Pro Runner Aisha Praught-Leer on Never Quitting and Her Perfect Shoe

Kevin Gray
by Kevin Gray
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Pro Runner Aisha Praught-Leer on Never Quitting and Her Perfect Shoe

Aisha Praught-Leer is an Illinois-born runner who competes for Jamaica to honor her father’s heritage. She’s a 2016 Olympian, a 2017 World Track and Field finalist, and she won gold in the steeplechase at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Now, based in Boulder, Colorado, Praught-Leer continues to pursue her passion and prepare for her next challenge.

We spoke with her to learn more about her journey, overcoming obstacles, pushing past quitting to make major breakthroughs and what she looks for in the perfect running shoe.

Q: What is it like being Jamaica’s only female steeplechaser?
Praught-Leer: I feel responsible to show people on the island that we can be good at more than just sprinting. I feel that it’s my responsibility to perform well and to train well and to prepare well, so that when I line up in these really visible races, people see me and feel inspired. It’s important to give people hope.

Q: You had Achilles surgery a couple years ago. How did you come back from such a major operation?
Praught-Leer: I had my surgery in December o2015 leading into the Olympic year, so I had so much work to do to get ready. It’s scary when you have a setback because you have all these goals you want to accomplish, but your body stops you. I was out of shape and going onto the biggest athletic stage in the world. Through the recovery process, one of the biggest things I learned was to listen to my body and sort of ignore the clock. At the time, my coach made me take off my watch, and that’s really hard because, as a professional athlete, you want the feedback. We’re so data-driven. To get there, I had to let go of so many things that were getting in my way and making me worry.

Q: How do you define the quitting distance?
Praught-Leer: For me, the quitting distance is always at the same moment — it’s when I’m about to have a big breakthrough. We have this term in running, where you can sniff the end. You know you’re getting close to the end of a hard race. That’s always the moment of truth for me. Am I going to give up or am I going to push through?

Q: How do you push through?
Praught-Leer: For me, it’s all about fixating on the moment and staying totally focused. When I let the feeling creep in is when I want to quit. When I realize that what I’m doing is actually really insane and really hard and pushing me past my human limit, that’s when it happens. So, I work on making really clear, process-based goals I know will work, and using positive phrasing. So, if I’m in a race, I’ll break it down into segments. I know where that quitting distance is for me, and during that time I’ll give myself a word like “work” or “grind” or “stay on it” that makes me feel good. Then I can stay in that flow, totally focused, in that sort of tunnel vision where you’re not hearing anything — you’re only informed by the bodies moving around you.

Q: How do you feel when everything hurts, but you know you’ve pushed back and given it your all?
Praught-Leer: It’s that moment of “you’ve done it.” I think that’s a moment we really seek, where I didn’t think I could do it, but I did it. And it just floods your body with so much energy of accomplishment, and I don’t think you can really get that anywhere else. I feel like this sport is so unique because it’s all effort based. It’s all about how hard you can push yourself. And when you walk away, you just feel like you want to hug everyone you see and high-five everybody who was at the track even though you don’t know them. It makes you feel like you can do anything.

Q: How’s your experience been with the Under Armour Performance Team?
Praught-Leer: I went to Portland when the headquarters first opened, and I got to use the facilities. It’s totally state of the art. There’s a basketball court where the entire court is a force plate. It’s pretty spectacular. I really enjoyed it.

Q: Have you given them any feedback on products?
Praught-Leer: Yes, as soon as I joined the Under Armour team, they were developing a lot of footwear models and realized that we need a complete line of track and field competition shoes. I got to sit down with the team, and they asked me what I wanted in a steeplechase spike. I said I want enough support to feel safe, but I want it to be aggressive, almost like a miler spike, and I want it to feel fast and firm and springy. Then, a couple of months later, I had a video chat and they presented me the shoe. That was one of the most special experiences I’ve ever had as an athlete. What Under Armour does really well is take our feedback very seriously and then implement it into the shoes.

Q: What’s the testing process been like for the UA HOVR™ Infinite?
Praught-Leer: Under Armour will ask if I’m interested in testing out a trainer. Sometimes I’m a little reluctant because I find something I love, and I don’t want to change. But with about a month left in my season, they sent me a new model. I said, “Oh, I don’t know, we’ll see.” Then I tried them out on one run, just a nice, easy afternoon 5-miler. And I thought, “Oh, OK, well maybe I’ll try them again.” And so, I ended up training the whole rest of my season in this shoe, and it’s been great.

Q: What do you look for in a training shoe?
Praught-Leer: My race is only 3,000 meters, but I’m running 85-plus miles a week, and not every one of those miles can be out on the track in spikes hammering hard. So, I’m spending many hours a week in just a training shoe, out on the roads, running long distances. I’m running 15–17 miles on the weekends, and I am looking for a shoe that isn’t going to break down, that isn’t going to inhibit me in any way. I want to feel good. I don’t want to be feeling the bumps and the dirt roads I train on. I want cushion, and I want to feel that my feet are well taken care of and safe, so I can stay injury-free. And all that has happened with the UA HOVR™ Infinite. It’s really what I’m looking for. It’s the right amount of cushioning with the right amount of bounce.

Q: When creating the UA HOVR™ Infinite, Under Armour built it with a gender specific fit. Do you feel the difference in the fit and how it compares to other shoes you’ve worn?
Praught-Leer: When I slipped on the UA HOVR™ Infinite, one of the first things I noticed was the fit around the heel. I’m not an anatomy person. I’m not sure what the difference is between a female foot and a male foot. But in a lot of shoes, I would get gapping around my ankle and into the heel and specifically in the transition from the heel to the arch of my foot. I feel like this shoe, in particular, hugs that curve a little better. I notice I feel less slipping, and I feel more supported in that transition.

Q: What are some benefits of having a connected shoe?
Praught-Leer: Runners are data-driven now. There are so many ways you can get all this information. And for me, having a connected shoe makes more sense because it’s already something I’m wearing on my body. I’m usually running in a sports bra and a pair of small shorts — I don’t want anything else. I don’t want to wear a monitor on my leg or wrist. People want to know their cadence, they want to know how far they’re going, and they want to know what’s going on with their bodies. If all that is in your shoe and it connects straight to an app on your phone, it’s perfect.

UA HOVR™ Infinite running shoes connect to MapMyRun to provide tracking and personalized coaching to help make you better.

About the Author

Kevin Gray
Kevin Gray

Kevin is a Dallas-based writer who spends the majority of his weekends on a bike. His less healthy pursuits can be found at Bevvy and Cocktail Enthusiast.

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