Buffalo Soldier: Exclusive Interview With Emma Coburn

Competitor.com: You did a range of events in high school. What was your first exposure to the steeple? Did you ever try the hurdles?

EC: That’s a funny story. After my junior track season, I wanted to run the 800 at the Great Southwestern Classic in Albuquerque. But it didn’t seem worth it to travel that far just for that short a race, so my dad looked at the event schedule and saw that the only other distance event on a different day from the 800 was the steeplechase. Before we went to New Mexico I went to Western State and the coach there showed me the basics about steeple technique. I won that steeplechase [after running 2:16.00 in the 800 to place third], then was fourth at Nationals.

Competitor.com: Did you have a chance to run any other steeple races between Nationals your junior year and the end of your senior year?

EC: Not during the season.  I won again at Great Southwest as a senior and was second at Nationals [to current Providence standout Shelby Greany].

Coburn, shown here coming off the water jump at the recent USA Championships, ran her personal best of 9:40.51, on May 1 at the Peyton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto, California. Photo: Mike Scott

Competitor.com: How do you work with, or around, being at altitude when you have to get ready for strongly anaerobic events lasting less than ten minutes?

EC: I’ve never really noticed a difference. Crested Butte, where I grew up and still train a lot, is at 8,800 feet, so in a way coming to Boulder [mean elevation approximately 5,300′] is like coming to low altitude.

Competitor.com: You ran a 4:36 mile indoors last winter and then 4:14 for 1500 meters at the Mt. SAC meet early in the outdoor season, which was your only 1500 of the spring. Do you see yourself developing as both a miler and a steepler, a la Anna (Willard) Pierce and Jenny Simpson?

EC: I’d really like to. I think any distance event complements the steeplechase. Unfortunately because of the schedule I only get one chance to do a 1500 outdoors each spring while I’m still in college, so that event has to wait.

Competitor.com: With the steeplechase being more of a strength event, it would seem that top steeplers would be especially fearsome cross-country runners. Although you were a solid 53st at NCAAs last year, do you feel as if you haven’t put it together in that discipline yet, or did you merely get a lot stronger between last fall and now?

EC: Cross-country is definitely a weak link for me and always has been. In high school that had mostly to do with not training enough in the summer, but I died in last 500 meters at Nationals last fall, and went from the mid-30s to 53rd. I’m okay with being stronger in track — some people just are — but I do have unfinished business in cross.

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