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HOUSTON (18-Jan) -- Emily Sisson has a very short résumé when it comes to the half marathon. It is, nonetheless, impressive.
In two starts at the distance, both at the United Airlines NYC Half in March of 2017 and 2018, she finished a close second to the winner. In her first attempt she clocked 1:08:21 and was narrowly defeated by her training partner, Molly Huddle, who set the American record for an all-women's race: 1:08:19. In the second, on a brutally cold and windy day, she lost by just one second to in a sprint finish to Ethiopia's Buze Diriba, clocking 1:12:24. In those races, Sisson raced for position and wasn't focused on time.
But here in Houston, Sisson's focus is much different for Sunday's Aramco Houston Half-Marathon. It's all about running a fast time, and the Team New Balance athlete admitted that she's feeling a little out of her comfort zone.
"It's a little weird for me," Sisson told Race Results Weekly. "I'm used to racing New York Half where I'm, like, really focused on all the competition. I'm still really focused on that here, but I've never run on a really fast course before, so that was never on my mind, really. It's a good opportunity to run fast, so I'd like to break sixty-eight minutes. I think that's a realistic goal."
The absolute American record for the half-marathon is 1:07:25, a mark which Molly Huddle set on a chilly day here one year ago. Only Huddle, Deena Kastor (1:07:34), and Jordan Hasay (1:07:55) have broken 1:08-flat on a record-quality course (Kara Goucher ran 1:06:57 on the slightly-aided Great North Run course in England in 2007). Sisson, 27, has the road racing chops to challenge Huddle's mark, and said that her recent training in Arizona has her in very good form.
"I feel much more fit than I was two years ago when I ran my PR in New York," Sisson observed. "I know Molly made a comment about (my breaking) her record. She wouldn't say something like that, just say something like that. So, I'm going to take that as a compliment that she thinks I'm fit and ready to run fast."
At the NYC Half, women run separately from the men and typically start the race cautiously. The weather is usually cold, the course is hilly, and the athletes like to warm into their pace. Here, Sisson will have to get on her goal pace quickly, despite the fact that it will also be cold (just above freezing at the start). She's a little worried about that, especially with so many sub-elite men running near her and the other top women.
"It's so different than New York," Sisson explained. "In New York I feel you have a little bit of a warm-up period. We start in the park, then go over the Manhattan Bridge. So, you're like jogging the first 5-K. It will be different going straight from the gun this time. You start with the guys, so it will be hard to hold back a little bit."
Sisson pointed out that she hasn't yet started her build up for the Virgin Money London Marathon where she will make her debut at the distance on April 28. Under Ray Treacy's coaching, she tried to reach a mini-peak for Sunday's half-marathon, then will build up for London in earnest.
"After this I'll start my marathon build-up," she said. "I haven't started it yet, but I incorporated more long runs into my half-marathon build-up this time. I've done 20-mile runs; before the New York Half my longest was 16. I think I'm getting a bit stronger. Then after this, we'll up it a little bit more."
Sisson began training with Huddle when she was still in the NCAA system at Providence College. The two are good friends, and breaking one of Huddle's records might feel a little strange, she admitted.
"It would be a little weird, but it would be amazing if I could," she said. "Obviously, Molly is an incredible runner, and Deena (Kastor), the one that held the record before is also. Even being in that ballpark is a good place to be, especially heading into my first marathon."
Sisson, who always looks relaxed, said she is just trying to stay in the moment and not focus too far ahead. She said that she lets Coach Treacy do the planning; she just runs.
"I'm not, like a big planner," she said breezily. "I don't live in the future. I live in what I'm doing right now." She continued: "I love racing on the road. I love running longer distances."