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Buchalski runs during a team practice in Seattle, Washington, in 2020. / Courtesy Photo

Runner Allie Buchalski ’18 Loves Her Job, Even On the Days She Doesn't

By Vince Moore

For those of you who dread your annual performance reviews, imagine the lot of Allie Buchalski ’18.

Her job requires she be evaluated over and over throughout the year, and there is no subjective argument she can make that might convince her bosses to see things differently.

Buchalski is a professional runner for Brooks Beasts Track Club in Seattle, Washington. She trains every day with her teammates and then competes in races against the best runners in the world, where her finishing times tell her precisely where she stands at any given moment.

“In the sport of running, there is no Plan B,” says Paladin assistant track and field/cross country coach Rita Gary, who oversaw Buchalski’s All-American college career at Furman. “You either run in the top three on that particular day or you do not. There’s not an option for failure.”

But Buchalski is not complaining about those constant evaluations. She loves that she is able to run for a living, and she has proven over the last five years that she belongs among America’s best runners.

Buchalski was a member of the U.S. team that competed at the 2023 World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia, earlier this year. She finished among the top five in the 5,000 meters at the 2020 Olympic Trials. At the 2021 Sound Running Invite meet in California, her time of 14:57 in the 5,000 meters was a personal best by 25 seconds and the fourth-fastest in the world at that time.

But Buchalski says she suffered like everyone else when the pandemic hit in early 2020, which changed everything about her routine. Social distancing became the norm and she could no longer train with her teammates. The Tokyo Olympics were postponed until 2021, and most races were canceled. She started getting nagging injuries that she later realized were made worse by what she was feeling internally.

“I had never experienced much anxiety before, but I was stressed out and anxious about everything,” Buchalski says. “You think you’re fine until you’re not fine.”

A trainer helped her overcome the physical issues, and a sports psychologist convinced her that what she was feeling was not unusual for a world-class athlete who couldn’t foresee what was going to happen next. “Just learning that my feelings were normal was huge at the time,” she says.

Buchalski says she still meets with her sports psychologist, but it’s not as often and their conversations focus more on how her mental outlook impacts performance. “I’m learning that your body can go a lot farther than your brain thinks it can,” she says. “I’m learning to think more clearly during a race.”

Gary has no doubt that Buchalski, who studied art and business administration at Furman, will be able to adapt to any challenge she faces, mental or physical. She saw it firsthand at Furman, where Buchalski blossomed into a seven-time All-American and the runner up in the 5,000 meters at the NCAA Championships.

“The women’s side of the sport, more so than the men, is fraught with people who made big jumps but maybe did so unhealthfully or unsustainably,” Gary says. “What makes Allie special is she hasn’t succumbed to the short-term gains and has played the long game. She always grows into the challenge.”

This is a particularly important time for America’s top runners. The 2023 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships were held this past summer in Eugene, Oregon, and the 2024 Olympics will take place next summer in Paris. Buchalski says she will likely be attempting to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team in the 5K, but the 10K is also a possibility. She’ll have a better idea the more she trains and the closer she gets to the Trials. But she is sure about one thing: She’ll enjoy the hard work between now and then.

“There are days when I don’t love running, when my motivation is lacking,” Buchalski says. “But that’s where the discipline comes in. You rely on your routine. You do what you told your team and your coaches you would do. But on the whole, I really do love my job. To be able to stay fit and exercise every day, that’s pretty cool.”