Tokyo or Bust

Gainesville’s Rachel McArthur Sets Her Sights on the 2020 Olympics

Photos by Kara Thorpe

If you google the name Rachel McArthur, you’ll find several pages of article links from the likes of The Washington Post, USA Today Sports, Run Washington, and Mile Split, to name just a few, local news video clips, and photos of an accomplished track athlete with record breaking times and a huge following. You’ll also find that she’s a Gainesville local who recently traveled across the world with Team USA. Pretty impressive. And yet, despite the records and accomplishments you’ll find online, the best is yet to come for Rachel.

Rachel is a Patriot High School graduate who now attends and runs for Villanova University.   A rising sophomore, she is quick to tell you that she is a student athlete and her academics come first. Her plans are to pursue a post-collegiate running career, but her academic focus is on health sciences with the goal of pursuing a career that incorporates the sport.  

In the second grade, while many kids are running around the block, Rachel began running cross-country. In the third grade, she joined a running club with The Running Store in Gainesville and had her first experience running track races. She attended Gainesville Middle School and ran track competitively from sixth through eighth grade. When she went on to Patriot, she ran both track, competing in the 800m and 1500m, and cross-country.   

You could say that running is in her blood. She comes from a family of athletic women. The middle of three girls, her sisters Kim and Emily have run. Mom, Lisa, is a photographer for Mile Split and also works at The Running Store.  Rachel shared that she gets a tremendous amount of support from her family and is so grateful for all the time and effort they spend traveling with her, cheering her on, and helping her in her career.

Running for USA Track & Field, Rachel traveled to Finland this summer to compete on the world stage.  She raced in the 1500m and the experience she had will help shape her collegiate and professional career. In speaking with Rachel about what it was like to compete against athletes from other countries, she shared that international runners are fierce on the track and don’t hold back physically to get ahead, an experience far different than what she has had thus far.

Rachel approaches her training in the same way she does everything else in her life  – with balance. She prefers not to have a “super-taxing” training regimen and appreciates routine.  Of course, to the regular person, or weekend warrior, you might find two runs a day three times a week, in addition to track workouts, taxing. But it certainly speaks to the reasons Rachel has been, and continues to be, so successful.

Running is a mentally challenging sport.  In addition to racing against others, runners race against themselves, always striving for a personal best, or PB.  Rachel loves running because she thrives on the competitiveness of racing. She also pushes herself and likes to see how she can improve.  When races haven’t gone as she’d like, or if she’s feeling off, she has a keen awareness of the mental aspect of the sport. “Personally, I have found if my running hasn’t gone well, it’s because other aspects in my life aren’t going well, “ she explained. “In high school, and now in college, I focus on my grades.  As a student athlete, grades are very important. If running isn’t going the way I would like, I can always focus on my strong academic career and the good relationships I’ve made both in and out of school.”

Her running idol is Nike athlete, Shelby Houlihan, who ran the 1500m in the 2016 Olympics. “She’s a tank,” said Rachel, “a tough athlete. Tough as nails.” She finds Houlihan’s speed and endurance and overall demeanor while competing to be inspiring.

Rachel is inspiring outside of her track career.  She has an old soul and understands things most people her age have yet to learn.  She’s grateful to her coaches for teaching patience over the years and when asked what advice she’d give younger runners, she emphasized that point saying,  “Try to be patient. You don’t have to peak in high school, right now shouldn’t be the highlight of your life.” She has spoken with local running clubs and youth programs, and enjoys sharing her wisdom with kids because it reminds her of where she came from.

As for where she’s off to, it should come as no surprise that Rachel has set her sights on qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. With her athleticism, dedication, maturity and balanced approach to training, it’s a good bet she’ll make it. Better start planning those cheering parties now.

Rachel’s advice to younger runners:

“Try to be patient.  You don’t have to peak in high school. Right now shouldn’t be the highlight of your life.”

About Francine Barnes 12 Articles
Frannie Barnes is a content writer and editor, and the owner of ForWord Communication. She lives in Gainesville with her husband, three active kids, cat, and dog. To contact Frannie, you can e-mail her at

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