Cory McGee Shares Goals, Eyes Sub-4 and First US Championship, Ahead of Diamond League OpenerBy Weldon Johnson
“I know I’m in a good place. I know that I’m in probably the best shape I’ve ever been at this time of year.”
The 2023 Diamond League season kicks at noon Eastern on Friday in Doha and the fields are what you would expect for a Diamond League opener — loaded.
Sha’Carri Richardson vs Shericka Jackson vs Dina Asher-Smith is probably the headliner of the meet, plus you’ve got Fred Kerley vs Michael Norman in the 200 and a loaded men’s 3000m where Lamecha Girma takes on Timothy Cheruiyot and maybe Daniel Komen‘s world record?
Four American distance stars are in Doha: Emma Coburn and Val Constein in the women’s steeple, Clayton Murphy in the men’s 800, and Cory McGee in the women’s 1500.
McGee, a 2021 Olympian, is coming off the most successful year of her career where she was runner-up at USAs, 9th at the World Championships, and 8th in the Diamond League final.
To celebrate the opening of the Diamond League, LetsRun.com spoke to McGee from Doha 48 hours before the meet in a bonus edition of the LetsRun.com Track Talk Podcast. Doha will be McGee’s first race of 2023 indoors or out (she did pace some races indoors). McGee traveled to Doha with Team Boss training partner Emma Coburn, and coach Joe Bosshard.
The full talk with McGee is 24 minutes and can be found here, on your favorite podcast player, or in the player below. McGee talks about her big plans for 2023, her desire to go sub-4 for the first time and hopefully get her first USATF title in 2023, and why she is running so well for Team Boss.
Written highlights below, edited and condensed.
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LetsRun.com’s Weldon Johnson [LRC]: You’re starting your season in Doha. You have lots of other options [to open up with], so why Doha?
Cory McGee: I would say just getting the season going at the Diamond League is a little different.
That was something I definitely have thought about the last couple of weeks. It’s like a whole new world really to be able to for the first time seek out the toughest competition available for the first race. So I would say that is slightly intimidating, but at the same time I don’t know.
I feel like training has been going really well and I knew that Emma [Coburn] and Joe [Bosshard] were gonna be making this trip, so we just decided for this to be the first one. There wasn’t much more to it. I do often start out the outdoor season with an 800, so it’s a little different for me this year, not doing that, but we’ve been doing hard stuff in practice and so I have some comfort in knowing I’ve done some hard stuff in practice.
I’ve run probably more sub-60 400s already this year than I did all year last year combined. So, we’ve just revved it up in a smarter way, but I still feel like I haven’t done anything that was like race effort in practice. But yeah, so I feel like there’s a little bit of a mystery going into this race.
I know I’m in a good place. I know that I’m in probably the best shape I’ve ever been at this time of year, but I didn’t race indoor and I haven’t raced yet [outdoors]. So, it was like the longest I’ve ever gone without doing a race really.
LRC: What are the goals for Doha? What are the goals for the year?
So the goals for Doha, I think are just really be aggressive and compete well. I haven’t really thought too much about it. I’m just kind of going out there. I trust that there are some really amazing women that I’m going to be racing against.
And if I just compete well I’ll be really pleased with the result. I also want to do well in order to ensure that I can secure my spot in races later in the year. And then also I just like having chosen to, similar to last year, pretty much exclusively race Diamond Leagues leading up to USAs.
I think that’s really good for me because if I’m used to this level of competition, it helps for me to approach USAs in a way where I feel really confident. And that was probably one of the bigger shifts in the last couple of years. There were so many years where getting in the US final felt like a major — and it’s still really competitive — but it felt like a major accomplishment and it still does.
I would never undermine how competitive USAs is, but once you get used to mixing it up with the top 1500 women in the world back to back to back, then it’s a little bit less nerve-wracking getting through the rounds at USAs and just doing your best there. It almost feels a little bit less intimidating to me.
So I feel like the big goal is just do well in these races leading up to USAs to make USAs feel like it’s not the end goal. And then I can think beyond USAs because for so many years, I didn’t even let my mind go to “if you make the team then how are you going to compete at World Champs or Olympics or whatever.”
And for the first time, I can actually think, “Okay, there’s a good opportunity and good chance that I can make Team USA, like I’ve done it.” I feel like very confident and I can also now think “I want to compete well and make that World final” and not just be holding on for dear life at that stage.
I need to be there and compete well and show up and expect to be able to make the final and compete with the best in the world. So I feel like that’s what these races, they just make that feel a lot more real and not as hard to put myself in it mentally. So, I feel that’s kind of just breaking through to that next level.
LRC: We were asking [on the regular podcast] logistically does the Diamond League pay for you to come out [to the meet]? Or does New Balance pay for that? Or does it depend on the meet?
The Diamond League generally pays for your plane ticket, and then they cover the hotel and meals and everything. So it’s a pretty low-cost venture [for the athlete]. Then you factor in like if you upgrade on the flight or whatever else, like sometimes you break even, but for the most part everything’s covered. Then whatever isn’t, hopefully if you have a contract, you have a certain amount of travel allotted. So it’s not like a ton of out-of-pocket. And the purse is pretty deep, so that’s obviously a good thing.
LRC: In terms of your career, you said you don’t have a medal. You’ve come very close to going sub-four and winning USA Outdoors. Is there anything else I’m missing? Kind of big, big goals that you still have out there?
Definitely, I would say the time is really important to me, but I would definitely say that the thing that I think more about is being a US champion. That’s for sure the one that’s a more lingering desire. And then I feel like it’s one of those things where I can think about the time and whatnot, but it almost feels like silly when it’s less than half a second [away].
I’m like, “You know, the time is there.” I just have to run the race ever so slightly differently. So I don’t fixate too much on that part. I feel really confident that if I’m in the right race I can achieve that. But I think I definitely spend more time thinking about how to compete well at USAs and win and if not win, be in the top three, like by going for the win.
And that’s kind of just where my head is at more often. And then I would also love to come away with wins in like a Diamond League race would be huge. Again, still second to winning USAs obviously. And then I just feel like last year, the way that I ran at the World final, I’m still really proud of but I can definitely see myself approaching that kind of race differently and finishing higher. Still giving myself a chance to be in the mix, but just the way that played out, it was almost a little bit suicidal I think in hindsight. I really went after it in the first 400 and then ended up leading the second pack.
So I look back on that race and I’m like, there’s smarter ways to finish higher.
Going to a new level with Team Boss
LRC: In 2013, you made the Worlds team, but your PB was 4:06. Even when you joined Team Boss in 2019, still 4:06.
There were a few years there where I didn’t get any faster.
LRC: You’ve gotten a lot faster. What do you think explains that? It seems like you’re at a different level now.
Without a doubt, I’m at a different level. I would say there’s two parts to being a great 1500 runner. I was 100% depending on only one side of it, which was being speedy. I’m fast, but I had no strength whatsoever. So, I was just like completely depending on, hoping it was like a kind of slow from the gun and then like sprint last 400 or something [race] because there was no part of me that had the strength to run a four-minute type race, for many years.
And I think a little bit of the explanation with being stagnant from essentially 2013 until 2018, 2019, is that I probably ran beyond where my fitness was when I ran 4:06. The first time, when I did that back in 2013, I was probably more in like 4:09, 4:10 shape. But I had something on the line, which was if I ran the standard, then I made Team USA.
And so I pretty much just ran out of my mind in order to run the standard. And obviously if you’ve done it then you were potentially prepared to do it. But I do look back on that and know that was sort of I had to rise to that occasion in order to make the team and got into some pro races as a collegiate, so I think probably ran a little bit beyond my capability at that time.
And then the following years being coached by Mark Coogan and really experiencing what it was like to be a distance runner for the first time, like running more mileage and not being in the weight room as much as I had been at Florida and just did the complete opposite type of training that I had come from.
And it was really difficult for me. Like my body didn’t really understand what was going on and I just felt like I just didn’t feel like myself for a few years. So definitely was pretty stagnant at that time, but admittedly was trying to work on the things that I knew I wasn’t very good at, and being coached by Mark and training with Abbey D’Agostino for those reasons, cause I knew that she like really would complement the stuff that I needed to work on.
But I think I was just so far behind that every single workout was just such a shock to the system. And of course then I joined the group out here in Colorado with Joe and he pretty much brought me back to the most basics. So we started running like six-minute pace in workouts rather than like what you would anticipate a professional 1500 runner should be capable of.
He just met me where I was at, which was on one hand, like the skill level of someone who was probably like a freshman in college. Rather than where a pro should be. But then of course if he let me like rip some 400s, then he would see “okay, you’re pretty good at this stuff.” It was just like tempos and threshold stuff was just completely out of my wheelhouse.
So that for sure explains the jump in fitness because essentially I was just running on pure, I don’t even know, like aggression. I have no idea. For a few years there, it was just like, all right, hope for the best. And then yeah, just full send every time.
LRC: One other thing, the Diamond League final is in the US this year for the first time ever. Is that important to make?
It is, yeah. First of all, the team has been doing great. I feel like it’s been probably like just the most consistent training that the team’s ever had, which is really cool to see and just speaks to like how Joe is always evolving and spends a lot of time like thinking about that kind of stuff.
So it’s cool. And that was obviously on display with the marathoners, but with the Diamond League final being in the US it’s similar to last year. I remember like Joe had mentioned, probably like six to eight months out from USAs last year, “this will be a big deal, having Worlds in the United States. That’s a team that you really will have a lot of fun if you get to be a part of it.”
He made that offhand comment and I was like, “oh, I guess that is like something that I should really continue to think about.” And so now thinking about the Diamond League being in the US it’s cool because I feel like for the first time when you talk to like civilians in the world that don’t generally know about what track and field has going on, they’re like, “oh wait, don’t they have something big going on in Oregon this year?” And it’s like, yay, finally. It definitely trickles down and popularizes the sport in the US.
So I feel like it’s huge for us and it’s really fun to be a part of that and just having family and friends able to attend. I think they’d rather get a flight to Eugene than Doha, even though they’re about the same price these days.
LRC: Well, good luck. Thank you for taking the time and it’s a great one [with] Faith Kipyegon. If you’re ready to run, I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think the sub-four could be this weekend.
Thank you. I’m going to go for it.
(To learn more about McGee’s season and her favorite training partner, you need to listen to the full podcast).