Sacramento, California, December 02—“I know that what we’re doing is the right thing for me,” said Emma Bates in explaining why she was so confident she would win the California International Marathon in her debut at the 26-mile distance.
The ’14 NCAA 10K champ for Boise State has moved to the roads over the past year and has done so well at various distances that she figured placing in the top 7 in Sacramento, which also served as the USATF Marathon Championships, would give her a $20,000 payday for winning the USATF Running Circuit. So she became a marathoner. That plus the $20,000 first-prize award (before bonuses) came in handy for a runner without a sponsor.
After going out fast—she led by 83 seconds at halfway—Bates encountered problems in the later stages. “I couldn’t keep any of the fluids down,” she said. “I think I just overdid it. I’m happy that I was able to pull things together and keep everything down and keep going at a pretty good clip. I went out a little too aggressive. At the end of the day, I’m happy with how I ran. I ran tough. That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
Bates crossed the line in 2:28:18, a time that makes her No. 8 among U.S. débutantes, right behind Molly Huddle’s 2:28:13. She finished more than a minute ahead of Stephanie Bruce’s PR 2:29:21, which came a month after her NYC run. Sam Roecker (2:30:25) took 3rd in an 8-minute PR.
On the men’s side, unheralded Brogan Austin, 27, slashed 12 minutes from his PR in his second marathon ever as he chased down race leader Matt Llano in the later stages to win in 2:12:39, with Llano finishing in 2:13:00 and Josh Izewski 3rd in 2:13:16. Said Austin, who came back from 13th at halfway, of his fast finish, “I was so surprised I could do that.”
It was a day for fast times on a point-to-point course that drops 340-feet from start to finish. An astonishing 99 women beat the OT’s B qualifying standard, while 53 men dipped under their standard of 2:19:00.
For Bates, the road to her breakout marathon debut started at the other end of the Golden State, at the ’17 USATF Distance Classic at Occidental. There she struggled through what would be her last track 5000, finishing more than a minute behind the winner and 40 seconds off her own PR, taking 16th in 16:12.74. “I just broke down,” she said. “I had run so hard and I just had a mental breakdown and I was just bawling.” Her coach at the time, the Boston AA’s Terrence Mahon, struggled to console her. “He finally realized, ‘Oh, you really do care about running and you really do care about this.’ And I said, “Yeah.” So we sat down and were like, we need to make some changes.”
After her NCAA career was over she moved to Boston to train with Mahon’s pro group, but managed to finish only 21st in the OT 10,000. In all she spent two years trying to make it as a pro track runner but she couldn’t get close to her collegiate bests of 15:32.46 and 32:13.28. “In college,” she said, “I probably got a little overconfident. Once I wasn’t winning, I would go into races and I just thought I could, you know, run the NCAA Record. I just got way too ahead of myself and I didn’t have anybody to say, ‘Hey, slow down. This is a process.’ I just formed a bad relationship with track because of that. I could never get back to not worrying about every 400m split. I would focus too much on the time and I would just crumble in workouts every single time if I wasn’t right on. I just became a slave to the watch.”
Of her time in Boston, she noted, “I could have done what I knew was good for myself, but I just didn’t know what that was at the time. I didn’t know who I was and I didn’t know who I wanted to be. So I was just really lost when I was there and I don’t know if it’s just the environment of being in a big city or that just wasn’t the right timing for me to pursue running professionally.”
Mahon, said Bates, picked up on that: “He was the first person to say, ‘Well, maybe you just need to go back to Idaho. Maybe you need to go back into the mountains, and just kind of start over. Find what you really enjoy.’ That was a turning point for me and I knew that I needed to make some big changes. I was so appreciative for the Boston AA to be so supportive of that. They even kept me on until the end of the year with my contract. So I’m very, very grateful for that.”
Bates and her fiancé, Kameron Ulmer, himself a 2:21 marathoner, packed up and headed west. They purchased a place on 10 acres an hour’s drive outside of Boise, backed up against a National Forest. Far enough out that her cell phone gets zero bars. Far enough out so that the grid isn’t happening. Far enough out that she sometimes worries about bears, wolves and mountain lions on her runs.
She got a job. Actually, two jobs at first: “Accidentally, sort of. I was offered both and for some reason I couldn’t say no to either of them. So I ended up having to work many, many hours—many more than I had originally planned.” She would drive an hour into town to be a nanny for a while, and then go to work at the Whole Foods store. “It was an hour commute in and then working 12-hour shifts and then an hour back. So I was just basically run, eat, sleep and that was it,” she said. “I ended up realizing just how much I love running because it was the easy part of my day. It was my outlet. I just kept running more and more and accumulating 100M a week and I just felt so strong.
“I was tired all the time because I was on my feet working 50-60 hours a week. It just made me realize how hard people work that actually do this all the time. I have so much respect for people that have a fulltime job, run everyday and have kids on top of that. That’s incredible to me.”
Living at 5000-feet in a place where streaming video isn’t an option and the water needs to be brought in from a nearby spring, Bates once again found her happiness in running. Coached by Ulmer, she started getting serious again. She met up with Canadian marathoner Kinsey Middleton: “We decided to go on a couple of runs with each other and then it just evolved into her doing workouts with us and then she asked Kameron to coach her. Then we asked if she knew anyone else who needed a coach and she reached out to people and then people actually started reaching out to us.”
Thus was born the Idaho Distance Project, which will be spiking up for the USATF Club XC Nationals in Spokane the second weekend in December. Bates will be running on tired legs (“I’m not going to be at my best, but I’m going to try my hardest to be up there for them”).
Said Bates, “Kameron as a coach is amazing, but also just the environment here. It’s very conducive to running well and it’s a relaxed environment—not too serious, but we have goals.”
Most of the IDP workouts happen in and near Boise, instead of in the mountains near their secluded house. “We’ve done a lot of runs in the summertime at our place, but there’s a lot of snow up there right now. It’s super fun running up there—nice, flat dirt roads and trails and trails and trails,” she explained. When she does run from the house, she gets some peace of mind from the bears thanks to Nanuka (it means “polar bear”), her Samoyed dog who can do 20-milers with Bates when it’s not too warm: “I try to take her with me as much as I can if I’m running by myself. And pepper spray, definitely. You have to be aware.”
It has been a long road to these mountains for Bates, who as a child in Elk River, Minnesota, was pushed into running by her parents as a mode of dealing with hyperactivity. Her middle school days as a sprinter/hurdler didn’t win her the notoriety she hoped for: “I thought I was going to be an Olympic star at that point in the hurdles, but it wasn’t pretty. And so my mom suggested, “Oh, maybe you should try distance. Just do one year of cross country and if you don’t like it you can go back to hurdling and doing the sprints.’
”So I joined cross country and I fell in love instantly and made long-lasting friends. It just was my nIche. It was amazing and I couldn’t get away from it after that.” She competed on the Nordic skiing team in the winter. On the track, she had high school bests of 5:00.13 and 11:00.65—frustratingly close to getting under magic barriers and frustratingly close to getting attention from D1 recruiters.
Bates didn’t win any state titles for Elk River and was surprised when she eventually got an offer from Boise State, courtesy of Brad Wick, the former cross country coach there (now at San José State) who also hailed from Elk River. “He knew the potential that I had and he took a chance on me. He knew I would love it here.” Bates was reminded by her old high school coach that a long time ago on a goal sheet she had written that she hoped she would be a professional runner someday. “I guess I did believe that running could take me to places like this,” she said. “But I took 71st at NXN Nationals my senior year, so winning nationals was never a reality in my radar back then. I think I was a dreamer when I put down that I wanted to be a professional runner. I’m a dreamer still, but for it to actually happen is very, very cool.”
What’s next? Bates said she may return to the track a little next year, partly to help training partner Middleton achieve her goals on the oval. “If I make the World Championships team for the 10K, I won’t say no to that,” she explained. “But the [Doha marathon] is too close to the Olympic Trials marathon.”
One thing she said she would like to achieve with her running has a lot to do with the singlet she wore in Sacramento: RUN for CAMP FIRE RELIEF. She partnered with Sierra Nevada Brewing to raise awareness of the continuing needs of the communities devastated by NorCal’s massive Camp Fire. The brewers have reached out to other breweries around the nation to join them in producing a special beer, “Resilience IPA,” to raise funds for the victims.
“I reached out to as many breweries as I could here. And so many of them were so responsive and got back to me right away and want to do more. We’re still continuing to plan events to raise more money for the foundation here. I also wanted to represent the Camp Fire relief fund during the race and get the word out there via social media and just to people out on the course.
“Even if it’s just a little bit of difference, I wanted to do it and I wanted to put my heart into it.” In the future, she said, she hopes to continue to use her platform this way. “It’s opened my eyes to wanting to help others and making that more of a full-time thing. There’s so much that needs to be done.”
USATF MARATHON CHAMPS MEN’S RESULTS
California International Marathon, Sacramento, California, December 2 (downhill course, 105m drop; 40–50 degrees, no wind)—
1. Brogan Austin (Ia) 2:12:38 PR ($21,500); 2. Matt Llano (Az) 2:12:59; 3. Josh Izewski (NC) 2:13:15 (debut); 4. Joe Stilin (NC) 2:13:20 (debut); 5. Brendan Gregg (Ca) 2:13:27 PR;
6. Brian Shrader (Ma) 2:13:30 (debut); 7. Anthony Costales (Ca) 3; 8. Mick Iacofano (Co) 2:13:47 PR; 9. Martin Hehir (Pa) 2:13:49 (debut); 10. Jarrett LeBlanc (La) 2:13:51 PR;
11. Matthew McDonald (Ga) 2:14:06 PR; 12. Ryan Miller (Tx) 2:14:29 PR; 13. Nathan Martin (Mi) 2:14:34 PR; 14. Colin Leak (Pa) 2:14:44 PR; 15. Samuel Kosgei (Co) 2:15:04;
16. Andrew Colley (NC) 2:15:27 (debut); 17. Tyler Pence (Il) 2:15:38 (debut); 18. Will Nation (Tx) 2:15:45 PR; 19. Julian Florez (NM) 2:16:12 (debut); 20. Charlie Lawrence (Mn) 2:16:12 (debut);
21. Nick Caprario (Mo) 2:16:17 PR; 22. Sergio Reyes (Ca) 2:16:18; 23. Austin Bogina (Ks) 2:16:20 (debut); 24. Jonathan Aziz (Co) 2:16:38 PR; 25. Ben Fletcher (NM) 2:16:47.
USATF MARATHON CHAMPS WOMEN
1. Emma Bates (Id) 2:28:18 (debut) ($21,500); 2. Steph Bruce (Az) 2:29:20 PR; 3. Samantha Roecker (NY) 2:30:25 PR; 4. Michele Lee (Wi) 2:30:31 PR; 5. Bridget Lyons (Ga) 2:31:00 PR;
6. Bethany Sachtleben (Va) 2:31:20 PR; 7. Nell Rojas (unat) 2:31:22 PR; 8. Maegan Krifchin (NY) 2:32:47 PR; 9. Hilary Dionne (Ma) 2:33:02 PR; 10. Lauren Masterson (Co) 2:33:35 PR;
11. Anna Long (unat) 2:34:14 (debut); 12. Pasca Myers (Ia) 2:34:22; 13. Kaitlyn James (Az) 2:34:41 (debut); 14. Brittney Feivor (Az) 2:35:11 PR; 15. Kimi Reed (Mo) 2:35:29 PR;
16. Maddie Van Beek (ND) 2:35:35 (debut); 17. Allison Cleaver (Tx) 2:36:15 PR; 18. Courtney Olsen (Wa) 2:36:21 PR; 19. Meghan Peyton (MN) 2:36:27; 20. Esther Atkins (SC) 2:36:32;
21. Jocelyn Todd (Ut) 2:36:33 PR; 22. Julia Roman-Duval (Md) 2:36:33 PR; 23. Autumn Ray (Az) 2:37:15 PR; 24. Bria Wetsch (Co) 2:37:15 PR; 25. Rachel Hyland (Ca) 2:37:22 PR.