Fast Women: Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone's season is over
Catching up with American record holder Emily Sisson
Issue 251, sponsored by New Balance
When I sent last week’s newsletter 11+ hours early, that was a mistake. Instead of scheduling it to be sent, I accidentally clicked on the “send to everyone now” button, which is surprisingly easy to do. I’m just happy it took me 250 issues before I messed that up.
Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone pulls out of the world championships
The world championships begin on Saturday and Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who was scheduled to run the 400m, announced on Friday that she won’t be there. “After consulting with my doctors and coaches, I need to take care of a minor knee issue so that I can be fully healthy for next year’s Paris Olympics,” she wrote in an Instagram story. Her coach, Bobby Kersee, told the Los Angeles Times that her injury will not require surgery, but her medical team agreed that if she continued to run, she’d risk turning it into something more damaging.
While it’s a big blow for the event to lose one of its major stars, the news doesn’t come as a shock. When McLaughlin-Levrone, 24, withdrew from last month’s Monaco Diamond League meet, citing a recurring knee issue, she wrote, “My prayer is to get back to 100% health before the world championships.”
While many people are disappointed they won’t get to see her race, it was unfortunate to see how much anger the announcement brought out in some fans. As many have pointed out, because the pandemic shifted the Olympic Games to 2021 and the world championships to 2022, there is no off year, without a major global championship, until 2026. So for some, this has become the closest thing to an off year, especially with the Olympic Games not far off. It’s the year to have babies, take care of injuries, and work on mental health, as many athletes gather themselves before the big push to Paris 2024. Hopefully McLaughlin-Levrone’s injury is indeed minor.
Lynna Irby-Jackson, who was fourth in the 400m at USAs, was already going to Budapest to run the relay. Now she’ll take McLaughlin-Levrone’s place in the open 400m. Nafi Thiam, the defending champion in the heptathlon, also announced that she would miss worlds, because she’s dealing with an Achilles injury.
Catching up with American record holder Emily Sisson
(This feature is sponsored by New Balance.)
Emily Sisson, 31, set an American record in the marathon at last year’s Chicago Marathon, running 2:18:29. She had planned to run the London Marathon in April, but a poorly-timed injury forced her to withdraw. Sisson pivoted and focused on some shorter races instead, and she finished fourth at both the New York Mini 10K (31:16) and the B.A.A. 10K (31:35) in June. Sisson is now gearing up to return to Chicago in October, and she’ll also run next weekend’s Falmouth Road Race and the New Haven 20K, which serves as the USATF 20K Championships, in September.
Sisson spoke to Fast Women last week. This interview has been edited and condensed.
When you’re marathon training, are you mostly just training and recovering?Pretty much. I feel like marathon training is everything I normally do, but just a lot more of it. A lot more sleeping, a lot more eating, a lot more recovering between running, and a lot more running itself.
And you’re back in Rhode Island—is there something you like about Rhode Island for a marathon build, or is it more the time of year that has brought you there?
A bit of both. We came out last year when we decided I wanted to do my marathon build at sea level. It’s too hot in Phoenix, which is close to where we live in Flagstaff, so we came back to Rhode Island, where my coach (Ray Treacy) is. It worked really well. I really like Ray’s training at sea level for marathons. I think altitude works really well for me for like 4–6 weeks at a time, but after that, I get a little too tired.
Given that, looking ahead to the Olympic Marathon Trials buildup, does that mean you’ll be splitting your time between Phoenix and Flagstaff?
We haven’t actually planned that far ahead, but with the Trials being in Orlando, we’re also tossing around the idea of going to Florida or somewhere more humid to prepare. We’ll see after Chicago.
Do you enjoy the grind of marathon training?
I like the challenge of it, because it’s so different from anything I’ve done before, and I like the challenge of doing long runs harder. But after the marathon’s over, I definitely enjoy my down time. I like when my energy comes back, and I have energy to do things outside of training.
Do you ever find yourself not wanting to go out for a run?
It’s funny because I feel like I am pretty intrinsically motivated, but I was talking to my husband (Shane Quinn) the other day. I feel like when I am marathon training there definitely are some days when we get to wherever we’re working out and I’m just like, “I kind of would rather not push my body so hard right now.” But I use the phrase “motivation follows action” a lot. So often once I start a workout, start warming up, or start a run, I feel better. I never regret going for a run, but sometimes just getting started is the hardest part. It helps having friends or teammates, and so I do try to sync up with Molly (Huddle) and Shane quite a bit.
Has running an American record in the marathon changed your life in any way? Do you get more attention? Do people recognize you more?
Maybe at races, I do notice a few more cheers, so that’s always nice. I feel like it was a good learning experience, though, because I felt like, going into Chicago, I really didn’t have a lot of experience in the marathon. I had only completed one before, so it was good to kind of get some feedback from another marathon and another marathon build. That build was a little different from the two we’d previously done, and I think it worked out better. So it changed my training a little bit, but not my life too much.
Based on what you’ve learned, will your buildup for Chicago look pretty similar this time, or are you trying anything new?
We’re kind of sticking with what we learned from the last one, since it is Chicago again. But one of the things that we did change was my build last year was accidentally shorter, because I was struggling coming back from Covid and training up at altitude. So we started the buildup later than we meant to. But I kind of had a feeling, based on my previous two marathon builds, that I kind of needed shorter buildups anyway, and I thought that we timed it perfectly. We also cut out some of the speedwork we did in the first two, and I felt like that helped prevent me from getting too sharp and maybe peaking too soon.
We’ll probably stick with that for Chicago and the Trials, and then maybe we’ll play around with changing some things after. I tried adding in altitude for the London Marathon, and I think I realized I probably need to be down at sea level doing the training that we do. It also didn’t help that it was a really bad winter. We got a lot of snow in Flagstaff.
How far did you get into your London Marathon build before you had to abandon it?
I want to say it was the end of March. It’s the only hip injury I’ve ever had. It actually healed really quickly, I just needed to do a bit of strengthening, but it took a month, and missing a month six weeks out from London wasn’t good. I didn’t want to rush back and cause any other problems, so we decided to do some shorter races instead.
Have you thought about how fast you can go in the marathon on a perfect day? Do you have times in mind when you’re training?
I feel like after Chicago, it was immediately one of the first things I got asked, even by some friends and people I work with. They were like, “How much faster do you think you can go?” I’m like, “Just give me a minute.” I do think, given that I went into the Chicago build not feeling great, I feel like I turned it around pretty fast and was able to have a good day. But I feel like if I maybe start the build not so fatigued, and kind of stack more marathon builds, I do think I could run a bit faster. Whether that’s what the focus is in Chicago or not, we’re still going to decide on that.
When do you make that decision? And what do you base it on?
It’s something I’ll probably just decide with Ray. And probably the weather will make a big difference, whatever we decide to do. But I think the goal going into Chicago will be to try to compete well against the other American women, as a good tuneup for the Trials in February, and come out of that feeling as good as I can so I can start the marathon build in a good place. Luckily I did come out of Chicago feeling really good last year.
What are your current thoughts on the noon start time for the Trials?
I’m all for promoting the sport and trying to get the marathon trials on primetime would be amazing. I don’t know enough about broadcasting to know what’s the difference between having it live and having it tape-delayed, if necessary, and if it’s even possible to move a race like that last minute, or do you have to decide that farther in advance.
I think it is kind of rolling the dice a bit with whether you’re going to get a hot day, and Orlando’s probably just more likely than somewhere else. I don’t think we should be expecting or wanting perfect conditions for our Trials, but at the same time, [not] something absurdly hot. Big picture, that time of year, it is kind of hard to prepare for a race that’s in the high 70s at the start or 80 when it’s winter in the U.S. Most places that we train in January won’t be that warm consistently, so we’ll have to be a bit creative.
It would be nice knowing more and what the contingency plan is if we do get a hot day. Hopefully the weather won’t be anything crazy warm or extreme in any way. With any marathon, you never really know what the weather’s going to be like, but with it being at noon, running in 80 degrees at noon is different than 80 degrees at 6 a.m. or 8 a.m. just because the sun is so strong.
It seems like there’s some good research on how to prepare for hot races, and I hope all of the qualifiers will have access to that kind of information so that we don’t see a bunch of people collapsing during the race.
I think that is the main thing. I was asking my husband, “Why am I getting so into this?” Because I do feel like when I’m fit, I handle the heat well. But I don’t want to see what we saw (at the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials) in LA where like [a significant percentage of] the field drops out, or you don’t want to see people collapse or run themselves to heat exhaustion.
Can you tell me about the various shoes you use in training? I’m always curious about which ones people choose.
The 880 is my daily trainer and I do most of my runs in it, apart from workouts, even my long runs. A lot of people do long runs in the shoes they race in, but I just like doing mine in my trainers. I’ve been using those since my sophomore or junior year of college. They’re just a really good, consistent neutral trainer that I love running in. For workouts now, I pretty much do everything in the Pacer. I really like it. I think because of how I run, it’s just a shoe that really suits me. I do pretty much everything in them. I think a lot of people would like the Pacer especially for shorter workouts or faster stuff, because they’re lighter and they feel snappy.
The Pacer has a low stack height compared to many of the super shoes on the market. Are you ever tempted to go with an even more substantial shoe?
I did just do some testing in a new shoe they have coming out, so it will be interesting to get those results back. But I really get a benefit from racing in the Pacer. I felt like after Chicago, it was the first time I walked away from a marathon and that week, I could have worked out if I wanted to. I didn’t even feel like my legs necessarily broke down at the end of the race. I more just felt like I was getting tired, like I would at the end of any race.
The reel you posted with Shane being over marathon training was great. Is he pretty much running to run with you, or would he be training either way?
We used to joke that he kept trying to retire, and I just wouldn’t let him. He was a good collegiate runner and he ran on a lot of Ireland’s junior teams growing up. After college, he was pretty content moving on. He got a job as a psychologist, working with a lot of kids. It was tough work but he really enjoyed it and felt like he helped a lot of people. But I think back in 2018, I was going through a rough patch with my training and I was gone all of the time and he was like, “What if we went all in together on your career and tried it for a year and see what happens?” He took a step back from his career and we moved out to Arizona so we could get good altitude training, good sea-level training, good treatment, and be together and be in one state most of the time. And it worked really well.
It surprised me how much of a difference it made having him doing all of my workouts. At first it was nice having someone who could pace all of my workouts perfectly. But then I realized how much of a difference it made having him there to make it fun. Especially the more years I do it, it’s just really nice having someone like him there because he just keeps things so light. It makes the workout days fun and manageable.
Thanks to New Balance to sponsoring Fast Women this month
If you want to try out Emily Sisson’s favorite shoes you can find the 880s, her daily trainer, here. And she ran the American marathon record in the FuelCell SuperComp Pacer. According to the website, it’s designed for the 5K to half marathon, but for some, it clearly works as a marathon shoe.
Other News and Links
USATF announced the U.S. squad for worlds last week. Natosha Rogers’ world ranking was enough to get her into the 10,000m, and Rogers, Elise Cranny, and Alicia Monson all decided to double, so the 5,000m and 10,000m squads are identical.
Last year’s surprise winner of the New York City Marathon, Sharon Lokedi, will be back to defend her title on November 5. Lokedi has not raced since her NYC win, due to injury. She’ll be up against Boston Marathon champion Hellen Obiri, reigning Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir, and world record holder Brigid Kosgei. Kosgei dropped out of April’s London Marathon in the first mile, due to injury. Fingers crossed that they all make it to the starting line. The rest of the field has not yet been announced.
Betsy Saina will run the Sydney Marathon on September 17. It won’t get as much attention in the U.S. as Chicago will, but this will definitely be a race to keep an eye on, and Saina, who has run 2:21, will have some 2:18 and 2:20 marathoners to chase.
Women are underrepresented at all levels of coaching, and one goal of the USTFCCCA’s Female Coaches Mentorship Program is to change that. This year, the program had more than 100 women apply to be mentees, but they have nowhere near enough mentors. If you’re an experienced coach at the high school or college level, please consider applying to be a mentor. They’ve extended the deadline for mentors by a week.
This was a thoughtful post from Alexa Efraimson, who retired from the sport last year, at age 25. It begins, “Over the course of my career, my relationship with my mind, my body, and food was unhealthy, consuming, and constant.” Efraimson’s experience has inspired her to become an RD.
Sarah Gearhart did a nice profile on Alicia Monson for Outside.
Arkansas graduate Lauren Gregory has signed with Nike, and she plans to race on both the track and the trails.
I appreciated the opportunity to hear more from Madie Boreman on DyeStat Discussions. She had glowing praise for her coach, Juli Benson, and she was diplomatic when talking about her time at the University of Colorado, just saying that some of the support was lacking there and she felt a bit isolated. The video interview will go behind a paywall in a few days.
Marisa Howard had a rough race at the Ed Murphey Classic on August 4, finishing fifth in the 3,000m in 9:22.73. She shared last week that leading up to the race, she and her husband got into an ATV accident, and the ATV landed on her.
British Vogue did a piece on Keely Hodgkinson and whether fact or fiction, it makes her life sound a bit more glamorous than that of most track stars.
Emilia Benton wrote about the lack of diversity in trail and ultrarunning, and the work that needs to be done, for Trailrunner.
Sophia Laukli won Sierre-Zinal, a 31K race with more than 7,000 feet of climbing, on Saturday in Switzerland. She covered the course in 2:53:17, won by four minutes, and became the first American to win the race since 2014. Laukli, 23, is a 2022 Olympian in Nordic skiing, and she only started racing (without skis and snow) at a high level a year ago. She’s originally from Maine and attended Middlebury College and the University of Utah, but now she’s based in Oslo, Norway. (Race recap | The livestream included some great footage | Results)
Great Britain’s Sarah McDonald, who announced last week that she has signed with On, won a tight British Milers Club Trafford Grand Prix 1500m over Mexico’s Laura Galvan, 4:03.03 to 4:03.06. It might have been a little closer had Galvan leaned instead of stopping her watch at the finish line, but she still set a national record. And Great Britain’s Khahisa Mhlanga won the 800m in 2:00.15, a PR. (Results)
Josette Andrews passed Karissa Schweizer coming off the final turn and won the 1500m at Saturday’s BMW Louyet Meeting in Belgium, 4:04.64 to 4:05.48. (Results)
Finland’s Eveliina Määttänen won the 800m at the Tampere Mononet Grand Prix, running 1:59.99. First-year pro McKenna Keegan, of the Union Athletics Club, finished third in 2:00.14, a PR, and Sinclaire Johnson finished fourth in 2:00.32. (Results)
Latvia’s Agate Caune, 19, dominated the distance events at the European U20 Championships. She won the 3,000m in 8:53.20 and the 5,000m in 15:03.85. (Results)
Genevieve Gregson won the Australian Half Marathon Championships in 1:10:18, with Ellie Pashley three seconds back. (Results)
Savannah Berry won the Utah’s Hobble Creek Half Marathon, a point-to-point downhill race, in 1:09:27. (Results)
Katie Kellner won Rhode Island’s Bobby Doyle Summer Classic 5-mile race in 26:30. (Results)
Molly Bookmyer won Pennsylvania’s Lake Loop 5 Miler in 27:07. “First time lining up to a race healthy since April,” she wrote on Instagram. “Good hard effort [during] another 117-mile week.” (Results)
I’ve made it clear that I’m a big fan of the work that Robyn McGillis and Marie Markham are doing through Wildwood Running, and I loved hearing from them on I’ll Have Another. It was a good episode, and I hope it convinces at least a few more women to become high school coaches.
It was interesting to hear thoughts from Laura Thweatt (35:20 mark) and Kara Goucher (42:30 mark) on the noon Olympic Marathon Trials start on the Relay podcast. Goucher said she isn’t defending the decision, but because the race is now in a primetime TV slot (which will get more eyes on the sport), the production costs no longer fall on USATF or the local organizing committee (LOC). She said the money that isn’t spent on production will now go toward $600,000 in prize money. I am confused by this because it's my understanding that the prize money is the sole responsibility of the LOC, and they had already committed to $600,000 (Runner’s World) when they bid for the race. So I'd like to hear more.
Additional Episodes: Nikki Hiltz on Relay | Maggie Montoya on I’ll Have Another | Amber Zimmerman on the Multiple Perspectives podcast | Sinta Vissa on the Coffee Club podcast | Julia Chase-Brand on Starting Line 1928
The world championships begin on Saturday and run through the following Sunday. This has information on where and when to watch, and I imagine a better-formatted resource will come out this week. The marathons begin at 1:00 a.m. ET, which is going to be brutal (but totally worth it). The full competition schedule is here.
The Falmouth Road Race starts at 8:40 a.m. ET on Sunday for the wheelchair racers and 8:50 for the elite women. Hellen Obiri, Emily Sisson, Edna Kiplagat, Weini Kelati, and Fiona O’Keeffe are among those in the field. And if it’s like last year, the event will stream live on Falmouth’s YouTube channel.