Patrick Casey is an American middle-distance runner who finished his collegiate career as one of the NCAA’s top competitors. He attended Montana State University and the University of Oklahoma, and holds a personal best of 3:52.62 in the mile. Now, the accomplished Under Armour pro resides in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he takes part in the city’s vibrant running community.
Throughout his career as a professional runner, Casey learned how to handle challenges and injuries and keep coming back. By tracking his data and honing his training, he’s no stranger to giving his best every single time to know and push beyond quitting.
Here, he talks about his running journey, including his personal goals and coming back from surgery.
Q: You had foot surgery fairly recently. What was it like coming back from that?
Casey: It was a long road. I was out for 6–8 months without any running, which is an incredibly long amount of time for a professional runner. So, coming back from that is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to overcome. But, at the same time, it was kind of fun. It was hitting small milestone after small milestone to just get back to where I knew I could be. It was a very hard experience, but it was very rewarding as well.
Q: What were some of those milestones?
Casey: Just small milestones like running 3 minutes at a time without stopping and then working my way up to 30 minutes. Wearing spikes again for the first time. Running with zero pain in my foot. Small things like that you don’t even think about when you’re not injured.
Q: Besides the physical difficulty, it must have been mentally difficult, too.
Casey: Yeah, it’s a day-to-day process. Every day you just have to be like, OK, I can only do so much. I can’t think about a month or two months down the road. Taking it in those small increments made it a lot more manageable. But I had fun along the way, too. I was with my team, and there was a lot of joking around, and that helped me do what I needed to do with a good attitude. I think that was a big part of it.
Q: A lot of people don’t think of running as a team sport. How do you feel?
Casey: I think it absolutely is a team sport. I mean, obviously, it’s an individual race with individual results. But I think being on a team is a huge part of being successful. Just having the people around you every day to make what you do enjoyable and to help you push harder in practice. You go places in practice you haven’t gone before just because you’re surrounded by people who are pushing you to be your best.
Q: How is it living and training in Flagstaff?
Casey: It’s great. Flagstaff has been an incredible place for running. I can’t imagine living in a better place to run professionally. Every day you can run on different dirt roads, and it’s just beautiful here. The altitude is really hard, though, so that took a lot of getting used to. But once you do get used to it, then you know coming down to sea level is going to be so much easier.
The team aspect is great, too, meeting for drills and going on runs together. You’ll show up for a Sunday run, and there will be a ton of people there. That makes the difficulty of running much easier.
Q: How would you define the quitting distance?
Casey: I think quitting is a choice. Everybody has their limit, of course. You can’t break the world record every single time, but you can give it your best every single time. Even if your body shuts down, you can still push as hard as you can in that moment, so I don’t think it has a specific distance.
Q: Is there a voice in your head that tells you to quit?
Casey: There absolutely is. I think everybody has a lot of doubts, especially in distance running. I’ve been doing this for several years, and I still second guess myself a lot, even in the biggest races. But all you can do is give your best effort and refuse to quit. I think that has helped me battle my doubts — knowing that no matter what happens, even if I have the worst day of my life in a race, I won’t give up.
Q: What do you do on days where you’re just not feeling it?
Casey: It’s step by step. Some days you’ve just got to get out the door. If it’s a normal day where I don’t know if I want to go out and run hard, I just get through that first interval and take it from there. If it’s a race, just try to hold on for another 100 meters, then another 100 meters and just keep on yourself.
Q: Have there been times where you felt infinite, like you could just run forever?
Casey: Those days don’t come around very often, but when I ran my personal best in college, I was like, “Oh, I could have run 5 seconds faster than that.” I couldn’t have, probably, but I think anytime you have a very good race, it’s so exciting and you get so caught up in that moment that you forget it was even hard. And that makes you feel like you could have run for an infinite amount of time.
Q: Think about where you were six months ago, a year ago, five years ago … what did it take to get to where you are today?
Casey: I think in this sport and in life, a big thing is just growing and learning and working on your perspective. I’m a lot more intelligent now about the things I do, about the way I treat my body, about everything in and around the sport. It’s about becoming a better athlete and a better runner. I think, in that sense, I’ve grown a lot, and I think that will continue to happen. Six months down the road, I hope to be a better athlete than I am right now and even a better human.
Q: Looking to the future, do you have your sights set on any big goals?
Casey: Yeah, the big goal for me is to make a U.S. team for the world championships in 2019. I could do nothing else all year, and that would be the biggest goal of my career. And then, obviously, 2020 is the Olympic year. That would be a lifelong dream. That’s the pinnacle, so that’s the goal I’m shooting for.
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