Former Iowa prep and current professional runner Shelby Houlihan reflects on setting new American 5,000-meter record

Houlihan and Karissa Schweizer became the first American women to run a sub-14:30 in the 5000-meters and both have Iowa roots.


Former Sioux City East High School prep Shelby Houlihan competes in an event. Houlihan broke her own American record in the 5k on July 10, 2020. Contributed by Cortney White.

Jordan Winke, Sports Reporter

Ten years ago, Shelby Houlihan was gearing up for her senior cross-country season at Sioux City East High School. This year, Houlihan is breaking U.S. records and training for her second Olympic Games.

On July 10, Houlihan – a professional runner for the Bowerman Track Club and Arizona State alum – smashed her own American 5,000-meter run record in a time of 14:23.92. She and her teammate Karissa Schweizer (also an Iowa prep) became the first American women to run the 5k in under 14:30, with Schweizer recording a time of 14:26. Schweizer also holds the American 3,000 record.

“I knew going into that race that I was in shape to run in the 14:20s,” Houlihan said. “But I also knew Karissa was as well, so I was honestly pretty nervous going into it because I didn’t want to lose my American record in the event. I was happy to not only have kept it but to also have lowered it to a standard that’s more competitive at a world level.”

Former Sioux City East High School prep Shelby Houlihan competes in an event. Houlihan broke her own American record in the 5k on July 10, 2020. Contributed by Cortney White.

The Bowerman Track Club is based in Portland, Oregon, and is one of the most prestigious professional clubs in the nation. The club sent seven of its eight members at the time to the 2016 Olympics. Much of the last year had been spent prepping for another round of Olympic qualifying races and the Olympic Games, which were scheduled to begin on July 24, 2020 and will now be held July 23, 2021 through August 8, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My day to day training regime wasn’t too much affected by COVID-19 but it was very difficult to have everything I was training for taken away,” Houlihan said. “I kept up the physical part of training, but I still felt pretty unmotivated for a while. I was a lot more relaxed with my diet and sleep schedule and sometimes wouldn’t get my run in until the afternoon.”

Houlihan saw the postponement as an opportunity to mentally reset and made the most of the sub-optimal circumstances.

“I tried to look at it from a positive light though, and realized I probably wouldn’t get many opportunities like this to be so relaxed in my training and not have the pressure of preparing for a big race, so that was actually a nice mental break for me,” Houlihan said.

Houlihan and Schweizer share a connection through their Iowa roots.

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Schweizer, a 2013 Dowling Catholic High School graduate and Missouri alum, joined the Bowerman Track Club in 2018.

“Some of our teammates just call us ‘Iowa’ and she and I like to use the term ‘Iowa Strong,’” Houlihan said. “I love having a fellow Iowan right there with me in the workouts and races. We have the same mentality of just wanting to push our bodies to the limits every chance we get, and because of that, our coach has put the two of us in our own workout group and we’ve really been able to push each other to new heights. I love training with her and I’m excited to see what both of us will do in the future because of our dynamic.”

After the spring and summer professional seasons got canceled and Olympic plans got derailed, the Bowerman Track Club had to get creative to find ways to keep the athletes motivated and competitive.

A series of secretive, private intra-squad meets provided the solution. There have been two meets so far, with more planned. In order to comply with social distancing regulations, the team took every precaution to ensure the safe execution of the meets. Fully automatic timing was used and USATF officials were present so that all performances would be valid and records would be official.

This season has been unconventional, but not wasted. Houlihan plans to run in a few more Bowerman intra-squad meets and potentially run her first 10k.

“I’ve never done one and I want that challenge of doing a new race, so we’ll see,” Houlihan said of trying the 10k.

Houlihan was a standout 800 runner in high school and still holds the 4A Iowa High School state meet record in a time of 2:08.15.

The Bowerman Track Club will shut down its season in early August and take a couple weeks off before beginning the base phase of their Olympic training plan.

“I love being a part of the Bowerman Track Club,” Houlihan said. “I feel very fortunate to be a part in a group of women that support each other’s goals and dreams, and also push each other to be our best and achieve them. I’m very happy here, and I can’t think of a better place to do what I love.”

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