Q&A: Courtney Frerichs Opens Up About Her Exit from Bowerman TC & New Start Under Alistair & Amy Cragg

The Olympic medalist and American record holder is finally feeling like herself again after two years of interrupted training

From 2016-2021, few American athletes were more consistent than Courtney Frerichs. The Missouri native and University of Missouri-Kansas City alum finished 11th, 2nd, 6th, and 2nd in four World Championship/Olympic finals during that span and twice set the American record in the women’s steeplechase: 9:00.85 in Monaco in 2018, then 8:57.77 in Eugene in 2021 — the first American woman ever under 9:00.

Frerichs finished out the 2021 season — one which also included an Olympic silver medal — by finishing 3rd in the Diamond League steeple final. In the two years since, running has largely been a struggle. In 2022, Frerichs dealt with low iron and an ankle injury but still managed to muscle out a 6th-place finish at Worlds in Eugene. Frerichs underwent ankle surgery in December 2022 to correct the issue but rushed back in order to try to compete at the 2023 Worlds and wound up injuring the same ankle and fibula, likely during a fall during the prelims at the USATF Championships where she was forced to withdraw from the final. For the first time since 2015, Frerichs missed qualifying for Worlds. In the midst of all that, Frerichs’ team, the Bowerman Track Club, was in the midst of a move from Portland, Ore., to Eugene.

For a number of reasons, which Frerichs details below, she announced on January 1 that she has left Bowerman TC and will be coached moving forward by Alistair and Amy Cragg — the latter a former teammate of Frerichs at Bowerman. Frerichs’ husband, Griffin Humphreys, will also be joining the Craggs’ Puma Elite team as an assistant coach. Frerichs was the fourth high-profile athlete to leave Bowerman in the last three months, following Grant FisherCooper Teare, and Elise Cranny, though as Frerichs points out below, she had begun thinking of leaving before any of those departures.

In a wide-ranging interview, the 30-year-old Frerichs spoke to LetsRun from her current training camp in Albuquerque about her decision to leave BTC, why she chose to work with the Craggs and Pascal Dobert, the state of the women’s steeple, and why she feels the best about her running since 2021 as she attempts to make a third Olympic team.

I saw you just arrived in Albuquerque for training camp. How long are you there for? Are you solo or do you have any training partners out there?

I’m probably going to be here until mid-February, if I had to guess. We don’t have an exact date yet, it kind of depends on if I decide on some racing. A few of the Puma athletes are here as well – Fiona [O’Keeffe], Taylor [Werner], and Rose Harvey are here, so I’m doing a lot of training with them.

Are Amy and Alistair out there with you guys as well?

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Alistair has been coming back and forth. He will fly in for some of the workouts, splitting time since there’s still a crew in Chapel Hill, some that were wanting to stay at sea level.

What about the next few months from a racing perspective? Will you run any indoor races or cross country races?

Kevin Morris photo

We’re still deciding 100% what I’m going to do. I’ve been really hesitant to commit to any racing. Last year was just so rough and I felt like coming into this fall, I needed to just focus on building a foundation without feeling any pressure of getting ready for a race indoors. But things have actually gone way better than expected. So Alistair is pushing me to have that discussion of racing.

I’m going to run probably an indoor race or two and then maybe help out with The TEN, with some pacing. I always enjoy pacing and I think that’s a good fitness test. And if it works out, it could be an opportunity to help a lot of women try to hit that [Olympic] standard, including maybe former teammates or people I’d be excited about helping out.

Leaving Bowerman

Why did you make the decision to leave Bowerman?

There wasn’t one exact reason. It was a variety of things. I wasn’t particularly pro-move to Eugene but I wanted to give it a try and really tried to go down with an open mindset. Granted last year had a lot of other factors in terms of why it went so poorly. I wouldn’t say it was just the move to Eugene. But I think for Griffin and I both, it just didn’t feel right. 

Jerry has made a lot of changes to the training in the last two years post-Olympics. And I just really hadn’t seen the results come from that. I had a really strong desire to get back to what I know works really well for me. 

-Courtney Frerichs

We don’t want things just to all be about my running. We wanted him to be able to pursue his goals. In the fall, we did more distance. He stayed in Portland and continued to coach at Portland State. But I was just really struggling, so he wanted to come down to be with me. And for him to work toward being in a coaching role, Eugene was really limited with options. And so it really became apparent that everything was about my running down there, and that wasn’t really great for us.

Oregon was never the easiest place for myself, living-wise. I’d always struggled with the weather, but we had made Portland home. We purchased a house and found a community of people, and losing all of that with the move was really challenging. It was really hard to feel like recreating that setup that we had in Portland for Griffin and I was possible in a situation where we didn’t know how long we were going to be [in Eugene]. So it just felt really temporary. That became really challenging.

And then to be completely honest, from my perspective, Jerry has made a lot of changes to the training in the last two years post-Olympics. And I just really hadn’t seen the results come from that. I had a really strong desire to get back to what I know works really well for me. 

Some athletes really like the changes, and I know he made even more big changes this year. I don’t know all the details of it. I was at a point where I wanted to have more say in what I was doing in training and in my schedule in general. I want to be at altitude more. Little things like that.

Jerry has always operated in more of a unit type approach – everyone does more of the same thing, very similar schedules. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It just wasn’t right for me anymore as I’ve gotten to be an older athlete.

I will say too, Jerry and Shalane have done a phenomenal job with the balance of the two (coaching the University of Oregon and Bowerman). The way Jerry has been able to handle it has been impressive. But my college coach (the late James Butler) was probably the person who I respected the most when it came to my running. And he was really, really big on me going to an environment where the professional athletes were going to be the main focus. So it’s really hard for me to make that shift in mindset when we moved down to Eugene and Jerry began coaching college athletes as well. 

The initial decision for Jerry to relocate the team – how do you feel like that was handled in terms of communication from Jerry?

Kevin Morris photo

If I was going to be critical about anything, it would probably be that situation. I don’t feel like that was particularly handled well. The timing was really poor. I do wish we would have been more involved in the conversation, but I also understand that he has goals and has every right to make decisions for his own career as well. So just because I’m not happy about that decision mean doesn’t mean he shouldn’t do it.

But the timing definitely could have been better. It wasn’t super ideal. I found out about it the night before my really last big session before the [2022] World Championships. So it was a bit distracting. I feel like there was a lot of compartmentalization that happened for a long time. It was sort of, okay, well I guess there’s nothing we can do about this right now, putting it on the back burner, we need to focus. 

But I also understand that it sounds like things moved really quickly in terms of him finding out about it and the decision making process. So some of it was probably out of his control in terms of how fast it happened.

You mentioned Jerry changed the training post-Olympics. Can you be more specific about that? How did he change it and why do you think it wasn’t working for you as well?

I found that particularly in the winter months and in spring, he really changed the frequency of intensity of workouts. My first few years, we were on a more traditional seven-day cycle, the classic Tuesday-Friday [workouts], Sunday long run. There would be small changes here and there, but for the most part we spent a lot of time with that approach. [In recent years], we moved into some different training cycles that involved maybe fewer rest days between workouts. 

I really, really tried to buy into it that first altitude camp that we did that – that would have been the winter of 2022, immediately post-Olympics. It paid off for a little bit. I opened the season with a 5k PR and I quickly fizzled out.

And I had a lot going on in my personal life with the passing of Coach Butler [in December 2021] as well as some health issues that popped up. I recognize that it very well could be more coming from that area. But sometimes it’s hard to not think it’s not just coincidence that the changes and those things lined up.

So that was a training schedule that he continued to keep coming back to over the next year and a half and I just found that I was never finding any consistency. I would start to get back on my feet and then I would hit a wall again or then I got injured. Coming into this year, given that I had basically a year and a half of some of the most inconsistent training of my entire career, I had a really strong desire to dive into, okay, what are the years that we know went really well? What was the mindset, what was the approach? And it definitely differed from what he’s doing right now in terms of the frequency of intensity.

Obviously you’re not the only athlete who has left the team the last couple months. Did the exits of any of the others – Grant Fisher or Elise Cranny – have any impact on your decision to leave? Did you talk to any of them about that before you made your own decision?

I wouldn’t say that I left because they left. I probably started talking about potentially leaving openly earlier than they did. But I was very honest with them. That core group of us that had been there for a few years, or several years in my case, those of us that particularly knew what BTC was before the move to Eugene, I wanted to be pretty open with and honest with because I didn’t want to catch anyone off-guard. If there was somebody else that was only staying because of XYZ or somebody being there, we didn’t want them to suddenly feel like, what were they doing? Elise and I had had a lot of conversations about it and there were similarities in terms of what we were feeling in terms of the changes. I wouldn’t say their departures had an impact because I really tried to take a step back and decide what is best for me right now. And I really encouraged my teammates to do that as well, just take a step back, what are you needing?

Because as much as BTC does a really, really good job of having a very team-oriented approach and really being there for one another, track & field is a very individual sport and it is your own individual career, and you’re going to need different things. And my situation was going to be different than, truthfully, anyone else on the women’s team in terms of I’m married and certain things like that.

You mentioned you thought Jerry did as good a job as he could balancing the pros [with the collegiate athletes]. And I know Shalane Flanagan has been an important resource for Bowerman the last few years. Is she more working with the Oregon women now? What’s her involvement with Bowerman and did that affect you at all?

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Last year just with a new job, she had a lot on her plate so her focus was more on the women of Oregon and she was really excited about that opportunity, as she should be. It was a huge job for her to get. So she was not around as much because she was not coming to camps and things like that. Her plate was really full. 

And that was hard for me, just given the relationship I have with her. It’s no secret that communication has never been Jerry’s strong suit but we’ve always been able to get things done with having the entire staff. There’s a lot of different roles. And I think because her plate was full, and then for myself, Pascal [Dobert — former BTC strength and steeple coach] stepping away from Bowerman actually had a really significant impact. He was somebody that really filled that communication role for me and was able to communicate things back to Jerry combined with Shalane.

And then also where else in the US, let alone the world, are you going to have a coach who has competed in your event at that level and understands steeplechase? So that really, really impacted things for me.

When it came to the resources available to you in Eugene and the use of facilities, did it feel like you were second fiddle to the Oregon team? Did you ever have any issues with that, or was that all cool?

No. They did a really good job of allowing us [in]. We were allowed to use anything and everything and Jerry did a good job of separating days. When it was our workout day, it was Bowerman’s workout day and the Oregon athletes typically were not working out that day. Full access to the track, I was able to use the underwater treadmill and various resources in their athletic training room, even. I will say that that was an improvement, some of those resources, and Hayward is obviously a phenomenal facility.

When you announced that you were moving on, you did point out that you had a lot of great memories, great teammates through your seven years with Bowerman. When you joined in 2016, did you think you’d be able to get to the level you achieved – two silver medals, an 8:57 American record?

I would say they were probably always goals but honestly I don’t think I would have ever accomplished all of that. Thanks to Jerry and all the incredible women I was able to train with, I definitely reached a level in the sport I don’t think I ever imagined I would have gone to. It really  was a special group that I got to be a part of, and I think that’s part of why it was so hard to make this decision.

I was very honest with Jerry in this whole process. I sat down with him in August before the Budapest World Championships and told him that I was going to be looking at other options, that I wasn’t sure I was coming back. Because I felt I needed to have open communication with him and I didn’t want to catch him off-guard. I wanted to see if there was a way we could work something out because I do feel that him and I did a lot of great things together. He was really understanding and fully respectful of my decisions. We both held on because I do feel loyal to him and he told me he felt very loyal to me as well. It just got to the point where it was like, I don’t think this is working.

Four years ago, Bowerman was unquestionably the #1 women’s group in the US, one of the best groups in the world. And right now, there are only two women left on the roster as far as I can tell – Karissa Schweizer and Christina Aragon. How does that make you feel and what do you think this team is going to be like four years from now?

After dominating the US distance scene in the 2010s and 2020s, Bowerman TC now only has two pro women on its roster (Kevin Morris photo)

There’s just a sadness, to be honest. A lot of this has just felt really sad. Especially because I was one of the last additions into that original group. You look at that photo from right before the 2016 Olympic Games and it’s six women on the US Olympic team all training on the same group, which is just amazing. It’s unheard of. I got to see all of the new people coming in and all the different talents that were brought in and so many different skillsets. To see it change has been hard and it’s really hard to pinpoint what exactly has happened. 

But I don’t think it’s the end by any means. I just think that it’s going to be something different and part of that is just going to be getting more athletes in that don’t know what the previous situation or setup was. I think for myself and probably for others too, that was the hardest part – accepting that the setup at Bowerman is not what it was when we went there. A change was happening, and we needed to decide what change made the most sense for us. For me, I kept holding onto this idea that it was going to go back to how it used to be. And it just wasn’t. It’s just different now. Once I realized that and accepted that, it gave me some clarity on what to do. 

For me, I kept holding onto this idea that it was going to go back to how it used to be. And it just wasn’t. It’s just different now.

courtney Frerichs

Anything else you wanted to say about your time with Bowerman?

I guess I just want to make sure the message that it really was a very special seven years. It wasn’t a bad ending. Jerry and I are on really good terms and had some really good conversations in the end. I think we both began to realize that where his goals are at and his coaching, it just didn’t line up with what I was looking for anymore or what I felt worked for me.

Working with the Craggs and Pascal

Why go to North Carolina? Why go with Amy and Alistair?

I should say first off, my home base is going to be Park City. And that was a big part of it too. I came to the conclusion that I really wanted my home base to be at altitude. When you looked at my best years, particularly the 2021 Olympic year, I spent seven months at altitude that year. We kept coming back to the idea of why are we making home somewhere I might be for three months? In conversations with Alistair, he was very open to the idea of potentially at times me being remote. I also watched he success he had with Sara Vaughn and Rose Harvey coaching them remotely. I was like, okay, clearly he’s good at doing this.

And I don’t think a lot of people realize Alistair actually knows me really well as an athlete already because he was really involved with things at Bowerman for my first three or four years. He really saw me become the international athlete I am, firsthand. So it wasn’t like I was jumping into something and trying to build a whole new relationship.

And then Amy was one of my teammates. She knows me very well as a person and a lot of things I achieved, especially in those early years, are a result of things I learned from her. Before I set the American record in Monaco in 2018, I was living with her in Mammoth. And Mammoth is one of the hardest places I’ve ever trained and I came out of that camp in a really good place because I was observing the way Amy was recovering and just different decisions she was making for running. I had a really great summer. Being able to have that relationship already there was huge.

Pascal Dobert’s involvement with the Puma team is obviously a huge thing for me. It became really apparent that I really, really needed him involved with things. I wanted to have a steeple coach. The steeple workouts are not just 3k workouts because a steeplechase is not just a 3k. I wanted to have that again, especially because I essentially have now taken a year and a half off from the event. I am starting with the basics again, I’m learning how to be a steeplechaser again, learning how to trust my foot. So I wanted to have somebody involved that a) already knows me very well and b) knows the event very, very well.

And Alistair’s big thing in all the conversations that I’ve had with him was that he really wants me to have a hand on the steering wheel this time. And that has been really exciting and something I feel really ready for. He calls me before most workouts to be like, hey, this is what I’m thinking, what do you think about this? I’m involved in a lot of the conversations and a lot of the planning of what I’m doing and it’s fun. I’m enjoying that part of it. It’s something that, now that I’m almost 31 years old, I’m going into my eighth year running professionally, it’s time for that and there’s excitement around that.

Does that mean you and Griffin are both going to be based in Park City? Or will he spend more time in North Carolina because he’s helping coach this group now? How is that going to work?

He’ll probably be back and forth more than I am. He’s coming here to Albuquerque to be the on-the-ground person. If there are things that need to be done for the athletes, he’s the one that’s here. And then if there are athletes in other parts of the year at altitude camp and Alistair’s there and he needs someone to help Amy out in North Carolina, Griffin will go to North Carolina. I should say, I did spend the fall in North Carolina. My plan is to do sea-level camps there. So I’ll probably be there for stints twoish times a year.

You’re still a Nike athlete but that’s a Puma group – Alistair and Amy are contracted by Puma. Was it challenging to work out that arrangement for them to coach you?

I just was involved with making the phone call to Nike that I was going to be leaving Bowerman. And I have been really fortunate, I have a really good relationship with Paul [Moser in Nike sports marketing]. I had been pretty honest with him all year long, so I don’t think he was caught off-guard. They were okay with it.

And then I really have to thank [my agent] Tom [Ratcliffe] for being the one that handled everything else. He really was looking out for my best interest, handled all those conversations. And he really was the one that started to bring up the idea of this because I didn’t even know there would be potential because of that situation you brought up. It really hasn’t been a problem.

2023 was the first time you missed a team since 2015 and the first time you didn’t run the USA final since 2013. You had such a long run of consistent success. What was it like watching USAs, watching Worlds from afar?

Coburn with fellow medalist Courtney Frerichs after the 2017 WC steeple final

To be honest, I didn’t even watch. That was incredibly heartbreaking. But I couldn’t run. I never really talked about fully what went down. Right after that prelim [at USAs], I went to cool down and something was really wrong. I finished the cooldown, being stubborn. I don’t know why. I found Colleen [Little], our PT (physical therapist) and she could tell something was wrong. She started to test it and we actually thought I fractured my fibula – I was assuming it was from the fall [in the prelim], I don’t really know. She got on the phone with my surgeon and he had me in his office the next morning and couldn’t quite figure out what was going on. An avulsion fracture showed up but then they figured out it was old. So I tried to run on the AlterG that afternoon to test it and I made it three steps at 10-minute pace, 60% bodyweight. There was no trying to tough it out. I wasn’t going to be able to run. I could barely walk and was put in a boot. It was a very low time.

What was the issue?

I did end up getting an MRI and it was actually a separate injury from what I had surgery for. I tore two ligaments in my ankle and then I had a bone bruise in my fibula, from the fall, I think. I ended up having to take two weeks off of running and then a month off of workouts. It wasn’t great. Looking back, I definitely rushed back from the [ankle] surgery [in December 2022]. I don’t regret trying. I had the World Championship standard, so I felt like I needed to give it a go. But I was not probably ready to run a steeplechase. It’s one thing to come back to running and it’s another thing to be ready to run a steeple. There’s so much impact on the feet and ankles in that event. Things are so different this time around. We have hit the ankle rehab, return to jumping completely differently.

I also learned a lot though, how quickly the sport moves on. There’s always someone new. It’s exciting. It’s how it should be, that’s how it keeps growing. It taught me that this time around, I’m doing it for me and to see what I can do. I’m not going in with the pressure of trying to prove something to people. There were definitely some good lessons learned from it all, but not an easy time. Especially because, like you said, for so many years it was always Emma [Coburn] and I. It was almost like everyone felt it was guaranteed that her and I were going to be on the team.

I know you said you were dealing with long COVID a year ago and also low iron. How does the ankle feel and how does your body feel healthwise right now?

The best it has since 2021. I’m in a completely different place than I was a year ago or even a year and a half ago. Coming off the Olympics I was absolutely rolling, I was thinking I was going to be in incredible position to medal again. And it was one thing after another. And that’s life. I don’t think that I’m unique in having to deal with a lot in that way. Unfortunately, more common than not, you get into injury cycles where it’s just sort of one thing after another. 

This fall, we didn’t force anything and Alistair focused on writing workouts that my body was ready for. It was like, okay, where are we at this week? Things just started to come together. And then all of a sudden I’m doing workouts that I haven’t been able to touch since 2021. So it’s been, honestly, really exciting. Running has been feeling really good and my confidence is coming back. I’m excited.

You mentioned the sport can move quickly without you. Your pb, 8:57, makes you the eighth-fastest woman in history, but a lot of the women in the top 10 are still competing. Last year’s Diamond League final, we saw Winfred Yavi run 8:50 and Beatrice Chepkoech run 8:51. What kind of time do you think it’s going to take to get on the podium in Paris, and do you think that’s something you’re still capable of doing?

I definitely still think I’m still capable of getting back into being the sub-9:00 runner that I am. If you are in sub-9:00 kind of shape, you’re in the mix. That will be the focus. I know on paper, my PR is 8:57 and that was run in a really chaotic way so I think I have the ability to run even faster if [there is a] stars aligning-type moment. I have full expectation that that’s where I’m going to need to be.

I don’t think you’re going to see the 9:00s necessarily being on the podium again. Because the sport is growing in a really exciting way and the women’s steeplechase is continuing to grow too.

Courtney Frerichs

I’m taking it one step at a time. This is the first season that I don’t have the standard coming in, so that’s a first step. We’re not overlooking anything. But if things keep going as they are and I keep building the confidence, I fully believe I can get back there and I think that is what it is going to take. I don’t think you’re going to see the 9:00s necessarily being on the podium again. Because the sport is growing in a really exciting way and the women’s steeplechase is continuing to grow too. It’s fun to be a part of that.

What goals remaining do you have in the sport?

That’s a good question. I’ve been really lucky to accomplish a lot of what I’ve wanted to do. But I don’t think I’m done. I’ve always said I would like to make four Olympic teams, finish an Olympics in the United States [in 2028 in Los Angeles]. By no means do I think this next year is the end for me. I have yet to win a US championship, so that’s pretty high on the list of goals. Just to keep challenging myself. We’ll see. 

Right now, the biggest goal is about trusting myself as an athlete and as a steeplechaser again, because I think I got really far away from that. But I think we’re on a good trajectory for that.

This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.

Talk about Frerichs’ fresh start on our world-famous fan forum / messageboard. *MB: Courtney Frerichs Uncensored: Frerichs tells Letsrun why she’s left the Bowerman Track Club.

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