November 26, 2022

Three days shy of her 31st birthday and with only one previous marathon on her resume, Emily Sisson took to the streets of Chicago and lowered the American women’s marathon record by 43 seconds, becoming the first American woman to run a marathon in less than 2 hours 19 minutes.

Conditions on the Chicago Marathon’s relatively flat course were ideal, with Sisson — who won the 10,000 at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials last summer — finishing second to Ruth Chepng’etich. The Kenyan repeated as the Chicago champion with a time of 2:14:18, fractions of a second off the world record of 2:14:04 set by Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei in the 2019 Chicago Marathon.

From 2021: Emily Sisson outruns a broken heart to dominate the 10,000 at the U.S. track and field trials

Sisson finished in 2:18:29, taking 43 seconds off the American record set by Keira D’Amato in January in Houston. Before D’Amato, the record had stood for 16 years; now it has been lowered twice in 10 months, something D’Amato expected.

“There’s a number of American women that are also gunning for that record, so I think if I don’t lower it myself, it’s not going to be mine for very much longer,” she said before the Berlin Marathon two weeks ago. D’Amato, who did not run in Chicago, joined Sisson at the finish line, along with Deena Kastor and Joan Benoit Samuelson — women who held the American record before her.

“It’s amazing,” Sisson said, according to NBC Chicago. “I mean, the women standing here today, they’ve all accomplished so much, so just to be amongst them is an incredible honor.”

Sisson said she wasn’t aware that the record was in reach until very close to the finish line.

“I just was given instructions to go off my pacers and not think about time at all, so I had no clue what pace I was running until, I think, like a mile to go,” she said. “A few people told me to pick it up, so I thought, ‘Oh, I must be close to either breaking 2:20 or the American record,’ but I didn’t know which one.”

The Chicago race marked Sisson’s return to the marathon after she dropped out of the 2020 Olympic marathon trials after 22 miles despite being a favorite. Her only other marathon came in London, where she ran a 2:23:08 in 2019.

She’s 37. A mom of two. And America’s fastest female marathoner.

“The Olympic marathon trials — that broke my heart,” Sisson, a six-time national champion, said later. “Usually, I’m good at moving on from bad races, but I really struggled with that one.”

In the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Sisson was 10th in the 10,000, the top American finisher, after winning that event at the 2021 U.S. trials. Her time of 31:03.82 broke the 17-year-old trials record set by Kastor in 2004. Sisson, who set the American record in the half-marathon (1:07:11) in May, told Forbes recently that she is growing more comfortable with races like Chicago, one of the world’s six major marathons.

“As I have gained more experience in the sport, I have been able to handle these big race days with more confidence and composure, compared to when I was younger,” she said. “I simply reiterate to myself that I have done my best, and all I need to do is give it my all.”

Five of the top 10 female finishers in Chicago were American: Susanna Sullivan was sixth in 2:25:14, Sara Vaughn seventh in 2:26:23, Maggie Montoya eighth in 2:28:07 and Makena Morley 10th in 2:30:28.

Kenya’s Benson Kipruto was the men’s winner in 2:04:24 with Conner Mantz, who finished seventh in 2:08:16, the top American finisher.

Switzerland’s Marcel Hug won the men’s wheelchair race in 1:25:20, adding Chicago to his 2022 major marathon wins in Tokyo, Berlin and London. Susannah Scaroni of the United States won her first major marathon title in the women’s wheelchair competition in 1:45:48.

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