Series13 Apr 2015

Personal bests – Emma Coburn


Emma Coburn winning at the 2014 IAAF Continental Cup (© Getty Images)

US steeplechaser and 2014 IAAF Continental Cup winner Emma Coburn, the third fastest woman over the barriers in the world last year, gives her opinion on some of the best things in her world.

My greatest achievement in athletics

I actually have two. Making the 2012 Olympic final as a collegiate athlete and finishing as the top American in London in the steeplechase was a brilliant moment.

Secondly, running a US record for the steeplechase (9:11.42 in Glasgow although not subsequently ratified) last summer was also a great achievement. It is hard to take away the Olympics. I was very young but also very happy to show poise under pressure. Another fond memory was running 9:11 because I had set that as a goal. It is hard to distinguish between the two. 

My best friend in athletics

That has to be my training partners: Kara Goucher, Jenny Simpson and Shalaya Kipp.

Shalaya competes in the steeplechase so we travel the circuit and spend so much time together internationally. Jenny and I are on the same Diamond League schedule and we are best friends on the circuit. Kara is more of a marathon runner, but she has been a great friend to me both on and off the track.  

My greatest rival

Although I have been competing internationally for three or four years, I have found my best technique for coping is to ignore the other people in the race and just focus on myself.

I try to do this and not let other athlete’s reputation or times cloud my focus. My main rivals are probably the best girls in the world but I try to tune them out. 

My best piece of coaching advice

My coaches (Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs) like to use the phrase ‘business as usual.’

They’ve constantly communicated to me not to let others dictate my life, so that I should take ownership and responsibility of my craft. They have said to me, whether in practise or on the start line of a race, that it is me that has to make all the little things happen.

My greatest disappointment

I was in my senior year at college racing at my last NCAA meet in Eugene (in 2013). I was hoping to get the collegiate record but the day before I found out I had a stress fracture in my back. I still competed, but my main concern was trying to finish the race in one piece. I did win (in 9:35.38) but I definitely wanted to run faster.

The best athletics venue

I love Hayward Field in Eugene. I love the energy of the people and also how knowledgeable the fans are. They cheer for all the athletes.

Even when I ran for the University of Colorado, a rival school (to the University of Oregon which is based at Hayward Field) they would support me. I love the atmosphere and the fans at Hayward.

My greatest indulgence

My greatest indulgence is sweets and ice cream. I usually have a cookie or ice cream every day. I can’t live without a little chocolate or ice cream!

The best athlete I have ever seen

I’ve watched many of Haile Gebrselassie’s great races and I can’t believe how he manages to close out races as fast as he does. He is an athlete I’m amazed to watch. I’ve watched a video of his 10,000m record online and he grinded it out the whole way.

I also really respect Allyson Felix. In my mind, she is such a great all-round athlete not only for her ability to consistently win medals but also her poise under pressure. She also impresses me how kind and how normal she is.

My best piece of track and field kit

My race spikes because, to me, they signal it is go time. I rarely like to practise in my competition spikes. I like to practise in something a little bulkier, so when I put my race spikes on I know it is time to go.

My best training trail

In my home town of Crested Butte I have a trail called the Lower Loop. I definitely fell in love with running on that trail. I grew up living at 9000ft altitude.

Surprisingly, the trail is not too hilly but there are some gradual inclines. Depending on what I plan to run, the trail can be as short as three miles or as long as nine miles.

My best other sport

I love watching college basketball and American football. I love playing beach volleyball when I am on vacation, but I have to be careful these days not to play too often. I also like to shoot around with a basketball, but I don’t play contact games these days.

Steve Landells for the IAAF