6 Things We Learned From Emily Sisson After Her Half Marathon American Record

She averaged 5:07.5 pace for 13.1 miles.

usatf half marathon championships emily sisson
Michael Scott

Emily Sisson set the American record in the half marathon on May 8 in Indianapolis, running 1:07:11 and taking 4 seconds off of Sara Hall’s mark from the Houston Half Marathon in January.

Fighting swirling winds, Sisson was slightly behind pace at the 10-mile split, so she knew she’d have to pick it up in the final mile to have a shot at the record. She ended up averaging 5:07.5 per mile. But it never felt as though she had it locked up until she crossed the finish line.“It was definitely a grind,” she told Runner’s World. “I was hurting so bad that last mile.”

This first American record has been a long time coming. Sisson, 30, had twice come close to breaking the record (1:07:25) when it was held by Molly Huddle, her former training partner. Sisson ran 1:07:30 in 2019 and 1:07:26 in 2020—missing by one second.

Then Hall lowered Huddle’s time to 1:07:15. It lasted less than four months, before Sisson took another crack at it. As she wrote on her Instagram, “The third time is a charm.

Here’s what else Sisson said about her record:

She was really fit after moving to Flagstaff in February…

Sisson and her husband, Shane Quinn, sold their house in Phoenix and moved to altitude in Flagstaff, Arizona, in February. Sisson said she responds “really well to altitude” and made a big leap in fitness around the time of her move. She was able to do intervals and tempos at altitude at the same pace she had been doing them at sea level in Phoenix. (She has been able to monitor her altitude response through hemoglobin mass testing at the Hypo2 sports performance center in Flagstaff.)

…then COVID hit at the beginning of March.

First Quinn got it. Sisson’s coach, Ray Treacy, advised a cautious approach, so Sisson ran easy for five days, until she, too, tested positive. Then she missed several days of running and, although her symptoms were mild, she felt chest tightness and had breathing issues as she returned to workouts. She ended up canceling two races on her calendar.

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It was only about two and a half weeks ago that she was able to finish her first workout, so she decided to go for the record in Indianapolis. And if she came close and missed again, well, she could handle it. After all, she’d done that twice before.

For the first time in her racing career, she used personal pacers…

Sisson brought in two male marathoners, Brian Harvey and Eric Ashe, to run with her. Ashe made it to just before the 6-mile mark before slowing; Harvey ran all the way to the finish with her.

“He helped so much,” she said. “I think he could tell I was really hurting the last bit. He knew it was going to be close and he told me after the race he was nervous [she was going to miss it]. It was great. He was encouraging me the last mile: ‘You’ve got this. Every second counts. You’ve got a tailwind now.’ I don’t think I would have gotten the record otherwise.”

…but her husband doesn’t seem eager for the job.

Quinn, who, like Sisson, ran at Providence College, paces all of her track workouts and most of her longer intervals in training. He’ll bike alongside her during tempo runs. But he doesn’t seem to want the pacing job in a race.

“We kind of joke about it,” Sisson said. “We kind of throw it out there every once in a while. I think he’s content sticking with the workouts and being the support person on race weekend.”

She’s skipping the track season this year…

Despite Sisson’s dominant performance in 2021 at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 10,000 meters, where she set a Trials record, she’s focused entirely on the roads this year. And she hasn’t looked back.

“I feel very confident in that decision [not to run track],” she said. “I do love the track. But I really want to see what I can do on the roads, and I want to really focus on gearing up for a fall marathon. In the past for me, at the end of every track season, my body gets a bit beat up. I need a break. It’s really hard to then go into a marathon buildup when my body is asking for time off.”

She said she still thinks she’ll “hop on the track here and there for races,” but she said she doesn’t know if she’ll ever do a full track season again.

…and her fall marathon is still TBD.

Sisson hasn’t announced which fall marathon she’ll run and whether it will be a fast course, like Chicago, London, or Berlin, or whether it will be a course that’s more about racing people, like New York. (She was scheduled to run New York last year, but an injury kept her from the race.) “I do enjoy going after records and fast times,” she said. “I also love racing people and going by feel. I don’t want to only do one or the other. I kind of want to switch it up and do both.”

Sisson has only one completed marathon to her name, the 2:23:08 she ran in 2019 in London, which puts her eighth on the U.S. all-time list. At the Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta in 2020, she ended up dropping out of the race after the 21-mile mark and saving herself for the track Trials—which the pandemic then postponed for a year.

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