Carrie Dimoff ’05, center, at the 2019 World Championships
Noushad Thekkayil/Shutterstock

Few athletes have as lengthy and circuitous a path to athletic success as Carrie Strickland Dimoff ’05. After walking on to Princeton’s cross country and track teams, she struggled to figure out her best event, trying middle-distance runs and the 400-meter hurdles before finding a niche in the 3,000 meter steeplechase. She set a school record in the steeplechase in 2004, but soon after, heel woes and stress fractures interrupted her training. “I had a great experience running at Princeton,” Dimoff said. “But my running talents and abilities really didn’t develop fully there.

After graduation, Dimoff headed to Portland, Ore., to begin a new chapter in her life with Nike — where she still works today as a “footwear innovator.” Dimoff’s running remained recreational until 2007 when her focus changed. “There were some folks out at Nike who I was running just at lunch with,” Dimoff explained. “They really began encouraging me to try and look at bigger goals.” She took the bait. What transpired was undistracted, injury-free training that resulted in Dimoff making the Olympic trials final in the steeplechase twice, finishing 9th in 2008 and 6th in 2012. “My top four fastest times in the steeplechase were the four races I ran in Eugene in the Olympic trials,” Dimoff said. As a post-collegian, she’d discovered a quality for which every track and field athlete strives: the ability to perform at her best in the competitive moments that mean the most.

Dimoff eventually was lured by the siren song of the marathon, despite some early apprehension. “My husband and I had done the Chicago Marathon for fun once. It wasn’t that fun,” Dimoff said. But she tried it again when Nike sent her to the Windy City on business in 2014. “I kind of enjoyed it more,” said Dimoff, who redirected her focus to the road event soon afterward. She qualified for the 2016 Olympic marathon trials, where she ran 2:44:58 to finish 40th on a sunbaked day in Los Angeles.

Eager to explore her marathon potential, Dimoff joined the Bowerman Track Club in the fall of 2016 to work with a new coach, Elliott Heath. “We did some different things in marathon training that I wasn’t used to,” Dimoff said. “Part of that was getting back onto the track.” Before long, she made steady improvement on her times, running a 2:30:54 to finish 3rd in Sacramento in 2017 and 2:31:12 for a 14th-place finish in New York City in 2018.

In September, Dimoff was one of three American women to represent the United States in the marathon at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar. The race began at midnight, but the nocturnal start time did little to shield the marathoners from Doha’s oppressive weather, with temperatures still in the 90s. Dimoff wisely adjusted her race plan, starting slower and finishing strong. She methodically weaved through the field and picked off many overly-ambitious racers. By the end, she had moved all the way up to 13th (2:44:35) among the field of 70 world-class athletes, 30 of whom failed to finish.

The next big hurdle for Dimoff will be the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Atlanta at the end of February. The top three finishers will run for the U.S. Olympic Team at the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. Of the 383 women currently qualified for the Trials, 20 have posted qualifying times superior to Dimoff’s 2:30:54.

“To be honest, this is my struggle right now,” she said. “I am not just happy to be on the starting line because I am just coming off the World Championship team. But at the same time, realistically I know there are so many amazing American marathon women right now. A lot of them have a much more realistic shot at making the Tokyo team. I think I could run a really great race in Atlanta and actually place lower than I just placed in the World Championships.”

While Dimoff has a record of producing her best performances at the trials, she knows that she will need to unfurl a perfect race to make the U.S. team. But she also knows that every runner on the starting line has a chance to qualify, and on occasion, perfect races do occur. After all, that’s why they conduct the trials.

This is an expanded version of a story from the Dec. 4, 2019, issue.