Val Constien (EnvEngr’19) works full time for running technology company Stryd while training in the steeplechase, a 3,000m obstacle race. When the third place shoo-in withdrew due to an injury just a few weeks before the Olympic qualifiers, Constien realized she had a real shot at going to Tokyo. With a third place finish in the qualifiers — a time of 9:18.34 — Constien is headed to the 2020 Summer Olympics.
How’d you get started as a runner?
I started my athletic career doing children's soccer and gymnastics. I actually didn't start competing in distance events until high school. In middle school, I ran the 200m and I did the long jump. Distance running was really hard for me at first. Before high school, the most I ever ran was 2 miles. Once I built some endurance, my love affair with running began!
Why the steeplechase?
Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs, two of CU’s track and field coaches, recruited me for the steeplechase. To be honest I didn't know what that was until I signed with CU. It worked out for the best because I don't think I have the same level of talent required for flat races. My flat 3k time has never been faster than my steeplechase time for more than a few months. The barriers don't really slow me down.
You work 40 hours a week for Stryd and still make time for your Olympic aspirations. How do you think it affects your outlook and training?
Working a full-time job is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I love the structure that it brings to my life and it has encouraged me to be a more focused person. This is also the first time in my life that I have some financial security and freedom. I make enough money that I don't stress out about big things like travel expenses or little day-to-day things like food and running shoes. With this kind of peace of mind, I can relax and settle into a good training routine.
What motivates you?
I just want to run fast. It's that simple for me. Running is really fun and is made better when you feel fast and see your fitness improve over time.
I am motivated by self-improvement and chasing down professionals, too.
What is your favorite trail to run on near Boulder?
I love running the Lower Mesa Trail in the summer. It's also really fun to explore the Upper Mesa Trail too, but this trail is really challenging so I can't run it every week. It helps that my house is less than a mile away from both of these trailheads!
What advice would you give to young athletes with Olympic dreams?
Young athletes should try to have as much fun with their sport as possible. If the athlete is having fun and developing a love for the sport then the sky's the limit! If you love what you do, then you can enjoy the journey no matter what happens.
What do you like to do when you’re not running?
I like to read my books and cook new foods. Usually, I am either running, working or sleeping, so the little time I have is very special.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I would like to reiterate the importance of happiness in athletic success. One of the reasons I didn't have much college success is because I was very unhappy for most of my undergraduate career. Now that I'm living a life that I love, running is easy to pour my heart into.
Watch Val Constien compete in round one of the Olympic Steeplechase on Aug. 1, 2021.
Photos courtesy of Val Constien.
Interview condensed and edited by Grace Dearnley (Engl’21).