Shelby Houlihan’s Big Talk with “I Do Feel Like That World Record Is in Reach”

July 21, 2020

Fresh off her pending American record of 14:23.92 for 5,000m, Shelby Houlihan joined us on the Track Talk podcast last week. COVID-19 may be slowing down much of the running world, but it hasn’t slowed down Shelby and it hasn’t slowed down the LRC Track Talk podcast, which has had the Greatest American Distance Runners of All Time, Jim Ryun (listen here) and Deena Kastor (listen here) on the podcast during the COVID shutdown, plus “The Big 3” of Alan Webb, Dathan Ritzenhein, and Ryan Hall.

Shelby tackled a lot of interesting subjects: her record run, going after the world record, drug accusations, shoes, the 1500/10k double, and life within the Bowerman Track Club including who is the best cook, DJ, and more.

We’ve got highlights of our talk below condensed for clarity. Listen to the full podcast here or in the player below or on your favorite podcast app. Or click on a timestamp below to listen to that part.

Article continues below player.

[spp-timestamp time=”2:48″] LRC: [You] smashed your own personal best and the American record…You took off over 10 seconds. Were you surprised by how fast you ran?

Shelby Houlihan: Honestly, no, not really. I felt going into that race, especially after pacing our teammates [to a 14:48 5k] 10 days before that. After we had paced them and we were running 72’s, Karissa [Schweizer] and I kind of looked at each other after that, and we’re like, ‘That was easy.’

Courtesy Talbot Cox

We felt very comfortable doing that, we were even having a conversation at the end of our pacing duty, the last K. And I yeah, I was surprised how easy it felt… We kind of looked at each other. We’re like, I think we can run in the 14:20s and I had predicted myself on Friday, I thought I was gonna run 14:24…

I still think I can run faster. And I felt that way after the last American record, [when] I got the 14:34. I felt I could have run a lot faster. But I think it’s kind of those baby steps and trying to, you know, [improve] one thing at a time. I do think I can run faster. And I’m excited to kind of see eventually where that limit is.

LRC: Watching the race, it definitely looked like while you were being paced by Colleen [Quigley] and Courtney [Frerichs] and Elise [Cranny] that you were chomping at the bit and getting ready for them to step off. Did you try to argue with [coach] Jerry [Schumacher] beforehand, ‘Hey, can we be a little little bit more aggressive with the pacing?’  

I thought if we were running 14:35 pace, and I could close well, I knew I could run in the 14:20s. And that’s what I tried to do. But I didn’t want to get too greedy with it, I didn’t want to try to knock off like 69’s and then blow up. So I was a little more conservative in what I felt like I could do and looking back now I feel like we could have run a little faster. But I guess that’s for another time.

LRC: Your last 1600 was 4:26 and you went 70, 68, 65, 61, so clearly it looks like there was a little bit more in the tank left there. You’re now the 12th-fastest woman in history. Tirunesh Dibaba, when she set the current world record, her PR was 14:27. The world record, obviously that’s a big jump from there, it’s 14:11. But you’ve said you want to break the world record, you want to break 14:00. So does that feel like a more tangible goal — the world record? Do you start thinking more seriously about that?

We’re definitely getting to that point, I think. Like I said, it’s just one thing at a time. I think getting that 14:23 under my belt, I feel more confident. And especially doing that and feeling like I could have run faster. I do feel like that world record is in reach. Maybe not this year, but I still think I have a lot more in terms of my potential. I still feel like I’m getting stronger every year, I’m still able to PB every year, I still think there’s a lot more work to do, which is kind of exciting. I’m excited for the future and to see where that can take me.

[spp-timestamp time=”8:10″] LRC: No American woman has ever medalled in the 5k at the Olympics or Worlds because usually those medals are going to women who have run 14:30 or faster. You’re in that club now. So does that change what event you would want to do with the Olympics next year?

There’s a question mark now about which event I should do. I still feel like I have a lot of unfinished business in the 1500 and I am kind of pulled towards that I think a little bit more. I still feel like in that event, I can run even faster and I want to, but especially I have a lot more experience in a tactical 1500 than I do in the 5k. I’ve only run a handful of 5ks and yeah, like I said, most of them have been at championship races, and then the other ones have just been paced to fast times. So I don’t feel as experienced and I don’t feel like my instincts kick in as as well as they do in the 1500. So I feel a lot more confident in the 15. So it’s kind of where I’m leaning towards, but at the end of the day, I’m gonna run whatever I think has the best chance for me to medal.

[spp-timestamp time=”10:51″] LRC: [The 1500/5k double is not feasible at the Olympics]. Last year [Sifan] Hassan had to do the 15/10k [double] because the 15/5 wasn’t really feasible. Would you consider doing what she did last year trying the 10/15 double?

I need to do a 10k first, I need to see how that feels. Actually I’m very intrigued by the 10k, I think I could do it pretty well. But I’m also super naive, and I haven’t ever really run one on the track. So I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah, I could totally do that.’ At the end of the day, I actually have to try and go do it and see how that feels. But I wouldn’t put it out of the question to try it. Especially [since] the 10k is just like a straight final and then you do have three rounds of the 15, but I love running rounds. I love doubling back and that’s why I do it…so I wouldn’t put it out of the question.

[spp-timestamp time=”17:48″] LRC: Another thing I wanted to ask about was the shoes you raced in, I believe 2013 Nike Zoom Victories. Obviously, Nike has made more shoes and have more recent models available to you since then, so why go with the older spikes?

Courtesy Talbot Cox

To be honest, I’m kind of a creature of habit and I’ve been wearing those spikes since college. Ever since they came out, those have been my spikes, and I love them. I love the way they feel. I love how there’s really nothing to them and it kind of just feels like I have spiked implements on my feet. My feet are my greatest tools and I feel like it allows me to really dig into the ground and do what I need to do. Whereas some of the newer spikes I feel like you’re kind of elevated off the ground. I don’t feel like I can feel the track. And yeah, this is just what I’m comfortable with. I love those spikes, and I hope I never have to change. They’re still making them for me. So I’m like, please don’t get rid of these. I really liked them. Please don’t make me change and yeah, this is just what I’m comfortable in.

LRC: Obviously we saw some of your teammates wearing the Dragonflies they’re so called or the new Air Zoom Victories. Did Nike reps come up to you and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got these new spikes. They’re supposed to be even faster.’ Do they try to sell you on the gains associated with these new shoes?

The Nike reps don’t, no. I think there have been a lot of people that have been trying to sell me on them and I refuse to wear them. I’m sure they would like me to wear them but they haven’t really tried to make me which I’m thankful for. But I’ve definitely heard all of the selling points. Everyone is selling, trying to sell me on them. And I’m very stubborn in that way. We’re like everyone wants me to do it so I’m not gonna do it. I like what I wear and it’s working for me so I don’t want to change it.

LRC: There’s no concern with them maybe not being legal yet with this four-month window or anything like that? You just like the other shoes better?

I like the shoes better. Also, I don’t know enough about shoes to know any type of advantages around that. I know that there is some skepticism with those shoes. And I also don’t want people to question what I do… I don’t want someone tweeting like, ‘Oh, is it because she was wearing the shoes?’ I’m just gonna nip that in the bud right now. No, it’s not because I was wearing the shoes. I did that myself.


Want to know how fast Shelby has run a 200 in a workout? How she views her rivalry with teammate and fellow Iowa legend Karissa Schweizer? Who had the better high school career? Who is the best cook in the Bowerman Track Club? The worst? The best poker player? Listen to our full Shelby Houlihan “ Track Talk” podcast in the player below or on your favorite podcast player.

[spp-player track_player url=”″ title=”Full Shelby Houlihan Track Talk Podcast”]

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