By Jonathan Gault
October 10, 2016
BOSTON — When Emily Sisson was dominating the NCAA as a senior at Providence College in 2015, it seemed as if it would only be a matter of time until she started adding senior national titles to her resume. That day arrived on Monday as the 2015 NCAA indoor and outdoor 5,000-meter champ crushed the field at the Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women to win the USATF 10K championship in 31:47. On a sun-splashed fall afternoon in Boston, Sisson broke the field by the three-mile mark, cruising alongside the Charles River before crossing the finish line on Boston Common 44 seconds ahead of runner-up Sarah Pagano.
“I”m so happy to have my first title. It’s so exciting! I was a little nervous about this one because it was different from the previous years where I had people to chase down,” Sisson said. “So running from the front was different but I just kept telling myself it’s a good opportunity, it’s good practice to challenge myself in something different. … This year I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to be leading it, I’m not afraid’. I was excited.”
Sisson had come close to her first national title on several occasions in the past. Before today, Sisson had run six USATF road champs and placed second at four of them, most recently at last month’s 20K Champs in New Haven, Conn. In four of those six races — including last year’s edition of this race — Sisson’s training partner Molly Huddle was the one who broke the tape. But with Huddle skipping out today in order to concentrate on her marathon debut in New York next month, Sisson deputized admirably.
In fact, Sisson’s victory was a near-mirror image of Huddle’s win on these streets a year ago. Just like Huddle, Sisson pushed the pace early, passing one mile in 5:01, at which point Pagano was the only woman still with her. And just like Huddle last year, Sisson put the field away early in the third mile after crossing the Harvard Bridge into Cambridge. Sisson already had three-second gap on Pagano by two miles, as she had begun pushing hard on the turn onto Memorial Drive at 1.5 miles. Though Pagano fought admirably to hang on, she could not hope to match Sisson’s strength. By three miles (15:16), Sisson had a 13-second lead and she was racing against the clock. Ultimately she came well short of Huddle’s 31:21 course record from last year, though considering the windy conditions, Sisson’s 31:47 — just nine seconds off her track pb and tied for eighth-fastest in the race’s 40-year history — was very impressive.
The similarities between Sisson and Huddle go deeper than performances in Boston. Both train in Providence under Ray Treacy, and both excel on and off the track. Huddle, 32, is still in her prime, but Sisson, who turns 25 on Wednesday, has the ability and desire to one day succeed her as America’s top road runner.
“I do love the roads,” Sisson said. “So I hope that works out. I love racing road races. I seem to like the longer distances. I did my first 20K and I honestly really enjoyed it. I felt so comfortable for most of it. I feel strongest in my tempos and my long runs.”
(Editor’s note: Treacy told us in 2015 that he feels Sisson is made for the marathon).
If Sisson is to one day approach Huddle’s level — or even make her first Worlds team on the track next summer — she’ll have to stay healthy, which was a problem for her during most of 2016, her first full year as a professional. She was 5th at USAs in the 10,000 last year on the track but later developed a nagging knee injury. Sisson raced through it, and took 10th in the 10,000 at the Olympic Trials, but only recently, with a 4th-place finish (top American) at the Beach to Beacon 10K, followed by runner-up showings at the USATF 5K and 20K Champs and today’s victory, has Sisson begun to look like the can’t-miss prospect she was heralded as a year ago coming out of Providence College.
Sisson still has work to do. Today’s field was not particularly strong, as the USATF 10-Mile Champs were held yesterday in Minnesota, and with Huddle and 2015 World Championship bronze medallist Emily Infeld locks (assuming they choose to run it) competition will be fierce for the final 10,000 spot on Team USA at Worlds next summer. But Huddle has a great coach in Treacy and the opportunity to learn from one of the U.S.’s best-ever in Huddle and three-time Olympian Kim Smith, who have mentored Sisson on everything, from how to handle herself at the Olympic Trials to remembering to wear sunscreen during a run.
“I don’t know what I would have done without them,” Sisson said. “It’s amazing having them. They’ve been incredible helping while they’re still running amazing careers of their own…They’ve just been amazing role models.”
Sisson said she’s excited for her next few races, which include the Pittsburgh 10-Miler on November 6 and the Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving Day.
“I feel like my season is just getting started and a lot of people are finishing theirs,” Sisson said. “I still feel like I can keep going for a while.”
Huddle remains the gold standard in U.S. road racing. But if Sisson is to succeed her in the future, she can look back to October 10, 2016, as an important milestone along the way, the day she followed in her mentor’s footsteps to become a national champion for the first time.
Top 10 results (full results here)
1. Emily Sisson 31:47
2. Sarah Pagano 32:31
3. Lauren Paquette 32:53
4. Becky Wade 33:03
5. Lindsey Scherf 33:04
6. Jennifer Rhines 33:31
7. Hannah Davidson 33:36
8. Rochelle Kanuho 33:59
9. Kinsey Gomez 34:03
10. Kaitlin Goodman 34:07
Interview with Sisson
Interview with Pagano