Emma Kertesz’s road to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials hasn’t been as smooth as she anticipated. 

Her plan was to qualify at the California International Marathon (CIM) in December 2018. She figured that would give her more than a full year to hone her training and show up in Atlanta as fit as possible. Lingering hamstring pain made for a shaky training cycle leading into the race, but Kertesz figured she could qualify and then figure out her injury afterwards. And she did: Kertesz crossed the finish line in 2:44:21, just under the Olympic Trials-qualifying “B” standard of 2:45:00.

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"Tenacity is a virtue, but it's not always crucial for everyone to observe how hard you work at something." ______ Last "workout" aka fluff / confidence builder fartlek in the bag today before #runCIM. Here's to all those miles in the dark adding up to something worth celebrating come Sunday. Stoked to line up amongst friends and competitors and sell our souls together. Let's do the damn thing.

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Several months later, when the deep ache and pain in her leg hadn’t healed and continued to wake her up in the middle of the night, she finally got an MRI. What she thought was high-hamstring tendonitis turned out to be a torn muscle, forcing Kertesz to take three months off from training—not exactly the best start to chasing her Olympic Trial goals.

The 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta was supposed to be a do-over for Kertesz in a way. She ran the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles. Before race day, she told her coach she believed she was in shape to run a 2:38. “He said, ‘I’m sure you are, but you’re not going to do that,” she tells Women’s Running in a phone interview.

With the blazing hot sun and soaring temperatures, conditions were less the ideal for running a personal best. Her coach had encouraged her to be patient and to run a smart race; she didn’t run her fastest time, but Kertesz placed well, finishing 39th. 

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I'm honored to be inducted into @utrockets "Varsity T" Hall of Fame. I came to Toledo as a 5:20/11:38/19:00 woman, with goals of running 5:10 in the mile and running 18:00 for 5k. I was lucky to be surrounded by people who exemplified how to dream bigger, and better, and then show up to work for those goals. After seeing my coach Sara Vergote get inducted into the hall of fame while I was at Toledo, I knew I wanted to contribute in a big way to my team, school, and hometown. I graduated with PBs of 4:47/9:30(3k)/16:35, an All American certificate, a few MAC championships, and school and MAC records. Sometimes it's not the fire that needs to be started, but you need someone to continue to stoke it to keep the flame alive and growing. I'm proud of my accomplishments for my team and school. Go Rockets!

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A successful runner in high school, Kertesz continued to compete well at the University of Toledo where she was an All-American in the 10,000 meters. Recently, she was inducted to her high school and college Hall of Fame

But when Kertesz made the transition to professional running, training with the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project, she experienced a string of injuries that eventually took her away from competitive running. She knew she wasn’t done. “At the time, I needed to put a pin in it,” she says.

Now, she’s made her way back to running while pursuing a Masters degree in early childhood education. In preparation for the 2020 Olympic Trials, she scaled back her work hours and has been conservative, running between 80 and 85 miles a week. 

“I fall into the comparison game, especially with my own past build-ups,” Kertesz says. “I have to tell myself that was then and this is now.” 

But instead of bemoaning her ill-timed hamstring injury, the 29-year old runner from Boulder, Colorado saw it as an opportunity to capitalize on her strengths—as a patient runner who thrives on the day-in, day-out process of training and seeing how much she can get out of herself. “There’s a savviness that comes with marathons,” says Kertesz. “I like that it’s a sustained effort. You have to be patient.” 

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The last time I ran a marathon was in December of 2018. In 25 days will I remember how to hurt in the later miles? Will I be able to push through the pain? Will I be patient in the early stages? Will I stick to my plan? In every marathon I've run, during the late miles it feels like I will never forget the deep burn in my quads that begins to set in. I haven't forgotten, I don't think that kind of pain goes away no matter how fit you are. But I can change how I react to it, and welcome it when that deep burn comes, and keep pushing, and running, and pushing, and running. —– PHOTO by the amazing @notafraid2fail

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Having avoided the vicious cycle of injury and re-injury that’s plagued her in the past, Kertesz’s original goal for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials was to place better than her 2016 finish. “Now, I have to throw that out the window because the field is almost double in size!” she says. “My goal is to approach the starting line healthy and compete well.”  

Above all, the Olympic Trials are an opportunity for Kertesz, whose father is Navajo Native American, to represent her ethnicity on a big stage. She remembers watching videos of Billy Mills win the gold medal at the 1964 Olympics in the 10,000 meters.

“To see and know there’s an amazing Native American who represented the United States on such a huge scale was very inspiring,” she says. “I hope that with increasing popularity of the sport that the scope of people included will get wider.”