EUGENE, ORE. (27-May) -- With her last steeplechase more than eight months ago, four-time USA champion Emma Coburn is anxious to return to her specialty at tomorrow's Prefontaine Classic here at historic Hayward Field, the fourth stop of the 2016 IAAF Diamond League.
PHOTO: Emma Coburn in advance of the 2016 Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore. (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)
Coburn, 25, who is originally from Crested Butte, Colo., but now lives and trains in Boulder, finished fifth at last summer's IAAF World Championships in Beijing, despite struggling with injury for most of the season. After the Diamond League final in Brussels last September, Coburn took time off to heal, but her body was slow to respond.
"I had an Achilles injury that I was dealing with all last season," Coburn told Race Results Weekly in an interview. "Then, when I took time off I actually got worse," she added with a nervous laugh. "I raced with it all year and managed it. I hurt it in January, 2014. I managed it pretty well and was able to race, but by the end of the season definitely started breaking down."
Working with coaches Heather Burroughs and Mark Wetmore, Coburn took a cautious approach to her winter training. With the USA Olympic Trials in July, and the Olympic Games in August, she and her coaches were in no hurry to get her back to competition, and she bypassed the indoor season completely. Instead, she focused on making small, incremental steps to regain her form.
"The winter was mainly transitioning after that injured fall, trying to piece together week to week of healthy training," she explained. "I was trying to catch up on the training I missed in the fall, logging miles, starting to piece together little bits of speed work, and doing my first strides of the year. Just really baby steps."
Coburn opened her season last Friday at the Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic in Los Angeles. Among a group of middle-distance specialists, she clocked 4:06.92 for 1500m, finishing fifth. She was pleased with the effort and it signaled that her training was on the right track.
"I always like opening my season with a 1500, or something that's not my event specialty, to test your fitness but not necessarily have the stress or pressure of having to nail it right out of the gate your first race," Coburn explained. "It was my best opener of a 1500 ever. I was happy about that."
Her coach agreed.
"Emma has trained well this spring, but we held off racing until last week, so we didn't know where her fitness was," said Coach Wetmore in an e-mail message. "That season debut was encouraging. We think she will be very competitive by the time of the Trials."
Coburn has a completely different kind of race tomorrow, however. Meet director Tom Jordan has invited a top-tier group of women, led by reigning world champion Hyvin Kiyeng of Kenya, who started her 2016 campaign with a world leading 9:07.42 in Shanghai. That mark is four seconds faster than Coburn's personal best (9:11.42). Also in the field are Ethiopia's Sofia Assefa (9:09.00 PB), Kenya's Lydia Chepkurui (9:12.55) and Virgina Nyambura (9:13.85), and Germany's Gesa Krause (9:19.25) among others. Coburn isn't worried.
"I feel like I have now caught up to where I need to be, and I'm feeling fresher than I have in a while," Coburn said. She continued: "The field here is excellent which it always is at this meet. Typically, the steeplechase will have a pretty consistent field that's the same field that competes at the Olympic or World Championships final. Typically, 90% of the girls are the same across every Diamond League."
Coburn doesn't want to get ahead of herself and is focused squarely on the two three stage process of making the USA team at the Trials here in July, getting through her Olympic prelim, then trying for a podium spot in the final.
"It's also good to remind myself that I'm still four or five weeks out from Trials," Coburn observed. "And if Trials goes well, two months plus away from Rio. I feel fit and ready to run well, but it's also still really early in the season. So, I'm not putting too much pressure on myself to knock it out of the park and blow everyone away. But, I do think I can run well and compete against these women really well. I'm not stressing too much about it being absolutely perfect yet."