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Olympian Emily Sisson on Going the Distance

Olympian Emily Sisson on Going the Distance
Emily Sisson is the American Marathon & Half Marathon record holder, setting both marks in 2022. Her long list of career highlights includes competing at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, where she finished as the top American in 10th place, running the fastest half marathon debut by an American woman (1:08:21) in 2017, and in 2019 running the fastest American marathon debut ever on a record-eligible course (2:23:08). We sat down with Emily to chat about how she approaches fueling her training and to learn more about what motivates her to compete in the marathon.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced when it comes to pre/post-workout nutrition and fueling your training?

Emily Sisson: When I was training for my first marathon, I just couldn't stomach the fuel I was taking. It really upset my stomach and I'd get cramps and GI distress, so that was my main issue that I had for the longest time. I have a pretty sensitive stomach with most things. My husband always gives me a hard time about it, but I've always been a little bit picky with stuff like that because I’ve noticed if I eat something, it might affect me more than it affects him.

What have you noticed since you’ve started incorporating UCAN into your training?

ES: One of the things I like the most is having a UCAN bar or the Energy + Protein after my workouts and long runs. When I’m doing a track workout and I want to go to the gym afterwards, it’s really easy to have either of these options to keep my energy steady. I used to crash and burn, especially after my long runs, and I don’t feel that anymore. Before UCAN, by the time I'd sit down to eat after a long workout, I'd be starving and want a lot of sugary food. Most people do their long runs on Sunday and by the time you go home, shower, stretch, and sit down to eat, it can be a couple hours, especially if you’re going out to eat and there’s a long wait. When I have UCAN, it really helps hold me over after a workout until I can have a substantial meal. I also notice that it just sits in my stomach really well. Usually with protein or energy bars, I’ve had to force them down and they don't sit well. I don't feel great after. I’ve noticed with UCAN I don’t get that feeling. I’ve also been using UCAN Edge a half hour before a tempo run or halfway through my long runs. The thing with most gel packets [that contain sugar] is that you’re supposed to take them with water to avoid cramping. I really like the UCAN gel because I don’t need to take water with it. I’ll just tuck a pouch into my sports bra and take it halfway through my run and it works really well.

Outside of training, what are some of the nutrition principles that you try to stick to?

ES: High-quality food for the most part. I can't handle things with lots of preservatives or that are very processed. I notice that I don't feel good when I eat those types of foods. We try to cook most of our meals and eat a pretty balanced diet, with lots of whole foods - 90% of the time we’re eating whole and unprocessed foods. At the same time, there’s nothing that I say is off limits. If I want a donut or a glass of wine, I’ll have it.

It’s an amazing time for U.S. women’s distance running right now. We just saw the American marathon and half marathon records get broken. Does seeing records being broken motivate you?

(NOTE: This question was asked to Emily at the beginning of 2022, before she set the American Marathon & Half Marathon records.) ES: Yeah, it does. That's where the record should be right now, so it’s cool to see that. I don't really get FOMO when I see other people racing, I just get excited for when I can race again. I was really excited for Sara Hall. I feel like we kind of went through something similar with the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2020, so she's someone I always root for a little extra because of that. I know how hard she works, so that was cool to see for her. It's an exciting time. Every single race, I feel like people are going after records or even just making Team USA is so difficult, but it gives you confidence that once you do you make an Olympics or a World Championship team, you can compete on the international level because it's so hard to make a team in the first place and you have to be an international caliber athlete to do so. It's a cool time right now. It kind of makes everyone raise their game.

You’ve run one marathon in your career so far, a really successful debut at the 2019 London Marathon, and that’s what you’re currently focusing on. What do you like about the marathon?

(NOTE: This question was asked to Emily at the beginning of 2022, before she finished 2nd at the 2022 Chicago Marathon and set the American record.) ES: I've been told since I was in high school that I'd be a marathon runner. I got that a ton through college too just because of my form and the way I run. I'm a stronger athlete, even just the way I'm built, so I feel like people have been saying that to me for a while, but I didn't want to do the marathon until I felt like I was ready to handle that training load or until I was excited for that new challenge. I really enjoyed my first marathon in London [2019], I found it to be so fun and I found that I really liked the training, I liked doing longer stuff and more tempo work. I also feel like there's so much room for improvement there, whereas on the track, I know there's room for improvement there too, but I think it's a smaller window. If I commit to the marathon, I'm curious what I can do. I think that’s what has intrigued me. I feel like I haven't really tapped into that yet and the training's hard. but I find it fun. Like a new kind of challenge.

Follow Emily's journey on Instagram

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