Aisha Praught Leer on Dreaming Big

Professional runner Aisha Praught Leer runs down a stret

Aisha Praught Leer dreams big. Between setting Olympic-sized goals and tackling an intense daily training regimen, Praught strives for excellence on a daily basis.

Often, we think of the recipe for success consisting of hard hours of training, long mileage and little else. Praught Leer and her teammates at Team Boss in Boulder, Colorado, challenge this idea by placing an emphasis on rest and healthy recovery.

We sat down with Praught Leer to learn more about her relationship with recovery and chasing down goals.

Professional runner Aisha Praught Leer stands on a sidewalk

FF: Back in February you announced on Instagram that you had a stress reaction in your foot and wound up scratching from the Texas Qualifiers. What told you it was time for a break?

APL: I found myself in a bad situation with my foot that had been hurting me since around Thanksgiving. I had just ignored it for so long to a point where I didn’t realize that it was bothering me as much as it did.

We were in Phoenix for training camp and I was getting so excited to do the pre-race preparation workouts, which is the fun stuff, and I found myself often distracted by how my foot felt. We finally got an MRI and found that I had a stress reaction. It was clear that I needed to zoom out and take the whole year into consideration.

As an athlete, I love having a plan, but I quickly realized that my plan is going to look really ugly if I don’t stop now. It was clear to me that I needed to pump the brakes a little bit and pull back and get my foot right so that I am thriving at the end of July and into August.

It was really hard for me to zoom out in that moment because I was so fit, everything else was feeling so great and all the people around me were getting ready to race. I wanted to do that, too. But it wasn’t going to be smart in the long-term. Once we decided to pull the plug on racing I felt like I could almost relax a little bit.

FF: How has your relationship with recovery changed over the years?

Professional runner Aisha Praught Leer uses a Hypervolt massager on her leg muscle

APL: I think I’ve had a bit of a slower development into sort of owning professionalism. When I came out of college, I didn’t really know anything about the professional [running] world. Something that I struggled with a lot early on was rest. I think as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that it’s almost more important to be able to shut off and to be able to fully recover.

Everybody can train hard all the time, but it takes confidence and a long-term vision to know how important it is to shut off and step away. Especially moving to Boulder and being in this new program, it has been made so abundantly clear to me that a huge thing I was missing was the ability to turn off.

I know a lot of runners that aren’t professionals, and some of their opinions are that in order to be serious you’ve got to always be on. But the reality is that there is so much of my day that is spent doing other things. Most of my day is the other side of training, the recovery side.

FF: When did you know that you wanted to be a professional runner?

APL: So I had just planned to be a geologist. I planned to stick around the University of Illinois, get my graduate degree and maybe run for a few more years. But I had a big defining moment when I was a runner up at the 2012 NCAA Indoor meet and I had found more success than I anticipated.

The end of my senior year of college just solidified that my trajectory was going to be a little bit different. And still I thought that maybe I’d do it for four years or something like that, but when I got to compete at the Olympics in 2016, I realized that I love this and I want to do it as long as I can in the most sustainable way.

Moving to Boulder has made me think long term about how long can I be successful, how robust can I make my body, how can I do what I love for as long as I possibly can?

Running professionally is the best job ever. And having a better life balance, not that what we do is balanced, has changed the mindset for me. I know how to rest, how to take care of my body, and I know how to be my full self while pursuing this excellence.

Professional runner Aisha Praught Leer runs outside

FF: How do you balance your big racing dreams and day to day goal setting?

APL: That’s something that I've really had to work out over the years. What works for me is not necessarily what works for everyone else. But I like to focus on my day. When I get too forward looking, I start to have a bit of doubt or I get a little anxious. I try really hard to maximize every day.

But I’m also not afraid to let my goals have a place in my everyday. I give myself regular reality checks, like, asking myself, “What are you here for?” Before I end my career I want to make the Olympic final in the 1500 or the 5K and I’m not afraid to have those reminders daily. I’m not just going to wake up in June or July and be in incredible shape and healthy and confident and happy if I don’t take care of myself today, so it’s very incremental for me.

FF: What helps you dream big?

APL: In my mind, there is no other way. I’ve just always been like this–If I’m going to do something I’m going to go 100% into it.

When I was a younger athlete, my goals weren’t the same, but they were tailored to what my ability was at the time. I can think of early goals being like I want to be 8th in the Diamond league. Which if you think about it is kind of a crazy goal to somebody off the street, but I wasn’t necessarily thinking about World Championship finals or breaking National records.

My goals have been appropriately just above where I am at the moment; within striking distance if everything goes right. There have been times where I’ve totally failed at goals. I had a terrible World Championships in 2019 at Doha, but I also have the perspective that I put my whole heart into it, I did everything that I could, and I didn't have it on the day and that's OK.

I think I set high enough goals that I have to be the best version of myself on a day to day basis. They’re not unachievable but they’re just that next level where you really have to reach.

FF: Do you feel like your sponsors overall align with your personal mission statement? How important is that for you and your goal setting?

APL: When I was young, running felt temporary. And now I’m 9 years into a running career. This is my life, this is my career. Having brands that align with my values is paramount. I’m very selective about who I want to work with. To me it feels strange that I have a social media following and something I feel passionate about is not selling things I don’t believe in. If I talk about something it’s because I use it and I love it and I believe in it. That’s how I feel about Hyperice, Puma and Camelback. These are very firm parts of my life that are so embedded in my every day that it’s just a natural continuation of things that I’m about.

Speed Round Questions

What is your go to coffee order?

Oatmilk latte

What is an essential you can’t leave the house without?

Sunglasses. It’s really sunny in Colorado and any day I forget them I’m in a panic

Do you have a favorite podcast right now?

I like “So Many White Guys” by Phoebe Robinson of “Two Dope Queens.” I love comedy podcasts. Phoebe Robinson is hilarious and insightful, I’m obsessed with her.

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