The PCA Blog - Minnesota

Tapping Into Carrie Tollefson’s Summer And Competitive Wisdom

by Mary Jo Stocco


We appreciate all the perspective, feedback, experience and support that our local advisory board members bring to Positive Coaching Alliance-Minnesota. We have a group of talented and inspiring individuals, and we’re thrilled to introduce you to our latest addition, Carrie Tollefson, Elite Middle Distance Runner, Olympian, Speaker and Commentator.

Carrie Tollefson (@CTolleRun) was a distance runner for the U.S. at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Earlier, she was a 13-time Minnesota state champion in track and field and cross country. At Villanova University, she was a 5-time NCAA Champion and the 1998 NCAA Indoor Track Athlete of the year.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you in the summer months?

A: Summer months are so much fun. I am busy doing commentary and speaking for the major road races and track events around the country. I also host a youth camp in early July for kids in grades 7-12; it requires a lot of work and preparation, but I love it. Of course, I also love playing with my three kids in the summer!

Q: How much running are you doing currently?

A:I train five or six times a week and run between 35 to 50 miles. I used to train 80 to 100 miles per week along with lifting, yoga, drills and races. Now, all of that comes with being a mom and having fun at playgrounds.

Q: How and when did you know that running was your thing?

A: I believed my future was in basketball until 10th grade. I loved the sport. My best friend played center; we felt so connected on the court and had a blast playing together. My friend played Division I basketball and went on to play professionally in Europe. While it was hard at times to know my basketball career was coming to an end, I was starting to get noticed nationally for my running. That’s when I started to get excited about taking my running to the next level.

Q: Did it come naturally? How did you push through when it was hard?

A: Running did come naturally at first; then I grew seven inches and gained ten pounds. I had to figure out how to adjust and how to dig harder to continue to be better and faster. I love the team aspect of running, but I also love the individuality of the sport. Even if you don’t have someone running you to the finish line – or if you aren’t in the position to win – you can still work to better your time.

Watch Carrie's tips on training your brain:

Q: What qualities did some of your best coaches have?

A: I have loved each and every one of my coaches for different reasons. They all taught me something different. My high school coaches had a lot of fun with us and were helpful with training my brain and strategy. My college coaches inspired passion and drive, as well as explained the fundamentals of the sport and why I train the way I do. My professional coach taught me how to dig deep and to draw upon my instincts when training and racing. My coaches will forever be my coaches, and now also family members. They believed in me, and I believed in them. I can’t thank them enough.

Q: Why did you get involved with Positive Coaching Alliance?

A: I believe in everything PCA stands for. All of the lessons I learned in sports can be used in life, and I hope to help others see that as well. I also grew up with amazing parents and coaches. I wish every youth athlete could have the same positive experience. It’s because of my parents and coaches that I still love to train. I owe a lot of that passion to them.

Q: What do you do now to champion youth athletes? What are your best tips to help them achieve their competitive goals?

A: I try to model a life that is healthy, performance-driven, and focused. When we float in life, we never achieve our goals.

It’s important to have a purpose with your training. Be coachable! Follow the plan your coaches have set out, but communicate. If things are not going well, talk to them before you or your parents start doing things differently. Also, learn how to recover and rest – it’s such a hard thing and takes a great deal of discipline. Sleep and fuel are so important. Take care of that body, and treat it well because you will be asking a lot from it.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, don’t forget to train the brain. Set goals, visualize, and practice positive self-thinking.

See this video of Carrie below:

Q: What is one of the best lessons you’ve learned about yourself as a result of competitive running?

A: I am tough even when I don’t want to be; I can persevere through anything; I am strong. I know I can achieve my dreams and reach my goals, but it doesn’t always happen overnight. I just keep working hard and getting back up. I love not being afraid of failure – it teaches us how tough we can be.

Q: How do you keep going? What fills your emotional tank?

A: I like the challenge of working hard and seeing progress. Every year, I try to do something hard. When my running career started coming to an end, I wanted to keep that alive, so my hard thing now is adding one mile a week to my long run until I get to 20 miles. Why? I might be a little crazy, but why not? I accomplish something each week, and it fuels me for the next week. And, it shows me I’m still tough as nails! Ha!

One of my favorite sayings is “Get after it!” You can hear it on my weekly podcast at There, you will hear my passion for life and sports. I hope people can find something that makes them tick like I have. Happy running!

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Mary Jo Stocco is a supporter of PCA-Minnesota, a freelance Writer, and communications professional.