An Inside Look at Emily Sisson’s US Marathon Record

What does it take to break the American marathon record? A big factor is nailing the daily details that allow for great training and racing. That’s what I saw when I shadowed my friend and training partner, Emily Sisson, on Oct. 2, seven days before she set the US record in 2:18:29 at the Chicago Marathon. There is much here for all marathoners to learn.

7:30 a.m.: Emily wakes up to train at 10am to hydrate and fuel up UCAN Energy Powder, and eat breakfast to allow time for some pre-activation exercises and workouts. I meet him at 9:20 to warm up.


“Do you have an extra hat?” he texted me before we arrived. Like a younger sister, she often asks to take something.

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It’s a cool and damp day on the 14-mile bike path we use for a lot of our road training. Emily’s build went very well. Although this is not to be confused with effort. There’s a lot of purposeful management involved in making decisions and keeping your body moving well under the strain of marathon training. He took long-haul flights to nip injuries in the office of the country’s top chiropractor, spent endless minutes in the gym doing corrective exercises and foam rolling and massaging the soft tissues in his legs. road. Body work is his own part-time job.

I see glimpses of my best seasons when I look at her from the pram I’m pushing in my warm-up run. I can tell that things are lining up in an exciting way between body and mind, so that what used to feel like swinging for the fences is actually the next logical progression.

10 am: Our trainer Ray Treacy is seen as Emily takes the final steps before training. Her husband, Shane, is set to pace most of the workout so Emily can cruise on autopilot part of the way. Emily’s support bubble is small but effective: Shane, sometimes as a heartbeat and always as moral support, Ray and his chiropractor John Ball.

First, they examine her shoe choices; this is an ongoing thought project. He tries one pair for half of the workout and the other for the last two reps. She is still deciding what to wear on race day. Today’s training is the last of a two-month training period, deliberately a little shorter than normal in an effort to go into the race fresh and healthy.

Exercise: Emily runs 4 to 2 kilometers on a flat road at a pace of 5:00 per mile. It should feel easy and look like it should. “He’s really ready,” Ray said, reflecting on the training split over the past few weeks. That means a lot to someone who has seen dozens of great athletes part ways over the decades.

Then, after cooling down and completing his morning workout at just 11 miles, he helps refuel in the popular 30-minute post-workout window. UCAN drink in the car on the way to lunch. Focusing on extra carbs and hydration is a big focus in the week leading up to a marathon, and those are the main tenets of it.

The thing about marathons is that it often takes a few of them to learn how to race the event and really maximize your potential. Emily had the fastest American marathon debut in London 2019, 2:23:08, on a course that was mostly run alone (and in skinny flats). In May, he set the US record in the half marathon. , 67:11.

A Chicago Marathon record, medal or win is the next realistic step towards confounding yourself, but at the end of the day, a brilliant personal best would be great too. This will be his third marathon, so the experience grows every time and the best is yet to come. “Soon” is probably “now,” but he has studied other variables besides fitness involved in a peak marathon race. Most of it we can control, but some is down to luck. It’s an intoxicating fact about marathons that everyone is 90 percent gambler and 10 percent gambler.

COVID (race cancellations and illness) and injury have derailed a few marathons and learning opportunities lately, but the one ahead feels ripe with possibility. The Chicago Marathon is a fast course like London. The weather looks favorable. Emily turns 31 a few days after the marathon and enters what I call the “marathon age” of a girl. You’ve built up enough stamina and wisdom to really see what you can do in a race this long, but in an event based on slow-twitch muscles, your body is still young enough to PR in a decade.

12:00 p.m.: Shane and Emily park at the cafe and grab coffee, cookies and sandwiches. Seven Star is a favorite stop for many runners and locals on Providence’s East Side. I often see Emily there. We runners are ingrained in our routines; they save his mental energy. Emily runs many miles with the same few loops and eats at the same stores and runs with the same few people at the same times of day.

14:00: Emily takes a nap to recharge her batteries for a 4-mile evening run, likely one of the team’s last double races. Soon, he will run only once a day, which is disorienting after weeks of double workouts and long sessions that burn up all the hours and energy of the day.

He enters the ironically difficult phase of marathon training: the rest part. Your schedule is opening up and your energy is starting to come back, but you just can’t use it up yet. Some, without access, add to latent anxiety like sugar in the void.

This can surprise people, especially if the training went smoothly. Few athletes have come to the privilege of a semi-neurotic bubble wrap stage. This is what happens when training goes too well and the potential of your biggest goals is like a mirage in the distance. It’s not real yet, but you can see its shape. By going through a piece of training glove, you can allow yourself to believe that this can actually happen.

Just competing healthy is the new mission of the week when fitness is buttoned up. Accidents are not allowed! A physical therapist is on speed dial. There is hypervigilance for every rock and curb. No germs will enter your personal bubble. No strange food will touch your lips. There is little room for plans and processes that happen after the race, because there is no “after” when the curtains are drawn. There is only between here and the start line, and then from the start to the finish line. This is a precious opportunity.

“Shane bought me Legos,” she laughs, noting that they are a fun and meditative free time activity. Maybe she tapped into her advice database with this gift idea, though who doesn’t love Legos?

6 pm: Evening run in Providence, 4 miles on a soft, flat surface at about a 7:00/mile pace.

19:30: Dinner dogs are chicken and gnocchi while watching “Dragon House,” curled up with a golden retriever named Desmond and a three-legged fluffy white Samoyed mix named Tori. This kind of mental relaxation is just as important as physical contraction. Many ambitious people are good athletes because of their drive, and many of them don’t get enough rest because of it.

Understanding this reality is one of Emily’s strengths. He stores every lesson he learns and advice he hears in a mental file that informs every new attempt at a goal. He knows that rest is important, so he can’t go to many events or do anything too adventurous at these gatherings with friends and family. He knows how to focus on something difficult and block out the noise – both in the build-up to the race and in the race itself. It aims to be the eye of the hurricane. He knows it works.

I’m trying to remember what I said to him and I wonder if something or something was included in the file. I remember a run years ago where I noted that my life was simple when I felt like I was running at my best; that fun projects are worthwhile, but they tire me. Running and then spending time in front of the TV or reading a book is actually recharging the energy used to reach peak performance.

“It’s good to tie everything to something,” I remember telling him. “Well-rounded is great, but ‘pointy’ is also a great extreme.” I meant that there is only a short time in life when you can try to be great at something. Many people never have the chance.

I think that advice might have been there because I watch him squint down the road, only considering what lies ahead. He sharpens his tools. It is ready to take its place in history.

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