American Record Alert: Emily Sisson Targeting Molly Huddle’s 67:25 AR at Sunday’s Valencia Half Marathon

By Jonathan Gault
December 1, 2020

At times, the 2020 track & field season has felt like one giant record chase. With the vast majority of major championships cancelled, athletes have shifted their targets from medals to times. And with the ability to focus on one race with the sole goal of running as fast as possible, records have tumbled around the globe. Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei took down Kenenisa Bekele‘s 16-year-old 5,000-meter world record in August. In the span of one hour in OctoberLetesenbet Gidey broke Tirunesh Dibaba‘s 5,000-meter world record and Cheptegei fully erased Bekele from the outdoor record books by breaking his 10,000m mark. Domestically, Shelby Houlihan chopped over 10 seconds off her American 5,000-meter record back in July, taking it down to 14:23.92.

The latest installment of the Great Record Chase of 2020 comes on Sunday in Valencia, where distance studs Rhonex KiprutoJacob Kiplimo, and Gidey will have the half marathon world records in their sights. Just a few minutes back, Emily Sisson — one of the few Americans making the trip to Spain (Jordan Hasay is also entered in the marathon) — will be shooting for a mark of her own: the 67:25 American half marathon record, currently held by her friend and occasional training partner Molly Huddle.

Emily Sisson in advance of the 2019 Aramco Houston Half Marathon (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)

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says Ray Treacy, who coaches both Sisson and Huddle. “That’s the goal and see how she feels the last 5k…We’re just hoping for the best and she gets her reward for all the hard work she’s done over the last four or five months, because this is her only race.”

Sisson after the 2018 NYC Half

Sisson hasn’t raced since dropping out of the US Olympic Marathon Trials in February, though she did run the virtual New York City Marathon in 2:38:00 in October (Treacy says the aim was merely to get in a good long run effort, adding that it felt “easy” for Sisson and that she recovered “immediately”). Considering her goal is to make the Olympic team at 10,000 meters next year, Treacy did not want Sisson to run another marathon this fall, making the half marathon a natural distance for a target race. And with USATF opting not to send a team to the World Half Marathon Championships, Valencia was the best option.

Treacy says Sisson’s fitness is “really, really good” at the moment, with the 29-year-old clocking 24:37 recently for a five-mile time trial and averaging 5:05 pace for a 4 x 2-mile workout — well under American record pace (AR paceis 5:09). Currently, Sisson sits #2 on the all-time US list thanks to her 67:30 in Houston last year.

There are a couple of potential stumbling blocks, however. First, Sisson may not have any company during the race. The top women will be aiming to run the world record (64:31) or close to it, which is beyond Sisson’s abilities. Though there are two other women — Kenyans Brenda Jepleting (67:07) and Sheila Chepkirui (67:37) — with personal bests close to Sisson, it’s unclear whether they’ll try to run with her or opt for the more aggressive pace up front.

Treacy believes Sisson should be able to handle that situation just fine, though. She was alone for most of the second half of her marathon debut in London in 2019 and came out with a stellar 2:23:08 personal best.

“She’s pretty good at doing that anyway, so I’m not worried about it,” Treacy says.

The larger concern is the weather. The high of 58 degrees in Valencia on Sunday is fine, but the projected winds of 15 to 25 miles per hour could prove problematic.

While Sisson still has several years of her prime remaining, record opportunities like this are precious. Under Treacy, Huddle only raced one half marathon per year from 2015 to 2020, and three of those came on a relatively tough course in New York. Even when Huddle did finally set the record in Houston in 2018, she wasn’t 100% as she had gotten sick a few days earlier.

“[Huddle] never had the opportunity to run really, really fast,” Treacy says. “Certainly when Molly was in the shape she was in Rio, (where she ran an American 10,000m record of 30:13 at the 2016 Olympics), I think she could have run 66:30, 66:40.”

Sisson will get her shot on Sunday. Can she give the Great Record Chase of 2020 a fitting send-off?

Talk about the record attempt on our messageboard.

MB: Emily Sisson is going for the AR on Sunday in Valencia: “Emily will try to run 67:00 pace and see what happens,”

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