Emily Mackay On Channeling Confidence From Her World Indoor Bronze Into 2024 Outdoor Season

Emily Mackay is a professional runner for Team New Balance Boston and just earned a bronze medal in the 1500 meters at the 2024 World Indoor Championships. ⁠We already had World Indoor silver medalist Nikki Hiltz on the show⁠. ⁠We published an episode of Office Hours with Mark Coogan last week⁠. Now, we get to hear from the Binghampton star turned global medalist.

Emily has personal bests of 2:00 for the 800m and 3:59 for 1500m. Glasgow was their first time representing the United States at a global championship and they made the most of it. Emily made a BIG move with 400 meters left in the race to push the pace from the front and although it was aggressive and she tied up toward the end – it was all worth it when she hung on for bronze.

Hear all about that race but also how she’s managed to develop so well since turning pro in 2022. She’s got an amazing personality and I loved her passion for her team.

Emily Mackay at the World Athletics Indoor Championships. Emily Mackay at the World Athletics Indoor Championships.

Justin Britton/@justinbritton

The following interview excerpt has been edited lightly for clarity. You can listen to the full interview with Emily Mackay on the CITIUS MAG Podcast – available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your shows.

CITIUS MAG: How long would you say you’ve been steadily progressing over the past few years? You’ve had a good long stretch of health.

EMILY MACKAY: Yeah, I feel like for the past, I guess three or four years I've been steadily progressing and I hope to keep going on that trajectory. I think staying healthy has been the main factor in that. I've been very healthy for the past four years. For the first time in my running career, just consistently healthy and I think fitness stacks. So every year I get a little bit stronger and I take a break and I'm already starting off the next year a little bit fitter than I started the year before. So, it's just been really cool to see how fitness really does stack. I'd rather be healthy and not overtraining…Like Coach Mark says a lot, ‘Let's not get greedy.’ So if we're not getting greedy, we're not overtraining. We're not racing too much. We're not doing all these things that would put us at a higher risk of injury. So I think that's what's helped me steadily progress these four years, along with also increasing my volume every year for the past four years. That has been huge and that’s how I think I've been able to get stronger and stronger every year.

I know to a lot of people it looks like I had a really smooth, perfect transition from college to professional running. But I did struggle a little bit last year. It wasn't obvious from the outside looking in. It probably looks like I was racing well. I was the most fit I've ever been but it was really hard. I felt like crap all the time. I felt like I was not fully recovering between workouts. I was tired all the time. My body hurt. I was so sore. I just wasn't feeling great but I was still able to train hard and perform well. I was really lucky not to get injured at that time. But this year, because of last year and that transition, I have gone into this year just so much stronger. I'm very thankful for that as well.

CITIUS MAG: So you mention how it wasn’t always this way. What were those years at Binghamton (University) like?

EMILY MACKAY: Definitely. Especially in my first few years at Binghamton, I struggled a lot with volume. So every time I would increase my volume, especially during the cross-country season, the inside of my foot would get super inflamed and irritated every time I tried to run over like 40 miles a week. So it was just very frustrating. Every cross-country season, I would try to bump up my volume and that would flare up and I'd have to cross-train for a few weeks. Or there was a point where I was in a boot for a couple of weeks. I just felt like I was never able to stay healthy. I don't think my body was strong enough to handle that volume. I didn't quite know how to make a gradual progression toward that.

It wasn't until COVID that I decided to buckle down and focus on running. Because another thing was that I wasn't all-in mentally the first few years. I wasn't doing the little things, which might have been a huge part of it as well. I wasn't eating properly. I probably wasn't sleeping enough. I was maybe going out a little bit too much and having a little bit too much fun on the weekends. I just was super focused on other things in my life. Running kind of definitely took a backseat more.

After struggling during my freshman year of college, I didn't know if I was ever going to be as good as I was in high school again. I almost didn't go all-in with running for fear of disappointing myself and not being able to live up to what I wanted to do.

So I struggled with that for a few years. I struggled to love running as well. I wasn't having fun with it. Then during COVID, there wasn't anything else to do and I just decided: What am I doing if I'm going to stay for a 5th and a 6th year? Because of COVID, I want to give this my all. I want to give it a serious shot. I want to see how good I can be, if I am all in and if I do the little things. So I started eating properly. I tried training in new shoes and that helped a lot. I was just more focused on it than I'd ever been – stretching, rolling out and doing all those things. I was able to get my mileage higher than 40 miles a week for the first time. I was being more consistent than ever. That's kind of how I made my breakthrough in college.

Emily Mackay celebrating with her coach, March Coogan, after placing third at the 2024 World Athletics Indoor Championships.Emily Mackay celebrating with her coach, March Coogan, after placing third at the 2024 World Athletics Indoor Championships.

Kevin Morris/@KevMoFoto

CITIUS MAG: Do you remember what your first conversation was like with Mark Coogan?

EMILY MACKAY: Yeah, it was really exciting. It was the evening of the Super Bowl and Mark DM’ed me on Instagram and he was like, “Hey, I would like to connect with you and I'm interested in having you on the team.” I just remember how excited I was. My family was over to celebrate the Super Bowl. And I was like, “Guys, you'll never guess what just happened!! Mark Coogan reached out to me!” Now every year, on Super Bowl Sunday, I remember “Oh, it's a two-year anniversary of Mark reaching out to me.” It was such a special moment, and it was one I'll never forget.

I kind of had my mind set on this is the team (Team New Balance Boston) because I think it's so special what Mark does finding diamonds in the rough. Just from following the team and seeing both Elle (St. Pierre) and Heather (MacLean)’s journey and everyone else on the team. It was so cool to see how he developed– With Elle being an America East Conference athlete as well. He developed her into one of the best American distance runners of all time. She's so good. I think that he does good with underdeveloped athletes and that’s what I was. So I just knew I would fit in well on the team.

CITIUS MAG: Mark told us a really funny story of how you've developed your signature move with 400m to go. When did that start?

EMILY MACKAY: Honestly, I think it might have started in college as kind of my M.O – as Mark would call it. My college coach never wanted me to lead ever in a race. So the sit-and-kick was just how I liked to race from the back and then just send it the last 400. It's just something I've been doing for a while and something I'm pretty comfortable doing. I think there have been a few races where I've been more upfront and I’m getting used to racing in different ways because I'm not always going to be able to do that. Especially in super tactical championship races. I'm still learning and figuring out my racing style for sure.

CITIUS MAG: What were you thinking in Glasgow when you were in that final and made that move?

EMILY MACKAY: It was definitely, maybe a little bit scarier doing it. But the difference there was that I felt really good. Usually, I'm not feeling good with 400 to go.

I feel like I shouldn't be feeling good with 400m to go. So when I was checking in with myself and how I was feeling. I was like, ‘I feel too good right now and there's only 400m to go. I need to send it.’ I know how good these people are around me. I know that there are some amazing kickers in the race like Nikki (Hiltz), for example. I was like ‘This is my best shot at doing the best I can do...My best at placing the best I can is to probably try to jump the field and go right now because I shouldn't be feeling this good.’ I feel really good about where my strength is at, and honestly I kind of wanted it to be a faster race. I think that would have played to my strengths because I think I could have run a lot faster. I was kind of disappointed that I was feeling that good with 400m to go, if that makes sense. Like, obviously it was really good because I was able to kick and jump the field, but, it's not how I pictured the race going.

Emily Mackay leading the women's 1500m final at the World Athletics Indoor Championships.Emily Mackay leading the women's 1500m final at the World Athletics Indoor Championships.

Kevin Morris/@KevMoFoto

CITIUS MAG: Nikki was on this show and called that move with 400m to go as their Roman Empire. They can’t stop thinking about it.

EMILY MACKAY: I know I think back and I still can't believe I did that. I kept saying, ‘I don't know what had gotten into me.’ I don't know, I was just feeling so good. I was so focused. I had never had so much fun in a race.

Usually, I'd think about championship racing and sometimes I feel a little bit nervous. Even in the race. I'm like, ‘Oh crap, like there's only 400m to go or I'm feeling tired or I don't know.’ But I was just so ecstatic. Making that move was purely instinctual. It was just my instincts telling me, ‘I gotta go!’ It was so much fun being up there. It was honestly exhilarating leading that good of a field.

CITIUS MAG: How different of a runner do you feel like heading into this season? Last year, you competed in Diamond League meets. You broke 4:00 for 1500m.

EMILY MACKAY: It's funny because I used to always be really proud of my kick and think that I was super speedy. But at the pro level, everyone's fast and everyone's speedy. Everyone's got a good kick – so that was humbling in that regard. Mark always says that strength is speed. I believe him because there have been times when I've gone into a race feeling like, ‘Mark, I haven't done enough speed work. I don't feel like I have the speed. We haven't been doing speed work. How am I supposed to go run at 800m or 1500m?’ And he's like, ‘Strength is speed.’ And I just trust him. He's honestly right. In order for the speed to be there, you need to be strong enough for it to be there the last 400 or 200m.

I think that was my goal for last year – was to get as many different experiences as I could – because I think that was the missing piece for me . I am a little bit less experienced than some of these other runners that I'm going up against. And I was like, 'That's what's going to make me a better runner' is getting experience with both tactics and championship racing because it is different than just going out and time trialing...And I think that this indoors, especially at the World Championship, just proving to myself that I can hold my own in a tactical championship race gave me that extra bit of confidence I need going into this year. I feel like I finally proved to myself that I. I am good at tactical racing. Before I thought, 'Oh, maybe I'm just a fast runner, but I can't run a good tactical race.' And that's something that I was a little bit self-conscious about last year. Like, 'Oh! People think that I can't put it together when it really matters.' It's not really about what other people think but I just wanted to prove to myself that I can run a good race when it matters. And now that I've done that, I feel super confident.

Chris Chavez

Chris Chavez launched CITIUS MAG in 2016 as a passion project while working full-time for Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and grew his humble blog into a multi-pronged media company. He completed all six World Marathon Majors and is an aspiring sub-five-minute miler.

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