Karen Prisby's rise to the top of DIII cross country is the result of priorities, hard work

By Gerry Boyle '78
Photography by Chery Treworgy

Karen Prisby '07 en route to her 12th-place finish at the NCAA Division III cross country championships.
Photo by Cheryl Treworgy
Women's cross country and track coach Debbie Aitken knew there was a runner from Cathedral High School in Massachusetts headed to Colby.

To read more about how Mule teams fared this fall, click here for extended Sports Shorts.
But Karen Prisby '07 wasn't a top recruit; in fact she was barely a recruit at all. "I knew she had applied," Aitken recalled. "But she hadn't done anything remarkable in high school."

Prisby was lead runner for her high school team, but by no means was she a star. She made the Colby cross country team as a first-year but initially was 20th among 22 women runners. "I remember her saying, 'Well, my [high school] coach never wanted me to run that much because he was afraid I was going to get hurt,'" Aitken said.

Prisby soon started making up for lost time.

By sophomore year she was in the top seven for the Mules, ran third for the team at the NCAA Division III championships, and finished 65th in the national meet. Junior year she was Maine champion, All-NESCAC, All-New England Division III, and 19th at nationals, earning her All-America status.

But she saved her best for last.

In November 2006 at the national championships in West Chester, Ohio, Prisby sped over a hilly and muddy course at a 6:29-per-mile pace, coming in 12th, and earning All-America honors again. For Aitken, Prisby's ascent was unprecedented. "I have never seen anyone who has gone from where she was in high school, and even here [at Colby] freshman year, and improve to twelfth in the nation," Aitken said.

How did she do it? "I just add on about ten miles per week every year," Prisby said.

That has meant gradually increasing her training runs to 70 miles per week from the 35 to 40 she did as a first-year. But don't let the soft-spoken chemistry major fool you. Her steady climb into DIII running's highest echelons is also the result of a disciplined and studied effort (carefully monitored by Aitken) involving nutrition, weight training, rest, and, perhaps most important of all, a setting of priorities.

Prisby, her coach said, "has more determination than anyone I've ever met." That from a coach whose office wall is papered with photos of her past All-Americans.

Once Aitken was convinced Prisby's body could handle the additional load, the coach designed a training program to help the natural long-distance runner increase her speed over the three-plus mile cross country courses. Prisby works in the weight room twice a week. She follows a planned diet and makes sure she gets plenty of rest"no small feat on a college campus. Her priorities at Colby are academics (she was interviewing for environmental engineering jobs during Jan Plan) and running.

"I guess it's a priority over living a crazy college life," Prisby said. "If it comes down to going out to a party and drinking or getting enough rest, I'm not going to [party]. Some people don't do that and that's fine. My priority is running."

In fact, Prisby's goal for the NCAA cross country championship meet last fall was top 10, up from 19th in 2005. Now she has set her formidable sights on the indoor and outdoor track seasons. The goal: All-America in the 5,000-meter run for indoor and 10,000-meter run for outdoor.

So far, so good. At the indoor season opener in January, the Southern Maine Invitational, Prisby won the 3,000-meter run with a time of 10:21.43. The second-place runner trailed her by 30 seconds.

"That's the greatest thing about it," she said. "Seeing the results of all those hours of training pay off. ... I just love to run."
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