Emma Bates, America’s Newest Marathon Star, Talks Chicago, Team Boss, Team USA, Divorce, and Mental Health
October 18, 2021
Last week, just days after she ran 2:24:20 to finish second at the Chicago Marathon, Emma Bates joined the LetsRun.com Track Talk Podcast to discuss her breakout Chicago race and her journey over the past 12 months.
A year ago at this time, Bates was living in Idaho preparing to chase a personal best at the Marathon Project. Bates didn’t run awful at that race, but it ultimately proved a missed opportunity. On a perfect day for running fast, on a course designed to produce fast times, Bates could only manage 2:25:40 — 13 seconds slower than she had run in Chicago a year before. Bates was also carrying a lot of emotional stress, as she was in the midst of a divorce from her husband, who had also been her coach. It was a very difficult period in her life.
One year later, the 29-year-old Bates is riding high. She has a new coach (Joe Bosshard) in a new city (Boulder) and, after Chicago, a new personal best that ranks her ninth all-time among US women’s marathoners.
Bates spent the first half of her appearance on the podcast discussing her impressive negative split second place finish in Chicago in warm and windy conditions and the build-up to that race. Later in the pod, she discusses her divorce and leaving Boise, how she became a member of Team Boss, and why she wants to run the 2022 World Championship marathon in Eugene.
You can listen to the full podcast with Bates here on your favorite podcast app or in the player below. Below are some of the highlights from our chat.
On her Team Boss teammates flying from Boulder to support her on race day in Chicago:
“I thought just Joe and Emma [Coburn] were going to come. Honestly, I didn’t even know Emma was going to come. I think I just thought it was Joe the entire time. But over the course of the fall, when everybody was on a break from the Olympics and track season, they just were like, well, what should we do during this time? Let’s go support Emma, because she’s out here working really, really hard. And she’s out there for 20+ miles all on her own. So let’s go just cheer her on as much as we can. And so the more that they were immersed in my training, the more excited they got. And all of a sudden they were like, well, of course, we’re going to come watch you [in Chicago].
“And then they started planning. Getting e-bikes and going to point to point. I think I saw them at least like 10 times during the marathon, and they were working hard to get from point to point. Their excitement level and I think, just me being so excited for them, being there during my workouts and everything, and just having fun with them really made for a really great experience and I think I created a few a marathon fans now. I know that a lot of them have watched marathons maybe in the past, but this was the first time that they were actually at one and just super excited and cheering and really invested. And that’s just really special to me that they made the trip out there and that they cared that much about me. So I’m very, very lucky.
“…I just joined the team, but they just have such a support system in each other. We’re all friends outside of the team and that’s something that’s very, very rare, I think, in the sport. We’re not just like business colleagues; we actually like being around each other. And I think that helps with camaraderie and striving for our own goals. You want to make the rest of the team proud because they’re always there and they’re always supporting you. So you want to do them proud and you want them to be excited for you. It’s a very unique experience and I’m very thrilled that I was able to have the opportunity to join them, and I have lifelong friends for the rest of my life because this is such a special group and they really care about each other.”
On getting mental therapy to help her in life and in running:
“I am so much better for it. And I definitely recommend that to anybody that is going through a really hard time. Especially runners, we tend to compartmentalize as much as we can. Like, Oh, you know things in my life aren’t gonna affect my running. I won’t let that happen.
“But we are such emotional beings. And at least I am a very emotional runner that if I’m not happy, I am not going to race well. I’m not going to run well. I don’t run well off of anger or sadness or anything like that. I need everything in my life to be easy and light and fun for me to really perform at my best. And that’s something that I learned through friends and family and a therapist and just trying to put things, not in a box, but into specific places in my life for them to just kind of make it a positive experience in general.”
On getting divorced, leaving Idaho, finding Team Boss and moving to Boulder:
“So I got a divorce and that was something that was very unexpected. We’re fine now, but it was a very hard thing to go through. It was very quick and very painful. But I knew that I needed a change. I couldn’t be in that environment anymore. It was 10 years of my life with this person and it was just, you know, everywhere I looked in Boise was that and what we had. And so that was just too painful to bear. And maybe I could go back since I’ve gone to therapy and talked to people and tackle it a little bit differently, but the fact that I’ve gone to Boulder now and have immersed myself in this community and the support system, I can’t look back.
“And I appreciate all the people that are in Boise and the times that I had there, but this is my life now and I want to ride this wave of where I’m at. I couldn’t be happier, honestly, and that’s something that’s I think can be inspiring to other people. It was inspiring to me that you can go through something really, really awful and still come out the other side stronger and happier and just better for it.
“I thought my career was over. I honestly was so worried because he was a very good coach to me. My training was going great and I was very excited about the future in that program, that system. And then I was like, oh crap. I don’t know what to do, where to go, who to be coached by. I didn’t think I’d ever have to think about something like this and it wasn’t until I talked to Laura Thweatt that I was like, oh, she’s coached by Joe and she’s had this amazing career, she took fifth at the Olympic Trials. I mean, they’re onto something out in Boulder and I kind of want to investigate what’s going on here. And it was only one conversation with one coach. And then I was decided. I was hooked.”
On her future goals:
“We haven’t gotten my schedule pegged down, but [my result in Chicago] has definitely changed the trajectory of my career. And this has opened up a lot of doors for me, just being invited to certain races and whatnot. So, I definitely want to just ride this momentum as much as I can. I don’t want to get too greedy, but I also want to get after it a little bit more and maybe take some more risks also.
“I think we’re just kind of scratching the surface of my potential and I think I was in like 2:22, maybe even 2:21 shape going into this race. And so, I mean not to talk about the American record yet, but that’s definitely something that could be in the sights for the next five to six years. Just seeing somebody like Sara Hall that’s running well into her late-30s, I still have a lot of time left. And so that’s what is really exciting about my career is just what I’ve accomplished thus far. And I think that I still have a long ways to go, so that’s really exciting.”
On wanting to run the 2022 World Championship marathon in Eugene:
“I definitely do. So fingers crossed that this race [in Chicago was enough to qualify]. And maybe if I need to do really well in the spring, hopefully I do well there because I want to represent this country and that’s always the main objective is making teams, making Olympic teams, making World teams. And so I never want to pass up an opportunity to make the US proud.”
On USATF, nine months out from Worlds, still not announcing the qualifying criteria:
“This is how it’s kind of always been, so you just kind of roll with it and you can only control the controllables. And so I’ll just try to run as fast as I can each time I’m out there and hope for the best. But yeah, it is frustrating.”
On whether she expects the top Americans to run the marathon at Worlds:
“I find this really interesting because I feel like most marathoners choose to not, they choose to forego the World Championships. And I don’t know if it’s different again, because it’s on home soil, but there’s not that big money factor in your face. There’s no appearance fee to make the World team. And so that’s something that is very interesting and people’s priorities and whether or not they’re money-motivated or if they’re team-motivated and there’s nothing wrong with being one or the other, but I’m just saying it’s interesting that there’s kind of a split there.
“So I hope that we put together the best team that we can and people say yes to this opportunity, because I think it’s really special. And I think we could really do some damage out there and maybe even podium a couple of people — maybe three people, if we can. And that’s something that’s really exciting and very, very unique to where we’re at and in the sport right now and female distance running.”
On whether she’s worried about the heat in Eugene, which saw temperatures of over 110 degrees during the Olympic Trials:
“I remember running on the track for the 10k during that weather. That was not a fun time and I hope to not do that again, but if the opportunity presents itself, I’m not going to say no because of the weather. I mean, that is just something that you have to put up with.
“And I don’t know if anything’s going to be as bad as Doha [in 2019]. That was brutal, and honestly, I think some of the people that ran there are still paying repercussions for what they put their bodies through. But if that’s what it’s gonna take, that’s what it’s going to take. Again, this is a very special moment for the US to be hosting this. So I’m going to be there no matter what if I can be.”
You can listen to the full podcast with Bates here where she goes into more detail about her 2nd place run in Chicago.