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Emily Sisson Turned Marathon Trials Heartbreak to Track Trials Glory For First Olympic Team Berth


Olympian Emily Sisson joins the CITIUS MAG Podcast to discuss how she rebounded from dropping out by mile 22 of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in February 2020 to dominating the women’s 10,000-meter final at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials last month in 31:03.82 for a new meet record. Sisson led for the final 21 laps in 85-degree heat at the new Hayward Field. She ended up winning the race by 13 seconds ahead of Karissa Schweizer and Alicia Monson.

In this episode, you’ll hear how she got over the heartbreak from Atlanta and decided to make the most of the pandemic year to train and regroup for the track. She shares insight from how her coach helped her cast any doubt aside and reminded her of what’s made her into an NCAA champion, world championship finalist and two-time U.S. champion. Plus a little bit on her plans for the marathon and track and her future…

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Handling the pressure of the Olympic Trials and the leadup to the biggest race

“Race day I actually didn’t feel a ton of the pressure. Once the gun goes, I don’t feel any pressure at all. I feel like running brings out the best and worst aspects of me. When I’m racing, I feel like I’m the most present and most confident and fearless. A week or two before big races, I do get stressed and I don’t feel a lot of pressure from other people but I put a lot of pressure on myself. It’s something I’ve had to keep in check. In my mind, it feels like, ‘Yes, you’ve done this, this and this but you haven’t made an Olympic team.’ That pressure and stress are kind of hard to manage at times. Even when training is going well, I knew I was really fit. The week or two before a big race can kind of get stressful because you’ve done everything you can and the fitness is there but it’s almost like you’re trying to avoid anything disastrous happening in those two weeks. Maybe it’s because I’ve had some random things pop up before a big race. There’s always some kind of drama like the weather. Everyone was stressing about that. Someone tagged me in a tweet saying I may not be in the fast heat and I was like, ‘Wait what?’ There’s always stuff like that that pops up. Once the gun goes off on race day, I felt pretty content and ready to give it my all. I know I always do once the race starts and I don’t hold back.”

Picking Up The Pieces From The U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

“Whenever I try to sum up what that period was like after Atlanta, it’s kind of hard to explain. I didn’t drop out of that race to save myself…My legs were obliterated. They were not in good shape after that race. It was heartbreak. Because as runners, running is such a big part of us and part of our identity whether that’s a good thing or not. It’s not just our job. I felt like I poured everything into that buildup and did everything I could. On that day, it just didn’t work out. My body broke down. We’re sending three amazing women to Sapporo. Nothing against them. It is heartbreaking when you invest so much and go all-in for it to not work out. And then to walk away from that race with nothing to look forward to. Even if there was something, I didn’t feel good running for a while so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. It was tough. I felt like I failed so badly. I never failed like that before. It was kind of hard not to be hard on myself. It’s one thing typically when I had a bad race or when I fail at something, ‘OK. Not a good day at the office’ and I can move on. It felt worse than that for some reason. I felt like I was a failure. I was pretty hard on myself about it for a while.

To pick up the pieces, I was like, ‘What can I control? What can I focus on right now?’ I was sad for a little bit. I talked to my coach. I talked to my husband. I talked to my chiropractor. My coach, Ray Treacy, said, ‘You’re going to lose a year of races from the looks of it so invest this time wisely.’ My chiropractor said the same thing about how we don’t normally have a year off from racing. We usually would train through little things and power through a lot of stuff. If we take a reset right now, this could pay off in the long run and add a year or two to the end of my career. That’s just what we did. We focused on working out some kinks and find any weaknesses I had and strengthened them.”

Balancing the Super Spike Concerns Within Doubt

“I definitely felt that during the Olympic Marathon Trials. On the track, I’ve been racing in the New Balance spikes since January when I started doing track races again. I could tell right away that I liked those spikes a lot. I actually felt a bit of a confidence boost because I haven’t worn spikes since 2016. My 10K PR is in flats. If I could do that in flats and I put on spikes, which are supposed to be ‘super spikes’, how fast can I run? That was a bit of a confidence boost wearing those spikes and feeling really good in them.

I remember talking to Ray when I first came to Providence before the Trials and telling him that I didn’t think I could outkick certain people. He brought up a story from college when we were at Big Easts. I got really angry at him when I was a junior in college I think. I was 20 or 21. Before an indoor 5K race in college, Ray made a comment that I couldn’t outkick someone. I went out and outkicked that person with a 65-second last lap. He brought that up in his office and said, ‘See you did that before! You can do that again!’ I remembered the moment instantly when he brought it up. Having Ray is good to challenge stories I have about myself in my head.”

A Return to the Marathon This Fall

“Maybe I’ll find that it is possible to do both. I don’t want to write anything off. I am excited to get back on the roads. I’m looking forward to that a lot. We’ll play it by ear. I used to think, ‘Oh I’m done with the track.’ But maybe I’m not? We’ll see.”


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