Moving away from the structure of collegiate running into the wide world of professional track and field, Madie Boreman has emerged as a woman to watch as we head into the 2024 Paris Olympics. Before launching into the rigor and excitement of the year ahead, she spent some time reflecting on her first year as a pro, and the challenges that reinforced her unwavering belief that her best is yet to come!
Reflections of a Rookie: My First Year as a Professional Runner
Almost exactly a year ago I had just received my first week of training from my new coach. For about 6 weeks I had been in a weird limbo where I wasn't sure what my future would look like. I didn't know where I’d be living, who I would be coached by, who I would be training with, or if I would even continue running. Amongst the questions and chaos floating in my head, there was one definite—I was determined to succeed. I’ve been wired to excel. It’s innate. The chaos was scary, but it was intriguing. I was entering an entirely new phase of my life and my career where everything was up to me and solely me. I had a free range of choices for the first time, and I decided to fully commit to the process and the work needed to become the athlete and person I’ve always wanted to be.
With this new phase, one of the biggest and best adjustments was moving out of the collegiate structure I had been in for six years. In college I was successful, but I wasn't quite at the level that guaranteed a professional career. I had coaches who were extremely situational, and I learned quickly to expect very little support from them and depend on myself. I experienced three years of consecutive injuries and endured a lot of negative feedback about my body, my commitment to the sport, and my future. I was told: “You’re not made to make it in this sport” “It’s not worth your time to pursue a professional career” “Brands will not want to represent you” “No one will want to coach you” “You should've quit running a while ago”. Obviously, I didn’t listen.
After my last conversation with my college coaches, I was distraught and my confidence was low. Two things that are very out of the norm for me. I called my agent, Isaya Okwiya, and expressed insecurities that I didn’t innately possess, but had been projected onto me by two individuals who minimized me for six years. Isaya immediately shut down all the doubts I had and laughed at the comments they had said to express how “ridiculous” it was. With his initial support and aligned vision of my potential, we proceeded to mold and create my ideal environment in the professional track and field world.
To create my ideal environment, we had to figure out my coaching, my training, my living situation, my income, and a contract. Isaya did everything he could to make the process as easy and seamless for me as possible. He created an immediate future in running for me with the parameters and preferences I had given him. I told him I wanted to stay at altitude. I declined training groups I didn't think would work for me. I strayed away from brands that weren’t what I was looking for or hoping for. I was picky and a little difficult, but in this new phase I swore I was going to stay true to myself and avoid compromising for what other people wanted (like I had done throughout college). I was determined to assemble something perfect for me, and with Isaya’s help, we were able to do that.
Isaya put me in contact with my current coach, Juli Benson. Initially, when he mentioned her name to me I had not heard of her. I have always been slightly disconnected from the running world (haha), so I was unaware of her vast and impressive accolades. For context, Juli represented the US in the 1996 Olympics in the 1500, has a PR of 4:06 (which is VERY impressive, especially given she ran that in the 90’s without the shoe, pacer, or track technological advancements we have now), has coached multiple top NCAA programs, and has continued to coach various professional athletes and a 1500 meter World Champion. We had our first conversation on the phone in July of 2022, and within 12 minutes my gut told me that she was the right coach for me. I hadn't ever met Juli in person and we knew very little about each other, but almost immediately we clicked. Juli expressed a lot of excitement and belief in my future and getting external support was an entirely new feeling for me. I was used to feeding only off of my passion and belief in my potential, so having multiple people who were just as invested in my success was refreshing and empowering.
The first few months of training with a new coach and with a new headspace were an adjustment for me. Juli lives outside of Philly, and we agreed to work together remotely so that I could remain at altitude. At the time she coached only one other athlete in the Denver area, Molly Sughroue, who specializes in the 1500. Molly and I were trying to meet at least once a week for long runs and if possible we’d try to meet for one workout a week as well. With this new training setup, I was still operating in a somewhat similar manner to before. I was running at the same places, on the same schedule, and with the same grit as before, but now I was just spending more time solo and found myself doing a lot alone. I was enjoying the solitude, but I was craving the companionship you build with training partners through the tough and easy days.
I struggled a lot in the first few months to not only build fitness but also build my confidence and comfort in a new situation. I found it very difficult to motivate myself when I didn’t have a clear path and a training group to distract me from the murkiness of everything. I was still feeling the uneasiness and insecurities I had felt immediately after college, but I was processing all of it in isolation and found my feet hitting the pavement, trail, or track every day to be therapeutic. The ambiguity of training without a physically present coach, only occasional training partners, and no professional contract forced me to truly commit to and appreciate the process. Every day, I was my only source of motivation and accountability. Honestly, it was very lonely and humbling, but that segment of time was ultimately pivotal in forming the athlete I would go on to become in the 2023 track season.
My first post-collegiate and “professional” race was an indoor 3k in New York. I put quotes around the word ‘professional’ because at the time I was unsponsored and did not consider myself a professional athlete because I was not being paid for it (this ended up being a recurring theme of imposter syndrome throughout most of the 2023 season). I went into the race with no idea of where my fitness was at, low confidence, and a lot of internal pressure to succeed. I ended up running well and won the race. Soon after in February, I had another indoor race. This race did not go as planned, and Juli, Isaya, and I agreed I should scratch indoor USA’s. This was a good reset for me and I really dialed into my training.
My first big outdoor race was a steeple at Drake Relays. I remember talking to Juli the day of the race and expressing the pressure I had put on myself so that “people would take me seriously” and “brands would want to sign me”. She assured me that I was talented enough for both of those things, but that neither defined me as an athlete or a person. I went into the race with light expectations and heavy desires. I remained calm and smooth throughout the race, and with 600 meters left I knew no one was going to beat me. I only had that feeling a few times in the season, but every time it was right.
A month later I had my next race and my next steeple at the LA Grand Prix. At that point, I was feeling extremely comfortable and confident in myself and my training. The day of the race I was calm and excited. These feelings continued into the race and I had the same feeling I did at Drake Relays with 600 meters left. Winning this race and running the world standard changed the trajectory of my season quickly.
I had inserted myself into conversations of the top steeplers in the country and cemented a qualifying mark for international competitions. These were things my family, friends, Isaya, Juli, and I knew were possible for me, but now people outside of my circle were paying attention. I had finally felt validated and seen as an athlete.
The USA Championship meet, which is also the qualifier for the World Championship meet, was a month later. By then, I had officially signed with Oiselle and prelims was my first professional race (notice how I removed the quotation marks). Unfortunately, finals did not go as I had hoped or planned. The week of the championships I had a sinus infection, and I had tried to ignore the toll it was taking on my body. I didn't feel like myself in prelims and got really in my head (only making the situation worse) before finals. To compete with the best in the country you need to be healthy and focused, and I found myself lacking a little bit of both. I had overcome adverse situations similar to this before, but I think I wanted this to go so well so badly that I lost my edge in the pressure and excitement of it.
After a disappointing final, I was upset and angry with myself and the cards I had been dealt days prior to the biggest race of my season. Juli and Isaya promised me that this race was not the end all be all. I had to get on a flight to go to Europe 36 hours later and at the time I just wanted to wallow in my disappointment. Juli talked me out of a hole and demanded I leave all the negativity and heartbreak from this race in the US before I boarded my flight. She was right. I deserved a chance to enjoy the rest of my season and a chance for redemption.
Less than two days later I was in Belgium and once again anxious to succeed. I promised myself I would use every race I had left in the season to gain confidence and experience. I had a race plan that I would execute each time that consisted of putting myself in the front, seeing how long I could hang on, and finishing HARD. This plan worked and I won all three races I had in Europe. We decided to scratch the last race in Europe and finish my season at the Sir Walter Mile. Once again, I executed my race plan, ran 4:27, and ended my season with something to be very proud of.
Reflecting on this last year is hard for me because it still feels surreal. I’m very lucky to have a coach, agent, brand, friends, and family who only see the absolute best in me before I see it in myself. This last year has afforded me a lot of firsts. My first year running professionally. My first (and hopefully not last) American Record. My first professional contract. My first sub 4:30 mile. My first trip out of the United States. It was more than a lot of athletes get to experience in their entire careers. I can appreciate the significance of those accomplishments, but honestly, for me, it wasn’t enough. If someone had asked 10-year-old Madie what she’d be doing 15 years from then I’m positive she would’ve given you that list AND MORE. Since youth sports at four years old, I’ve wanted to win every game. Since running at 10 years old, I’ve wanted to win every race. Younger Madie was brave, fearless, competitive, and confident.
Throughout most of my outdoor season, I felt as though I had to prove myself and cement my spot within the professional track and field world. I used a lot of external sources to reaffirm what I already knew was my potential and my ability. I internalized losses and defined myself by them. In my next season and hopefully seasons, I want to focus on appreciating and learning from results but not completely enveloping myself in them. No matter the highs or lows, I had a constant support system that always saw the confident and competitive athlete I’m still becoming. I haven’t felt like that confident Young Madie version of myself in a very long time, but this last year I started to tap back into it.
I’ve always been anxiously curious to see how good I can be and what my ceiling is. This exciting and intriguing unknown is what fuels me every day.
Like the queen Sha’Carri Richardson says, “I’m not back, I’m better” and I’m beyond anxious to see what the upcoming 365 days have in store for me.