At the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, only her second attempt at the 26.2-mile distance, Emma Bates is chasing a time that would put her among the 10 fastest American women in history.
“A PB is definitely in the cards, and I think a big one,” Bates, 27, said at the elite athlete press conference on Friday. She said she’s aiming for a time in the 2:24 range.
In her marathon debut in December 2018 at Cal International (CIM), Bates ran like a veteran. She took the lead early and held it to the line, finishing in 2:28:19, 1:02 ahead of Stephanie Bruce in second place. At the time, the performance was the ninth-fastest among women who had qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials.
Bates initially said she wouldn’t run another marathon before the Trials on February 29, 2020, in Atlanta. But then she decided she needed more experience at the distance.
“Experience is everything,” she said. “I didn’t have the experience most people have in a marathon, because I was running by myself the whole time at CIM. It was nice because you have the guys, but they’re so back and forth. I mean, they surge because they don’t want a girl to pass them, and then they fall off. It was sporadic.”
She’s looking forward to having competitors around her the entire race in the Windy City.
“Having someone to run with and know that we’re at the same playing field and be able to push each other is something that I really wanted,” she said. “Chicago is the perfect place to do that.”
During her debut in Sacramento, Bates also struggled with hydration. The mixture in her bottles was making her sick and forced her to slow at points. She later learned that artificial sugars upset her stomach. Now she uses a carbohydrate mixture with natural sugar.
In her buildup to CIM, she had also missed training time because of Achilles pain. Her Chicago preparation has been much smoother. Bates, who lives and trains in Boise, Idaho, with her coach and fiancé, Kameron Ulmer, has enjoyed being healthy this time around.
“It’s been astonishing,” she said. “I’ve been bracing myself for impact for something to happen, but it hasn’t. So fingers crossed in the next couple of days that it won’t.”
The Chicago Marathon will be an important milestone in Bates’s life: her second marathon, her first world marathon major, and if all goes well, a PR.
Next weekend will mark another milestone. Bates and Ulmer are getting married at a friend’s house in Boise. They plan to wear running shoes during their wedding ceremony.
But for the next two days, her focus is on Chicago. With the experience of her first marathon behind her and confidence from a healthy training block, Bates wants to “make that leap forward” on Sunday.
Running 2:24, she said, “would be something that is in my realm of capability.”
Contributing Writer Taylor Dutch is a freelance writer living in Chicago.