Update: Elle Purrier, who grew up on a dairy farm in Montgomery, Vermont and went to Richford High School is officially one of the fastest women in history. On Saturday, Feb. 8, Purrier set a new American mile record, breaking the record Mary Decker Slaney set 37 years ago by nearly four seconds. Purrier’s mile time at the 113th running of the Millrose Games on an indoor track in New York City’s Armory building was a blazing 4 minutes, 16.85 seconds. She surged ahead of Germany’s Konstanze Klosterhalfen, who finished second in 4:17:26, setting a German national record. Purrier’s was the second-fastest mile time on an indoor track (where wind and other factors are less in play) in history for women. Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba ran a 4:13:31 on an indoor track in 2016. Watch Purrier’s come-from-behind Millrose Games record race, from NBC (below).
Purrier’s February 8, 2020 win at the Millrose Games should not have been a surprise to anyone who has been watching her run this past year.
Here’s what she’d already accomplished.
On Sunday, Sept. 7, 2019, running star Jenny Simpson, Vermont’s Elle Purrier and a pack of elite professional women runners toed the line at the start of the 39th running of the Fifth Avenue Mile in New York City. More than 9,000 runners were behind them and crowds of spectators lined the avenue.
Two minutes into the race, Simpson, 33, a former world champion in the 1,500 meters and the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, had pulled to the front. Announcers speculated that Simpson, who normally holds back, was going fast earlier than usual in hopes of breaking her own 2017 time of 4:16:6 (a time that
tied a record set by Patti Sue Plumer in 1990) which would make this her eighth win.
But a few steps ahead of Simpson was her relatively unknown New Balance teammate, Elle Purrier. Elle (pronounced ‘Ellie’), 24, grew up on a dairy farm in Montgomery Center, Vermont and 2019 was her first full year racing as a pro.
Simpson began to pick up the pace and Purrier kept matching her until the two had put the width of a full city cross-street between them and the pack. They crossed the finish neck and neck, with Simpson just barely eking out the win from her teammate. Simpson, finishing in 4:16:1, broke her own record. But so did Purrier, who finished in 4:16:2.
Those times put both women among the seven fastest mile times ever recorded by women–records largely set on tracks, and three of which were set prior to 1996. The world record for a women’s mile is now 4:12:33, set by Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands on a track in Monaco in July, 2019.
“I hadn’t really planned to enter the Fifth Avenue Mile,” said Purrier by phone from Hawaii this December, just after finishing third of all elite runners (both men—who started 28 seconds back—and women) and winning the women’s Merrie Mile in Honolulu.
“My focus last fall was on training for 5,000 meters in the World Championships in Doha, which was two weeks after the Fifth Avenue Mile,” she said. There, at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar in October, Purrier earned the last spot in the 5,000-meter finals. In the World Championship finals she finished 11th overall, the second American.
It’s been an amazing year for a woman who six years ago was waking up before dawn to help with chores on the farm. “I really didn’t run much or even like running as a kid—I liked basketball and other sports better,” she said.
But farmwork built strength: “I think the hardest thing was loading 100-lb bales of hay,” recalls Purrier, who is 5 feet 3 inches and weighs around 130 lbs.
After Purrier won multiple high school, state, New England and Northeast regional championships in track and field, coaches from Dartmouth and a number of other top schools came knocking.
“Hopp, (Robert Hoppler, cross-country coach at University of New Hampshire), came to visit me at home,” she remembers. “He came from a blue-collar background as well and really just seemed to get me. It was close to home and I really liked the school. It wasn’t until I got to UNH and was part of the team there that I really thought of myself as a ‘runner,’” she said.
At UNH, Purrier became an 11-time All American, the NCAA mile champion and the most decorated athlete in the school’s history. After graduating in 2018, Purrier turned down offers to go pro that would have taken her to the Pacific Northwest and chose to go with New Balance, where former Dartmouth coach, Mark Coogan, is now coach. “I wanted to stay close to home and Mark was friends with Hopp so he knew me, too.”
Staying close to home this year had another benefit: in spring of 2019 her high school sweetheart and neighboring farmer, Jamie St. Pierre, showed up at her parent’s farm. In one hand, he had a calf—a Brown Swiss cow—and the other a ring. The two have plans to marry in the fall of 2020.
When asked about her other best moments from 2019, Purrier doesn’t hesitate. It wasn’t finishing 11th in the World Championships, setting new personal best times or nearly winning the Fifth Avenue Mile—it was finishing third in the 5,000 meters in the 2019 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships in July, which qualified her for the Worlds.
“Just knowing I was qualifying for the World Championships and knowing I was part of the U.S. Team was pretty exciting,” said Elle. “And then just going to the Worlds and learning so much from these other racers I’ve looked up to,” she said.
With the Olympic trials coming up in June, soon they may be learning from her.
Elle Purrier is one of our 2019 Vermont Sports Athletes of the Year. For more Athletes of the Year, head here.
Featured Photo: Elle Purrier’s favorite moment of 2019? Running at the Toyota Track and Field National Championships where she qualified for Worlds. Photo by Victor Sailer.