Pace of Change: Running with Katie Rainsberger

Katie Rainsberger’s ascent alters the course for her marathon-winning mother.

Sometimes Katie and Lisa Rainsberger will head to a local trail to run for an hour or so. They used to stay in step, but now, invariably, Katie glides ahead.

In the space that opens up between mother and daughter, there’s a lot to think about. At 17, Katie is running faster than Lisa ever has—even though Lisa won the 1985 Boston Marathon and two Chicago marathons. (No American woman has since won Boston.) Of course, Lisa has helped make this possible, supplementing Katie’s deep internal drive with high-level coaching and support.

Lisa Rainsberger breaks the tape, Hokkaido Marathon, Japan, 1990 Photo courtesy of Lisa Rainsberer
Lisa breaks the tape, Hokkaido Marathon, Japan, 1990. Photo courtesy of Lisa Rainsberger

Perhaps most poignant, though, is the metaphoric significance of the scene. Katie, Gatorade’s 2015 National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, is headed to the University of Oregon in September. The team is ranked Top 5 nationally. And while Lisa loves her daughter’s choice, it’s not always easy to think of her living in Eugene, 1,300 miles away.

Seated together at a table in their Skyway home, Lisa gets a wry smile from Katie when she quips, “Thank God for Airbnb.”

For years, it looked more likely that Lisa and her husband, Bud, would be trekking to college soccer matches than cross-country meets. Katie loved the game and played through her sophomore year at Air Academy High School. That was great—Lisa says she wanted Katie and her brother, Ian, to find passions outside of running, where she knows her shadow looms large.

But Lisa couldn’t keep Katie from, say, absorbing the speakerphone conversations she’d have with her world-class coaching clients or from enjoying race-weekend family trips to Boston or Honolulu. And Katie says something clicked the first time she ran cross-country, when as a seventh-grader, she ran until it hurt—and then kept going. “It kind of got me hooked,” she says.

Katie Rainsberger runs race
Katie on the way to victory, Nike Cross Nationals, 2015. Photo courtesy of Lisa Rainsberer

Five years later, with coaching from her mom, Air Academy’s Steve Rischling and Phil Roiko and the American Distance Project’s Scott Simmons, Katie is a force. Her 4:36.61 mile to win the New Balance Nationals Indoor in March was the third fastest in history by a high school girl. Last December, she posted 16:56.8 to win the Nike Cross Nationals (a 5K) by 13 seconds. The U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene are a possibility for July, as are the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World U20 Championships in Poland.

Next comes a family trip to Norway, then Katie will start at Oregon. After achieving a 4.5 high school GPA, she plans to major in human biology.

Lisa will stay busy in the Springs, leading her Kokopelli Kids nonprofit for youth runners. But she’s also serious about making many trips to the Northwest, or wherever Katie’s running takes her.

“You only get an athlete like this every once in a while,” she says, sounding every bit like a champion and coach. “And she just happens to be my daughter.”

–Kirk Woundy

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