Eugene, Oregon – June 21, 2011 – Bridget Franek is from Hiram, Ohio, where she attended Crestwood High School and won four state titles (4x800, 800, 1600, 3200) her senior year at the 2006 Ohio State Track & Field Championships. As a prep, she also competed in soccer, basketball and swimming. While at Penn State University, she was a 10-time NCAA All American and set six Penn State school records - in the 3000 steeplechase, the mile, the indoor 1600, the indoor 3000, the 4 x 1500 and the DMR. She also won the NCAA Division I title in the steeplechase in 2010 and while she was still a Nittany Lion, she finished third at the 2009 USA Track & Field Championships to earn a spot to run at the IAAF World Outdoor Championships. After graduation last summer, Franek joined the Oregon Track Club Elite, which is based in Eugene.
The steeplechase is an event often favored by the more athletic runners. Did you play any other sports in high school? When did you decide that running was the sport you wanted to stick with?
Bridget: Yes, up until my junior year of high school, I was convinced that I was going to play soccer in college and beyond. My parents were runners themselves in college and were always very careful not to push the sport on us. They definitely encouraged us to be active and I tried it all-playing multiple seasons of slow and fast pitch softball, basketball, volleyball, soccer, and swimming before deciding to focus on running. While doing so many different things made me strong, it didn’t help me hone specific skills in any one particular thing and since running mostly relied on general athleticism, it was where I eventually decided I would have the brightest future. My junior year was when I first started cross country to get some times to show college coaches and plan for the next steps of life.
When did you run your first steeplechase competition and what do you like about this event?
Bridget: I ran my first steeplechase my freshman year of college at a small meet at Bucknell University. At first I didn’t really know what to think of it, I had no idea what a good time was and only knew that it hurt! I really liked the distraction that the barriers gave my mind throughout the race and the ‘skill’ it required beyond just running. The part that took some adjusting for me was the fact that you could never get into a rhythm like the 5K or the 1500, you’re always accelerating and decelerating into and out of the barriers. But it didn’t take me long to embrace that aspect and LOVE IT!!!
Recognizing that you have a lengthy list of accolades from your career at Penn State University, what are some of your most memorable achievements?
Bridget: The one that probably means the most to me is being part of the Big Ten Triple Crown my senior year. When I came to Penn State the team was carried heavily by our sprinters and to feel like I was able to make a difference, being named MVP that year, meant a lot! Another thing I thought was cool was being able to say that in four years, I qualified for 12 straight National Championships between Cross, Indoor Track, and Outdoor. And of course, finally winning an individual title in my last go-around on the track was pretty significant as well!
In 2009 you qualified for the IAAF World Championships in the 3k steeple, signifying that you were a world-class runner. Before that time, had you been thinking about running professionally?
Bridget: Honestly, not really. Of course I thought about how cool it would be to be able to not have to get another job and just run- I did love it enough- but before making the team, I had no idea people actually did that! Having that experience, being able to talk to the pros face to face and hear about their lives really opened my eyes to something I had only dreamed about. In addition to giving me the exposure, it also gave me the belief that I could be better than I had ever thought I could. I knew I had a whole year of college still ahead of me, but I realized then that if things worked out just right, I had a better chance at my dream than I had imagined!
What were some of the biggest questions you had about professional running when you graduated? (Agents, sponsorships, contracts, etc.) Where did you go to for answers to these questions?
Bridget: The amount of knowledge I had about becoming a professional runner the day I stepped off the track at NCAA’s was comical. I had promised I would not get ahead of myself thinking about it until my eligibility was a sealed deal and I held to that. I didn’t know the slightest thing about any of it.
Is there anything you are still trying to figure out about being a professional runner?
Bridget: One of my personal favorite things about this career is that there will ALWAYS be something to learn- about yourself, your training, etc- and there will ALWAYS be something that you can change to make you just a little bit faster or stronger. I highly doubt that there will ever be a time in my career when I ‘have it all figured out’. I take it like a game and a challenge!
When did you decide to join OTC Elite in Eugene, OR? Did you contact them or did they contact you? Were you considering any other training groups?
Bridget: I had heard that there were several training groups throughout the country and thought it would be fun to look into them when my college eligibility was up. I enjoyed the ‘team’ environment and knew it would be great to have people around who were better than me and more established in the sport to learn from as I entered this new level. At the same time, I was running well where I was and wasn’t completely sure I was ready to leave yet. I was not in a hurry and didn’t know what the process to investigating these groups even was so I decided to just see what happened after NCAA’s. Coach Rowland was the first coach to contact me and I couldn’t pass up the invitation- training with a team I had a lot of respect for already, under a coach who was a specialist in my event himself, in Track Town USA sounded like more than I could have hoped for! If no one would have called, after the dust of agents and contracts and nationals settled, I was planning on looking into McMillan Elite and a group in Colorado as well.
What is it like training in Eugene and with OTC Elite? Of course Eugene is known as “Track Town USA,” but what else about it drew you out there?
Bridget: I love it in Eugene so far! I have always wanted to try living on the West Coast (I took official visits to U of O and University of Washington for college) so this was a second chance for me. Like I stated earlier, the people that I knew of on the team were some of my running idols and the chance to train alongside them was itself like a dream! Plus, I knew Coach Rowland was a bronze medalist at World Champs in the steeplechase so who better to learn the event from? All these things have turned out to be positives for me now that I am settled in and there are even more good things about it that I hadn’t anticipated-the rain is actually way nicer to put up with than trying to fight against the snow of Midwest winters and the whole running community here has provided me with instant friends and a sense of belonging since moving away from old friends and family was so difficult.
What do you like to do in your free time? Do you have another job in addition to running? You received a degree in Kinesiology; do you see yourself doing something with that in the future?
Bridget: When I first moved out here I was very concerned with trying to find another job or something to fill my time. After only a few months of training at this level, I have decided that it requires more mental and physical energy than I had anticipated and have allowed myself to just relax and recover a little more. But I have still found ways to live outside of the sport a little too! My teammate Lauren Fleshman started a gluten and dairy free energy bar business and hired me to help her prepare and package them a few days a week, I enjoy making jewelry for family and friends, I decided to try to learn French, and I am trying to rediscover reading for fun after the literary-phobia that college textbooks seem to create! I enjoyed studying Kinesiology through college in conjunction with what I was studying on the track but I am interested in a lot of other things as well so I will most likely just see what doors running has opened for me when I am ready to move onto another career.
You are mostly known as a steeplechaser but you also have clocked impressive times in events ranging from the 800 up through the 5k. Do you ever see yourself changing events? What will be your focus leading into the 2012 Olympic Trials?
Bridget: I would love to continue running other events throughout the season to chase PR’s and make me stronger but I think I will always focus on the Steeplechase during championship time. I would not have been given the opportunities in this career if it weren’t for this race and I think I have a ton of room for improvement yet. I also just LOVE running it and track for me would not be nearly as much fun without it!
What has your 2011 track season looked like so far? (Races and performances). What is your plan for the rest of the summer?
Bridget: This year I have really focused on getting my body and mind through the transition from college to pro. I trained hard through the beginning of the season and only raced once indoors, running 9:26 for 3k. In the early part of the outdoor season I ran some other events, setting a PR in the open 1500 and feeling very strong in a low-key 5K. I have run three full steeplechases, each feeling smoother and getting faster. I respect the changes I have asked my body to undergo this year and Coach and I have tried to keep the pressure and expectations reasonable. He has been really patient with me and is very good about allowing me to figure things out while still giving me little pushes when I need it. I am really happy with how the season has been developing and I think that I have a lot more still in me for this year and years to come!