By the time she stepped on the track for the 800-meter final
at the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Emily Richards had a
full collection of NCAA Division III track titles (5) and a weeks-old PR of
The Delaware Hayes graduate and Ohio Northern University senior talked with MileSplit Ohio's Phil Grove about running for a spot on Team USA and the future, including the 2017 cross country season and her debut at Saturday's Cowbell Classic (Pre-Nationals) in Illinois.
Question: After you hit your 2:00 in Nashville, did you have any reservations or second thoughts - ie, I'm only 21 and run D3 - about belonging in the field at the USATF Championships?
Answer: That was something Coach (Jason) Maus and I talked about a lot while we were out in Sacramento - belonging. I knew that in order to advance to the final, I had to race like I belonged there. And I did race that way, proving that I deserved to be in a U.S. final despite being a young D3 athlete.
Q: How were you able to hide but at the same time be noticed at Sacramento for what you did this year?
A: I like the way you put that because that's exactly what it felt like - hiding but also being noticed at the same time. In the prelim, it was pretty easy. Not a lot of people know my name, maybe some people who I saw at Mt. SAC or maybe at Nashville. Coming out of a Division 3 school, nobody really knows who you are. That's really a cool feeling because there's no expectations for you. There is really no pressure. Mentally, as an athlete, that puts you in a really good position. You don't have a target on your back so if nobody is looking to beat you, you can just go out there and run your race and not have to worry about anything. When you make the final, the target on your back becomes a little bit bigger. Hiding, as you put it, helped me get to the final, but then getting to the final also helped me be noticed because I was one of eight people in the entire nation to make it to that final round. That was a huge moment for me and for the school. It was just an awesome accomplishment.
Q: You were No. 10 in the U.S. in the 800 in 2017. Just a few short years ago you were the No. 23 400 runner in Ohio. Did you wonder how did this all happen in this short period of time?
A: I think at first it was kind of shocking. It took me awhile to come to grips with just how quickly everything was happening, but now I have embraced this is who I am, this is what I have accomplished. It makes me hungrier to keep building upon the accomplishments that I already have been able to have. I think at this point I have come to grips with it.
Q: To do the 2:00.62 at Nashville and then make the final at the USATF meet is incredible, but that was after a full season from cross right into indoor. How were you and Coach Maus able to keep you on top of your game by the time you got to Sacramento?
A: (One of the disadvantages) of being a Division 3 runner is you don't have the resources to travel and run really fast 800s every weekend, but it's also an advantage in my case because I only ran two or three really fast 800s throughout the entire outdoor season and that way I was able to persist a lot longer toward the end of the season, longer I'm sure than a lot of Division I athletes who advance to the U.S. championship. Also sort of a blessing in disguise is I was injured during the CC season so I was out for a lot of that season. It was terrible at the time, but looking back at it now, I think that really helped me down the road to be able to last as long as I did during the year.
Q: How important is CC to you as a Polar Bear and in your development on the track?
A: I have a love-hate relationship with cross country. I'm obviously a track person. I love track. That's my favorite sport. If I could run track year round, I totally would. But I think cross is really important from a physical standpoint and from a mental standpoint because it's not necessarily my strong suit plus it's challenging to me. When I have success in cross country, that really helps me with my confidence for track. So not only does it make me stronger during the summer and during the fall going into the track season, but it also helps me mentally prepare for the track season.
Q: What part has your coach played in your development on the track and academically? You were one of the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association's Scholar Athletes of the Year.
A: Coach Maus's role in all of this has been tremendous. I spent a lot of time with him this past year, just traveling and going to meets and (training) past the time a lot of my teammates had stopped training. I think the biggest thing he has done for me is just (he) really believed in me even when I guess I didn't necessarily believe in myself. Making the decision to move up to the 800 was something that I was a little unsure about but that was something he really believed I could be successful in. That's the reason I made the jump. He has been supportive all the way through, ever since the first day I walked into his office and told him, "I think I'm going to try the 800." He's believed from the beginning that I could run 2:00 (laugh). Well, probably not run 2:00 but when he sees that I experienced success, he keeps raising the bar and believing that I can get there. We move it together. His role has been tremendous, not only from writing my training but supporting me mentally and emotionally because sometimes it can be a little bit stressful to experience success so quickly and he has managed that very, very well.
Q: How has your racing strategy and tactics changed along with your training regimen over the past 3 years?
A: A lot of my teammates don't come from a 400-meter background so my training has been really individualized. I didn't start out doing a lot of mileage but we have been steadily increasing, probably a lot lower mileage than a lot of my teammates but I am getting there. A lot more speed-oriented work because that is something that I am used to from my 400 training. We start doing a lot more high end stuff, specifically tailoring it to the weeks that we wanted to run really fast races.
Q: About how many miles per week are you averaging, in season for both cross and track?
A: Last year during the outdoor track season, it was getting up to about 40 a week. This year I am trying to work up to 50.
Q: At Sacramento, Nick Symmonds called it a career. His record book is very similar to yours, a multi-time 800 and 1,500 champion in Division 3 at Willamette University. Did you know what Nick did at the D3 level and the fact that a runner can go from a non-scholarship situation and do great things on the national and international stage?
A: It's really cool that we have guys like Nick and Will Leer in our sport who went to Division 3 schools and have had a lot of success post-collegiately. It's really cool that those people are people that you look up to because of what they have been able to do with the resources that they had. And then you realize that you have similar resources to what they did, you realize that there is not really anything stopping you from being as successful as they could be. I think that is really inspiring, people like that who have been through similar situations.
Q: I'm certain when you started at Ohio Northern you weren't thinking, "Hey, I can turn this track and field thing into a career." You were looking more at what your field of study was when you left in four years. Have you thought about a possible pro career in track and field?
A: I think what I have learned through my experience is that I am going to have the rest of my life to have a job in chemistry or whatever it is. If I have the opportunity to run (professionally) after college, by all means I am going to take it. I think that's really an invaluable experience and something you can only do when you are this age and when you have this ability level. If given the opportunity, I think that will be really great. After that I will have the rest of my life to do chemistry and that's OK with me.
Q: It sounds like you are pretty good at handling tough situations. When the TV camera walked out in front of you at Sacramento, focused in on you and zoomed in on your orange and black uniform, did you get bigger pre-race jitters than you normally do? What thoughts were going through your mind as you were running for a national championship with professionals?
A: That's funny that you just said handle the situations well because the camera I think psyched me out a little bit. That's an awful thing having a giant camera in my face, and I really do mean in my face. It was probably less than a foot away from me when they were introducing us. That's not something I'm used to and I didn't really know what to think about it. I was thinking about what kind of face I should make because there is a camera looking at me. I was kind of watching the girls in front of me in the higher lanes and seeing what kind of face they were doing. Thinking if I should look into the camera, and then I realized what I was doing and I was like, "What are you doing? You need to focus on your race." I think it threw me off a little bit, but it was really cool to have that moment of fame where there is a camera in your face getting ready to show your race to the entire nation. In the future I think I will handle that situation a little bit better but still it was a learning opportunity.
Q: Here you are coming back with not too much off a layoff after the most difficult and strenuous track season you've ever had and getting ready for CC. What does this mean to you as a Polar Bear and a teammate to those other women on the Ohio Northern team?
A: I'm really glad I'm coming back for my last year. I don't think I could have given it up or if I had the option to, I don't think I would have because it is great to have the opportunity to run with teammates. These are people I have really invested in over the course of three years. We have accomplished a lot together, and I still feel like there is more than needs to be accomplished so I am coming back this year and I'm really excited about the team and what we are going to be able to do.
Emily Richards gained valuable big meet experience in 2017.
Q: How has the training been as of late and were you anxious
to finally race again?
A: Training has been going great! The conditions weren't ideal for a first race back, but I thought I got out and closed pretty well. I learned what I need to work on in the meets to come, especially the national meet since it will be held on the same course.
Q: I'm sure a number of people have played major roles in you reaching this level in track. Whom would you like to thank?
A: Even though my high school coaches - Sean Patrick, Jim Bibler and Andy Graham - might not have been able to get me to No. 10 in the nation, they definitely supplied me with I think everything I needed to be competitive at the collegiate level. Everything from basic running form, how to run effectively, having a work ethic and being competitive, that is all stuff that was ingrained in me when I was in high school, and I don't think I would be the athlete I am today without those coaches.
Then obviously Coach Maus has gone above and beyond all of that and pushed me to be the athlete that I am today. I couldn't do anything that I have done without him.
And also my family, Troy, Laura, Luke and Erik. They are always really supportive. They are really busy and they don't always get the opportunity to come out to the meets. I always get messages from them right before my race and they are always really excited. They had a giant watch party to watch the USA meet and I know they are really proud. I couldn't do a lot of what I do without them. And, of course, my teammates as well.
Emily Richards credits her coaches for being a driving force behind her athletic development.