the “I quit!” conversation was more stress inducing than getting my ass beat at practice everyday. I’d like to think it was grit that kept me from quitting, but, if I am to be honest, it was probably fear and/or laziness.
I overcame it on one day in particular. It was at a dual meet at Vanderbilt the week before Penn Relays. Coach told me that we don’t have a 4th leg for the 4x1500m. Rolanda Bell had been running out of her mind that year and she deserved to go. He said that if I broke 4:30 in the 1500m, he’d take a 4x1500m to Penn and Rolanda would have her chance to run. I could not be responsible for Rolanda being left home. I went from a 5:15 miler to a 4:27 1500m runner. That was my first hint of hope and momentum. I’m not sure I would still be a runner if that race didn’t happen.
After that, teammates saw how much I cared and how much I tried. It was the day I got adopted as a Lady Vol, which I think is all I ever wanted—to be included.
Belle Lap: What were your favorite college moments?
PW: My favorite memories in college are the trivial moments where I knew I could trust my life to my teammates.
There was one practice in particular—8x400m at or around 800m pace. It was the hardest workout. After interval 3 I was treating each interval like a race. Sarah Bowman (now Brown), and I were grinding it out together. Kimarra Mcdonald cheered—she had conveniently sprained her ankle that day. Coach had the pressure on. It was a Fugly workout. I loved it.
Or one time I was talking to Jackie Areson before the DMR. I told her, “Jax. When you cross that line in first, don’t forget to celebrate for the photos for the paper tomorrow. I’ll be at the finish line to remind you.”
Or one time, Sarah Bowman told me, “Phe, you have big goals, and because you believe in yourself so much, it makes me believe in myself.”
Or one time, Chanelle Price and I held hands, jumped up and down, and squealed like little 8 year old girls as we watched Brittany Sheffey anchor our DMR to a National Championship. It was one of those unspoken bonding moments.
I love being a part of something bigger than myself. I loved how my teammates approached practice and racing as a battle. We were a family. There was so much loyalty. I will probably never be in a situation where a group of insanely determined women are all striving for a common good. It’s so satisfying and selfless.
Photo: PENN Relays
Belle Lap: Did you ever have to run cross country? How did you approach it as an 800m runner?
PW: My first 2 years, cross-country consisted of the part of the season that I attempted to black out of my head. My junior year, however, I was lucky number 5 on the team, so I could not just go through the motions—I had to actually try.
I made a deal with coach: I will run hard for this team if I only have to run conference and the championship races. He took the deal. Chanelle Price and I would essentially hold hands the entire race. Misery loves company, and boy did I love have Chanelle out there struggling with me. It was almost comical seeing 2 muscle women out there trying really fucking hard to run 6 minute pace. We held each other accountable. I couldn’t use the “I’m an 800m runner” excuse because 800m runner Chanelle was right there beside proving that it is not a good excuse.
Belle Lap: How did you find the ‘in house’ competition training with such an accomplished group of women?
PW: When people say “women can’t train together” I want to punch things. Women can train together. You just have to leave the ego at home and be as invested in the teammates’ successes as much as your own. This was easy for me because I had my ego and self worth beaten out of me my freshman year. I’m sure it is harder with expectations. Just because a teammate is really really good doesn’t mean you can’t be really really good as well. And it is so much more fun to be at the top with company than to be at the top solo. At Tennessee we trained so we could beat everyone else—not so we could beat each other. Iron sharpens iron.
Belle Lap: Were you cautious about your diet or did you just go with the flow?
PW: The trick to eating on the go is planning ahead. Also I find a lot of value in taking meal times to slow down, relax, and bond with whoever is around. I schedule my day around my meals. I know a day ahead when, where, and what I am going to eat. That way, I can assess what I am putting into my body and hopefully make sure it is mostly food that doesn’t come in boxes or bags.
Belle Lap: You now operate with Danny Mackey and the Brooks beasts training group in Seattle. What is your set up?
PW: I have the best of both worlds because I have the benefit of a team and a coach, but I also have the autonomy by being with Nike. I am not obligated to go to practices, I have my own travel budget, I can get my own physio. I go to 90% of practices and meetings, but if I have a school obligation, I don’t have to worry about skipping the practice.
Belle Lap: What is your mileage usually at through the fall/ winter and the spring/ summer?
PW: It hovers around 50 miles a week all in singles. I used to double in college, but now I rarely double. Mileage is less on weeks when I feel tired. More on weeks where there aren’t intense workouts.
Belle Lap: Where can we find you when you’re not training, studying or tweeting (haha sorry, we love! the tweets)
PW: You won’t find me because I’m off the grid in the woods. I love hiking and exploring. And If I’m not there, I’m at hip hop zumba or practicing for a talent show that I will never have the courage to perform at. But a girl can dream, right?!
Belle Lap: What are your pre race rituals?
PW: My pre race ritual is not to have a pre race ritual. I want to be as flexible as possible. I do enjoy a cup of coffee prerace. But I’m not addicted. I could quit anytime, I just don’t want to quit. I DON’T NEED THE COFFEE. (Yeah, I have a cup before every race. It makes me chill out for a minute before the storm.)
Belle Lap: Which mentality have all your best races had in common?
PW: Ok so I have a good blog post to go with this! My best races on paper are ones where I am confident. My best races in my heart are ones where I have courage. I get drunk off power when I train and feel invincible and line up knowing that there is a slim risk of failure. I have a crush on myself when I line up knowing that I’m going to be tough as nails and bleed even though I might not win. But either way, my best races are when I’m not scared to fail.
Belle Lap: If you had to pick a ‘dream team’ of 5 women to fight evil forces, who would it be and why?
Katie Mackey “Mack Attack”—She gets this crazy look in her eyes when she gets angry. And she has such a big heart for everyone. It’s a good combo of raw emotions that you’d need to fight evil forces.
Chanelle Price “CP”- I call her the quiet lion. She’s observant and even though she is humble, she has a massive amount of confidence.
Megan Malasarte “Meg Mala” –She’d be the cheerleader and she can find positive in any situation, no matter how negative it is.
Amy Poehler –Because who doesn’t love some laughter?!
My Nana- She is the wisest person I know and every team needs that Nana to provide the wisdom. Plus, I’m pretty sure she is stronger than I am.
Belle Lap: Name something you cannot live without:
PW: My boyfriend’s moral support. A lot of times during the day, I do something really stupid and then I think, “It is incredible that no matter how many stupid things I do, Steve still manages to like me!” I’d be much more censured without Steve’s encouragement.
Belle Lap: What do you get up to on a regular Saturday night?
PW: Off season: DANCING! Hopefully to a live band. While wishing I could redo life and be born with any musical talent whatsoever so that way, I could be in the band and watch people like me dance.
In season: Putting on a movie and passing out after the first 15 minutes, waking up for the end, and then shuffling to bed. G.L.A.M.O.R.O.U.S
Belle Lap: what’s next?
PW: If I knew…