Without knowing why, when you meet Teal Burrell you quickly realize she’s just a little different from most elite runners. She’s a little more pensive than many of the women. A little more … something. Not insular, because she’s very friendly. Not introverted, because there are lots of elites who are introverted. Not intelligent, because a lot of elites are that too. There’s something about her that you can’t quite put your finger on, and it’s immediately intriguing.
Learning that she is a Ph.D. in neuroscience and an accomplished writer in the field helps to fill in some of the blanks; Teal is smart and it shows in the way she speaks. She’s thoughtful and careful with her words. For Teal, convention isn’t running with a team and it certainly isn’t media attention. In fact she can at times seem a little surprised to be where she is. In fact, by most standards she didn’t start out as anything special or even close to elite-status; her first marathon time was 4:07. But Teal’s own standards for herself are much, much higher than anyone else’s, and that has taken her far along the road to the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials in L.A.
Like many of us, Teal wasn’t a high school phenom and she didn’t run collegiately at all. The story behind her early running days is one many of us can relate to no matter what our PRs are:
I didn’t run in college, I started running in high school, I ran cross country and track in high school. But I wasn’t very good, so I didn’t run collegiately. But I missed the reason to run. Like I need a goal, a race on the calendar, a team or something, so while I was in college I decided to get back into running and that’s when I decided I wanted to do a marathon because that was like a big scary goal that was enough to get me going. So I did my first marathon in college and then fell into a non-running funk for a while and then after college that’s when I got back into it and really tried to hit new goals. My first marathon was actually a 4:07, and that’s when I was like ‘Okay, I want to qualify for Boston’ and try to run a little bit faster.
Unlike many of us, however, Teal’s path to Boston was surprisingly painless. On her first serious attempt, she did it, taking over forty minutes off her PR. Then in Boston, she lopped another ten minutes off of her marathon best, taking it down to 3:18. This is when she started to dream really big. “I thought I really could [continue to] take huge chunks off my time … and I thought ‘gosh, maybe I could get to the Olympic Trials someday.'”
And she did! With no indicators other than one good long run indicating she was ready, Teal nailed a sub-2:43 marathon at the 2014 CIM. (Read her race report here. It’s epic!) As we all know it’s easy to concoct big dreams, but it’s another thing to keep the faith throughout the long process of achieving them. Maybe it’s because she trained mostly on her own and was slightly naive when she started dreaming about the Trials, but she navigated the rocky road and got there.
[Actually qualifying was] in my wildest dreams, but only in those. I definitely thought it was kind of crazy and a huge goal and there were so many times when it seemed crazy. Like nuts. Like no way am I gonna run… that is so fast. So I guess if I could tell myself then just to believe in myself and know that if you work really hard then you can get a lot better. It’s really all about self confidence and belief. And knowing that even though it seems really crazy and fast and far away, if you just keep believing and keep working toward that goal and keep taking off minutes here and there and continue to work on all the little things, then you’ll get there. So I guess if I could tell myself to believe, that part was huge.
Teal’s big dreaming hasn’t stopped since she crossed the 2014 CIM finish line. She says, “I’m thrilled just to make it to the Trials. The Trials are my Olympics. And just to be on the start line with the women who will make the Olympics is incredible.”
While actually making the US Olympic Marathon team is not one of them, Teal does have big goals for her Trials race. She traveled to Jacksonville from her home in D.C. to see if she could nail a half marathon equivalent of her ambitious Trials Marathon goal. While she didn’t hit the sub 1:18 she aimed for, she still PR’d by almost a minute and dipped under 1:19 for the first time.
The ever-striving Teal, though, struggled with this outcome, writing on her blog:
It’s still not the PR I hoped for, and the race caused some new doubts to sneak in, but it was a PR, so I’m trying to remind myself that I am running better than ever. (It seems obvious, but somehow I need to keep repeating this to myself.) Hopefully a few more weeks of hard work will bring my (as always) ambitious goals back into my grasp.
We’re confident this smart, focused runner will enjoy herself and race her buns off in LA, and we hope you’ll be cheering for her! Go Teal!