This Chick Refers To Herself As Elite? Meet Emma Polley

Emma chicking a dude. All photos courtesy of Emma Polley
Emma chicking a dude. All photos courtesy of Emma Polley

Late last week the Letsrun boards were abuzz with a thread simply titled, “This Chick Refers To Herself As Elite??” It piqued my interest because it resurrected the age-old question of what defines elite, featured the usual troll chatter, and even had the chick’s husband cracking jokes on page 4. The chick in question is 25 year-old newlywed Emma Polley (née Kertesz), the University of Toledo phenom and former member of the Hansons-Brooks ODP.

After checking out Emma’s blog, we were convinced that Emma is no ordinary chick. Besides her many running accomplishments like being an NCAA All American, a 4-time MAC Champion, a member of Team USA at the 2012 Chiba Ekiden World Relay Competition, and a 2016 Olympic Trials qualifier, Emma is smart, funny, and pretty badass. Naturally, we had to talk to her!

When I emailed her and asked her if she’d like to talk to us about running, life, and the LetsRun thread about her, she enthusiastically agreed! She was well aware of the shenanigans on LetsRun, calling the thread about her “quite the cesspool of insensitive comments.” However, she, like us, is all about women championing other women (think power of the pack) and sticking it to loser internet trolls; something we can all get behind!

So, instead of talking about someone you don’t know on an anonymous thread, we went straight to the source to get to know this elite-in-many-ways chick.

Why did you start running?

I started running to stay in shape for soccer. Although soccer was my first love, I did have a short stint playing JV basketball in high school, and I had a basketball teammate who ran track in the spring. She suggested I run track in the spring to stay in shape for soccer and more importantly, so we could hang out after school. I was sold on the idea. I vowed to my track coach that I would never run the 2-mile race or cross-country because they were both too long. By the time my senior year of high school rolled around, the 2-mile had become my favorite race, and I gave up my last season of varsity soccer to run my first season of cross country. Nine years later, I cringe at the idea of running those distances because they’re too short, ha!

When did you decide to run a full marathon and chase an Olympic Trials Qualifier?

Emma and her husband Drew on their wedding day.
Emma says that her husband Drew is one of her biggest supporters.

I started seriously considering running a marathon to get my OTQ in the summer of 2014. I was always very intimidated by the marathon, simply because I couldn’t imagine running, let alone racing, for 26.2 miles. After talking with my husband who is a seasoned marathoner in his own right (with a 2:14:58 PR), and other veteran marathoners, I felt like I had gained a healthy respect for the distance. I had been consistently training for over a year with no bumps in the road, so I felt my body was ready to handle the mileage of marathon training. My husband ran the California International Marathon in 2013 for his OTQ, and had a great experience there. The timing of CIM 2014 worked out well, so I set my sights on running sub 2:43:00 in Sacramento.

When you decided to go for a big running goal, was everyone in your life supportive? Did you have to structure your life differently to accommodate your pursuit of this big running goal?

I am very fortunate to have a wonderful support system. My family and friends are incredibly supportive, and I am lucky to be married to a runner who is very understanding. Instead of going to law school as I had originally planned upon graduating, I have been working part time (20-25 hours/week) to allow me the time to run and train as I’d like. But after seeing how Lanni Marchant and Ashley Higginson have balanced working and law school, I’ve become energized to do the same. To see those two very elite women doing both is inspiring.  

What has been your proudest running moment? Your biggest obstacle you’ve overcome? Your worst setback?

Of course getting my OTQ is one of my proudest moments, but I’d have to say when I broke 5:00 in the mile for the first time takes the cake. It was a barrier I thought I’d never break, as my high school mile PR is 5:20. When I graduated high school my only goals for collegiate running were to run 5:10 in the mile and run sub-18:30 for 5k. It opened my eyes to being able to exceed limitations I had put on myself.

My biggest obstacle was when I had two stress fractures back to back in 2013. I had one in my foot, and when that healed, not even two months later I had one in my hip. It was so incredibly discouraging. I had just entered the world of post-collegiate running, and I felt like I made the wrong decision to forego law school. Mentally I was in a really tough place, and wasn’t really sure if post-collegiate running was for me. But peers and mentors encouraged and reminded me that this would eventually pass. I took the break from running as a time to make a dent in my reading list, go camping, visit friends in New York, and put my time into other passions in my life.  Oh, and sweat buckets on the Alter-G treadmill. I now have a deeper appreciation for uninterrupted training, and try not to take a pain-free run for granted.

Do you chalk your success up more to talent or hard work?

Considering I just revealed in the above answer my high school mile PR is 5:20, I would have to say about 99.9% hard work. I believe my greatest strength lies in being able to go to the well, and not being afraid to hurt while racing. With running, you get out what you put in, and that really appeals to me.

What is the best piece of running advice you’ve ever received?

The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is pretty simple; it’s to be patient with running. Breakthroughs are the product of consistent blocks of training stacked upon each other, and that takes time. If you can stay healthy, train smart, and be patient, the results will come. My one piece of advice to runners of all levels is to listen to your body, specifically on your easy days. Recovery is often overlooked, and I adhere to the rule that it’s better to run one minute slower per mile than it is to run one minute faster per mile on recovery days. I’ve run a marathon at 6:11/mile, and I typically run my easy days at 8:00-9:00 per mile. Try not to get so caught up in what your Garmin is showing, and listen to your body and let it recover from the previous day’s session. “Hard days hard, easy days easy.”  

Lastly, we couldn’t end without asking, what was your reaction to the Letsrun thread?

I was disappointed when I initially heard that I was being trashed on Letsrun. But after looking at the thread a little bit, it became clear that it was rooted in a few insecure men looking for an opportunity to drag down a confident woman. I don’t think those men represent the majority, but it’s pretty depressing to see that Letsrun is occasionally a mechanism for misogyny. I’m still going to blog, mostly because I think my parents would be pretty bummed if I stopped. My blog may not be for everybody, and that’s OK.  Those who don’t like it can just not read it.

Thank you, Emma for being such a good sport and advocate for women’s running! We wish you the best of the luck at the Trials! 

Follow Emma on Twitter and Instagram. You can also follow her husband, Drew on Twitter. He’s kewl, too.

I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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  1. If Emma’s not elite … And furthermore, as basically every sane person has pointed out it’s the only word available to describe a runner competing at a high level who isn’t a professional. Shut up, trolls! And go Emma!!!

  2. Oh boy! This is funny. From anonymous Letsrun poster:

    “I was disappointed when I initially heard that I was being trashed on Letsrun. But after looking at the thread a little bit, it became clear that it was rooted in a few insecure men looking for an opportunity to drag down a confident woman. I don’t think those men represent the majority, but it’s pretty depressing to see that Letsrun is occasionally a mechanism for misogyny.”

    I think this comment is a bit over the top. While I haven’t gone back to count the for/against Emma (if the definition of “elite” can be categorized as for or against) I think she misses the gist of the thread.

    In a man’s world getting trashed is an everyday occurrence, we are always taking shots at our friends when they start to realize success or get too full of themselves. In other words, when they can take a punch, not so much when they’re down and out. We also take shots at guys we don’t know as well, not because we’re insensitive, horrible people, but because it’s sort of fun (this isn’t endemic only to males btw).

    Given that, there are two ways to look at this thread: that a less then majority of men are misogynistic pigs; or that by running so fast, Emma has finally been accepted as “one of the guys” open for verbal abuse.

    I’m not going to opine as to whether that is a good thing or bad thing – it just is. Welcome to the club Emma and hopefully this thread will allow you to run on pure hate come the Olympic Trials.”

    So nice of them to let Emma into their club, although they might be overestimating their power – don’t think Emma needs to hate them to run her ass off. Hahaha!

    1. Is there some kind of asshole test you have to pass before they’ll let you post on Let’s Run? That place is soooooo toxic.

    2. “Anonymous” and “Coward” are interchangeable in this case. 🙂 I’ll happily own up to my identity in any comments thread. I am Bergamot, and I think you’re a boss, Emma! Although you’ve proved that you need no one’s opinions, positive or negative. I’m your age, and this post was so inspirational. Keep it up!

  3. I think I should follow the advice “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” in response to Anonymous or else I’ll dissolve into four-letter-words, but best of luck to Emma!! Another badass chick to cheer on!

  4. (In response to Anonymous) I’m going to heed that old advice about saying nothing at all if you can’t say anything nice, because otherwise I’d just dissolve into a string of four-letter words and bets to race the jerk. Emma sounds like one badass chick & I’m looking forward to cheering her on!

  5. Interesting reading all of this and the LetsRun thread (which wasn’t quite as toxic as I expected, but that doesn’t mean it was good either!).

    When I read Emma’s background I think ‘wow’ and the word Elite truly works for me. I don’t get so hung up on the labels, I am always reminded of a few years ago when I got ‘serious’ about running long distances after a couple of decades as a ‘casual jogger’ ,,, and seeing posts that sought to define ‘real runner’ – and generally in a negative sense: as a means of telling people that they were NOT real runners.

    And to me that seems to be some of the subtext at play … an attempt to force a definition (or remove a label) as a means of putting someone down. I see that ‘anonymous’ comment as thinking it is helpful but completely missing the point … it isn’t about being ‘tough enough’ to make it in the ‘old boys club’ … it is about recognizing the inherent issues with that core mindset. Because while I see some guys who always complain about ‘it isn’t just guys or all guys or whatever’ … I tend to see these ‘let me define REAL runner or what elite means for you darling’ comments as exclusively coming from men.

    So … go Emma 🙂

    1. Great points! That anonymous guy was so patronizing – he basically elevated himself above her and graciously allowed her into his sphere (insert eye roll). I do think women do this too – watch Mean Girls! It happens less in sports, maybe because it’s not a traditionally women’s world, but it does happen.