Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Emily Infeld showed up to the 2016 Olympic Trials with a training log full of cross-training, due to injuries. It wasn’t the way she wanted to get there, but she made the Rio Games anyway, on the coattails of her bronze medal performance at the 2015 world championships. In 2021, she’ll arrive in Eugene, Oregon, to race the 10,000 meters yet again, with many more miles to show for her preparation.
It’s taken hip surgery and an array of injury setbacks for Infeld to fully understand how to arrive at the most important races healthy and fresh. She’s older now and more confident in voicing her opinion about the best path forward, especially when those hiccups happen.
“For me, less is more in the sense that I wish I could run 100-mile weeks, but I just can’t seem to do it and stay healthy or put the workouts together,” Infeld says. “I remind myself that I can get it done in a different way than even my coach might like, knowing myself and my body.”
In fact, during the lead-up to the Trials, which begin on June 18, in Eugene, Oregon, she came down from the Bowerman Track Club’s altitude camp in Park City, Utah, to race the 5,000 meters in mid-May at a meet in Southern California. It didn’t go well—she dropped out, experiencing fatigue and heavy legs. She knew it was time to go home to sea level in Portland, Oregon, to wrap up her preparation. Her coach Jerry Schumacher agreed.
“I was running my best speed workouts that I’d ever done, but I was feeling pretty tired and I wasn’t planning on racing until Jerry decided I should race at the last minute,” Infeld says. “I’m in good shape and I’ve been doing some really good workouts, but altitude is really, really hard.”
After a few weeks with more oxygen, putting in faster efforts in practice, she raced another 5,000 meters, and she was right—she just needed time to sharpen and recover. She won in 15:14.97, a confidence-booster after that dreaded DNF.
At the Trials, her preference is to focus solely on the 10,000 meters (“I’d rather just put all my eggs in the basket of making the 10K team”), though there’s always the possibility that she’ll also compete in the 5,000 meters, too. Her 10,000-meter time (31:08.57) is currently the sixth-fastest among qualifiers, as is her 5,000-meter time (14:51.91).
“My biggest driver is just that I still don’t think I have run as fast as I’m capable of yet,” Infeld says. “I feel like I can achieve more. I really want to make another Olympic team. I really want to run faster times than I have and that’s driving me. I just want to be in the mix—I definitely want to raise my game.”
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Event: 5,000 meters (14:51.91) and 10,000 meters (31:08.57)
Training tip: It took many years of experience and unfortunate injuries for Infeld to get it right, but a decade into pro running has taught her that what prepares her for the best performances isn’t always the same plan that her teammates follow.
“The comparison in this sport is going to happen. It’s hard not to when there are numbers involved and it can seem pretty cut-and-dry,” she says. “But knowing that at the end of the day, you just have to focus on what you need and then compete when the time comes. Maybe it’s hard when you have an off day and the last thing you want to see on your Instagram feed is 15 posts about ‘the best workout of my life.’ But sometimes you have to do a little less and keep plugging away.”
Favorite workout: An oldie but a goodie for Infeld is 4 x 1 mile, 4 x 800 meters, 4 x 400 meters. The pace squeezes down as the workout goes on, with longer rest between the mile intervals. After a total of seven miles of work, feeling faster at the end, it’s quicker than 10K pace.
“I feel like if I can nail that workout, I’m like, ‘OK, I’m in really good 10K shape.”
The worst part of race day: Infeld says keeping her stomach happy is always a challenge.
“I feel like I have to go to the bathroom a million times,” she says. “I’m on the start line being like, ‘Do I have to go to the bathroom again? Am I OK?’ It’s that nervous, anxious feeling.”
The best part of race day: The opportunity to show everybody the product of a lot of hard work.
“If the body’s clicking and you’re feeling good—it’s one of those days where you’re working hard, but it feels like you can click away the laps and just close really well, that’s the best feeling,” Infeld says. “I love the feeling where it hurts, but it’s a good hurt and you can tell yourself, ‘OK, legs, move faster,’ and they move faster. Everything is working together.”
Trials success (aside from the obvious goal of making Team USA): Infeld is well aware that as hard as she’s working toward the Trials, all of her competitors are doing the same. Just showing up at Hayward as the best version of her athletic self is the goal.
“Wherever that leaves me—if it’s second, if it’s fifth, if it’s eighth—just knowing that I ran my best race on that day, I’ll have to be happy with that regardless of making the team or not,” Infeld says. “So as long as I know that I showed up and I gave it my A-game and put in a lot of good training.”
Last words to herself on the starting line: “Be brave” or “be strong.”
The 10,000 meters is a long race and Infeld knows she’s bound to go through good and bad stretches.
“Just hang tough during the times you’re feeling crummy and hope for a wave of feeling better,” she says.
Sage advice: Infeld constantly reminds herself to not make comparisons; to trust in her training and abilities.
“It’s easier said than done, but as athletes we’re all individuals and we all need something different,” she says.
Pandemic pastimes: Most of Infeld’s routines didn’t change much during 2020, but she did find herself reading a lot more (she recommends The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah) and cooking with her fiancé, Max Randolph.
“We’ve done a couple online cooking classes together,” she says. “But outside of that, I don’t feel like I accomplished as much as I would like. I’m just happy that I’m still plugging away, putting one foot in front of the other.”
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series leading up to the 2021 U.S.A. Track & Field Olympic Trials, highlighting many of the top athletes contending for the U.S. Olympic team. You can find all of our coverage here.