Allie Marquis' New Mentality
Sept. 8, 2011
Kansas junior Allie Marquis will never forget April 2, 2011. It was one of the most important days of her running career. She had just finished one of the worst races she can remember at the Razorback Spring Invitational, a 25th-place finish in the 3,000 meters with a time of… you know what, let’s not say. What’s important is what happened between her and her coach following the race; a “heart-to-heart” discussion that completely changed the way Marquis views her sport, her priorities and her life.
“At Arkansas I just tanked,” Marquis recalled. “It was as bad as it could have gotten.”
A sophomore at the time, Marquis had spent the previous months attempting to recover from a strain of injuries that had kept her sidelined; an endeavor that nearly cost her the season, as well as her running career.
“I had done so well at the cross country race at Missouri earlier that year,” explained Marquis. “I gained confidence and it really showed me what I could do. After the injuries and after that Arkansas race, I hit bottom.”
She had gotten into a bad habit of overtraining, thinking she had to work twice as hard in order to stay on the same level with the rest of her teammates. The days and nights of obsessive running and rehab quickly took their toll on her body. She was losing hours of sleep from the stress. Her body was even having trouble metabolizing foods. At one point, members of the KU training staff had to pull her aside and warn her where these bad habits could lead. The consequences of working her body to exhaustion eventually came to a head at the race in Arkansas.
Kansas Assistant Cross Country Coach Michael Whittlesey noticed something very wrong with his pupil after her unmotivated and uninspired performance in Fayetteville. He took his obviously shaken runner, walked with her to the stadium bleachers and had a much needed one-on-one.
“She was going through a real tough patch and we needed to figure some things out,” explained Coach Whittlesey. “She was struggling with keeping the balance in her life as far as running, school and everything else. It was a really good heart-to-heart. I think she came away from that talk learning how to keep everything in perspective.”
It seems like Marquis has been through a lifetime of hardships since her first days of practice along the trails of Shawnee Mission East High School, but remarkably, it doesn’t seem all that long ago. She recalls not being remotely interested in running, claiming she only wanted to be a cheerleader and nothing else. Her mom, Lisa, told her she should try just one day of cross country and if she didn’t like it, she could quit.
“My sister was on the team and my mom really wanted me to run too,” said Marquis. “So I went to the first practice, then I came back another day and before you know it, four years later, here we are.”
Quickly becoming one of the top runners for Head Coach Tricia Beaham and a Lancers team that is one of the largest high school squads in the country, Marquis was targeted by several colleges across the nation, including Drake and South Carolina. But for a girl who had three previous generations of her family attend KU, running for the Jayhawks was a no-brainer.
“I knew in the back of my head all along that I wanted to go to KU,” Marquis explained. “I was the little girl that was at every game growing up and if you would have told me I’d have a chance to run at KU, I would’ve thought it was like running at the Olympics.”
After arriving in Lawrence, Marquis quickly turned the heads of the KU coaches, moving to the front of the Kansas women’s pack. At the start of her sophomore year she was the top KU finisher at the Missouri Cross Country Challenge and many believed, including herself, that she was on the verge of something special. However, her injuries later that season brought her world crashing down around her. The confidence she had gained was gone and she was forced to press the reset button on her entire running career, which brings everything back to the conversation with her coach on that early-April night.
“After that race we went up into the bleachers and hashed out everything that needed to be talked about,” said Marquis. “From running to things outside of running, we just agreed that we are going to tell it like it is. Coach Whitt was unbelievably great.”
The talk changed how Marquis mentally viewed racing. She began to put her priorities in order and taking better care of her body. She even started seeing the KU counseling and sport psychologist, Megan Harrity, for some help with the mental aspects of her game. The sessions made a quick impact on Marquis, who is majoring in psychology.
“I started seeing her (Harrity) and I realized how mental everything is in sports and even in everyday life,” Marquis explained. “If your mind isn’t right, you’re not going to be able to compete and I think that had been my problem.”
After reassessing her priorities and goals over the spring and summer, Marquis entered the 2011 cross country season with a clear mind and a sense of passion that she had been missing the past year.
With her new mentality, Marquis has already made an impact for the women’s team this season. In the first meet of the year, The Bob Timmons Classic, she was KU’s top finisher, crossing the finish line in fourth-place overall, which was her best finish in almost a year. Even with the early-season success, Marquis knows how important it is not to be satisfied with just one race and her goals reflect that.
“I want to be on that nationals team,” Marquis said without hesitation. “I want to contribute both as a runner and as the person who keeps that belief in the team. I want to be a part of the history and the legacy here at KU and if there’s any year to do it, it’s this year.”
Coach Whittlesey has little doubt that Marquis can join the select class of KU cross country greats. He has already noticed a change in her demeanor, not only as a leader of the team but as a teammate who is now running with a sense of purpose; two aspects that could take Marquis to new heights. Whittlesey admits he and Marquis agree that she isn’t where she needs to be, but she is very close to getting to that level.
“At this point it’s about getting her full confidence back and about getting some of the intensity back that she may have lost over the past seven or eight months,” Whittlesey concluded. “She’s worked very hard not only on her fitness but on the mental side of things and when she’s clicking mentally and physically, the sky is the limit for Allie.”