By Paul Gains
Despite some impressive podium finishes at the American national championships on roads and cross country, Emily Durgin has yet to record a marathon time. It’s a situation she intends to rectify at the 2023 TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 15th.
“I definitely think I am capable of running closer to 2:20 than 2:29,” she says of her target in Toronto. “But with that being said the biggest thing about the marathon is learning how to race it and get through the whole thing.”
The 29-year-old from Portland, Maine has earned bronze medals at the 2023 USATF cross country championships, the 2023 USATF 20km championships, the 2022 USATF 10 mile championships and a silver at the USATF 15km championships. Most impressive though is her half marathon personal best of 67:54 which got her 6th place at the 2022 Houston Half Marathon.
It is this credential that she believes is an indication that her ambitious aim to run in the low 2:20’s is possible. It is a performance that has also qualified her for the 2024 USATF Olympic marathon trials. However, a solid race at Toronto Waterfront, a World Athletics Elite Label Race, would give her more confidence in those trials.
Last November she made her marathon debut in New York but was gutted when she had to drop out at 30km.
“Unfortunately, it was a super-hot day and that probably didn’t play in my favour,” she explains. “But there were a lot of other factors that went into it. Honestly, the entire buildup, it was in my head. I put way more pressure on it for what reason I don’t know. You learn a lot when you do your first buildup.”
Although she is from the East Coast of the US and attended the University of Connecticut – graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and Journalism – she moved to Flagstaff, Arizona in 2018.
“I love Arizona as a whole,” she admits. “Obviously Flagstaff is higher elevation (2,130m) which is why I like to live up here but in the winter months it’s easy to drop down to Phoenix or Sedona. Last winter we had a ton of snow so for us it is really easy to get out of the weather if we have to.
“There is such a big running community here so we have that aspect of it. I will say that sometimes it is tough because, when you are up here, there is that mentality of training (mode) for me that’s why I tend to try to get out of Flagstaff when I am not in a big cycle. Sometimes when I am here it’s hard to break up like ‘oh this is fun time’ versus training time. That’s why it’s nice to have Phoenix close by.”
While she and her boyfriend live in Flagstaff she is coached by San Diego-based Terrence Mahon and has a contract with Adidas that allows her to train full-time. It wasn’t always the case.
Fresh out of college she moved to Boston to train under coach Mark Coogan but without a shoe contract she had to make ends meet in one of the most expensive American cities. For a year and half, she worked as a nanny while training.
Clearly, she loves being in Arizona and while Flagstaff is quickly becoming a desirable and therefore an expensive place to live, she enjoys the amenities close by such as the restaurants and movie theatres. The Sunday farmer’s market is also a frequent destination.
“When ‘Barbie’ came out we went and saw ‘Barbie’. That was great,” she says laughing. “You have everything you need here. It has really grown but ‘Flag’ is turning into what Boulder (Colorado) is”.
“After our long runs on Sunday, we try to end up at the market and if we are not getting produce there they always have great breakfast stuff. So we will go and get avocado toast and those kind of goodies. It starts early spring and goes through the fall. It’s a lot of fun.”
Durgin trains alone most of the time although she is able to meet up with any number of professional runners who also make Flagstaff their home. All this is helpful as she plots a successful marathon performance at Toronto Waterfront. Training is ramping up.
“It’s going well. I am doing a different approach to this marathon. I have been travelling so I was doing a lot of work outside of altitude which was nice for the beginning of my build,” she reports.
“My goal in Toronto is to see what the lead runners are doing. As long as they are not going out at 2:17 pace I should be able to stick my nose in it and compete. Hopefully, that will help me to a fast time.”
Along with Molly Bookmyer and Molly Grabill, the American women will be well represented at the TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon. And, since the event is again a World Athletics Elite Label race it is again attracting a contingent from East Africa who will surely make the race especially competitive. That’s something that thrills Durgin.