While some athletes prepared for the heat and humidity of the Tokyo Olympics by running in sweat suits and sitting in saunas, U.S. Olympic Trials 10,000m champion Emily Sisson just went back to her college town of Providence, Rhode Island—although she found that the New England summer wasn’t quite as steamy as she was used to.
“Honestly, it’s been so strange,” she told Women’s Running a week before she was due to fly out from her home base in Phoenix, Arizona, to join Team USA in Tokyo.
She had to borrow winter clothes from her sister over Memorial Day Weekend because it was raining and mid-40s. The weather fluctuated back and forth from cool and rainy to 90 degrees over the two months she spent training there before and after the Olympic Trials.
“I’ve spent a lot of summers in Rhode Island and I don’t ever remember one being like that,” she says. “I do think it’s helped because at least it’s been humid, that’s the one thing I want.”
The 29-year-old, who trains under her Providence College coach Ray Treacy, has already proven she’s a strong heat runner.
She endured brutal conditions in Eugene, Oregon, where temperatures topped out at 87 degrees for her race, to set an Olympic Trials record of 31:03.82 and make her first Olympic team. She finished 13 and 15 seconds ahead of fellow first-time Olympians Karissa Schweizer and Alicia Monson, the latter of whom had to be taken to the hospital immediately following the race due to heat-related illness.
The win was a triumph for Sisson, who spent the pandemic year regaining her track speed after dropping out of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. That race, one of the last major competitions to take place before March 2020, was heartbreaking for Sisson, whom many projected to be America’s next great marathoner after she ran 2:23:08 at the 2019 London Marathon in her first race at the distance—the fastest debut for an American on a record-eligible course.
She’s excited to return to the roads this fall for another crack at the marathon—she hasn’t announced where just yet, but revealed that it will be a domestic race.
But before she gets the chance for redemption over 26.2 miles, she’s still writing her story in the 10,000 meters. She says she’s in the best shape of her life.
The women’s 10,000m final in Tokyo is one of the most highly anticipated races of these Games, after Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia each broke the world record in a span of three days in June.
Sisson is hopeful that the heat and humidity in Tokyo will even out the playing field, and that she’ll be able to improve upon her top 10 showings for Team USA from the 2017 and 2019 world championships. She could potentially take aim at fellow Treacy athlete Molly Huddle’s American record of 30:13.17 in the 10K, set en route to a sixth-place finish at the 2016 Olympic Games.
“In the past, when there’s been world championships and Olympics in places like Tokyo or Beijing or Osaka, where it’s really hot and humid, it typically is more tactical,” she says. “I have a feeling it’s going to be like that and at some point in the race, someone’s going to go. But I could be wrong, it could be fast from the gun —so I’m preparing myself for every scenario.”
Emily Sisson’s Essential Workout
Who: Emily Sisson, 29
What: 2 x 4-mile tempo
Why: “I’ve actually really enjoyed my track workouts, probably more than I ever have… but I still love my tempos, those are my favorite workouts are tempo runs. I still get really excited for those ones.”
Details: 3 mile warm-up, 2 x 4 mile tempo at comfortably hard effort with two minutes recovery on bike path, 3 mile cooldown. To reach her mileage goal of 90 to 100 miles per week, she’ll typically double back in the afternoon with a 4-5 mile run.
Sisson says she likes to keep tempo runs in her regular rotation and will do one every 10 to 12 days throughout her training. While she has a ballpark estimate of paces she should be able to hit and she’ll get slightly faster as she gets fitter, she doesn’t worry too much about what her workouts indicate for race performance on a given day.
“I actually try not to read too much into workouts,” she says. “I’d rather have a bunch of good workouts, months and months of training, rather than one that knocks it out of the park and then I can’t run for two weeks because I overexerted myself and didn’t recover well. Not that it has to be that way. But if I had to choose, I would like to just focus on getting as many good, solid workouts and healthy weeks of training together as I can.”
On how she measures “comfortably hard” effort: “I should be pushing myself. But I always imagine if Ray [Treacy] was here, and he told me as I’m finishing my tempo to go run one more mile, I could go run one more mile. It shouldn’t be a race.”