Emma Coburn talks about her Shanghai win, American records and training with Jenny Simpson

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by LetsRun.com
May 21, 2014

Yesterday, after Emma Coburn‘s huge upset win over a world-class field at the Shanghai Diamond League meet on Sunday, the first ever Diamond League by an American in the women’s steeplechase, LetsRun talked to Emma Coburn’s coach Mark Wetmore and today we were able to get in touch with Coburn herself. Coburn’s 9:19.80 now ranks her second on the all-time American list, seven seconds behind her training partner Jenny Simpson. We chatted with Coburn on Wednesday about the race in Shanghai, her training group in Boulder and why she missed her post-race massage.

LRC: When did you make the decision you were going to stick it out alone up there?

Emma Coburn: My coaches and I had made the decision to run 9:20/9:19 splits the day before. You never know what your opponents will do, so early on I wanted to focus on my own splits. I assumed I’d be behind and work my way up. The gun went off and the field was pretty big (16 runners), so I didn’t want to get caught behind a bunch of people. I pretty much immediately was in the lead and assumed after 200 someone would come up. I saw my 200 and 400 splits were what we discussed, and no one came with me. The plan wasn’t to have a big lead and do it all alone but it worked out that way.

Was there a point where you became worried that they were going to reel you in?

I had looked a lot at the Diamond Leagues from previous seasons and knew that typically the second kilometer slows down a lot, and then the last kilometer they go really hard again. Typically 3:10 and 3:00 is the difference. There was a jumbotron and typically they have the javelin showing, but with three laps to go I saw I was crossing the finish line and the field was just starting the home stretch. It was a pretty big gap at that point and we were coming up on 1000 to go. I knew they’d run a hard last kilometer. I knew I had a big lead, but I wasn’t confident in it. I had to keep pressing and try to accelerate a bit. With 400 to go, I was pretty sure they couldn’t close 50m on me but I knew I needed to accelerate to get the time I wanted and make sure I had a big enough cushion.

Were you nervous being all alone considering the quality of the field?

I wasn’t very nervous. In 2011, I led most of my prelim at worlds and ever since then I realized that I kind of have to do my own thing. Obviously keep my eye on the field, but in the steeplechase it’s not that big a disadvantage to be alone in the lead. Ever since Daegu, I’ve been fairly confident to take the lead. I wasn’t scared and knew even if they swallowed me up I was going to run a pretty good time.

A look of disbelief after the race

A look of disbelief after the race

What was going through your mind as you crossed the line?

I saw pictures afterwards and I didn’t look very happy but I was. I was very happy with my time and obviously very happy that I had won, but coming into the race winning was not on my radar. The meet provided massages and 9:30 was the last appointment so I signed up. My race was at 8:45 so I assumed I’d be done by 9:00 and cooled down, not assuming that I’d be on the podium and taking a victory lap. When I finished, I was thinking, ‘This is really surreal and I can’t believe this is happening. How did my opponents let that happen?’ I was happy but also a little bit confused about it all.

The American record, as I’m sure you know, is 9:12.50 by Jenny Simpson. Do you think you have a shot at the American record this season?

Jenny ran 9:12 the same year she ran 3:59 (for 1500), so she was in phenomenal shape. That’s an elite time. I don’t know if [an American record] is in the cards this year, but it’s definitely a goal in my career, to break that record. I know I can run faster than I did in Shanghai if I have some people around me; I felt really relaxed during the race. I’m hoping to be in a race with people to chase and push me to a faster time. Whether that’s a couple seconds faster of eight seconds faster, I don’t know that that will be (the case). I think the American record is a little out of reach right now, but you never know what will happen at the end of the season.

Does Jenny ever talk about getting back into the steeple?

No, she doesn’t. She’s so sweet. My coaches (Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs) had to be at the Pac-12 championships [during the race in Shanghai], but Jenny and her husband Jason were helping the best they could to be my coaches that weekend. The day before I was doing some hurdling and Jenny kept an eye on me and checked out my form. When I finished [the race] she was so genuinely happy for me. She doesn’t talk about the steeplechase. When you’re a world champion in an event, it’s hard to ever get out of that. I don’t think she has any desire to (return to the steeple).

How many of your workouts do you do with Jenny?

We run together probably five or six days a week. We do most of our workouts together. Once every couple weeks I’ll do a steeple workout but typically we’re together. She’s ahead of me, obviously, on a good chunk of [the track workouts], but it’s nice to get to chase her and use her to develop my 1500 skills.

Is it weird for you training with her knowing that you’re also chasing her record?

It’s not strange for me. Like I said, she’s super supportive and genuinely excited for me. She has her own goals and expectations, so I think she’s pretty much moved on from the steeple. I think she can get the American record in the 1500 (3:57.12) and I consider her one of the best American 1500 runners of all time (Simpson is currently fifth at 3:59.90). I don’t think she’d have any weird feelings toward me if I get closer to the record.

Who else is in your training group?

Shalaya Kipp and Kara Goucher. Shalaya does the steeple and our schedules haven’t overlapped much, but typically when I do a steeple workout, we’ll do it together. When Kara’s healthy, we’ll do our long runs together. We have a good group. I have someone with me — track sessions with Jenny, steeple sessions with Shalaya, easy days with all three. I’m never alone.

What’s your goal for Prefontaine?

My goal going into Shanghai was to run a fast time and put my nose in the race. So that’s still my goal and at Pre, it’s to run a fast time, hopefully a little faster than Shanghai, and be competitive with the top women in the world. I doubt that it will play out like Shanghai; I don’t think anyone will let me go again.

Any meet this season that you’re really trying to peak for?

We haven’t picked a specific meet, but obviously USAs I want to win, so I’ll be ready for that. Hopefully any Diamond League meet, I’m in a chase for a fast time. I don’t know if that’s going to be peaking in Paris, Stockholm or Zürich. Zürich’s the last one [with a steeple, on August 28], so hopefully I’m in the best shape for that, but if I run my fastest in Paris instead of Zurich, that’s okay as long as it’s a fast time.

We really appreciate the time and best of luck at Prefontaine.

Thanks so much.

(Note: Portions of this interview were condensed for clarity.)

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Emma Coburn wins in Shanghai
*Mark Wetmore talks about Coburn’s win